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On Prostitution
in British Camps in India

June 1, 1892 — Final meeting, Women’s Liberal Federation, Holborn Town Hall, London, England


Resolution: That this Council expresses approval of the appointment of a Departmental Committee for the reception of evidence regarding the new Cantonment Acts in India.

Subsequently the following resolution was substituted for the one quoted above, which was not deemed sufficiently strong, viz.: —
That this Council, bearing in mind the resolution against all legislation regulating vice, which was unanimously adopted by the House of Commons, on June 5th, 1888, and indignant that under the East India Cantonment Act and Regulations, 1889, that resolution of June, 1888, is evaded and frustrated, thanks [to] the Government for the appointment of a Departmental Committee to inquire into the matter, urges the Government to take all necessary steps for carrying out the vote of the House of Commons, and resolves to use every practicable means to secure the abolition throughout the British Empire of all such Acts or Regulations which strike at the fundamental liberties of women.

As I understand the situation, I can be of most service here this morning by making it clear to you that there is abundance of evidence to prove that the resolution of the House of Commons, which was passed in the year 1888, has been set aside and ignored by the military officials of India. I do not know of any stronger point to prove this in a general way than a statement that has been very recently put in print by a Major-General of the Indian army in this document which I hold in my hand, the “Annual Report of the Army Health Association,” published in Meerut, India, at the end of the year 1892. He refers to the recent discussion that took place before the Decennial Missionary Conference held in Bombay. Most of you have read in the papers what has been said pro and con. with regard to the action of these missionaries, who first passed a resolution condemning the State regulation of vice, and then withdrew that resolution for technical reasons. The Christian public in the main have not felt that the technical reasons were sufficient for the withdrawal of so important a resolution. This Major-General, speaking of that resolution, betrays the position of Indian officials — some of them, at any rate — upon this point, and his conception of the position of the Indian Government at large. He says, “An attempt was made at this Conference to hamper the Government of India in carrying out remedial measures at present practicable.” That is, he asserts that when the Decennial Conference condemned or proposed to condemn State regulation of vice, that was an effort on the part of that Conference to hamper the Indian Government.

Now would it hamper the British Government here in England for this or any other Association to pass a resolution condemning the State regulation of vice? Does it not prove the position of the Indian Government with regard to the State regulation of vice when a condemnation of State regulation tends to hamper the Government? It seems to me that this statement of the Major-General shows that the position of the Indian Government with regard to State regulation of vice is not the same as that of the British Parliament. I also wish to emphasize the fact that we have evidence — the evidence of our own eyes — in relation to this matter. I am speaking now more particularly with regard to the hospitals in India, which were supposed to have been abolished — the Lock Hospitals — after the passing of the resolution in the year 1888. I have to tell you this morning that I could produce a “Report of the Lock Hospitals of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh,” printed by the Indian Government in the year 1890, two years after the passing of the resolution of the House of Commons. My friend, Mrs. Andrew, and I visited ten Cantonments in India in order to look into this matter. I want it to be clearly understood that from every one of these we brought evidence that the resolution of the House of Commons was being disobeyed. The Lock Hospitals, as they were called by the Government of India in their own publications, were, soon after the passing of the resolutions, called in other documents the Cantonment Hospitals. The first name was the Cantonment Lock Hospital, but they took out the word “Lock.” Instead of bearing the term Lock Hospital they were called the Cantonment Hospital for Contagious and Infectious Diseases. I hold in my hand an extract from another Government document, which was sent out in November, 1892, by the Secretary of the Military Department of the Government of India. This document refers to these Cantonment Hospitals, and states that “it is very desirable that the rules for the management of these Cantonment Hospitals should be applied in such a manner as not to give a legitimate cause of offence to respectable persons suffering from contagious and infectious diseases.” Does not that statement prove that these Cantonment Hospitals which, it is claimed, are general hospitals, have been reserved really for one purpose? For they are instructed that respectable persons suffering from even cholera and small-pox shall not be removed to these hospitals. It is impossible this morning to read all of this document, but it shows conclusively that the Cantonment Hospital is a hospital for disreputable women. We visited ten Cantonments, and in every one we found a Lock Hospital, and we found it by simply directing our cabman to drive us to the “Lock Hospital,” or “disreputable woman’s hospital” (Hindustani), and he knew exactly which hospital we wanted. In four of these ten Cantonments we studied carefully the annual report of the hospital for the year preceding the one when we were there —for 1891. In each of these four reports, although the hospital was called “The Cantonment Hospital for the treatment of Contagious and Infectious Diseases,” we never found a single case of infectious or contagious diseases recorded as treated there, excepting those diseases to which disreputable women are liable. Then again, in nearly all these ten hospitals we saw the Registration List of degraded women living in the Cantonment, who were, of course, not all in hospital at the time. What has a Registration List of degraded women to do with a hospital, unless it is a Lock Hospital, for the care of such women as these — a care which extends beyond their confinement in hospital when ill? We could have produced here for your inspection this morning an original Registration Ticket on which the health of the degraded woman is certified to by an examination which took place only two days before we secured the ticket in the month of February, 1892.

As to these examinations we found that they took place in every one of the ten Cantonments which we visited, and that they were compulsory, on the evidence of the degraded women themselves, their mahaldarnis, the nurses of the Lock Hospitals, native policemen of the Cantonment, native physicians of the Lock Hospitals, and on the evidence of the records we found in the hospitals.

In the hands of the Mahaldarni of the Highlanders Regiment, Rawal Pindi, we saw autograph letters of recommendation ranging in date from April, 1887, to November, 1891, and signed by British Surgeons, Colonels, Quartermasters, and other officials. They styled her “Superintendent of Prostitutes,” stated that “few soldiers were in the hospital, while the women were under her care,” and one of them, that she had accompanied and taken care of the women “on the march” satisfactorily.

The Mahaldarni of the Infantry Bazar chakla, Rawal Pindi, showed certificates ranging from 1875 to 1888, signed by British Colonels, Majors, Surgeons, and others. They styled her “the head woman of the brothel,” “the superintendent of the brothel,” and as “having charge of the brothel.” One certificate spoke of her as having been in charge of the “Regimental brothel of the 4th Battalion Rifles,” and was signed by the Colonel.

At Lucknow we saw the following certificates, &c., in the hands of the two Mahaldarnis who were discharged during our visit to India:—

_____ has supplied the 2nd Derby Regiment with prostitutes for the past three years, and I recommend her to any other regiment requiring her for a similar capacity.   _____ Quartermaster, _____ Regiment.

Lucknow, 25th October, 1885.

_____ Mahaldarni of the Sudder Chakla, has been known to me three years, and has always done her work well. _____ M.S., Staff Surgeon. D_____  12th March, 1889.

_____ Mahaldarni, 7th Lancers, you have not brought your women from _____ and _____. You will have to do it or the Colonel will think you have broken faith, as it is now fifteen days since you received your appointment. _____ Staff Surgeon. 26th June, 1886.

These documents written by British officers, sufficiently indicate the Mahaldarni’s duties. Comment is unnecessary.



Source: Facts Recorded by Eye-Witnesses in Regard to the Military Regulation of Vice in India, Being Speeches by Dr. Kate C. Bushnell and Mrs. Elizabeth W. Andrews (Office of the British Committee for the Abolition of State Regulation of Vice in India and Throughout the British Dominions (London: Pewtres & Co.) 1893, pp. 15-21.