|Cities and towns in Upper-Burma.|
The Thathanabaing is the head of this order for purposes of discipline and for settling doctrinal disputes. His title means that he has power over all religious matters. It is misleading to speak of him as an archbishop or to apply any of the titles of the Christian Church to the Buddhist monks, who are not priests in any sense, but "are the strict followers of Buddha, who, like him, have renounced the world to devote themselves to the twofold object of mastering their passions and acquiring the true wisdom which alone can lead to the deliverance."
"The regulations they are subject to and the object they have in view in entering the religious profession debar them from concerning themselves in affairs that are foreign to their calling." The great mass of the Pongyis, or monks, in Upper Burma, who may have numbered in 1887 twenty or thirty thousand persons, obeyed the rules of their order and took no part in the troubles that followed the annexation.
In the King's time the Thathanabaing neither personally nor as representative of the order interfered in affairs of State. He might have, as a work of mercy, pleaded for the remission of a sentence, but it is doubtful whether he went beyond that, or whether he had any political influence in our sense of the word.
As a "religious" he would have, and was bound to have, no concern with mundane affairs. Could he bring any influence to bear on the people at large to induce them to submit peacefully to our rule?
"When we speak," writes Bishop Bigandet, "of the great influence possessed by the religious order of Buddhist monks we do not intend to speak of political influence. It does not appear that in Burma they have ever aimed at any share in the management or direction of the affairs of the country. Since the accession of the house of Alomphra to the throne, that is to say, during a period of above a hundred years, the history of Burma has been tolerably well known.
We do not recollect having ever met with one instance when the Pongyis, as a body, have interfered in the affairs of State. But in a religious point of view," continues Bishop Bigandet, "their influence is a mighty one."
And undoubtedly if they were an energetic, ambitious, and intellectual body, instead of a thoroughly lazy and densely ignorant set of men, they might easily direct this influence to worldly purposes, and they might have excited the people to resist the British.
One of my first acts at Mandalay was to issue orders for the repair of monasteries occupied by our men and for making compensation in some form to the monks, and at least twice afterwards I reiterated and enlarged these orders. No doubt this matter of the monasteries was a grievance.
But, as often happens, it was made more of by busybodies and correspondents interested in defaming the administration than by the sufferers. It was an unfortunate necessity of war. The only remedy was to build barracks and reduce the garrison, both of which were done with all the speed possible. It is worth noting that the Thathanabaing did not make any complaint to me on this head.
In his conversations with me he dwelt mainly on the sufferings caused to the monks by the removal of the inhabitants from the walled city, which was being converted into a cantonment. The monks living in the cluster of great Kyaungs (monasteries), of which the Incomparable was the centre, depended on the faithful in the city for their food.
|Chief Commissioner meeting the Chief Buddhist Monk (Tha-tha-na-baing).|
He was amused by my suggesting that the Commissioner and the secretary who accompanied me should be ordered to erect some monasteries on the sites to which the people were being moved. He saw the humour of it.
I found the Thathanabaing in my intercourse with him always courteous and good-humoured; and in his bearing there was neither arrogance nor ill-will. Of the Pongyis generally in Upper Burma I saw something, as in riding about the districts (there were no motors or tents for Chief Commissioners in those days) we had generally to ask the Pongyis to give us shelter; and their manner was courteous and hospitable.
Not a few, I thought, felt and deplored the misery which the disturbances caused, and would have been glad to work for peace. It must be remembered that from the experience of our rule in Lower Burma they knew the attitude of the British Government towards their religion. They had no reason to fear oppression or persecution. They knew at the same time that in losing a Buddhist King their position and influence must be lowered. They could hardly be asked to rejoice with us.
In common with others who know Burma better, I doubt if the religious orders as a body had much influence on the course of events, or took an active part in the resistance to us. When a monk became a noted leader, it was a patriot who had been a monk and not a monk who had become a patriot. At the same time some of the most serious and deepest-laid plots were hatched in monasteries or initiated by Pongyis.
I may give some instances of the conduct and feelings of Pongyis.
In August, 1887, a pretender calling himself the Pakan Prince joined a conspiracy to get up a rebellion in Mandalay. The police detected the movement and the prince was arrested. The prince told all that he knew. The originator of the scheme was a Sayadaw or Abbot living in one of the Thathanabaing's monasteries. He made his escape.
I sent for the Thathanabaing and he consented readily at my request to cite the Sayadaw to appear before him and to proclaim him as a man with whom Pongyis should not associate. Whether he was sincere or not, I cannot say. But he issued the injunction and I took care it was widely published.
