1492: The Beginnings
The modem discovery of the non-European world by Europe began five hundred years ago when Christopher Columbus and his sailors reached the islands of the Americas in 1492. The search of Columbus, and of several other contemporary European navigators, was in fact for a sea passage to India and to the lands of South-East Asia. The new theory, which some European scientists had propounded, some years [earlier, that the] Earth was like a sphere, is said to have persuaded Columbus to sail Westward to ultimately reach the Eastern lands like India and others in the Indian region! Western Europe, till then had no idea that a vast continent, later named America from around 1550 A.D., stretching more or less from the North Pole to the South Pole, lay in between Europe and Africa on the one hand and China and India on the other.
Such however, was the drive of late fifteenth century Europe, perhaps in some way linked to the events of the Black Death which had swept Europe for about a century till around 1450, that merely six years later in 1498 a sea passage to India was found by going eastward around Africa. The finding of this passage may have been helped by Asian navigators, who are said to have assisted Vasco da Gama in reaching Calicut on the Kerala coast of India in 1498. In another forty to fifty years Europe had more or less encircled the Earth. One of the dramatic representations of such encircling was the presence of the members of the newly established Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in a place as distant and civilization as distinct from Europe as Japan, by around 1540. A further demonstration of the European drive and vigor is provided by the fact that in another sixty years, by the early 17th century, around 4,00,000 Japanese had been converted to Christianity through the labors of the Jesuits.
Early European Conquests
It is not as if the people who inhabited the lands, which from the late sixteenth century came to be known as Europe, had no contact with the rest of the world before 1492. Europe had interactions with the lands of West Asia, of Persia, even with certain border areas of India and with North America, since the days of European antiquity. It is believed that Rome had a mutual trade with coastal Tamilnadu, in South India, around the beginning of the Christian era. Similarly, parts of China seem to have been known to Europe from around the 7th century A.D.
The phenomena of discovery, conquest, expansion, etc., do not begin with 1492. These may be as old as the beginning of man on earth. The young adventurer Alexander is said to have entered north-western India as early as 326 B.C. It is true that he did not succeed in bringing -any significant part of India under Greek dominance. Around a thousand years later, in the 7th century A.D., the Arabs under the banner of Islam reached and conquered parts of Southern Europe as well as Sindh in Western India. Later at the end of the 11th century, during the time of the Crusaders, Europe conquered, occupied and ruled large parts of Byzantium, West Asia and the older lands of Turkey supported by the Roman Christian church and led by the sons of West European landed aristocracy.
India it seems did not engage in such widespread conquest, perhaps because it had every material thing it wanted within its own vast and fertile land, or, it may be that India did not have such ambitions and inclinations, or it lacked the crusading zeal necessary for such adventures. Yet, its scholars, Pandits and Buddhist Bhikshus seem to have travelled to and settled in various parts of Asia as early as the beginning of the Indian Vikrami era, over 2,000 years ago.
A New Theory of Conquest
The discoveries, conquests and expansions of Europe since 1492 evidently belong to a different genre. It is possible that the methodology of these conquests was not very different from that which the states of ancient Greece or Rome had pursued in the days of European antiquity. The methodology of conquest which the British adopted from about the 16th century seems in many ways quite akin to what William the conqueror and his successors had adopted from the mid-llth century onwards in the conquest and subordination of England. The major vehicles of the post mid-15th century European worldwide conquest however were called the merchant and trading companies, while for the 11th to 14th century crusades, once they had got going, it were the religious and military orders of medieval European Christianity that served as vehicles of extending conquest and subsequent consolidation. One pre-1492 instance of the new methodology of conquest is provided by a charter of Henry VII of England issued in 1482. It granted to one John Cabot and his sons the license to occupy and set up the King's banners and ensigns, 'in any town, city, castle, island or mainland whatsoever, newly found by them' anywhere in the 'eastern, western and northern sea, belonging to 'heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians'. The King empowered them to 'conquer, occupy and possess' all such places, the main condition being, that they will give in turn to the King 'the fifth part of the whole capital gained' in every voyage by their enterprises (1). There were innumerable such charters issued by the various rulers of Europe perhaps from about 1450 and extending to more or less our own times.
Another instance of the new methodology as practiced by England is provided in relation to its neighbor, Ireland. Writing in early 17th century, Sir John Davies, English attorney general for Ireland, Suggested the following as a more effective policy for Ireland: The defects which hindered the Perfection of the Conquest of Ireland were of two kinds, and consisted: first, in the faint prosecution of the Ware, and next, in the looseness of the civil Government. For, the husbandman must first break the Land, before it be made capable of good seed (2) and when it is thoroughly broken and manure, if he do not forthwith cast food seed into it, it will grow wiled again and bear nothing but weeds. So a barbarous country must be first broken by a ware, before it will be capable of good Government; and when it is fully subdued and conquered, it be not well-planted and governed after the conquest, it will oft-soonest return to the former Barbarisms'.
