« ElőzőTovább »
ON THE PATRONAGE OF IDOLATRY BY THE
BRITISH AUTHORITIES IN INDIA.
" If we consider,” said the Rev. Robert Hall, “ what may be the probable intentions of Providence in opening so extensive a communication betwixt Europe, and the most ancient seats of Idolatry, and more especially of subjecting such immense territories in the East to the British arms, we can conceive no end more worthy of the Deity in these momentous changes than to facilitate the propagation of true religion.
“ Our acquisition of power there has been so rapid, so extensive, and so disproportioned to the limits of our native empire, that there are few events in which the interposition of Providence may be more distinctly traced. By an astonishing train of events, a large portion of the population of the oriental world, has been subjected to the controul of an island placed in the extremities of the West of Europe. Kingdoms have fallen after kingdoms, and provinces after provinces, with a rapidity which resembles the incidents of romance, rather than the accustomed order of political events. It is remarkable, too, that this career of conquest has uniformly directed its steps towards those parts of the earth, and to those only, which are the primeval seats of pagan idolatry; forming an intimate connection betwixt the most enlightened of Christian nations, and the victims of the most inveterate and deplorable system of superstition mankind has ever witnessed. As we must be blind not to discern the finger of God in these transactions, it behoves us to consider for what purposes we are lifted to so high a pre-eminence.”* A glance at the statistics of British India, will prove that this powerful passage is as accurate as it is eloquent.
The numerical amount of the population of British India is very difficult to ascertain, but Mr. R. M. Martin, in his history of the British Colonies, estimates our Asiatic territories at 514,190 square miles, and the population at about one hundred millions ! Now to this vast number must be added the inhabitants of the protected and
* Hall's Address on the renewal of the charter of the East India Company, 1813. VOL. I. N. S.-Vol. XX.
allied states; the area of which is greater than that of the British territory by 100,000 square miles; and allowing an equal amount of population to the British territories, it will give a grand total of TWO HUNDRED MILLION INHABITANTS, directly and indirectly under the sway of Great Britain, and subject to the government of the Hon. East India Company !* Of this appalling multitude about twenty millions may be Mahometans and Christians, but the rest, that is nine-tenths of the population, are, as Mr. Hall expressed it, " the victims of the most inveterate and deplorable system of superstition mankind has ever witnessed." Here then recurs the question, for what purposes this vast empire has been committed to our national stewardship? It is deeply to be deplored, that for too long a period the sovereignty of these extensive kingdoms was not regarded as a sacred trust, for which we are responsible to the God of nations, “ the supreme fountain of power;" but was only used to augment the grandeur and increase the wealth of our native country.
Until the renewal of the charter of the East India Company in 1813, Christian Missionaries were not allowed to embark from Great Britain for India, but were obliged to reach it by the circuitous route of Denmark or America, and were on their arrival exposed to considerable obstructions and to many vexatious interruptions in their quiet labours.
The religious public of Great Britain felt, that " for a Christian nation to give a decided preference to polytheism and idolatry, by prohibiting the dissemination of a purer faith, and thus to employ its powers in suppressing the truth and prolonging the existence of the most degrading and deplorable superstitions, is a line of conduct equally repugnant to the dictates of religion and the maxims of sound policy; and that to oppose by force the propagation of revealed truth, from any worldly considerations whatever, is such a sacrifice of right to expediency, as can be justified on no principles but what will lead to the subversion of all morality and religion.”+ Combined with these sentiments British Christians of various denominations united to petition parliament, “ that such provisions may be inserted in the new charter to be granted to the East India Company, as shall afford sufficient facilities to those benevolent persons who shall be desirous of going to India for the purpose of communicating to its population the blessings of useful knowledge and moral and religious improvement; and also such provisions as shall prevent the obstruction of their endeavours for promoting their object in that country.”
These united and Christian efforts prevailed. Clauses were introduced into the Bill by the Government which secured those important objects, and the royal assent was given to it, July 21, 1813.
* Martin's History of the British Colonies, vol. i. p. 169. + Ilall's Address."
1 There were nearly 1,000 petitions presented to parliament from all parts of the empire, which were supposed to be signed by about half a million of persons. Evangelical Magazine, vol. xxi. p. 321.