Another case shows how the people as well as the Pongyis were coming to regard us. The town of Tabayin in the Ye-u (now Shwèbo) district was burnt by insurgents soon after our occupation of Mandalay. It was rebuilt in 1887 owing to the exertions of certain Pongyis formerly attached to the place. In order to ensure protection for the new town the Pongyis induced the people to build a barrack at their own expense for the police.
Similarly, in July, 1887, when I was at Ngathaingyaung in the Bassein district of Lower Burma the people were glad to have a detachment of Bengal Infantry (7th Regiment) in one of the monasteries. They welcomed them. One of the monks had learned Hindustani from the men; and the Abbot, or head Pongyi, told me he would gladly give up his own monastery if it was wanted for the soldiers.
Another matter which occupied my attention in Mandalay at this time was our position towards the Chinese in Upper Burma. They are most numerous in the Northern Division and congregate in Bhamo and Mandalay. They numbered according to the census of 1901 about ten thousand, and may have been less in 1887. Owing to their energy in trade and their wealth they formed a not insignificant body, and like most bodies they had their grievances.
It was arranged to hold a meeting in order to let them state their complaints. All the prominent Chinese in Mandalay attended the meeting, and Mr. Warry was present to interpret for me. They had minor grievances about the collection of the jade duties and the farm of the india-rubber tax in the Mogaung subdivisions. These things were easily arranged.
The chief subject of complaint, however, was the difficulty in procuring and trading in opium, a matter not to be easily settled. The regulations issued by the Chief Commissioner in March, 1886, practically stopped the traffic. The words were these:—
"No shops whatever will be licensed for the sale of opium, inasmuch as all respectable classes of Burmans are against legalizing the consumption of opium in the new province. Any one found selling opium to persons other than Chinese, or transporting opium in quantities above three tolahs, or keeping a saloon for consuming opium, will be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Rs. 500 or to three months' imprisonment, or to both. As traffic in opium was absolutely prohibited under the Burmese Government, there will be no hardship in thus proscribing opium dealings."
The Chinese, however, considered it the greatest hardship. The small quantity, little more than one ounce troy weight, which might be lawfully transported, practically stopped dealings in the drug. This provision may not seem to go beyond the regulations of the Burmese Government.
But there was all the difference between a rule meant to be enforced and one that could be easily evaded or was not intended to be made effective. No doubt the prohibition by the King of the use of opium by Burmans was real, and was backed by religious precept and influence; but the restrictions on the Chinese were laxly administered and were not too inconvenient to them.
If the Burmese alone had been concerned, opium might have been prohibited altogether, and the prohibition might have been made effectual, for it would have been backed by a very strong religious sanction.
But the Chinamen had to be considered. It was contrary to our interests and wishes, especially at that time, in Upper Burma to make things unpleasant for them. They are at all times a useful and enterprising element in the population, although the ingenuity of the least reputable amongst them in exploiting the Burmans and leading them to gamble and to smoke opium requires to be firmly checked.
A second objection to prohibition, and even greater than the hardship and annoyance it would cause to the Chinese, was the great difficulty—almost impossibility, it may be said—of enforcing it. Opium is perhaps as easy, and in Burma as profitable, to smuggle as any article in the world.
The Chinese are born smugglers. The poppy is largely cultivated in Yunnan and in the hilly country on the Salween. To prevent smuggling of opium overland into Burma would require a very large expenditure and a numerous establishment. The thousand miles of coast would be equally difficult to watch.
If the growth of the poppy is prevented in China and India it may perhaps become practicable to stop opium from entering Burma. It was futile at that time and under those circumstances to attempt absolute prohibition.
The Indian Excise and Opium Acts were extended to Upper Burma in the latter half of 1888. The restrictions on the sale to Burmans of opium and intoxicants were maintained—and neither excise licence nor opium-shop was allowed in any place where the non-Burman population was not considerable. Yunnan opium, which had hitherto come in free, was subjected to a duty.
The result was a great increase in the price of opium in Upper Burma and at the same time energetic smuggling; while it was believed, that so far as the restrictions against the sale of liquor or opium to Burmans were effectual, their efficacy was due, as in the King's time, more to the strength of the Buddhist religion than to the power of the British Government and the honesty of its magistrates. No further change was introduced while I was in Burma.
An excitement, however, arose in England, and the societies who, belonging to one of the most intemperate races in the world, make it their vocation to preach temperance to the most abstemious and sober of nations, drove the Government of India to experiment on Burma.
Since 1893 one device after another has been tried to prevent Burmans from getting opium. The results appear to have been that contraband opium has been driven to some extent from the market; that the consumption of Government opium which has paid duty has doubled; that hundreds of people are punished yearly, not a few on false charges, for offences against the Opium Act, many of them by imprisonment; that the use of cocaine and other drugs worse than opium has been substituted for it, and in spite of the police is growing.