European Conquest of the Americas
From about 1500 Europe was expanding not only in the west but towards the east as well. In the west its targets were the vast lands of the Americans, and their mineral and forest wealth. This led to the increasing settlement of the people of Europe on the islands near the Americas as well as on the eastern mainland of north, central and south America. The indigenous people who inhabited the Americas at the time of European discovery in 1492 are estimated to have numbered around 9 to 11.2 corers (90-112 millions) (3). The population of Europe then was around 6 to 7 corers (60-70 millions). Innumerable wars were waged on the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, and these continued for some 400 years, till practically all of them were physically annihilated. Attempts were made to enslave them and to use them as labor in mining, on the newly started plantations, and in similar other occupations. But this did not work out. Practically all of them seem to have preferred annihilation to slavery.
Even more than the wars with the newcomers of Europe; it was the diseases of Europe, carried to the Americas by European men and their accompaniments that were fatal to the people of America. The populations of whole regions got wiped out after they were visited by the newcomers. For instance, there was a major plague in New England in North America around 1618. Before the contact with Europe the people of the Americas were not exposed to, and therefore had no immunity against, many of the malignant diseases which had ravaged the European world: small pox and measles, and very likely, tuberculosis, malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, typhus and various venereal infections. (4). ‘To one Englishman who arrived in New England in 1625,' the large scale elimination of the original inhabitants appeared to be the work of providence'. He thought that such elimination made the region,' ‘so much more fit for the English nation to inhabit it, and erect in it temples to the Glory of God'. Around the same time another Englishman reported, 'God had laid open this country for us, and slain the most parts of the inhabitants by cruel wars and a mortal disease. (5)'. Fifty years later a description of New York stated,’ It hath been generally observed that where the English come to settle, a Divine Hand makes way for them, by removing or cutting off the Indians either by wars one with the other, or by some raging mortal Disease'. And the writer added that,' it is to be admired, how strangely they have decrease by the Hand of God, since the English first settling of those parts; for since my time, where there were six towns, they are reduced to two small villages. (6)'. By the mid 18th century, periapts from a much earlier date, some of the European diseases, like smallpox and a variety of plagues, seem to have been consciously and deliberately introduced by the newcomers amongst the indigenous American people. In 1763, at any rate, small-pox wes consciously and deliberately introduced in North America by the British military commander when he gave orders that he 'wished to hear of no prisoners should any of the villains be met with in arms', and added that 'he had heard that small pox had broken out at Fort Pitt and wondered whether the disease could not be spread to good advantage'. To this one of his military colonels replied that, .T will try to inoculate the bastards with some blankets that may fall in their hands, and take care not to get the disease myself. (7)'. The 20th century practice of introducing fatal human, animal and plant diseases amongst the enemy' seems to have fairly old European precedents.
Slave Labor and Indenture
The discovery and occupation of the Americas created an urgent need for labor. As the indigenous people of the Americas Could not be made to undertake such labor, and as European man on his own could not manage the mines, cut the forests, or run the plantations, Europe began to capture the youths and adults of western and central Black Africa, and those who survived the battles of capturing were forced into slavery. They were then shipped to the Americas. The number of those who actually reached the shores of America, or the Atlantic islands from about 1500 to 1870 is placed, on the basis of shipping records, at around one corer (10 million) (8). Taking into account the casualties in the varied processes of capturing, in transporting from inland to the African coast, in loading into ships, and of those who perished on the ships during the long voyages, the total black African population actually involved in the whole process might have been, a at moderate estimate, around 5 corers (50 millions). It could possibly have been even as high as 10 cores (100 millions). This estimate however does not take account of the disruption in the social structure of the affected areas of Africa, of the large scale deprivation of adult males in these societies, and of the new diseases which European instruction would have introduced into Africa.
By 1770 the proportion of these enslaved persons in the total population of the British and French Caribbean was 91 percent, in North America 22 percent and in the southern United States 40 percent. In the U.S.A., as it was then, it was 19.3 percent of the total non-indigenous inhabitants in 1970, the people of European stock being around 80 percent. The proportion of the African people in the United States of America went down to 11.8 percent by 1900 (10). The original inhabitants evidently were not counted at all either in 1790 or 1900.
In addition, European men and later women too, belonging to what were termed as the lower orders, (in Britain the term was used till around 1900) were forced into a state of indenture for a number of years and shipped to the Americas. Being fellow Europeans their condition and future was less harsh and held more promise as after the period of indenture they were made free, given some land and allowed to work on their own. The annual emigration of such indentured servants from the English port of Bristol to North America was around 400 annually from 1655 to 1678, from London in 1684 it was 764, and from 1745 to 1775 the number of indentured servants who reached Annapolis in North America from Britain was 19,920. These latter included 9,360 who were termed convicts (11). The large scale indenturing of people from India in the 19th century and their being shipped to British possessions in South East Asia, South Africa, and the Atlantic islands was only a replication and extension of this earlier European practice.
