Progress and Crime in India


Between the lines
A perusal of the following data for which have been culled from a “Statement exhibiting the Moral and Material Condition of India during the Year 1908-9” issued by order of the House of Commons, should, it is hoped, do something towards enlightening our readers as to working-class conditions obtaining in British India.

Reading between the lines of this official document, it is apparent that the India Office is chiefly concerned in endeavouring to hide away in its dusty archives the facts relating to the real position of the native agricultural and industrial workers. Seemingly, however, the truth will out even in a Government publication, and the truth, in this instance, will be found far from palatable, at any rate to those whose minds have been cleared of racial prejudice and the bastard patriotism so prevalent to-day.

The following is taken from page 56 of the Eeport, “Inspection of Mines “:

“The number of mines of all kinds coming under the Act (The Indian Mines Act, 1901) in 1908 was 1,062 . . . They gave employment to an average daily number of 164,301 persons (an increase of 8 per cent. in the year), of whom 103,322 were men, 54,518 women, and 6,461 children under twelve years old ; 102,451 persons worked underground.”
“There were 135 fatal accidents, causing 194 deaths, during the year 1908, an increase of 72 over the deaths in 1907. The increase is chiefly due to the expansion and activity of the coal industry and to the increasingly difficult and dangerous conditions of mining work. Of the fatal accidents, 165 occurred in coal mines. Accidents in coal mining would probably be more numerous than now (1.37 per 1,000 workers) but for the fact that the workings are generally free from gas, very shallow, and not elaborate.”

Suffer Little Children
In the section “Factory Inspection” it is to be noticed that one of the laws passed decreed the raising of the minimum age for child labourers from 7 to 9 years, and another the forbidding of the working of children more than 7 hours per day. What benevolence on the part of the factory legislators ! Only 7 hours work per day for children of nine years of age ! As the next paragraph shows, however, the laws relating to the working of children are broken with impunity. Is this why they are passed ? On page 114 with regard to plague in India we read :

“It is now generally agreed : (1) That bubonic plague is spread by infected rats ; (2) that the vehicle of contagion between rat and rat and between rat and man is the rat flea.”

In India it has presumable been ordained by a dispensation of capitalistic Providence that rats and men shall dwell harmoniously together, sharing the same rat-flea between them—a state of affairs which even the working class in Britain, who do not usually cavil very much at their housing accommodation, would possibly object to.

In the light of the foregoing, it is interesting to notice that “income tax receipts have increased with the increase in profits and salaries resulting from commercial and industrial activity” to £1,553,419 in 1908-9, as compared with £1,504,113 in 1907-8.

Poverty Breeds Crime
Perhaps the most significant section of the “statement” from a Socialist standpoint is that devoted to “Crime and Police.” The Socialist contends that the material conditions in which an individual lives and by which he is surrounded determine the predominant features of his individual character, and that therefore a bad and degrading social environment must inevitably engender bad and degraded social units. This contention is certainly upheld by the Report under notice. We read :

“Madras. The season was generally unfavourable, and scarcity prevailed almost throughout the Madras Presidency. The prices of food grains, excessive at the end of 1907, rose still higher in 1908 ; and, in consequence, there was a marked increase in crime. The total number of true cases of cognisable crime (cognisable offences are those for which the police can arrest without a warrant) rose from 47,500 to 50,047. . . . Property lost during the year was valued at £110,533, of which 27.3 per cent. was recovered.”
“Bombay. In Bombay the total number of cognisable cases reported during the year rose to 33,646, there being increases under all heads of offences, except cattle theft…..The value of property stolen during the year, in connection with cognisable crime, was estimated at £113,352, a large increase for the figures during 1907.”
“Bengal. As regards ordinary crime, there was an increase of 8 per cent. in the number of cognisable offences. The whole of this increase occurred under the heads of burglary and theft, and is to be attributed principally to the high price of food.”
“United Provinces. The famine, which lasted during the greater part of the year under review, naturally affected the returns of crimes in the United Provinces. The volume of reported offences increased by 5.5 per cent. on the corresponding figure for 1907, and amounted to 195,697 cases . . . there were increases in the number of robberies, burglaries, ordinary thefts, and cattle thefts.”
“Punjab. Burglaries increased from 12,087 to 73,700 ; and cases of cattle theft by 299.”

In Eastern Bengal and Assam ordinary crime is reported to have remained stationary.

“Central Provinces and Berar. In the Central Provinces there was an increase in the total volume of crime which may be attributed in part to the failure of the crops in the north of the Provinces, and the subsequent general high range of prices.”
“Burma. The outstanding fact of the year under review in Burma was a substantial increase of crime.”
“North-West Frontier Province. The year under review in the North-West Frontier Province showed a great increase in violent crime, to be attributed to the unsettled state of the border and to the higher prices which ruled throughout the year.”

In Coorg the number of offcnces were reported as being normal.

An Official Admission
In all the above-named provinces (except Coorg) where not actually stated that high prices and scarcity of food conduced to the increase in crime, it is shown by a perusal of other sections of the Report that such high prices and scarcity did actually prevail, generally to a very large extent.

The conclusion may be drawn, therefore, from the facts supplied by the Government of India, that a decrease in the standard of living brings with it an increase in criminal offences, and that such offences as robbery, burglary and theft are the outcome of the fierce and ever-intensified struggle for existence prevailing in present-day society.

This conclusion is, of course, quite in accord with the views which have been constantly and consistently put before readers in the SOCIALIST STANDARD during the past six years.

The foregoing are the most salient features of “a Statement prepared from detailed reports from each Presidency and District in India, in such form as shall best exhibit the Moral and Material Progress and Condition of India in each such Presidency.” (So it is naively described in the preface.)

The Logical Conclusion
The India Office has apparently come to the conclusion that the best form in which the “Moral and Material Progress of India” can be exhibited is by the compilation of facts showing the moral and material deterioration of the native working class. It would seem, indeed, that from the India Office standpoint, moral and material conditions progress, like the crab, by going backwards. Truly, the bourgeois method of reasoning passes the wit and understanding of an ordinary mortal.


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