The following passage from a very excellent and accurate handbook of Burma by Sir J. George Scott, K.C.I.E. (Alexander Moring, Ltd., 1906) is worth quoting as the opinion of a man who knows the country well:—
"In Kokang and the Wa States the out-turn (of opium) runs to tons. West of the Salween, Loimaw is the only place where opium is systematically grown for profit. The cultivators are all Chinamen, and the amount produced in the season reaches about four thousand pounds. The price ranges from twelve to fifteen rupees for three and a half pounds. No doubt a very great deal is smuggled into Burma by opium-roads—tracks only passable by coolies, and not known to many.
It is to be noted that there are no victims to opium in the opium-producing districts, any more than there are in Ssu-ch'uan, where the people are the wealthiest in China and half the crops are poppy. It is only in places where opium is prohibitive in price that there are victims to opium.
If a man is accustomed to take opium, he must have it to soothe his nerves under excessive fatigue; if he lives in a malarious district, it is necessary to kill the bacteria. When such a man is poor and comes to a place where opium duty is high, he has to starve himself to get the anodyne for his muscles, quivering under the weight of loads which no white man could carry, or to soothe the racking fever in his bones. He dies of want and opium is denounced.
Where opium is cheap, the people are healthy and stalwart and the women are fruitful. East of the Salween the universal opinion of opium is that of the Turk, who stamps on his opium lozenges Mash Alla'h, 'the gift of God.' Some of the Wa eat as well as smoke opium; but, so far as is known, regular opium-eating is rare, and none of the races drink it in the form of an emulsion, like the Kusumba of the Rajputs.
West of the Salween, the European cant about opium has penetrated. A Shan either tells deliberate lies or says he only smokes when he has fever. The Rumai is pious and hypocritical, and says his opium is intended for his ponies or for cases of malarial fever. There are, of course, cases of excess, but the opium victim is never the hideous spectacle of the man sodden with alcohol or the repulsive bestiality that the man becomes who takes food to excess" (pp. 268-69).
The only laws that will preserve the Burmans from the evils of opium and alcohol and other drugs are the teachings of Buddha. So long as they preserve their vigour and command the Burmans' belief, there is not much fear. The danger is that Buddhism will be undermined by Western education and contact with Europe, before it can be replaced by a better and stronger faith.
The number of young Burmans coming to England is increasing. Will they return as abstemious and as temperate as they came? They will not: the danger to the Burman is probably more from alcohol than from opium, and more from contact with the West than with China.
This question, however, had no influence whatever on the work we were engaged in. I was able to reassure the Chinese and to make them feel that the Government desired to treat them with fairness and consideration. The Chinese in Burma behaved throughout these stormy years as loyal citizens.
There were at first numerous reports of hostile gatherings on or near the Chinese frontier, especially in the north of Hsenwi and at Hpunkan, near Bhamo. They had little foundation in fact. The only case in which it is certain that an armed body of Chinese entered Burma was in January, 1889.
A strong body of Chinamen, chiefly deserters from the Chinese army and outlaws, gathered on the Molè stream north-east of Bhamo. They were promptly attacked by the police and so severely handled that they were not heard of again.
British Actions on Mogoke Ruby Mines
Still less influence on the restoration of order had the Ruby Mines affair, which excited the British public and enabled parliamentary busybodies to create an absurd fuss. The whole question of these mines and their administration might well have waited until we had pacified the country.
Even as a source of revenue they were of no great moment, and if we had left the native miners alone we should have saved the heavy expense of maintaining a strong force up in the hills and making a long and costly cart-road from the river.
Mogok, the headquarters of the mines, lies nearly six thousand feet above the sea-level, and is distant sixty miles by road from the river port of Thabeikkyin, most of it lying through thick jungle, poisoned with malaria and, in 1887, infested with dacoits. The mines were then worked by the Shans, who live on the spot and have hereditary rights.
A proposal had been made by Sir Charles Bernard, and supported by the Government of India, to give a lease of the mines for three years to Messrs. Gillanders Arbuthnot, of Calcutta, at an annual rent of two lakhs of rupees, the equivalent then of about £14,000. This firm had been accustomed to trade in rubies with the Shans at Mogok.
The proposal was judicious, and would have enabled the Government to learn the value of the mines before committing themselves for a longer term, as the firm's books were to be open to inspection. This proposal, however, did not meet the views of the gentlemen who had marked down the ruby mines as a field of speculation.