The institution of slavery had existed in Europe from the days of European antiquity. Slavery in the states of ancient Greece and in pre-Christian Rome seems to have been practiced on a massive scale. In Athens of circa 432 B.C., around the time of Socrates, the number of slaves is estimated at 1,15,000 out of a total population of 3,17,000. Besides there were 38,000 Metals and their families. In Sparta the proportion of slaves is estimated to be far larger. In 371 B.C. Sparta, in the age of Plato, the number of Helots (slaves) ranged from 1,40,000 to 2,00,000 and of periodic (sort of slaves) from 40,000 to 60,000 in a total population of 1,90,000 to 2,70,000. The number of Spartiates (full citizens) was a mere 2,500 to 3,000, their families numbered from 7,000 to 9,000 and Spartiates with inferior rights numbered 1,500 to 2,000 (12).
Eastward Expansion: The Early Phase
Simultaneously with Europe's expansion in the Americas, and its interventions in Africa, Europe was also expanding eastwards into the lands of Asia. Within 10 to 12 years ‘of the discovery of the sea passage to India Europe had occupied Goa and the territory around it. The early impact of Europe in India may be gauged from the fact that by mid-sixteenth century the rulers of the great Vijayanagara had begun to rely on the Portuguese for arms, and by the early 17th century, Jahangir, the Mugharuer of the Delhi empire, was seeking English help in clearing the sea routes, of those who were termed as pirates, between western India on the one hand and the Persian Gulf and Arabia on the other. By 1550 Europe's presence was being felt in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, the Indonesian islands and other neighboring areas.
During the 17th century, Europe seems to have established its supremacy on the coasts of south and east Africa, Arabia, India and many other lands up to China. All this was done through the medium of the various East India companies which had been sponsored, or given charters by the various states of Europe, and had the protection of their naval as well as land forces.
According to a contemporary writer, the English Tied places of trust conferred upon them, both in civil and military branches' of the government of Siam (Thailand) much before 1687. One Englishman was Shawbandar or custom-master at Mirju and TanacarinV, and another Englishman was as high as 'admiral of the King’s fleeing (13). The Dutch and the Portuguese who had greater influence in South-East Asia in the 17th century might have held many more such situations in the areas where they were dominant.
While the large scale division of Africa amongst the European nations dates to the latter half of the 19th century, European penetration and domination in Black Africa goes back to the early 16th century. Staging posts were established at various points on the African coast - west, south and east - soon after the discovery of the passage to India and to South-East and East Asia. Enslavement of the Africans for transportation, firstly from about 1450 to the islands around the Mediterranean and then to the Americas, led to European penetration into the heart of Africa. The discovery of areas suitable for European colonization and of mineral wealth, initially in South Africa, made the dominance complete. For many areas this had happened by about 1700. During the latter part of the eighteenth century, Europe penetrated into Australasia, and the islands around it, a replication of what had happened in the Americas happened here also.
Till about 1700 there were no major European incursions into the mainland of India. India perhaps was too vast and too complex, a n d China even more so. So t h e attempt seems to have been aimed at encircling India first, to cut its links with other lands, and then, when the opportunity offered, to directly conquer it. While the incursions began by the early eighteenth century, the major offensive to conquer areas of India started only about 1750, initially in the Madras area, and ten years later in Bengal. From then onwards the process of conquest continued for nearly a century till about 1850. China was even vaster; and more inaccessible than India and European incursions into China consequently began later, after 1800. By 1850 Europe had gained mastery over the whole world.
Pre-British Indian Society: Political Formation
In comparison to the near total annihilation of the indigenous inhabitants of trie Americas, and later of those of Australasia, and a very violent disruption of political, social and cultural life in western and central Africa by treating its young and adult males as merchandise, the treatment of Asia by Europe looks fairly mild. The natural descendants of the people who inhabited the lands of Asia before 1498, when Europe discovered the sea passage to them, continue to inhabit these lands even 500 years later. The impact of Europe on the Asian lands however was accompanied with continual violence, and as their people physically survived the European onslaught, their social and mental disruption over time went much deeper.
The nature of the non-European societies and the distinctive impact upon them can perhaps be well illustrated by a reference to India. One of the major characteristics of India has been its emphasis ‘on communities based on shared localities as well as relations of kinship termed as jatis, in contrast to the preference for individuation in 'non-Slav Europe. The number of localities in the India of 1947 was around 7,00,000. 'Their number a thousand or two thousand years earlier might not have been very different. The number of the main jatis, sometimes with different names in differing regions of India, is not more than one hundred. One of the characteristics of a jatis is the sharing of one or more specific occupations amongst those who are bam into a jatis or those who at some earlier period would have got admitted to it. A sort of inter-relatedness or complementarily of the jatis and also of localities makes up Indian society. This not only applies to the Hindus, who even today form some 85 I percent of the Indian people. Those who have been converted to Islam and Christianity in the past 800 and 200 years respectively are organized and interlinked more or less similarly.
