21 JUNE 1873, Page 10


THE official Census of Bengal just completed by the Registrar- General is a really wonderful undertaking, which has not hitherto received the attention it deserved. It is one of the very few enterprises of a scientific character—the Survey perhaps being the only other—in which the Government has, partly from the tact of its officers, partly from the dread inspired by Sir G. Campbell, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, and partly from a change in the feeling of the people towards their rulers, been completely suc- cessful. The difficulties in the way of success were endless. The old Census was known to be absurd. It was proved over and over again in the Friend of India to be at variance with all known statistics—to be, for instance, hopelessly inconsistent with all that was known of the lodging of the people, and all that had been ascertained of their birth-rate ; with the gradual but rapid settle- ment of the wild lands, and with the growth of that numerous and dangerous class, the peasantry without lands. Still nobody would undertake its correction. The Government were certain that the popular estimate, a round forty millions, was the easiest to adhere to, was the one which gave the least cause for inquiry into the salt monopoly—making, as it did, the consumption per head quite normal—which made the Administration seem most sufficient, and which, in fact, troubled them the least. Everybody, too, had an exaggerated sense of the difficulty of the work. The higher officials had a horror of a task which they honestly thought dangerous, and the lower officials did not want the trouble and odium connected with the proceeding. To count fifty millions of people buried mostly iu the forest— for Bengal is through whole provinces forest, though the woods may be but orchards—is a most terrible task, without native consent, and there was a reason to suppose that native consent might never be given. There is no serious objection any- where in Bengal to a counting of the houses, or of the men, though the first is disliked as leading to a house-tax, and the second as connected with the conscription, but still annoyance would never rise into resistance. A well-known official in Calcutta—Mr. Wauchope, the Sir R. Mayne of Calcutta—did, in fact, count the great county of llooghly as accurately as any city was ever counted in England, and everybody at once pronounced his computation a fable. But there was a definite objection to counting either women or children. The men, impressed, we imagine, by the recollection of some old tyrannies, firmly believed that the officials would insist on seeing their wives' faces—equi- valent to stripping them—and the women, not quite so sensitive, perhaps, on this point, were wild at the idea of their children being counted. Their number might be stated wrong or their beauty might be envied, and then the mai occhio would fall, and oh ! then there would be endless calamity. We have ourselves seen a Bengalee mother spit at a benevolent English lady because she remarked on the beauty of her baby, and look as ready for imme- diate action as a Neapolitan woman will if she thinks you ridicule her child. To make a perfect census throughout vast provinces, covered with villages full of people so filled with social distrust, required therefore infinite tact, and the Report before us shows that both the men most closely engaged in the matter possessed that quality. The Lieutenant-Governor, Sir George Campbell, whittled away the information to be required till the tears stood in the eyes of the Indian Statistical Department; and the Registrar- General, Mr. Beverley, hit upon the only plan which would make natives heartily co-operate. This was to entrust the duty of enumeration to village notables, and the duty of supervision only to the police. The effect of this was to interest at least two independent persons in each village in the inquiry, and to take from them the strongest guarantees against oppression. They would no more insult the women or worry the mothers than English Vestrymen would, partly from their own respectability, and partly because they would have to live their lives among their neighbours after the Census had been taken. They were, of course, nominated by the Government, and of course under the present Government were usually unpaid ; but their letters of appointment were most complimentary, and are highly valued, proving as they do, for instance, without further discussion, that when an enumerator gives evidence in Court he is a respect- able man. There was a great competition for the unpaid office, and many serious complaints of refusal, and at the same time, a very steady resolution to behave properly. If they were lax, there was no knowing what Government might not do to them ; while if they were oppressive—pulling down the women's veils, for instance—they were pretty sure within three months to be sent into hospital with more or less serious wounds upon their bodies. As a matter of fact, they were, in ninety-nine cases out of a hun- dred, most humdrum respectable people, of the English Vestrymen class, who knew everybody and everybody's brats, and who, if re- sisted, neither oppressed nor threatened, but chaffed, and jeered, and importuned till they got the information they knew to be about right. With the cool impudence an absolute Government sure of its own conscience sometimes manifests, it was provided by statute that anybody could refuse an en umeratorship, but if he accepted one, he must perform its duties under penalties, which also he could inflict on any male head of a household refusing to answer questions. Finally, the landlords or zemindars were asked to assist, and for some reasons which we do not quite understand, and Mr. Beverley does not explain, the Zemindars throughout Bengal were, for the main part, not unfavourable to the cause. We have an idea that they liked the Census, that they honestly wished to know the number of their own people, and that they had ascertained the drift of the investigation, which previously had not been the case. At all events, they assisted, or did not oppose ; but above all, the European officials were excited. They wanted, out of sheer in- tellectual curiosity, to succeed, and took most unusual pains. Mr. Raveushaw, for instance, the clever, indefatigable, but slightly hard Commissioner of Orissa, actually had the Census and its advantages preached by every native officer for two years, and to his own extreme surprise found that his allowance for enumerators was not needed, that volunteers could and would do the work. After all, every native looks to a high European official as a French peasant looks to his prefect, and finding him excited and anxious about a definite object, becomes excited and anxious too. The school- masters, who have the curious influence in Bengal that they once had in Ireland, entered into the plan with zeal, were constantly made enumerators, and from causes we cannot relate here are very nearly beyond constraint. Elaborate arrangements were made to overcome geographical difficulties, and in a few instances, paid officials were employed, and the result of the whole was that the complaints were very few—that in only one was the serious question of the women brought up, the enumerator declaring that he had orders to measure their height and girth, and receiving fees to avoid those ceremonials—and that the Government and the Services are satisfied that the main body of their Census is correct, the incorrect portion being the houseless or wandering population.