A parliamentary intrigue was got up. Questions were asked—jobs were hinted at. The enormous value of the mines—the richest ruby mines in the world—was talked about, until the British public began to see rubies and to suspect, I verily believe, Sir Charles Bernard and all of us, his official heirs and successors, of desiring to make dishonest fortunes.
Some of the speculators went to Simla to persuade the Government of India that Gillanders Arbuthnot's offer was inconceivably ridiculous. Then they came on to Rangoon with letters of introduction, not unaccompanied by hints and warnings to be careful, to sniff about the mines and get the ear of the authorities in Burma.
The Secretary of State trembled lest he should be suspected of favouring somebody; and if I had destroyed Mandalay or drained the Irrawaddy, I doubt if there would have been more disturbance than was caused by the grant to one of the prospectors of a few yards of worthless land at Mogok on which to erect a hut, and of an ordinary licence to mine.
Eventually an expert was sent out to inspect and value the mines. The gentleman deputed to this duty was no doubt a skilled mineralogist, even if he was without previous experience in ruby mines. It is possible that his report was worth the cost. It was, I take it, a means of getting out of a parliamentary difficulty. It served the Secretary of State for India as an excuse for delay, and gave the appearance at least of a searching and impartial investigation.
Late in 1889 a concession for seven years was granted to five lucky promoters; and then the course usual in such cases was followed. A company was floated in London under the auspices of a big financier. The success for the concessionaires was unexampled. The public, especially the small investors, in an enthusiasm of greed, tumbled over each other to secure shares.
In November, 1889, the company began to work. Its history since has not been one of remarkable prosperity either for the Government or the shareholders. The terms have been revised several times. The receipts of the Government from the company in 1903-4 were Rs. 2,11,500, or £14,000.
The history of this matter is interesting only as an example of the futility of interfering with the Government of India in local matters. To the administration of Burma it meant more writing, more labour, more anxiety, when attention was needed elsewhere. When a man's house is on fire he does not want to spend time in polishing the handle of his door.
I was compelled to keep at Mogok better men and a stronger force than the district needed. For some years there was much disturbance in the neighbouring country. But it was unconnected with the mines.
It is a defect in parliamentary government that so many members, avoiding the really important matters, fasten greedily on lesser questions, especially those which promise a scandal. As Parliament chose to look at this matter as one of imperial interest, the mines acquired an importance out of all proportion to their value. I found the ruby mines was a burning question, and I had to go there without delay.
I left Mandalay on the 29th of March in a steamer for Kyannyat, which was then the river station for Bernard Myo and Mogok, with Mr. Herbert White and my private secretary. We rode the forty miles from the river to Sagadaung, the halting-place at the foot of the hills, taking as we went an escort of five mounted men (Gurkhas) from the military posts on the road, and stopped there for the night. From Sagadoung a mule-path (twenty miles) took us to Bernard Myo, where I halted, and next day rode into Mogok.
The regulations and conditions under which it was proposed to allow the mines to be worked were explained to the native mineowners and to the persons present on behalf of the applicants for the concession, and the way was cleared for a settlement.
A matter of more importance, although not one in which Parliament was interested, was the dispute about Möngmit and Mohlaing. The Sawbwa of Möngmit and his ministers, as well as the claimant, Hkam Leng, had been summoned to attend me. The latter did not appear. He was one of the few irreconcilables Upper Burma produced. The investigation of the case satisfied me that he had no title to Möngmit, and I ordered him to be informed that his claim to that State was inadmissible, but that he would be recognised as chief of Mohlaing if he appeared and submitted.
After a few days at Mogok I returned to the river, marching down by the Thabeikkyin road. We were obliged to go slowly, as it was thought necessary to take an escort of twenty-five Gurkhas.
One Paw Kwe, the headman of a village on the road, the influential brigand in these parts and one of the most evil-looking rascals I ever met, accompanied the Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Carter, and was in a measure responsible that no mischief should befall us. In the hope of keeping him quiet I gave him a subsidy for carrying the mails. But he preferred unemployment and took again to the jungle after a time, and, I believe, became an irreconcilable.
British Actions on Getting A Fleet of Steam-Launches
The leisurely march down gave time to take up some matters of importance that were waiting for me. In the forefront of pressing questions was the provision of a sufficient fleet of steam-launches. The delta of the Irrawaddy, where the population is most dense and most wealthy, is a country of rivers and creeks, where most of the transport is by boats.
In the rice-harvest season the waterways are much used by the Burman craft carrying rice to the mills at Rangoon or Bassein, or making their way homeward with the money for which it has been sold.
