’To what, my old friend, do you attribute this very unfavourable change in the productive powers of your soil?’
’A man cannot, sir, venture to tell the truth at all times, and in all places,’ said he.
’You may tell it now with safety, my good old friend; I am a mere traveller ("musafir”) going to the hills in search of health, from the valley of the Nerbudda, where the people have been suffering much from blight, and are much perplexed in their endeavour to find a cause.’
’Here, sir, we all attribute these evils to the dreadful System of perjury, which the practices of your judicial courts have brought among the people. You are perpetually putting the Ganges water into the hands of the Hindoos, and the Koran into those of Muhammadans; and all kinds of lies are every day told upon them. God Almighty can stand this no longer; and the lands have ceased to be blessed with that fertility which they had before this sad practice began. This, sir, is almost the only fault we have, any of us, to find with your government; men, by this System of perjury, are able to cheat each other out of their rights, and bring down sterility upon the land, by which the innocent are made to suffer for the guilty.’
On reaching our tents, I asked a respectable farmer, who came to pay his respects to the Commissioner of the division, Mr. Fraser, what he thought of the matter, telling him what I had heard from my old friend on the road. ‘The diminished fertility is,’ said he, ’owing no doubt to the want of those salutary fallows which the fields got under former governments, when invasions and civil wars were things of common occurrence, and kept at least two-thirds of the land waste; but there is, on the other hand, no doubt that you have encouraged perjury a good deal in your courts of justice; and this perjury must have some effect in depriving the land of the blessing of God. Every man now, who has a cause in your civil courts, seems to think it necessary either to swear falsely himself, or to get others to do it for him. The European gentlemen, no doubt, do all they can to secure every man his right, but, surrounded as they are by perjured witnesses, and corrupt native officers, they commonly labour in the dark.’
Much of truth is to be found among the village communities of India, where they have been carefully maintained, if people will go among them to seek it. Here, as almost everywhere else, truth is the result of self-government, whether arising from choice, under municipal institutions, or necessity, under despotism and anarchy; self-government produces self-esteem and pride of character.