IN India more than in any other country of the continent of Asia, China not excepted, interesting changes are at work. The viceroyalty of Lord Reading, which ended in March, has been a remarkable one, crowded with events. Its beginning was marked by the spread of the Non-Coöperation movement headed by Mr. Gandhi, and by social unrest and a continual warring among factions in the body politic. Years of bad harvests and epidemics have been followed by good years, and today there are signs everywhere of progress, notwithstanding the accentuation of the Hindu-Moslem conflict.

Misunderstanding appears to be widespread in America and England as to the causes and extent of unrest in India. In all progressive countries there is always a certain amount of unrest. Critics of India abroad are apt to magnify this fact, especially when isolated or sensational events are reported in the press. The construction of large irrigation projects, bringing perennial wealth to the cultivator, and the development of the country by new railroads, are rarely mentioned in the press outside India. A murder or brawl due to a favorite dancing girl of a native prince, or a village intrigue, is cabled throughout the world. There is no real knowledge of what is happening in the day-to-day life of the country.

The population of India at the last (1921) census was nearly 319,000,000. The number of non-Indians was just below 131,000, or .041 percent of the total population. The non-Indian residents included 115,606 British, 5,458 other Europeans, 3,446 Americans, 4,719 Africans, and 1,683 Australasians. The figure for British residents includes British troops and 23,000 women. The question not unnaturally arises: How is it that the keynote of the administration of India is British? Today the higher posts in the civil service in the entire country are under 1,500, and in the next fifteen years, approximately one-half of these will be held by Indians. The new Constitution brought into being by the Government of India Act of 1919, passed by the British Parliament, has as its object the increasing association of Indians in the administration. But the ordinary "man behind the plow" is a great believer in justice, and this he feels he gets from British officials.

Of the 316,000,000 Indians whose religion was returned in the schedules of the last census, the number who recorded themselves under indefinite beliefs, such as agnostic or atheist, was only 850. Hindus and Mohammedans number 90 percent of the population, the Hindus being 217,000,000 or 68 percent, and the Mohammedans 69,000,000 or 22 percent. Buddhists number 12,000,000 and are confined almost entirely to Burma. Christians number 5,000,000, Sikhs 3,000,000, and animists 10,000,000. There are over 1,000,000 Jains, and 100,000 Parsis. Hindus do not proselytize as do Mohammedans, and the last five censuses have shown that the ratio of Hindus (Hindu-Brahmanic) to each 1,000 of the population has been falling consistently, while the ratio of Mohammedans has been increasing.

Even in the modern India of 1926, caste and religion override all other factors. Caste determines the life of the Hindu; it is the status into which he is born, and in comparison with it his age, civil condition, and occupation are of trifling importance. He has to fulfil the law of righteousness, which is Dharma, and this consists in maintaining inviolate the social order of Hinduism. He has to carry out the laws and traditions of his own caste from which in this life he cannot escape, and thus in the next rebirth he will deserve at least no lower caste, if not a higher. The belief in the migration of the soul according to its Karma has a firm grip on Hindu family life. Infant and child marriage is customary among Hindus and Jains. The girl, after the wedding ceremony, returns to her father's house until she reaches puberty, and the consummation of marriage takes place at an early age. "Everybody marries, fit or unfit," says a recent Indian writer, "and becomes a parent at the earliest possible age permitted by nature. A Hindu male must marry and beget children -- sons, if you please, -- to perform his funeral rites lest his spirit wander uneasily in the waste places of the earth. The very name of son (Putra) means one who saves his father's soul from the hell, called 'Puta.' A Hindu maiden, unmarried at puberty, is a source of social obloquy to her family, and of damnation to her ancestors." Widows do not remarry. This is regarded as a sign of respectability. Among the lower castes aiming at a higher place in the social scale, there is a tendency to follow the example of the upper castes, in which such marriage is forbidden, and it is curious to note how this prejudice spreads even among Mohammedans. The unfortunate Hindu wife who cannot bear a son is liable to be superseded by another, and is regarded as a failure. Her lot is, however, not so bad as that of a sonless widow. "Her head is shaved; she can no longer wear the jewels which, however paltry, are the most cherished possessions of every Hindu woman; she has to put on the dishonored widow's garb." A father must marry his daughter within his caste, and usually within the province.