The waterways needed to be patrolled. The disorders following the annexation extended to the creeks and rivers, and river pirates had become more daring and the necessity of a well-formed service of river police more urgent. Lower Burma was not well provided in this matter; and being unable to obtain funds, the administration was driven to apply local funds intended for roads to the purchase of launches.
In the Upper Province the want of suitable boats was even greater. There were some six hundred miles of waterway to be served. The rivers were the main lines of communication, and on the banks were placed in most cases the headquarters of districts, the military stations and outposts, and most of the larger villages and busier markets. At first, until I had time to revise administrative boundaries, several districts included land on both banks.
Insurgents and dacoits had no difficulty in obtaining boats for the purposes of attacking river craft or waterside villages, or of escaping from pursuit. Once or twice we were compelled to put an embargo on the boats to hinder the enemy from getting across, but it was impossible to interfere thus with the river life of the province, except under great necessity and for a very short time.
To meet the demands of the soldiers, the police, and the district officers, and, before the telegraph service was complete, to keep up communication between stations and outposts, many boats were required. It was also necessary to have the means of moving small bodies of troops up and down or across the river without delay as the need might arise.
I had little difficulty in showing the need for a better fleet. But the Government of India were startled at my demands. The Director of Indian Marine, Captain John Hext, R.N. (now Rear-Admiral Sir John Hext, K.C.I.E.), was sent down to persuade me to reduce the size and cost of my navy. He was successful, and might perhaps succeed in persuading the Emperor of Germany to limit his naval armaments.
He had designed an excellent type of river boat, a very light-draught paddle-wheeler, with simple machinery and fair speed, with accommodation for half a company of rifles and a couple of officers. They were built under his instructions in the Government dockyard at Kidderpore. Being his own creation, he named them the X type. In Burma they were called after every type of robber known to the country.
It was agreed that I was to have nine of these boats and four smaller craft. I had asked for twenty-three boats, and looking back, I am surprised at my moderation. At the present time, after twenty years of peace and freedom from organized crime, I believe the Burma Government has a fleet four times as large as that with which I had to be content. But then I was, as it were, a pioneer.
I was back in Mandalay on the 10th of April. There were some gleams of light between the clouds. Baw or Maw, a small Shan State on the Kyauksè border, had been brought to reason by General East without fighting: the Kalè Sawbwa on the Chindwin had completed the payment of his tribute: Hla Oo, the most noted leader in the Sagaing district, had been killed by his own men, who were sick of the life.
On the other side of the account, Sinbyugyun, a post north of Salin in the Minbu district, held by a military garrison of fifty men, had been attacked twice and partially burnt. The news from the Northern Shan States was somewhat disquieting. A desultory warfare was going on in Hsenwi between the hereditary chief of the State, who had allied himself with the pretender, Saw Yan Naing, and San Ton Hon, the usurper in possession of Northern Hsenwi, supported by the Sawbwa of Hsipaw.
It was reported that San Ton Hon was being driven back, and it was feared that the Hsipaw chief, who was our only assured friend in the Shan States, might suffer a repulse. It seemed at one time that it might become necessary to send an officer to Hsipaw with a small force. I was unwilling to take this step. I wished to leave the Northern Shan States alone until the next open season, and then to deal with the settlement of the States as a whole.
The rains, moreover, were now near at hand, and Sir George White disliked moving troops into the hills if it could be avoided. I held a party of military police ready, and had obtained the Viceroy's consent to act, if it should be necessary. Meanwhile arms and ammunition were sent up to Hsipaw, and the Sawbwa, who was not more incapable or half-hearted than his opponents, contrived to hold his own until the next open season.
The military police (recruited in India and trained there) were arriving in Burma now, and were being distributed and sent to their various destinations. I could do little more by remaining in Mandalay. The most urgent matters in connection with the police were the definition of their duties and of their relations with the civil officers, their housing, rationing, and medical treatment.
Until, as I stated before, these matters had been discussed and settled with the new Inspector-General of Police, little progress could be made in relieving the soldiers from occupying the small posts. General Stedman was expected to arrive in Rangoon about the middle of May, and it was convenient that he should meet me there.
Troubles in Lower Burma
Another matter which called me to Rangoon was the condition of Lower Burma. Shortly before I took charge the Government of India had called the Chief Commissioner's attention to the state of the province, "the constant occurrence of petty dacoities (gang robberies), the apparent want of concerted and energetic action in dealing with them which," they wrote, "have attracted the serious notice of the Governor-General in Council. His Excellency trusts that the subject may receive your immediate and active intervention."
The condition of the province was bad from a police point of view. The people had enjoyed excellent harvests and good prices. Yet there was a constant recurrence of crime, and the police quite failed to cope with it.