Given this characteristic of the jatis, India has been basically a society of consensus amongst the groups living in any particular region or locality. It was complementarily and relatedness amongst groups within localities, and more so within regions, which has shaped India's polity for the past two thousand years and more. This interrelatedness and the consensus, which grew out of it, seem to be the major elements that define the Indian concept of dharma. Indian civilization is based on this sense of dharma and a shared view of the past. It is not as if there were no tensions or differences between locality and locality, region and adjoining regions, or between the various interpretations of dharma. The Indian mind, however, seems to have been mounded by a common basic approach to life and phenomena, and this has ordinarily overridden the local tensions and differences.
Given such characteristics India has been a slow moving society and as a society not easily disturbed by events. Consensus, equivalence and balance have been more important to India than the most alluring images of a new future. It is not as if no -movement or change occurs at all. But the change or rather the movement socially acceptable in India has been such that it does not destroy the consensus and the balance. Hence the role of the polity in India was not that of a guide, or that of a superman as preferred by Plato, or of a controller but merely of performing the task of an administrator functioning in accordance with the customs and preferences of the locality or the region. This naturally led to a civilization confederal polity in which - while its parts shared common basic ideas and features, one with the other, yet the linkages amongst them were considered loose the flexible. The ancient concept of Chakravartin seems to have been evolved to serve as a symbol of the confederal nature of India as well as of its shared civilization expressions. The symbol of the Chakravartin also probably provided a sense of strength and invincibility to this confederal polity.
Such-a polity seems to have served India well for a long time. Despite European theories about the non-Indian origin of the people of India, it is perhaps correct to say that India, the ancient region of Bharatavarsha, has been one of the least conquered areas on earth. It is not as if the people inhabiting it are necessarily of one ethnic stock. Some immigrants did enter India, largely through India's western land borders, from time to time. But till about the end of the 12th century A.D. India was ruled by its own people and polities. Even the Islamic conquests and domination of part of India from the 13th century onwards to the early 18th century, while creating occasional havoc and political and economic disruption in the conquered regions, did not in any basic way disturb the tenor of Indian society and its arrangements. The Islamic intervention however did make, as time passed, much of Indian society weaker and fearful, and uncertain of its own inner strength. Such weakness and sense of uncertainty also possibly has roots in some of India's ancient concepts.
The sense of courage in India however was not wholly lost even till the early 19th century. During the period of early British dominance there was widespread resistance to what by Indian norms was considered unrighteousness. The major resistance was in the form of persuading the unrighteous, or the wrongdoer, of the unrighteousness of his conduct and makes him return to the shared norm. The techniques adopted in current idiom were of non-cooperation, boycott, civil-disobedience, and what Mahatma Gandhi implied by the term Satyagraha: Such resistance was expressed by the peasantry, the artisan classes, as well as by those who lived in towns and cities. A major instance of it was in 1810-11 in the ancient city of Varanasi, and in several other towns of the present Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where a tax on houses had been imposed by the British. Contemporary evidence suggests that various inhabitants of the Varanasi region, including the peasantry and the artisans, especially the, metal workers and other technologists, were party to, this unarmed resistance. Some 20,000 persons were reported to have sat on dharma in Varanasi for many days, and around 2,00,000 persons were reported to have gathered in the grounds adjoining the city. Even those who assisted in the cremation of the dead had struck work and the dead were placed in the flowing Ganga without cremation rites (14). Innumerable cases of such resistance are recorded during the early years of British A mode of compelling compliance with a righteous demand flowing from shared norms, by sitting at the door of the person perceived to have violated the norm, and there remaining without tasting food till the demand shall be complied with rule and these occurred practically in all regions of India, There was major resistance against the British enhancement of the tax on salt in the city of Surat even as late as 1843(15).
Early British and other European observations of 17th and 18th century India seem to suggest that till then it were not the people who were in awe of their rulers but instead it were the rulers who stood in awe of the people under their rule (16). If the ruler was considered unrighteous or unjust, the norm was to replace him. Such a norm also implied an inbuilt courtesy between the ruler and the ruled, and when one visited the other it was customary that each gave some gift to the other. The one who came to visit came with some gift, often nominal, and on departure was offered a gift, often a substantial one, from the host. Even persons appearing before judicial authority seems to have expected and received pan-super (betel and betel nut) at the time of their departure (17).