This measure having unveiled the state of Hindoo society to the inspection of Christian and British Missionaries, those devoted men soon brought under the notice of their countrymen several enormities, which from a mistaken notion of liberality had been tolerated by the British authorities. Of these the rite of Suttee was the most revolting, and when its murderous character became fully known in this country, its criminality was so urged upon the East Indian Government and the British Parliament, that at the close of the year 1829, the Court of Proprietors of the East India Company resolved, that it is the duty of a paternal government to interpose for the prevention of those rites and ceremonies that involve the destruction of human life, and therefore authorized the Directors to transmit such instructions to India, as they might deem expedient for the accomplishment of the object, consistently with all practicable attention to the feelings of the natives.
Although the execution of this resolution met with vexatious delays at home, and was resisted by some wealthy Hindoos, who appealed to the Privy Council against it, yet that high tribunal adjudged the practice of the Suttee to be criminal; and justice will now overtake the mercenary Brahmins or their unhappy adherents, who dare again to ignite the funeral pile on which to consume the living with the dead!
Further acquaintance with Indian affairs brought to light the disgusting fact, that the British authorities in India had adopted a line of policy towards idolatry, which, however defended by cupidity, or expediency, was most offensive to every Christian mind. In 1830, Mr. John Poynder, whose untiring and enlightened efforts for the cause of Christianity in the East deserve the gratitude of all true believers, brought this subject before a Court at the India House, and in an elaborate and important speech* adduced abundant evidence of the revolting fact, “ that the Company afforded direct encouragement to the licentious and sanguinary system of idolatry, and largely participated in the pecuniary profits derived by taxes imposed on the worshippers at different Hindoo temples.”
Although the motion he submitted was not successful, yet a movement was commenced which induced the Court of Directors to issue, on the 20th of February, 1833, their memorable dispatch, containing the following resolutions :
1. " That the interference of British functionaries in the interior management of native temples--in the customs, habits, and religious proceedings of their priests and attendants in the arrangement of their ceremonies, rites, and festivals, and generally in the conduct of their interior economy, shall cease.
2. “ That the pilgrim tax shall every where be abolished.
3. “ That fines and offerings shall no longer be considered as sources of revenue by the British Government, and they shall no longer be collected or received by the servants of the Company.
4. “ That no servant of the Company shall hereafter be engaged in the collection, or management, or custody of monies, in the nature of fines or offerings, however obtained, or whether furnished in cash or in kind.
* Vide“ Speech of John Poynder, Esq. at a General Court," &c. 8vo. 1830. Hatchard and Son.
5. “ That no servant of the Company shall hereafter derive any emolument from the above-mentioned or any similar sources.
6. “ That in all matters relating to their temples, their worship, their festivals, their religious practices, and their ceremonial observances, our native subjects be left entirely to themselves.
7. “ That in every case in which it has been found necessary to form and keep up a police force, especially with a view to the peace and security of the pilgrims or the worshippers, such police shall hereafter be maintained out of the general revenues of the country.”
This dispatch was read in Council at Calcutta on the 13th of July in the same year, who directed that the Accountant-General of Bengal, and the Governments of Madras and Bombay, should furnish receipts and disbursements of the Pilgrim and other Taxes ; and on the 9th of December following, the Council again ordered such returns. From that time to the close of last year no further steps appear to have been taken, and the course of things has gone on as formerly.
Mr. Poynder, therefore, brought the subject again before the General Court of Proprietors on the 21st of December last, and delivered an able speech, since published, which abundantly proves that the order of the Court has become a dead letter.
While this movement was going on at home, the European residents at Madras prepared the following Memorial, addressed to the Governor in Council of Fort St. George, praying for equal religious toleration to all subjects of the state. “ To the Right Honourable Sir Frederick Adam, K. C. B., Governor in Council,
Fort St. George. « Right HONOURABLE SIR, “ We the undersigned Ministers and Members of the different denominations of Protestant Christians in the Presidency of Fort St. George, beg leave most respectfully to approach your Excellency in Council, to lay before you various instances in which, we humbly conceive, the principles of religious toleration to be widely departed from under this Government-subjecting those of us who are members of the civil, or military branches of the service, to great and peculiar personal grievance.
“ We venture at the same time, with much deference, also to express to your Excellency in Council, the pain with which we behold the Christian Government of this Presidency and its Officers, affording encouragement to, and still identified with the Idolatry and superstitions of our Native fellow-subjects, in opposition, as it appears to us, to the orders on this subject of the Honourable the Court of Directors, addressed to the Supreme Government, under date the 28th February, 1833-to the Word of God; and to the best interests of those who have by His over-ruling Providence been subjected to British dominion in Southern India.