The excitement of the last year or two had been too much for the younger Burmans. They could not settle down again, and the spirit of loot and adventure rather than any real patriotism led to numerous gang robberies, and sometimes to foolish outbreaks, of which men from Upper Burma were sometimes the instigators.
Even within a short distance of Rangoon an Upper Burman, related, it was said, to the Minbu leader, Ôktama, raised the Golden Umbrella and called for followers. Some hundreds obeyed the call, but at the first sight of the police they began to disperse. A party of Karens, led by a British police officer, came up with some of them, killed and wounded several, captured others, and made an end of the rising.
The Karens in Lower Burma were loyal and generally staunch, especially the Christian Karens. The American Baptist missionaries have done an inestimable service to the Karen race. They understand thoroughly how to educate—in the true sense of the word—a tribe that has been despised and trodden down for some generations.
The missionary has made himself not only the pastor but also the chief of his people, and in those troubled times he organized them under their catechists, taught them discipline and obedience, and made them useful and orderly members of society, industrious, self-respecting, and independent. The Government of Burma owes a debt to the American Baptist Mission which should not be forgotten.
|American Baptist Missionaries in a Burmese prison (1825).|
"So far," he wrote, "from the crime of dacoity having been eradicated by British administration, each year more dacoities are committed than in the one preceding." He attributed this failure to defects in the judicial courts, especially the Court of Revision and Appeal, which resulted in making punishment very uncertain and sentences capricious; to the absence of any law establishing a village organization and responsibility; and to the number of arms in the hands of the peasantry, who received them for their self-defence against dacoits, but gave them or lost them to the robbers. The result was, Mr. Jameson asserted, that after thirty-five years of British rule the country "was in a more disturbed state than after the second (Anglo-Burmese) war."
There is no doubt that the judicial administration in Lower Burma was defective. The Judicial Commissioner who presided over the Chief Appellate and Revising Court for the interior of the province was selected by the Government of India from the members of the Indian Civil Service of one of the Indian provinces, and seldom stayed long in Burma.
It is no libel on the distinguished men who have held this position to say that as a rule they had no knowledge of the language or customs of the people or of the conditions of Burma. They came from some quiet province of India, and were unable at first to appreciate those conditions. One of them might think the sentences awarded by the magistrates too severe; his successor might pronounce them to be too lenient.
There was a tendency to forget that an act—for example, shooting a thief or burglar at sight—which in a quiet and settled country may be a crime, may be excusable in a state of society where plunder and murder by armed robbers are everyday occurrences.
Much mischief may be and was done by well-intentioned but inept judicial action; neither the police nor the people knew how far they might go in defending themselves or in effecting the capture of criminals, and circulars were issued explaining the law which would have puzzled the Chief Justice.
A Burman peasant before he fired his gun had to consider whether all the conditions justified him; and a frontier guard had to pause with his finger on the trigger while he recalled the words of the last circular on the use of firearms. The result was that the police and the people were nervous and demoralized. It was better to let the dacoit pass or to run away than to run the risk of a trial for murder.
This may seem exaggeration. On one occasion when the prisoners in a central gaol mutinied, the armed guard stood idle, until at last, when the convicts were breaking out, one of the guards took his courage in both hands and fired. The riot was checked. I wished to reward the man, but the superintendent of the gaol reported that he could not discover who had fired the shot. The warders said they did not doubt the Chief Commissioner's power to reward them, but they knew the Judicial Commissioner would hang the man who fired the gun.
The freedom with which licences to possess firearms had been granted in Lower Burma was no doubt responsible for the facility with which the bad characters could arm themselves. Every day's experience proved that to arm the villagers was to arm the dacoits. Burmans are incredibly careless.
Even the Burman constables, who were to some extent trained and disciplined, constantly allowed their guns to be taken. A half-hearted measure had been in force in Lower Burma, which required that a village must have at least five guns, as it was thought that with that number they could defend themselves. Like most half-measures, it was of no use.
The absence of a village organization and of the means of enforcing village responsibility was no doubt a very great obstacle in the way of the police, even if the police had been good. But when everything had been said it came to this, that the police were bad and police administration in a hopeless muddle.
The Burmans have, from the first day that British officers have tried to discipline them, shown a great want of responsibility and incurable slackness and little sense of duty. They cannot be trusted to keep watch and ward, to guard or escort prisoners or treasure, or even to remain on duty if they are posted as sentries. The discipline of Frederick the Great might have improved them. But he would have shot most of his men before he had made trustworthy soldiers of the few that remained.
