COTTON, TEA, AND OPIUM
The quinine industry is also in a deplorable state. About thirty years ago the Indian government sent botanists to South America to collect young cinchona trees. They were introduced into various parts of the empire, where they flourished abundantly until the export of bark ran nearly to 4,000,000 pounds a year, but since 1899 there has been a steady fall. Exports have declined, prices have been low, and the government plantations have not paid expenses. Rather than export the bark at a loss the government has manufactured sulphate at its own factories and has furnished it at cost price to the health authorities of the native states, the British provinces, the army and the hospitals and dispensaries.
One of the most interesting places about Calcutta is the Royal Botanical Gardens, where many important experiments have been made for the benefit of the agricultural industry of India. It is one of the most beautiful and extensive arboreums in the world, and at the same time its economic usefulness has been unsurpassed by any similar institution. It was established nearly 150 years ago by Colonel Kyd, an ardent botanist, under the auspices of the East India Company, and from its foundation it was intended to be, as it has been, a source of botanical information, a place for botanical experiments, and a garden in which plants of economic value could be cultivated and issued to the public for the purpose of introducing new products into India. It has been of incalculable value in all these particulars, not only by introducing new plants, but by demonstrating which could be grown with profit.
The garden lies along the bank of the Ganges, about six miles south of the city, and is filled with trees and plants of the rarest varieties and the greatest beauty you can imagine. No other garden will equal it except perhaps that at Colombo. It is 272 acres in extent, has a large number of ponds and lakes, and many fine avenues of palms, mahogany, mangos, tamarinds, plantains and other trees, and its greatest glory is a banyan tree which is claimed to be the largest in the world.
A banyan, as you know, represents a miniature forest rather than a single tree, because it has branches which grow downward as well as upward, and take root in the ground and grow with great rapidity. This tree is about 135 years old. The circumference of its main trunk five and a half feet from the ground is 51 feet. Its topmost leaf is eighty-five feet from the ground. It has 464 aerial roots, as the branches which run down to the ground are called, and the entire tree is 938 feet in circumference. It is large enough to shelter an entire village under its foliage.
Several other remarkable trees are to be found in that garden. One of them is called "The Crazy Tree," because about thirty-five different varieties of trees have been grafted upon the same trunk, and, as a consequence, it bears that many different kinds of leaves. Its foliage suggests a crazy quilt.
Benares is the center of the opium traffic of India, which, next to the land tax, is the most productive source of revenue to the government. It is a monopoly inherited from the Moguls in the middle ages and passed down from them through the East India Company to the present government, and the regulations for the cultivation, manufacture and sale of the drug have been very little changed for several hundred years. There have been many movements, public, private, national, international, religious and parliamentary, for its suppression; there have been many official inquiries and investigations; volumes have been written setting forth all the moral questions involved, and it is safe to say that every fact and argument on both sides has been laid before the public; yet it is an astonishing fact that no official commission or legally constituted body, not a single Englishman who has been personally responsible for the well-being of the people of India or has even had an influential voice in the affairs of the empire or has ever had actual knowledge and practical experience concerning the effects of opium, has ever advocated prohibition either in the cultivation of the poppy or in the manufacture of the drug. Many have made suggestions and recommendations for the regulation and restriction of the traffic, and the existing laws are the result of the experience of centuries. But anti-opium movements have been entirely in the hands of missionaries, religious and moral agitators in England and elsewhere outside of India, and politicians who have denounced the policy of the government to obtain votes against the party that happened to be in power.
This is an extraordinary statement, but it is true. It goes without saying that the use of opium in any form is almost universally considered one of the most dangerous and destructive of vices, and it is not necessary in this connection to say anything on that side of the controversy. It is interesting, however, and important, to know the facts and arguments used by the Indian government to justify its toleration of the vice, which, generally speaking, is based upon three propositions:
1. That the use of opium in moderation is necessary to thousands of honest, hard-working Hindus, and that its habitual consumers are among the most useful, the most vigorous and the most loyal portion of the population. The Sikhs, who are the flower of the Indian army and the highest type of the native, are habitual opium smokers, and the Rajputs, who are considered the most manly, brave and progressive of the native population, use it almost universally.
2. That the government cannot afford to lose the revenue and much less afford to undertake the expense and assume the risk of rebellion and disturbances incurred by any attempt at prohibition.
3. That the export of opium to China and other countries is legitimate commerce.