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“HASTINGS, the lieutenant of a British monarch, claiming absolute dominion ! From whom, in the name of all that was strange, could he derive, or how had he the audacity to claim, such authority ? He could not have derived it from the East India Company, for they had it not to confer. He could not have received it from his sovereign, for the sovereign had it not to bestow. It could not have been giver by either house of parliament-for it was unknown to the British con stitution! Yet Mr. Hastings, acting under the assumption of this power, had avowed his rejection of British acts of parliament, had gloried in the success which he pretended to derive from their violation, and had on every occasion attempted to justify the exercise of arbitrary power in its greatest extent. Having thus avowedly acted in opposition to the laws of Great Britain, he sought a shield in vain, in other laws and other usages. Would he appeal to the Mahomedan law for his justification ? In the whole Koran there was not a single text which could justify the power he had assumed. Would he appeal to the Gentoo code? Vain there the effort also ; a system of stricter justice, or more pure morality, did not exist. It was, therefore, equal whether he fled for shelter to a British court of justice or a Gentoo pagoda; he in either instance stood convicted as a daring violator of the laws. And what, my lords, is opposed to all this practice of tyrants and usurpers, which Mr. Hastings takes for his rule and guidance ? He endeavours to find deviations from legal government, and then instructs his counsel to say that I have asserted there is no such thing as arbitrary power in the East. But, my lords, we all know that there has been arbitrary power in India ; that tyrants have usurped it; and that in some instances princes, otherwise meritorious, have violated the liberties of the people, and have been lawfully deposed for such violation. I do not deny that there are robberies on Hounslow Heath ; that there are such things as forgeries, burglaries, and murders ; but I say that these acts are against law, and whoever commits them commits illegal acts. When a man is to defend himself against a charge of crime, it is not instances of similar violation of law that are to be the standard of his defence. A man may as well say, 'I robbed upon Hounslow Heath, but hundreds robbed there before me :' to which I answer, « The law has forbidden you to rob there, and I will hang you for having violated the law, notwithstanding the long list of similar violations whi you have produced as precedents.' No doubt princes have violated the laws of this country; they have suffered for it. Nobles have violated the law : their privileges have not protected them from punishment. Common people have violated the law; they have
hanged for it. I know no human being exempt from the law. The law is a security of the people of England; it is the security of the people of India; it is the security of every person that is governed, and of every person that governs. There is but one law for all, namely, that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice, equity—the law of nature and of nations. So far as any laws fortify this primeval law, and give it more precision, more energy, more effect by their declarations, such laws enter into the sanctuary, and participate in the sacredness of its character. But the man who quotes as precedents the abuses of tyrants and robbers, pollutes the very fountain of justice, destroys the foundation of all law, and thereby removes the only safeguard against evil men, whether governing or governed--the guard which prevents governors from becoming tyrants, and the governed from becoming rebels."
[The following harrowing description of the cruelties perpetrated by Debi || Sing, one of Hastings' official servants, is, perhaps, without parallel in the language. It is said that several ladies fainted at this part of Burke's 11 oration.] “ DEBI Sing and his instruments suspected, and in a few cases they suspected justly, that the country people had purloined from their own estates, and had hidden in secret places in the circumjacent deserts, some small reserve of their own grain to maintain themselves during the unproductive months of the year, and to leave some hope for a future season. But the under tyrants knew that the demands of Mr. Hastings would admit no plea for delay, much less for subtraction of his bribe, and that he would not abate a shilling of it to the wants of the whole human race. These hoards, real or supposed, not being discovered by menaces and imprisonment, they fell upon the last resource, the naked bodies of the people. And here, my lords, began such a scene of cruelties and tortures, as I believe no history has ever presented to the indignation of the world; such as I am sure, in the most barbarous ages, no politic tyranny, no fanatic persecution has ever yet exceeded. Mr. Patterson, the commissioner appointed to inquire into the state of the country, makes his own apology and mine for opening this scene of horrors to you in the following words: “That the punishments inflicted upon the ryots both of Rungpore and Dinagepore for non-payment were in many
instances of such a nature, that I would rather wish to draw a veil over them than shock your feelings by the detail. But that, however, disagreeable the task may be to myself, it is absolutely necessary for the
sake of justice, humanity and the honor of government, that they should be exposed, to be prevented in future.'
"My lords, they began by winding cords round the fingers of the unhappy freeholders of those provinces, until they clung to and were almost incorporated with one another; and then they hammered wedges of iron between them, until, regardless of the cries of the sufferers, they had bruised to pieces, and for ever crippled those poor, honest, innocent, laborious hands, which had never been raised to their mouths but with a penurious and scanty proportion of the fruits : of their own soil; but those fruits (denied to the wants of their own children) have for more than fifteen years past furnished the investment for our trade with China, and been sent annually out, and without recompence, to purchase for us that delicate meal, with which your lordships, and all this auditory, and all this country have begun every day for these fifteen years at their expense. To those beneficent hands that labour for our benefit, the return of the British government has been cords and wedges. But there is a place where these crippled and disabled hands will act with resistless power. What is it that they will not pull down, when they are lifted to Heaven against their oppressors? Then what can withstand such hands ? Can the power that crushed and destroyed them? Powerful in prayer, let us at least deprecate, and thus endeavour to secure ourselves from the vengeance which these mashed and disabled hands may pull down upon us. My lords, it is an awful consideration.