Hence it came to pass that Indians were enlisted to perform the duties which the Burmans seemed unable to fulfil. A few Indians were posted to every station for these purposes, and the Burmans were employed mainly on detection and investigation and reporting. This system led to still further deterioration of the Burman constable, who ceased to rely on his own courage or resources.
The Indians, again, were recruited locally. The police officers who recruited them had no experience of the Indian races and did not know one caste from another. The most unfit men were taken. They were not much looked after, and their officers did not know the Indian languages or understand their customs.
When the risings took place in Shwègyin and elsewhere after the annexation, the Burma police showed themselves to be absolutely untrustworthy. More Indians were enrolled and the mischief increased. The Burman knew he had behaved badly and was not trusted, and became more untrustworthy, while the Indians were not under proper discipline, scattered about as they were in small parties, and were in any case quite useless for detective or ordinary police purposes.
The only exception to this condemnation of the indigenous police that could be made was, I think, the armed frontier guard in the Thayetmyo district, who were stationed and housed with their families on the frontier of British Burma.
It was clear that the working of the police force in Lower Burma required thorough investigation, and that its constitution would have to be recast. As necessary subsidiary measures, the country would have to be thoroughly disarmed, and above all a village organization must be created and the joint responsibility of the village for certain crimes enforced.
A committee was appointed to consider the best method of reforming the civil police force of Lower Burma. I took in hand the question of thoroughly disarming the whole province, and a bill dealing with Lower Burma villages on the lines of the Upper Burma village regulation was framed.
These matters would take some time. The Indian police, however, could be improved at once. It was decided to remove all Indians from the civil police, and to enroll them in a regiment under a military commandant, similar to one of the Upper Burma military police battalions in formation and discipline. Their headquarters were to be at Rangoon, and the men needed for other districts were to be sent from Rangoon and treated as detachments of the regiment. They were to be enrolled for three years under a Military Police Act, which was passed in 1887.
Pending the report of the Committee and the measures that might be taken on their advice, it was necessary to act at once in the most disordered parts of the province. Especially in portions of the Shwègyin district in Tharawaddy, and in the northern townships of Thayetmyo the dacoit gangs were strong and active.
The ordinary district staff seemed helpless and unable to make head against the brigands, to whose exactions the peasants had become accustomed. They found it easier to make terms with the criminals than to help a government that was unable to protect them.
I adopted the plan of selecting a young officer known for his activity and character, and placing him in charge of the disturbed tract, giving him a sufficient police force and magisterial powers, and making him independent of the Deputy Commissioner of the district, who continued to conduct the ordinary administration.
This special officer had no other duty than to hunt down and punish the gangs of outlaws. He was to be always out and always on their tracks, using every means in his power to make friends with the villagers and induce them to give him information and help against the common enemy.
This policy succeeded, and the disturbed districts were brought into line. The late Mr. Henry Todd Naylor, of the Indian Civil Service, distinguished himself especially in this work, and won a well-merited decoration from the Viceroy.
I had made up my mind to dispense with the services of the Special Commissioner for Lower Burma as soon as possible. The appointment was undoubtedly necessary at first, when communications were bad, but as the province settled down the need was less and the saving of labour to me very little. The responsibility remained with me. I was bound to know everything that went on, and in such matters as the condition of the province the Government of India expected me to intervene personally.
The work and exposure since the annexation were beginning to tell on the members of the Commission, especially on those who had sustained the heaviest burdens of responsibility and had been most exposed to the climate, and I was hard pressed for men to fill the places of those who wanted leave.
An accident happening to the Commissioner of Tennasserim, I decided to send Mr. Hodgkinson there and to take the Lower Burma work into my own hands. An increase to the Secretariat had been sanctioned in April, 1887. This enabled me to save a man by appointing Mr. Smeaton (the late Donald Mackenzie Smeaton, C.S.I., M.P.), to the newly created post of Chief Secretary.
He had served for some years in Burma, with distinction, under Sir Charles Aitchison and Sir Charles Bernard. In a short time the Secretariats were united in Rangoon and the work distributed into the ordinary departments of Indian administration without reference to territorial division.
Organizing Burma Military Police
On the arrival of General Stedman (newly-appointed Inspector-General of Burma Military Police) in the middle of May (1887), the Upper Burma military police questions were brought under discussion.
These matters had been thought out before General Stedman's arrival. They were now discussed with him in detail, and the general lines to be followed were laid down. Briefly, the following constitution was adopted:—
The keynote of Indian administration was, and I believe still is, that the District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner, or by whatever name he may be called, is the executive representative of the Government, and is responsible for all matters in his district subject to the control of the Commissioner of the division.