In many parts of India, Mohammedans have been infected with the caste system and indeed with other Hindu characteristics. But there remains always the unbridgeable gulf between the religions, for their ideals are fundamentally antagonistic. Since the introduction of the democratic constitution of 1919, this antagonism has, it is to be greatly regretted, even widened. In the Malabar riots some years ago, Hindus were forcibly converted to Mohammedanism and circumcised. The Mohammedans suspect that under the new constitution Hindus will be more powerful than hitherto. The Hindu Mahasabha Conference, which has just concluded its session at Delhi, and the various allied conferences held at the same time, are of interest and importance in this connection. The address of the President of the Mahasabha had unmistakably the mark of a communal partisanship. A leading Indian newspaper, in commenting on the speech, said: "With the general statement that the time is not ripe for the immediate grant of a Legislative Council to the North-West Frontier Province, there will probably be strong agreement, but Raja Narendranath seemed to postpone that consummation indefinitely. . . . The chief obstacle to the immediate extension of the reforms to that Province seems to lie in the acuteness of the feeling between the large Moslem majority and the small Hindu minority. Nor does Raja Narendranath's statement that 'Hindu interests are nowhere adequately protected' carry conviction as a contribution to the nationalist oratory of India. The working of the reformed constitution has been partly responsible for a very deep feeling of uneasiness among Mohammedans who, not without reason, perceive that it has given the Hindus a special point of vantage, and that its extension on the lines which seem to be logically indicated would be even more inimical to Mohammedan interests."

Mr. Gandhi's preaching against untouchability, according to which all men of all castes are equal and the lowest are no longer untouchable outcasts, has resulted in profound disagreement among Hindu intellectuals. Discussion in the Bombay Legislative Council of a proposal to permit low castes to draw water from the same village wells as others use brought strong protest from some members. In Gujarat, where the program against untouchability was seriously pursued, even the Dublas refused, according to the last Baroda census report, to have anything to do with the Kanbis after the latter decided to let the Dheds into their houses.

The discussions in the Mahasabha Conference on the removal of untouchability, the abolition of early marriage, and the breakdown of the purdah system showed signs of progress in spite of the disorder which attended them in part. As Raja Narendranath rightly said: "The sanction given by Hindu society to untouchability is the negation of democracy and of democratic principles."

Illiteracy is another basic problem. A little more than 8 percent of all persons above the age of five can read and write a letter in their vernacular. Of every 1,000 persons, 139 men and 21 women are literate. This blight of illiteracy spreads over a population of nearly 319,000,000. It is a root problem for the future of India.

In an inquiry into working class family budgets, the expenditure on education was found to be exceedingly low.[i] It was nothing in the lowest class of workers, and negligible in other classes except in the highest. In Bombay City the percentage of illiteracy of all ages is as high as 76. The same percentage is the figure for Ahmedabad, the other large mill centre in the Presidency. This compares unfavorably with the figures for other chief industrial countries.

The Government and Legislatures are alive to the necessity of spreading compulsory primary education. The bulk of the population, especially the farming classes, are apathetic. The vocal classes, on the other hand, realize the great indirect benefits of a good education even to the ordinary workman. It stimulates his mental activity and raises the whole tone of his life, and the effect on the creation of material wealth is tremendous. In India today the question is financial, but it will have to be faced. Ignorant electorates under a democratic form of government are dangerous. A great Indian, Sir Prabashankar Pattani, formerly member of the Bombay Government and also member of the India Council in London, wrote in 1919 that "dissatisfaction and unrest in India have their origin mainly in the ignorance of the masses, and a consequent monopoly of political thought by the few who see a government which is irremovable and in which they have no effective hand."