Pre-British Indian Society: Material Culture
Coming to India's material culture , its manifestations a r e v e r y visibly commemorated in India's still standing great temples, some of which go back at least to the 6th century A.D. in the innumerable inscriptions India still possesses, like the early 10th century A.D. inscription at Uttiramerur near Madras relating to the organization of the area's polity in India's ancient small, medium and large water works; and in the large number of ancient iron pillars, like the well known iron pillar at Delhi. Though most of the hitherto published material, both Indian and western, does not make much reference to it/such a material culture was still very manifest in most regions and localities of India around A.D. 1800. It is possible that it had declined in its excellence and sweep relative to the heights it had reached before the 12th century A.D. But even if it had lost its heights, it was still very extensive on the ground till about'1800.
India seems to have been divided from long back into some 400 smaller regions, now called districts, and into some 15-20 main linguistic and cultural regions. Most regions and districts of India continued to have spinning, dyeing, weaving and printing of cotton cloth and of some silk and wool too, on a vast scale. Cloth was manufactured in practically all the 400 districts. Many districts of south India had 10,000 to 20,000 looms in each district even around 1810 (18). Similarly it seems that at a moderate estimate India had some 10,000 furnaces for the manufacture of iron and steel. Indian steel was considered of very high quality and in the early decades of the 19th century it was being used by the British for the making of surgical instruments. Each of these small portable furnaces had the capacity to produce about 20 tons of good iron in 40 weeks of operation in a year.
There were large numbers of silversmiths and goldsmiths, bronze and brass workers and people who worked in various other metals. Similarly there were those who did the mining of the ores, the-manufacture of various metals, and engaged in stone-quarrying. There were carvers of stones, painters, builders, and many others. Besides, there were manufacturers of sugar, of salt, of oil (perhaps up to 1 percent of the people), and manufacturers of many other commodities. Crafts and industry seem to have employed some 15 to 25 percent of the Indian people, the proportion varying from region to region, before and around 1800. In addition there was part time spinning of cotton yarn. Eight hours of weaving on a loom would have ordinarily needed about 25 hours of spinning on the spinning wheel. As the number of weaver households was around 5 percent of the total households, it seems that most households of India would have engaged in some spinning throughout the year. Regarding the health of human beings, as also of domestic animals, Indians had a well established ancient system of medicine and surgery. Basic plastic surgery, and surgical operation of cataract etc., was being performed in various parts of India till around 1800. Incidentally, modern plastic surgery in Britain is stated by its inventor to have been derived from and developed after the observation and study of the Indian practice from 1790 onwards. The widespread Indian practice of inoculation against smallpox was also observed and described in detail by British visitors or residents in India around mid-18th century for the benefit of British medical men. It may be added that practically all detailed descriptions of each and every Indian practice communicated by British observers and specialists to Britain was with a view to the improvement of such practice in Britain, or suggesting that the adoption of a specific practice would be beneficial. A detailed communication to the British Royal Society by a British commander-in-chief in Bengal, around 1770, was of the latter type. It related to the process of the artificial manufacture of ice in the relatively warm climate of the Allahabad region. The instances of the former are many. Some seed drills were sent from south India to the Board of Agriculture in London around 1795 so as to help improve the newly introduced British seed drill. Details of the process and ingredients of Indian mortar and dyes, and of the manufacture of steel communicated to Britain seem to have aimed at improvement in the then existing British practices (19). When Britain started the education of its ordinary children around 1800 it had to initially depend on the monitorial method of imparting school education as it was practiced in India and noticed by Europeans during the 17th and 18th centuries (20). The major occupation of the Indian people was agriculture, and along with it animal husbandry. However, in most regions no more than half of India's people were engaged in agriculture directly. As mentioned above, the tools of agriculture were of high sophistication. But so also seem to have, been the various agricultural practices, including the selection of the seeds used, their preservation, the maturing of land, the cropping patterns and the methods of irrigation. Through their sophisticated practices and implements the peasants of India were able to obtain rather high yields. According to a 1803 British review comparing agricultural production in the Allahabad-Varanasi region with that of lands in Britain, it was found that the Indian production of wheat was about 2-1/2 to J times that in Britain. Recent ongoing research pertaining to the district of Chengalpattu in Tamilnadu seems to suggest that the average production of paddy in this district around 1770 was around 3-4 tons per hectare, and the best lands in the district produced six tons and more per hectare. It may be mentioned that the high yields of paddy production in the world today are around six tons per hectare.
A certain balance and equivalence may also be deduced from the consumption pattern around 1800 A.D. A detailed description of it is available from the 1806 districts of Bellary and Cuddapah. The whole population was divided into three classes the high, the families of medium means and those of low means. In the Bellary district the population in the high category totaled 2,59,568 of the medium means 3,72,887 and of those of low means 2,18,684. Their annual consumption expenditure per family in money value was in the proportion of 69:37:30. Every facility consumed the same amount of food-grains, but of differing quality and variety according to the class. The consumption list included 24 items. The consumption of ghee and oil was in the proportion of 3:1:1 approximately, and of pulses in the proportion of 8:4:3 (21).