He is especially responsible for the peace of his district, and therefore the allocation of the police force rests primarily with him. It was laid down for the guidance of Deputy Commissioners that the most important and central posts should be occupied by fairly strong bodies of military police, to which should be attached a few Burman constables, some of whom were to be mounted, who were to collect information, receive reports, and investigate cases.
Between the military police posts, and helping to link them up, were to be civil police stations manned by Burmans exclusively, who were to be locally recruited. A constant and systematic patrol was to be maintained between the military police posts. The posts were to be fortified and capable of defence by the garrison remaining after the despatch of a patrol. It was laid down as a fixed law that the reserve at headquarters must be sufficient to provide a reasonably strong movable column ready to reinforce any part of the district that might need it.
The military police force was divided into battalions, one to each district, of a strength varying with the size and wants of the district. To each battalion was appointed a commandant, to all except a few very small battalions a second-in-command, and to some more than one. These officers were all selected from the Indian Army, and, with very rare exceptions, were capable men.
The interior economy, the training, and the discipline of the men were left to the commandants under the Inspector-General's orders. With these matters the civil officials could not in any way interfere.
It was found necessary from the first to restrain firmly the tendency of the local officials to fritter away the strength of the force in small posts. The moment anything occurred they wanted to clap down a post on the disturbed spot; and if this had been allowed to go on unchecked there would not have been a man left to form a movable column or even to send out a patrol of sufficient strength.
The number of men to be kept at headquarters, the minimum strength of a post, and the minimum number of a patrol had to be absolutely laid down by the Chief Commissioner's order. At first the strength prescribed was too small. After some experience, the lowest post garrison was fixed at forty rifles, the minimum strength of a patrol at ten rifles; and these orders were stringently enforced.
It was resolved to mount a certain number of the force, and as soon as the ponies could be obtained—which was not an easy matter, as the mounted infantry and the army transport took up very many—about 10 per cent. of the men were mounted.
Many of the military police who arrived in Burma in 1887 were newly raised and insufficiently trained levies, and until the men had been drilled and taught to use their weapons it was impossible to do much towards relieving the soldiers from the outposts. The rainy season was occupied in the work of instruction.
The task was performed under very difficult conditions, for the men were often called away to occupy posts and take part in active operations, and the officers were few. The duty was well done, and by the end of the autumn of 1887 we were in possession of an army, which proved itself to be a most serviceable instrument for reducing the country to order. The men, whether in the field or in their lines, behaved exceedingly well.
Hardly less important than the constitution of the force was its maintenance in a state of contentment and efficiency. At the beginning of 1887 the number of military police landed in Burma was between five and six thousand, and as the year advanced the force was fast increasing. As the men arrived they were rapidly distributed to the districts of Upper Burma, and when trained were destined to relieve the troops in distant outposts.
It was necessary to make immediate arrangements for their rations and for renewing their clothing, equipment, and ammunition; and also for the medical treatment of the men. The principal medical officer of the field force kindly undertook to organize the medical service, and Captain Davis was engaged in working out the details.
Captain S. C. F. Peile, who, in 1885, had accompanied the Bengal Brigade of the field force as executive commissariat officer, had been selected to organize the supply business of the police force. He was ready to commence work early in April.
The rains in Burma begin in May. Large numbers of the police were stationed in the Eastern Division, where cart traffic would soon become impossible, and also in the Ruby Mines and other districts, which would soon be cut off altogether.
I had found at several places that the military police at outposts were not properly rationed and depended on the military commissariat, which might at any time be moved away. The question arose as to the best method of supplying our men. One of the conditions under which they had taken service was that they should, as in the army, get money compensation for dearness of provisions at a rate varying with the price of flour.
The men of the Indian army, when not on active service, ration themselves, and are paid on this principle. But this system presupposes that the necessary provisions are procurable in the local markets.
The Burman markets afford everything that a Burman needs—Burman caviar (heavily-salted-fish-paste), a dainty that one has to be brought up to; tinned milk, biscuits, sardines, and other delicacies; but wheat flour, ghi (clarified butter), and various pulses are not to be had. It is on such things that the fighting man from Northern India lives.
After discussing the question carefully with Captain Peile, it was determined, with the consent of the men, to give no compensation and to serve out rations to all at a fixed monthly charge. The Central Direction undertook to deliver sufficient supplies at the headquarters of each battalion. The distribution to the outposts was to be managed by the battalion officers with the battalion transport.
I was able to say at the end of the year that the Supply Department had worked well, and that without its aid the organization of the military police could not have been effected. The system has stood the trial of more than twenty years, and it is doubtful whether any cheaper or better system could have been devised for the supply of a large force in similar circumstances.
The Pacification of Burma (1885-90) - Part (3)