The armistice year, 1918, was a black year for India. The monsoon was very feeble and there was practically no rain after the beginning of September. Indians are generally vegetarians, and expenditure for food took about 60 percent of the average family budget. The prices of imported necessities, notably salt, oil and cloth, rose to unprecedented heights. Influenza, too, made terrible ravages up and down the countryside as well as in towns. In a few months practically the whole natural increase in the population for the previous seven years was wiped out. The Census Commissioner estimates that the total mortality from influenza in 1918-19 was between 12,000,000 and 13,000,000, more than twice the whole population of New York City and Washington, D. C., taken together. The case mortality has been put at 10 percent, and on this basis it is estimated that 125,000,000 were affected by the disease. The majority of deaths occurred in the space of three or four months; it exceeded by nearly 2,000,000 the deaths from plague extending over the twenty years from 1898 to 1918, and was double the number of deaths directly attributable to the famines of the period from 1897 to 1901. In 1918 and 1919 the birthrate actually dropped below the deathrate, and only in 1920 gave a slight increase.

In the face of these facts, it is remarkable that the last census showed any gain in population. The results of each census since 1872 show decreases in the proportional growth of the population after 1881, when the total of 253,896,330 marked a gain of 23.2 percent for the ten year period, until 1921, when the total of 318,942,480 meant an increase of only 1.2 percent for the preceding ten years.

Four-fifths of the population are dependent on cultivation of the soil, and two-thirds live on one-quarter of the area. Urban areas of over 5,000 people comprise only about one-tenth of the total population. The average standard of agricultural production, however, and the general level of rural welfare, are lower than the standards in other countries. One person is required for the cultivation, for example, of 2.6 acres as against 17.3 acres in England, and the output in England is from two to two-and-a-half times as great. The best Indian outputs vary little from the English average, while the worst approximate the English yields of the year 1350.

Production data are difficult to arrive at since there has been no detailed census of production. The agricultural statistics of British India, however, as regards area, are excellent owing to a very detailed system of land revenue accounts on the Domesday model. The following estimates of income are the best available:

Agricultural Non-agricultural Income Income
Population Income Income Total Per Capita
(Millions) (Rs. crores)* (Rs. crores) (Rs. crores) (Rs.)
1781 170  277 63  340 20
1881 196.4  354.5 175  529.5 27
1901 223.5  453.3 217  470.3 30
1911 242.7 1412 530 1942 80
1921 247 1715 883 2598 107
1922 247 1983 883 2866 116
  * 1 Rs. crore = 100 lakhs of rupees = $33.33.

Owing to the veneration in which the cow is held by the Hindus, who are, as we have seen, the great majority of the population, useless animals are not eliminated: 25,000,000 superfluous cattle are kept alive and consume the food required for useful animals. The loss from this is about $585,000,000, or more than four times the land revenue.

In British India the area under cultivation is about 225,000,000 acres, of which some 35,000,000 are double cropped. The application of scientific agriculture could increase the value of the produce grown on this area by $2.50 an acre, which would add $650,000,000 annually to the agricultural wealth of India.

The value of research has already been great, although it is little more than twenty years since it was introduced. The increased yield from the 1,400,000 acres sown with improved varieties of wheat is estimated at over $10,000,000. Similarly, improved varieties of cotton and sugar cane have increased greatly the output and value of the produce.

The disastrous process of subdivision of holdings has in some parts reached such a point that the soil can hardly support the tillers. Land tenures are not always satisfactory, and a bad landlord can still impose an extra anna in the rupee on his tenant's rent to cover the cost of his own extravagances without any breach of the law.

Any further political advance, in the opinion of some students, must be preceded by an improvement in the economic condition of the peasantry. There is much truth in this contention. The political education of the peasantry is very unsatisfactory and the cultivator is unable always to defend himself against his superiors in caste. In January last the Viceroy announced in his speech at the opening of the Indian Legislative Assembly that a Royal Commission was to be appointed "generally to examine and report on the present conditions of agriculture and rural economy in British India, and to make recommendations for the improvement of agriculture, and to promote the welfare and prosperity of the rural population." The results of this inquiry should be of the greatest value.