The Chengalpattu District Data
The society and political economy of mid-18th century India is perhaps well represented and illustrated by the information recorded in a detailed survey of the district of Chengalpattu, in Tamil Nadu, during 1767-1774 (22). While very detailed, the survey was the first of its kind, and was done by the British, who till then were not too familiar with the intricacies of Indian society, and its production methods and industrial infrastructure. The data from this survey may therefore be treated as an approximation the ground reality, and it is possible that it missed certain things which existed on the ground, or understated many others. An obvious understatement, for instance, pertains to the number of salt-manufacturers, which are given as 39, while the district of Chengalpattu had a coast-line of over 100 kilometers, and salt-pans covering an area of over 2,000 hectares. It is possible that in this case the survey recorded only those who were engaged in the supervision of salt-manufacture and not the number of actual manufacturers. The following tables taken from this data may be helpful in comprehending the circa 1770 society of Chengalpattu, and thus the society of India as it was till the latter part of the 18th century.
I. Total Land Area:
(For 1910 localities, in kani; one kani is a little more than 0.50 hectares)
|Under hills and rivers||36,099|
|Irrigation sources (lakes, tanks, etc.)||1,00,806|
|Uncultivated irrigated land||58,667|
|Uncultivated unirrigated land||50,622|
Out of the total cultivated land a substantial proportion was known as manyam, (in Bengal as chakeran, and bazee zameen), that is the cultivated land the land-tax of which had been assigned, usually in perpetuity, to the sustenance and support of various administrative, economic, cultural and religious functions, institutions and persons. The amount of such cultivated manyams in 1770 Chengalpattu was 44,057 tarns of irrigated and 22,684 tarn's of unirrigated lands. In many-other areas, both in north and south India, about half of the cultivated land had, in the course of time, but perhaps most of it by the 10-12th century A.D. been assigned as manyams. The number of institutions and persons having such rights in any district ran into tens of thousands, and in one district in Bengal, there were over 70,000 claimants of such assignments around 1770 A.D.
II. Total Number of Cattle, Goats and Sheep (for 1544 localities):
The period from 1748 to 1770 is a period of war, plunder and butchering of men as well as cattle in large parts of South India, and much more in areas around Madras. It is therefore possible that the number of cattle recorded in this survey was much less at the time of enumeration than what it might have been twenty years earlier.
III. Total Number of Households (for 1544 localities)
|Peasantry and Cattle-keeping||33,963|
|Crafts and Industry|
|Braziers and Gold and Silver Smiths||389|
|Vegetable oil manufacturers|
|Merchants, Traders and Banking||4,312|
|Scholarship, higher learning ritual performances, and culture||8,684|
|Kootadi (stage performers)||25|
|Administration and Police||2,681|
|Remaining Other Households||748|
IV. Allocation of Produce Besides the assignments of the tax from manyam lands (or from the Chakeran and Bazee zameen in north India) to various institutions and persons, many of the same institutions and persons, and many others, also received a share of the gross agricultural produce, and quite possibly similar shares from the incomes of those engaged in non-agricultural activities, like commerce, finance and industry. It seems that a quarter of the total gross agricultural production was so allocated, and these allocations, starting from the allocation to the main local temple or shrine, were the first charge on the production. In Chengalpattu these allocations were around 27 percent of the total gross agriculture production of the district. The following table indicates the major allocations worked out on the basis of production data of 1458 localities in kalams, for a variety of institutions and persons. One kalam is roughly equal to 125 kilograms.
|Total Agricultural Produce||14,79,646|
|For Institutions and Occupations within each locality||2,64,824|
|Local Kovils (temples, shrines)||13,882|
|Pandarams/ Devadasis /Astrologers||18,503|
|(possibly majority of them were from amongst the Pariars)|
|For outside Institutions and Persons||130,126|
(places of higher learning)
Degradation of Physical Resources
Along with the degradation of the dignity- of the. Indian people and the disorganization of their agriculture, education, industry, and technology, etc., there also took place an extensive destruction of the physical resources, and degradation of the natural environment. To an extent the degradation of the forests and the water sources in large parts of India was the result of deprivation of resources from and of attention to them following the establishment of an alien order. But it is also known that British-Indian forest policy, as European policy elsewhere, saw forests of India as reservoirs of accumulated wealth which needed to be mined and transport orated to Europe. As early as 1750 to 1800 timber syndicates by private Europeans were formed in many parts of India," especially in Malabar, whose forests were said to be inexhaustible. From around 1805 London started insisting on direct government control of all forests. When parts of Burma were annexed by the British in 1826, after the defeat of Burma in the first Anglo-Burmese war, the forests there were declared to be government property straight away. And, from the port of Moulmein alone one million ton of teak was exported during 1840 to 1848 (23). From the 1850's the development of railways and other industrial needs of Britain put far larger demands on Indian forests. Thus arose the forest policy and the forest legislations which in a period of 25 years between 1855 to 1880 made the entire forest wealth of India into British state property.