Let us think of it. “But to pursue this melancholy but necessary detall. I am next to open to your lordships what I am hereafter to prove, that the most substantial and leading yeomen, the responsible farmers, the parochial magistrates and chiefs of villages, were tied two and two by the legs together; and their tormentors throwing them with their heads downwards over a bar, beat them on the soles of the feet with ratans, until the nails fell from their toes; and then attacking them at their heads, as they hung downward, as before at their feet, they beat them with sticks and other instruments of blind fury, until the blood gushed out at their eyes, mouths, and noses.
Not thinking that the ordinary whips and cudgels, even so administered, were sufficient, to others (::nd often also to the same, who had suffered as I have stated) they applied, instead of ratan and bamboo, whips made of the branches of the Bale-tree--a tree full of sharp and strong thorns, which tear the skin and lacerate the flesh far worse than ordinary scourges.
“For others, exploring with a searching and inquisitive malice,
stimulated by an insatiate rapacity, all the devious paths of nature for whatever is most unfriendly to man, they made rods of a plant highly caustic and poisonous, called Bechettea, every wound of which festers and gangrenes, adds double and treble to the present torture, leaves a crust of leprous sores upon the body, and often ends in the destruction of life itself.
“At night these poor innocent sufferers, those martyrs of avarice and extortion, were brought into dungeons; and in the season when nature takes refuge in insensibility from all the miseries and cares which wait on life, they were three times scourged, and made to reckon the watches of the night by periods and intervals of torment. They were then led out in the severe depth of winter-which there at certain seasons would be severe to any, to the Indians is most severe and almost intolerable—they were led out before break of day, and stiff and sore as they were with the bruises and wounds of the night, were plunged into water; and whilst their jaws clung together with the cold, and their bodies were rendered infinitely more sensible, the blows and stripes were renewed upon their backs; and then delivering them over to soldiers, they were sent into their farms and villages to discover where a few handfuls of grain might be found concealed, or to extract some loan from the remnants of compassion and courage not subdued in those who had reason to fear that their own turn of torment would be next, that they should succeed them in the same punishment, and that their very humanity, being taken as a proof of their wealth, would subject them (as it did in many cases subject them) to the same inhuman tortures. After this circuit of the day through their plundered and ruined villages, they were remanded at night to the same prison; whipped as before at their return to the dungeon, and at morning whipped at their leaving it; and then sent as before to purchase, by begging in the day, the reiteration of the torture in the night. Days of menace, insult and extortion-nights of bolts, fetters, and flagellation—succeeded to each other in the same round, and for a long time made up all the vicissitudes of life to these miserable people.
“ But there are persons whose fortitude could bear their own suffering, there are men who are hardened by their very pains; and the mind strengthened even by the torments of the body, rises with a strong defiance against its oppressor. They were assaulted on the side of their sympathy. Children were scourged almost to death in the presence of their parents. This was not enough. The son and father were bound close together, face to face, and body to body, and in that situation cruelly lashed together, so that the blow which
escaped the father fell upon the son, and the blow which missed the son wound over the back of the parent. The circumstances were combined by so subtle a cruelty, that every stroke which did not excruciate the sense should wound and lacerate the sentiments and affections of nature.
'On the same principle, and for the same ends, virgins who had never seen the sun were dragged from the inmost sanctuaries of their houses.
Wives were torn from the arms of their husbands, and suffered the same flagitious wrongs, which were indeed hid in, the bottoms of the dungeons, in which their honour and their liberty were buried together.
“The women thus treated lost their caste. My Lords, we are not here to commend or blame the institutions and prejudices of a whole race of people, radicated in them by a long succession of ages, on which no reason or argument, on which no vicissitudes of things, no mixture of men, or foreign conquests have been able to make the smallest impression. The aboriginal Gentoo inhabitants are all dispersed into tribes or castes, each caste, born to have an invariable rank, rights, and descriptions of employment; so that one caste can not by any means pass into another. With the Gentoos certain impurities or disgraces, though without any guilt of the party, infer loss of caste; and when the highest caste (that of the Brahmin, which is not only noble but sacred,) is lost, the person who loses it does not slide down into one lower but reputable—he is wholly driven from all honest society. All the relations of life are at once dissolved. His parents are no longer his parents, his wife is no longer his wife, his children, no longer his, are no longer to regard him as their father. It is something far worse than complete outlawry, complete attainder, and universal excommunication. It is a pollution even to touch him, and if he touches any of his old caste they are justified in putting him to death. Contagion, leprosy, plague are not so much shunned. No honest occupation can be followed. He becomes an Halichore, if (which is rare) he survives that miserable degradation.
“ Your lordships will not wonder that these monstrous and oppressive demands, exacted with such tortures, threw the whole province into despair. They abandoned their crops on the ground. The peo
in body would have fled out of its confines ; but bands of soldiers invested the avenues of the province, and making a line of circumvallation, drove back those wretches, who sought exile as a relief, into the prison of their native soil. Not suffered to quit the district, they fled to the many wild thickets which oppression had scattered through it, and sought amongst the jungles and dens of