The year 1918 was marked by anti-Moslem riots in Berar and by disturbances in Madras and in Calcutta; and in 1919, following on a passive resistance movement inaugurated by Mr. Gandhi, there were riots in the Punjab and Delhi. At the Peace Conference at Versailles, India was represented by two Indians, H. H. the Maharajah of Bikanir, and Lord Sinha, who earlier in the year had been appointed Under Secretary of State for India in the British Government. A bill was introduced into the British Parliament embodying the Montagu-Chelmsford Joint Report and became law as the Government of India Act of 1919. This had in view the greater Indianization of the administration and the realization of responsible government. Rules were framed by the British Parliament in the following year, setting forth the details of the Constitution of the new Central and Provincial Governments.

The Secretary of State for India, a member of the British Cabinet, is the supreme authority in England of the Indian administration and represents the authority of Parliament to which he is solely responsible. In the Central Government of India there is, in addition to the Viceroy or Governor-General, an Executive Council consisting of several members and the Governor-General. The Indian Legislature consists of the Governor-General and two chambers, the Council of State and the Legislative Assembly. There are fifteen local administrations. Under the Government of India Act, they are given a large degree of independence. Defense, political relations, tariffs, railways and communications are controlled by the Central Government, while education, public health, local self-government and budgets, land revenue administration, famine relief, justice, etc., are handed over wholly or partly to provincial agencies. In nine major, or Governors' provinces, subjects are further divided into "reserved" and "transferred" subjects. "Reserved" subjects rest with the Governor and his Executive Council, while "transferred" subjects rest with the Governor and the Ministers. Ministers are chosen by the Governor from the elected members who make up the majority of the Legislative Council, and they hold office during his pleasure. The Ministers are directly responsible to the Legislative Council for the administration of the "transferred" subjects, but can be over-ruled by the Governor. Provincial budgets are voted on by the legislative council; but the Governor has power to act in respect of a demand for "reserved" subjects and in cases of emergency he can authorize such expenditure as may be necessary for the safety of his province. Both in the Indian Legislature and in the provincial Councils, there is communal representation. Males over twenty-one years of age (eighteen years in Burma) who have certain qualifications such as residence, possession of property, payment of land revenue, rent, local taxes, income tax, or municipal rates, are eligible for the vote. The franchise is low enough to admit small cultivators and some wage earners.

Unrest, in some measure due to labor disputes consequent on the high cost of living and to unsatisfied aspirations in regard to the new constitution, marked the year 1920. Lord Sinha was appointed first Governor of Bihar and Orissa, and steps were taken to employ Indians in the higher services. The conditions of service both for British and Indian officers were brought under examination. A High Commissioner for India with a separate office in London was appointed to act as agent for the Government of India on lines similar to those of the self-governing Dominions, and he took over some of the work previously done by the India Office.

The Imperial Bank of India was constituted under the Imperial Bank of India Act, 1920, and took over from January 27, 1921, the business of the three Presidency banks -- the Banks of Bengal, the Bank of Bombay, and the Bank of Madras. The bank which does the Government's banking business in regard to balances, etc., undertook to establish within five years from the commencement of the Act not less than one hundred new branches. A London office was opened to do business on behalf of the bank's own constituents and to rediscount bills of exchange.

Early in 1921 the Duke of Connaught performed the inauguration ceremony of the new Indian Legislatures, Provincial Councils, and the Chamber of Princes. Lord Reading arrived some months later and assumed the Viceroyalty in April of the same year. He had no easy task. The three post-armistice years had been full of stress and strain, which continued through the first two of his viceroyalty. The seasons were unpropitious, and political discontent was increasing. Indeed, the five fiscal years from 1918-19 to 1922-23 showed budget deficits. A remarkable change for the better took place in 1923-24 and has since continued.