But this exploitation of forests as reservoirs of accumulated wealth and their consequent destruction was perhaps not peculiar to British policy in India, and the policy the British introduced in India was merely a replication of what was being done in Europe and the Americas, but perhaps executed much more ruthlessly in India. Europe looked upon nature as merely a material resource provided by the creator for human exploitation. This assumption led to intense destruction of forests in Europe. But the end of the 17th century only 14.2% England was wooded, and by 1823 this proportion had come down to 4.3%. In France around 1800 only l/12th of the land was under wood.
By the early 1840s decay was spreading in the political economy of India at a much faster pace. Around the same time information had reached London from North America that the wholesale destruction of forests there had an adverse effect on rainfall. This made London anxious and the British governments in Bengal, Bombay and Madras were asked to make proper enquiries about the matter. The matter was enquired into in the Madras Presidency and most of the British officers in the districts agreed with the widely held Indian opinion that more rain falls in mountains and forests than in the areas bereft of forests. In 1849 the Madras Board of Revenue and the government of Madras however came to somewhat different conclusions. Their conclusions were:
- That extensive tracts of ground covered with trees in the level countries of India have not the power of producing rain.
- That while their effect on the climate and productiveness of the country is problematical all large tracts of jungle in tropical climates are known to produce most fatal malaria and fever.
- That if the country was planted to such an extent as might be supposed likely to be productive of rain, the result in a sanitary point of view might be more pernicious on the climate of India in which there are already so many noxious effluvia' (24).
With such rationality as the environmental principle, deforestation gained a new legitimacy.
The wars waged by the British, French, and earlier by the Portuguese in different parts of India led to frequent widespread plunder and chaos. During 1750-1800 many of India's rulers saved their people and territories by offering such amounts of money to the British and the French which the invaders claimed they would have had from the plunder of the particular territory. Others who got subordinated to the conquerors, but not yet formally dispossessed of their territories, were made to pay for the conqueror's armed forces, and further were expected to keep the commanders, other officers and influential British and French persons in good humor. As and when such rulers had no cash resources left they were made to borrow cash from the commanders and other men who had amassed large wealth or wielded political power for defraying such imposed expenses. The borrowed sum was repaid with interest of around 50 percent per annum. For repayment of these sums such subordinated rulers had either to greatly enhance the rates of taxes, especially the tax on land, in their territory, or made to surrender particular areas to the respective lenders, so that the latter could extract the maximum from the area towards the amount which he claimed was owed to him.
Backed by the organizational skills of Europe, and helped by the breakdown of the morale and institutions of the conquered, the society of India tumbled down in time in most parts of India. Most of the sources which had maintained the institutional structures of India through manyams, large allocations from the gross agricultural produce, and in other ways were in time taken over by the conquerors. The principle was that only that much must be left with the producer which would allow mere subsistence and that the complex Indian infrastructure must get disbanded. It was decided that not more than five percent of the cultivated land should be treated as manyam, and no more than five percent of the gross produce should be left with communities to be disposed of as allocations to institutions and persons. As institutions appeared to be a greater threat to British dominance, these were treated far more harshly and attempts were made either to dismantle them through neglect and coercion, or to convert them into personal estates. Such a message from the highest British authority of India got conveyed even to the new Maharaja of Mysore, soon after the restoration of the ancient Mysore kingship in 1799. Such approach was further accompanied with the enhancement in the rates of tax on land, and taxes on trades, occupations, and commodities. During the initial 100 years of British rule in most parts of India, the tax on land was enhanced to 50 percent of the gross agricultural produce. Till then those who had received the tax from manyam l a n d s (or chakeram a n d bazee zameen) had been receiving no more t h a n 12 to 16 percent of the gross produce as their share. Matters however did not stop at the fixing of 50 percent as tax on the gross agricultural produce. The decay of the political economy produced a long depression and the tax on some of the most fertile lands in time was much more than the value of their agricultural produce. Similar changes happened in industry and trade. In the meanwhile as the resources for maintenance were terminated or greatly reduced public works, temples, mathams, chatrams, well, tanks, in fact the whole irrigation system of India, collapsed by about 1840. Only when such a collapse began to substantially affect the receipts of the land tax, some repairs were started, largely through forced local labor, and some new irrigation works also began to be constructed. At this stage it was decided to reduce the land tax from the theoretical 50 percent to 33 percent of the total gross produce. Such a step began to be implemented in most regions of India only sometime after 1860 A.D.