“ We beg leave, in proof of our statement, to bring to your Excellency's knowledge, as matters of grievance;
“ First, That it is now required of Christian servants of the Government, both civil and military, to attenri Heathen and Mahomedan religious festivals, with the view of shewing them respect.
“ Second, That in some instances they are called upon to present offerings, and to do homage to idols. .“ Third, That the impure and degrading services of the pagodas are now carried on, under the supervision and controul of the principal European, and therefore Christian Officers of the Government, and the management and regulation of the revenues and endowments, both of the pagodas and mosques, are so vested in them, under the provisions of Regulations VII. of 1817, that no important idolatrous ceremony can be performed, no attendant of the various idols, not even the prostitutes of the temple be entertained or discharged, nor the least expense
incurred, without the official concurrence and orders of the Christian functionary.
“ Fourth, That British Officers, with the troops of the Government, are also now employed in firing salutes, and in otherwise rendering honour to Mahomedan and idolatrous ceremonies, even on the Sabbath day, and Christians are thus not unfrequently compelled, by the authority of Government, to desecrate their own most sacred institutions, and to take part in unholy and degrading superstitions.
“ Protestant soldiers, Members of the Church of England, we may add, have also been required, contrary to the principle declared in his Majesty's Regulations, that every soldier shall be at liberty to worship God according to the forms preseribed by his religion,' to be present at, and participate in the worship of the Church of Rome.
“ By the requisition of the foregoing and similar duties, we cannot but sensibly feel, that not only are the Christian servants of the State constrained to perform services incompatible with their inost sacred obligations, and their just rights and privileges as Christians infringed: but that our holy religion is also dishonoured in the eyes of the people; and public and official sanction and support given to idolatry and superstitions destructive to the soul, and apostacy from the only true and living God.
“ We believe also that your Excellency in Council will on enquiry find, that the prescribed interference of the Christian Officer with their religious services, mosques, and endowments, is not in unison with the feelings and faith of our Mahomedan fellow-subjects, and that there is therefore no valid ground whatever for its existence in this Presidency. And although our Heathen fellow-subjects, we can scarcely doubt, are generally gratified by the honour rendered by the Government to their idols; still we have the strongest reason to question whether the official support at present given to their superstitions is, in all its extent, desired by the great mass of the people. We may cite, as one instance, peculiarly deserving of your Excellency's attention, the drawing of the idol car :- This onerous task is now only effected throughout this Presidency by the agency of the police : thousands of the poorer classes being forced, under the orders of the collector and magistrate, from their homes, for the performance of this special duty, without, in the great majority of cases, the slightest compensation - And whatever may be the wishes and sentiments of the individuals immediately connected with the pagodas, we are fully assured, that this interference is viewed by the great body of the people, both land owners, and their labourers, as a vexatious and oppressive exercise of power, to which they submit only on compulsion. It is, we conceive, therefore certain, that this baneful part of the debasing idolatry of the land, is now upheld and carried on in this Presidency, solely by the interposition and authority of the British Government.
“ Entertaining these sentiments, and deeply convinced that we are by these acts resisting the will of God, by whose blessing alone this, or any nation can prosper, whilst we are not less firinly persuaded, that positive injustice is done under the existing system to the Protestant subjects, and servants of the state; we most respectfully, yet most earnestly, entreat your Excellency in Council to be pleased to take this subject into early and deliberate consideration, and to afford to the utmost of your power, to Christianity, and to ourselves as Members of the Protestant community, the same toleration and exemption froin requirements contrary to our consciences, as are enjoyed by Members of all other persuasions.
“ We explicitly disclaim, as utterly inconsistent with our principles as Christians, all desire that the liberty of conscience so fully and justly accorded to the Mahomedan and Heathen, should be in any degree violated. Our sole object and wish is to see the true principles of religious toleration, declared in the instructions of the Honourable the Court of Directors, already referred to, practically, and universally enforced,-believing the policy there marked out of a real neutrality,' to be as safe and salutary as it is wise. · “ We would most humbly pray, therefore, that in accordance with those instructions, all superior Officers of this Government may be henceforth strictly prohibited from issuing orders, or affording encouragement to Mahomedan, or Heathen rites and festivals. Tbat it be not hereafter required of any Christian servant of the State, civil or military of any grade, to make an offering, or to be present at, or to take part in, any idolatrous, or Mahomedan act of worship, or religious festival. That the firing of salutes, the employment of military bands, and of the Govern