The year 1921 was, perhaps, the most untoward of the five. The Non-Coöperation movement spread. It was found necessary to imprison the Ali brothers. At Narkana a conflict of Sikhs over a shrine led to many deaths. Mohammedan fanatics of Malabar, Moplahs, broke into violent conflict with Hindus and with the authorities. Frontier troubles also were prevalent and required the most skilful watching. In Bombay, owing to continued strikes, a Labor Office was established to deal especially with labor statistics, labor intelligence, labor legislation, and industrial disputes.

In 1922 the struggle between constitutionalism and the forces of disorder led to the decision to arrest Mr. Gandhi. He was sentenced by a court of law to six years imprisonment, but, as is well known, was released after an illness due to appendicitis. Ruling princes were attacked in the press in British India, and the Viceroy certified a Protection against Disaffection bill under section 67 B of the Government of India Act.

The Fiscal Commission made recommendations of importance. It advocated protection with discrimination and the formation of a tariff board to investigate the claims of particular industries. These recommendations were adopted in 1923.

That year marked a definite return to normal. The harvest, owing to the rainfall of the previous year, was on the whole more satisfactory than those of immediately preceding years. A retrenchment committee, presided over by Lord Inchcape, recommended drastic cuts in military expenditure, railways, posts and telegraphs, and suggested many economies in the administration. The salt tax was raised, and after five successive deficits, a balanced budget was obtained for 1923-24. An act was passed providing for the removal of existing racial distinctions in the criminal procedure code.

The status of Indians in the Kenya colony in South Africa became an issue of first class importance. The British Government disagreed on some points with the Government of India; and in the Indian legislature, demands were made for retaliation. At the Imperial Conference, where the Secretary of State for India, H. H. the Maharajah of Alwar, and Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru represented India, a resolution was passed recommending that each Dominion of the Empire should set up a commission to consider with a commission of an equal number from India, how far effect had been given to the principle of the 1921 conference that Indians lawfully resident overseas should not be deprived of their rights of citizenship.

In the elections of 1923-24, the Swarajists, or home-rule party, obtained an increased number of seats both in the Legislative Assembly and in the provincial councils. In the Central Provinces, they had actually a majority, and in view of their opposition in the Councils of the Central Provinces and of Bengal, the Governors were compelled to take over all the "transferred" subjects from the Ministers. The Royal Commission on the Superior Civil Services reported in favor of further Indianization and recommended better pay.

In 1925, Mr. Das, the Swarajist leader, repudiated the policy of violence and asked for the abolition of so-called "repressive" measures. Mr. Patel, a Swarajist non-coöperator, was elected President of the Assembly and accepted office. Another non-coöperator, Pandit Motilal Nehru, also accepted a seat on the Sandhurst Committee. These were signs of a better political outlook.

A committee reported on difficulties arising from the working of the Constitution and made many recommendations. Lord Reading conferred in London with the home Government, but on his return to India, announced the decision that the moment for a further inquiry had not arrived.

The repeal of the cotton excise duty, long an article of political faith in India, took place on December 1, 1925. A motion made on September 16, 1925, was debated in the Legislative Assembly. The government spokesman made it clear that suspension of the duty must inevitably be followed immediately by its abolition, and abolition ought to be considered only in connection with the finances of the year as a whole. The duty had no supporters in India, save on the ground of financial necessity. By December it was found possible to permit of its abolition. Thus a standing grievance was removed. With the abolition of the excise duty the Bombay Millowners Association withdrew their proposals for a reduction in wages, and a long strike came to an end.

The last few months of Lord Reading's Viceroyalty have been crowded with events. The Indian Taxation Committee, appointed to consider the whole scheme of Indian taxation and to report on the suitability of various sources of taxation, issued its report early in the present year. The Committee has made several important recommendations, especially in regard to land revenue which should be based on annual rental values, and in regard to the sharing of income tax between the Central Government and the provinces. The Committee proposes to give the latter a basic rate on personal incomes and also a small share of the corporation profits tax. The Royal Commission on Indian exchange and currency has collected evidence in India, and is shortly to take testimony in London and to write the report. The Government of India is conducting a coördinated survey of the whole banking system of India.

