The Smith Administration

by Rudyard Kipling


The Cow-House Jirga


HOW does a King feel when he has kept peace in his borders, by skilfully playing off people against people, sect against sect, and kin against kin? Does he go out into the back verandah, take off his terai-crown, and rub his hands softly, chuckling the while—as I do now?—Does he pat himself on the back and hum merry little tunes as he walks up and down his garden? A man who takes no delight in ruling men—dozens of them—is no man. Behold! India has been squabbling over, the Great Cow Question any time these four hundred years, to the certain knowledge of history and successive governments. I, Smith, have settled it. That is all!

The trouble began, in the ancient and well-established fashion, with a love-affair across the Border, that is to say, in the next compound. Peroo, the cow-boy, went a-courting, and the innocent had not sense enough to keep to his own creed. He must needs make love to Baktawri, Corkler’s coachwan’s (coachman) little girl, and she being betrothed to Ahmed Buksh’s son, ætat nine, very properly threw a cow-dung cake at his head. Peroo scrambled back, hot and dishevelled, over the garden wall, and the vendetta began. Peroo is in no sense chivalrous. He saved Chukki, the ayah’s (maid) little daughter, from a big pariah dog once; but he made Chukki give him half a chupatti for his services, and Chukki cried horribly. Peroo threw bricks at Baktawri when next he saw her, and said shameful things about her birth and parentage, ‘If she be not fair to me, I will heave a rock at she,’ was Peroo’s rule of life after the cow-dung incident. Baktawri naturally objected to bricks, and she told her father.

Without, in the least, wishing to hurt Corkler’s feelings, I must put on record my opinion that his coachwan is a chamar-Mahometan, not too long converted. The lines on which he fought the quarrel lead me to this belief, for he made a Creed-question of the brick-throwing, instead of waiting for Peroo and smacking that young cateran when he caught him. Once beyond my borders, my people carry their lives in their own hand—the Government is not responsible for their safety. Corkler’s coachwan did not complain to me. He sent out an Army—Imam Din, his son—with general instructions to do Peroo a mischief in the eyes of his employer. This brought the fight, officially under my cognisance; and was a direct breach of the neutrality existing between myself and Corkler, who has ‘Punjab head,’ and declares that his servants are the best in the Province. I know better. They are the tailings of my compound—‘casters’ for dishonesty and riotousness. As an Army, Imam Din was distinctly inexperienced. As a General, he was beneath contempt. He came in the night with a hoe, and chipped a piece out of the dun heifer,—Peroo’s charge,—fondly imagining that Peroo would have to bear the blame. Peroo was discovered next morning weeping salt tears into the wound, and the mass of my Hindu population were at once up and in arms. Had I headed them, they would have descended upon Corkler’s compound and swept it off the face of the earth. But I calmed them with fair words and set a watch for the cow-hoer. Next night, Imam Din came again with a bamboo and began to hit the heifer over her legs. Peroo caught him—caught him by the leg—and held on for the dear vengeance, till Imam Din was locked up in the gram-godown, and Peroo told him that he would be led out to death in the morning. But with the dawn, the Clan Corkler came over, and there was pulling of turbans across the wall, till the Supreme Government was dressed and said, ‘Be silent!’ Now , Corkler’s coachwan’s brother was my coachwan, and a man much dreaded by Peroo. He was not unaccustomed to speak the truth at intervals, and, by virtue of that rare failing, I, the Supreme Government, appointed him head of the jirga (committee) to try the case of Peroo’s unauthorised love-making. The other members were my bearer (Hindu), Corkler’s bearer (Mahometan), with the ticca-dharzi (hired tailor), Mahometan, for Standing Counsel. Baktawri and Baktawri’s father were witnesses, but Baktawri’s mother came all unasked and seriously interfered with the gravity of the debate by abuse. But the dharzi upheld the dignity of the Law, and led Peroo away by the ear to a secluded spot near the well.

Imam Din’s case was an offence against the Government, raiding in British territory and maiming of cattle, complicated with trespass by night—all heinous crimes for which he might have been sent to gaol. The evidence was deadly conclusive, and the case was tried summarily in the presence of the heifer. Imam Din’s counsel was Corkler’s sais, who, with great acumen, pointed out that the boy had only acted under his father’s instructions. Pressed by the Supreme Government, he admitted that the letters of marque did not specify cows as an object of revenge, but merely Peroo. The hoeing of a heifer was a piece of spite on Imam Din’s part. This was admitted. The penalties of failure are dire. A chowkidar (watchman) was deputed to do justice on the person of Imam Din, but sentence was deferred pending the decision of the jirga on Peroo. The dharzi announced to the Supreme Government that Peroo had been found guilty of assaulting Baktawri, across the Border in Corkler’s compound, with bricks, thereby injuring the honour and dignity of Corkler’s coachwan. For this offence, the jirga submitted, a sentence of a dozen stripes was necessary, to be followed by two hours of ear-holding. The Corkler chowkidar was deputed to do sentence on the person of Peroo, and the Smith chowkidar on that of Imam Din. They laid on together with justice and discrimination, and seldom have two small boys been better trounced. Followed next a dreary interval of ‘ear-holding’ side by side. This is a peculiarly Oriental punishment, and should be seen to be appreciated. The Supreme Government then called for Corkler’s coachwan and pointed out the bleeding heifer, with such language as seemed suitable to the situation. Local knowledge in a case like this is invaluable. Corkler’s coachwan was notoriously a wealthy man, and so far a bad Mussulman in that he lent money at interest. As a financier he had few friends among his co-servants. On the other hand, in the Smith quarters, the Mahometan element largely predominated; because the Supreme Government considered the minds of Mahometans more get-at-able than those of Hindus. The sin of inciting an illiterate and fanatic family to go forth and do a mischief was duly dwelt upon by the Supreme Government, together with the dangers attending the vicarious jehad (religious war). Corkler’s coachwan offered no defence beyond the general statement that the Supreme Government was his father and his mother. This carried no weight. The Supreme Government touched lightly on the inexpediency of reviving an old creed-quarrel, and pointed out at venture, that the birth and education of a chamar (low-caste Hindu), three months converted, did not justify such extreme sectarianism. Here the populace shouted like the men of Ephesus, and sentence was passed amid tumultuous applause. Corkler’s coachwan was ordered to give a dinner, not only to the Hindus whom he had insulted, but also to the Mahometans of the Smith compound, and also to his own fellow-servants. His brother, the Smith coachwan, unconverted chamar, was to see that he did it. Refusal to comply with these words entailed a reference to Corkler and the ‘Inspector Sahib,’ who would send in his constables, and, with the connivance of the Supreme Government, would harry and vex all the Corkler compound. Corkler’s coachwan protested, but was overborne by Hindus and Mahometans alike, and his brother, who hated him with a cordial hatred, began to discuss the arrangements for the dinner. Peroo, by the way, was not to share in the feast, nor was Imam Din. The proceedings then terminated, and the Supreme Government went in to breakfast.

Ten days later the dinner came off and was continued far into the night. It marked a new era in my political relations with the outlying states, and was graced for a few minutes by the presence of the Supreme Government. Corkler’s coachwan hates me bitterly, but he can find no one to back him up in any scheme of annoyance that he may mature; for have I not won for my Empire a free dinner, with oceans of sweetmeats? And in this, gentlemen all, lies the secret of Oriental administration. My throne is set where it should be—on the stomachs of many people.