This result, if it is in the main correct, as we see no reason to doubt, is that the popular estimate of population in Bengal is entirely wrong, that it amounts to 67,000,000 instead of 40,000,000, or within a fraction of half the whole population submitted to our direct authority. In other words, we have in Asia one collection of provinces of incomparable fertility, comprising 67,000,000 of people, or rather more than the population of Russia, which we bold with a garrison of less than 10,000 Europeans, in which we dare to-morrow take a frank plebiscite, and in which any law not insanely offensive would be obeyed by the population, one province that is out of which, in fact, we could not be expelled except by ex- ternal violence. We hold Bengal as we hold Wales, with no fear of the people except in a riot, which a very moderate force of soldiery will quell, the masses, planted in some counties at the rate of 600 to the square mile, never dreaming of resisting the armed force. This population, moreover, double our own, is so apt, so intel- lectual, and so ambitious, that the single real difficulty in the way of opening the Civil Service is that the Bengalees would in mere examinations beat the Europeans out of the field ; so wealthy, that their absorption of specie is felt severely by the world at large, and so impressible, that they will when fairly treated beat the officials in helping Government to returns which might bring them evil, and could bring them no reward. They increase too rapidly, the number of living children per family being 17 per cent. greater than in England. But the grand new fact is the astounding number of Mohammedans revealed by the new Census. The old idea was that the Mohammedans in India north of the Kistna did not exceed 15,000,000, but the Census shows us that of the total 66,000,000 in Bengal alone, there are,— 'Undoes, including all who claim that name 42,674,000 Mussulmans 20,664,000 Buddhists 85,000 Christians 93,000 Others 2,351,000 The Mohammmedans are therefore nearly one-third of the popula- tion, and with their armies of Missionaries, with their theory that all faithful races are equal before God, and with their practice of rais- ing any convert at once to full social equality, they are becoming so numerous that by 1900 they will be half the population. The difficulty of governing Bengal will then be increased fourfold, for they will absolutely rule the Hindoos, and may lose the feeling that Bengal, if made independent, would be a prey to a native race far more unendurable than the English, who at least never interfere in matters of creed ; who, indeed, with a cool, serene justice, absolutely unintelligible to native observers, have ruled that conversion from any creed to any other shall affect no Civil rights. Throughout the centre of Lower Bengal, in Poorneah, Dinajpoor, Rungpore, Maid* Rajshaye, Pubna, Dacca, Jessore, Furreedpore, in fact, the whole of the rich counties on the left bank of the river, they equal or greatly exceed 45 per cent. of the people. In two other districts, Chittagong and Noakholly, the Mohammedans are three-fourths of the population ; while, in Bograh, Ragshaye, and Pubna they exceed the Hindoos by 20 per cent., perhaps the most astounding instance of wholesale conversion in modern history. Scarcely 5 per cent. of these Mohammedans can be immigrants, and there is reason to be- lieve that millions of the converts have been made since our occupa- tion of the country, the lower castes being thereby relieved from the oppression of the upper castes. Mr. Beverley inclines to believe that this process is still going on, and is greatly aided by the extra number of children born in Mohammedan houses, nearly one-sixth as large again, but thinks a second census will be required to determine the point which, if finally established, as we believe it will be, points clearly to the religious destiny of Bengal. The Buddhists are nearly all in Chittagong, and the Christians are under 100,000, though they may secure, if they beat the Moham- medan missionaries, the whole of the aboriginals, now 2,351,000. Christianity does not, however, confer status, and until it does is sure to be defeated by Islam, which, instead of employing a few white missionaries, sends out thousands, who have nothing to learn of the habits, ways, and prejudices of the people, and who appeal directly to at least 900 of the 1,000 castes into which Mr. Beverley believes the Hindoos of Bengal to be divided, and to every one of the 1,500,000 Chundals, or total outcasts beneath the Caste system, still scattered through the provinces.