A plan was announced in the Council of State to give effect to a policy of progressively reducing the exports of opium from India, except for strictly medicinal or scientific purposes, so as to extinguish them altogether within a definite period. The necessary resolution was adopted by both legislative chambers. With the stoppage of the auction sales of opium, the Government will lose annually 200 lakhs of rupees of central revenue. It has been decided to make up this loss by reducing expenditure in other directions or tapping new sources of revenue.

In the annals of the Indian Legislature, still in its infant stages, the session just ended will always be memorable. The new opium policy and the announcement by the Viceroy of the foundation of an Indian navy were noteworthy. The most important bill of the session was undoubtedly the Trade Union bill which is on the statute book. The last few years have witnessed very important labor legislation, such as a workmen's compensation act and a comprehensive series of factory acts. The new Trade Union Act permits of a political fund being started by unions, allows one-fourth of the entire resources of unions to be used to finance labor movements, and gives a considerable degree of immunity from criminal proceedings.

Action concerning South Africa ended the Legislative Assembly on March 24. In response to an appeal from the leader of the House, Mr. Jinnah withdrew his resolution on the Anti-Asiatic bill in South Africa. This showed that the Government of India and all sections of opinion in the House and throughout the country are in agreement regarding the South African legislation. The Government of India are sparing no efforts to stop the Anti-Asiatic bill and to effect an equitable settlement of other points at issue.

Among the many important problems settled in Lord Reading's Viceroyalty, not the least is the gradual pacification of Waziristan and the restoration of order in tribal territory. The first railway to penetrate this region has recently been built through the Khyber Pass to Landi Kotal. Lady Reading has given her name to a new provincial hospital to be established in the Frontier Province where the men from over the border will be able to send their sick, one of the many factors in the preservation of peace in these wild parts.


Today, it will be seen, there still are in India disintegrating forces which make the working of democratic institutions exceedingly difficult. Lord Reading, in his farewell speech to the Indian Legislature on March 25, said: "The essential principle underlying English institutions is based on a fundamental unity of sentiment and on a general desire in issues of cardinal importance to waive the claims of individual or sectional advantage for the benefit of a common weal. . . . Peopled by different races with separate historical antecedents and conflicting ideals of culture, India possesses various elements which do not tend towards unity. Sharp inequalities of development in education and civilization divide men. Creeds and castes tend to separative influences. The administrative problems are not less complex."

The Constitution brought into being by the Government of India Act, 1919, requires harmony for its successful operation. Unfortunately, India's social advance has not kept pace with her political advance, and this is the real crux of the Indian problem. Critics might argue (and not without justice) that there has not as yet been unambiguous evidence of goodwill under the new Constitution. Sympathy, however, is required in view of the enormous difficulties even among the intellectuals. Solid achievement has been realized.

With the return of normal seasons and harvests, the Non-Coöperation movement and social unrest have decreased. Mr. Gandhi has retired to his Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati River at Ahmedabad. There, surrounded by pupils and visited by admirers from within and without India, he is lecturing on the Pilgrim's Progress. The "National University" at the Ashram is dwindling with the decline of the Non-Coöperation movement. It is not recognized by other universities in the country.

The Indianization of the administration is proceeding. The gradual lowering of the comparatively small number of British officials will mean that the families in Great Britain, which for generation after generation have sent out their sons for service in India, will be forced to find for them other fields of usefulness. India is learning slowly to manage her own affairs.

[i] Report on an Inquiry into Working Class Budgets in Bombay -- Findlay Shirras. Bombay: Government Central Press, 1923.

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  • G. FINDLAY SHIRRAS, Professor of Economics at Bombay University; formerly of the staff of the Labor Office, Bombay
  • More By G. Findlay Shirras