Indian Responses: Gandhi and Nehru
With the collapse of the political economy and the social infrastructure, learning, sophistication, frequent public celebrations and festivals also went under. Literacy also declined. Even in the relatively decayed 1820s the number of school-age boys going to school in southern India was at least 25 percent and many more were educated in their homes. This proportion was no more than one-eighth sixty years later in the 1880s. Scholarship and higher learning decayed even more. The process of alienation which by stages began to take hold of the literati of India, from about 1820, well nigh eliminated most such scholarship and learning by about 1890 or 1900. By then it seemed that the soul of India had been fully entrapped. Such a situation of physical emaciation and economic deprivation on the one hand, and the breakdown of institutions and the alienation of the literati and the relatively prosperous on the other, led to a major split in Indian society. Prolonged subjugation produced a deep sense of inferiority amongst the conquered. Its consequence was the romanticisation of certain aspects of their own past and a misreading of what made Europe dominate them and their neighbors.
Initially the romanticisation of the past was a sheer necessity for the survival of Indian civilization and the concepts which most Indians still held to. Further, amongst the ordinary people economic and cultural depression led to widespread mental confusion and rigidities, whilst amongst the literati and the prosperous it led to the acquiring of such images of themselves and their civilization as European scholarship on India endowed to them. It is possible that given a historically widespread literate intelligentsia such an impact has been much more pronounced in India than elsewhere in the non European world. However amongst the well known persons in the l9-20th century public life of India one person, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, seems to have remained unaffected by such an impact. In contrast the post-1947 India's first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, seems to represent this impact at its highest. The following is an illustration of the contrast.
From 1930 to 1947 Indian nationalists observed January 26 as the day dedicated to the achievement of complete freedom of India. Since 1950 this day has been observed as the Republic Day. During the pre-Independence period a long pledge was taken on this day by all those who observed it. The pledge said that. The British Government in India has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually'. Further it added,' we hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any-longer to a rule that has caused this fourfold disaster to our country'. Regarding India's cultural ruination it stated that, ' the system of education (established by the British) has torn us from our moorings and our training has made us hug the very chains that bind us'. Like most other resolutions of the Indian freedom movement this pledge also had been drafted by Mahatma Gandhi (25). Earlier, in January 1928, Mahatma Gandhi had also suggested that India's freedom would lead to the freedom of the other colonized and enslaved people of the world and had stated that, India's coming to her own will mean every nation doing likewise' (26). As we all know, most other subjugated areas of the world in South-East Asia, Africa, etc., also in one way or another had regained their political freedom within fifteen years of the withdrawal of British power from India.
Though most Indians subscribed to the statement that British rule had ruined India culturally and spiritually as well, many disagreed with it and continued to disagree with it even more so after India had achieved its freedom in. 1947. Amongst these latter was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. While publicly he did not wish to challenge such a categorical statement, privately he expressed a strong dissent from such an approach as early as January 1928. In a letter to Mahatma Gandhi he wrote,' you have stated it somewhere that India has nothing to lean from the West and that she had reached a pinnacle of wisdom in the past. I certainly disagree with this viewpoint. I think that western or rather industrial civilization is bound to conquer India, may be with many changes and adaptations, but none the less, in the main, based on industrialism. You have criticized strongly the many obvious defects of industrialism and hardly paid any attention to its merits. Everybody knows these defects and the Utopias and social theories are meant to remove them. It is the opinion of most thinkers in the West that these defects are not due to industrialism as such but to the capitalist system which is based on exploitation of others. I believe you have stated that in your opinion there is no necessary conflict between capital and labor. I think that under the capitalist system this conflict is unavoidable' (27). A similar view on western modernism was expressed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in reply to a letter of Mahatma Gandhi on the same theme some fifteen years later (28). In his reply, Jawaharlal Nehru had also remarked, 1 do not understand why a village should necessarily embody truth and non-violence. A village, normally speaking, is backward intellectually and culturally and no progress can be made from a backward environment. Narrow-minded people are much more likely to be untruthful and violent (29).
On the Nature of Western Knowledge and Theorization
All modern western knowledge and theorization about phenomena may be assumed to be derived from the same roots. This could be said not only about the disciplines included in the humanities and the social sciences, but also those included in the physical sciences. Of these anthropology or ethnography is the science which is exclusively concerned with the non-European conquered people. It is anthropology, and its allied disciplines, which grade non-European man and make him into a mere object. Professor Claude Levi-Strauss explains the nature of anthropology in the following words: 'Anthropology is not a dispassionate science like astronomy, which springs from the contemplation of things at a distance. It is the outcome of a historical process which has made the larger part of mankind subservient to the other, and during which millions of innocent human beings have had their resources plundered and their institutions and beliefs destroyed, whilst they themselves were ruthlessly killed, thrown into bondage, and contaminated by diseases they were unable to resist. Anthropology is daughter to this era of violence: its capacity to assess more objectively the facts pertaining to the human condition reflects, on the epistemological level a state of affairs in which one part of mankind treated the other as an object. A situation of this kind cannot be soon forgotten, much less erased. It is not because of its mental endowments that only the Western world has given birth to Anthropology, but rather because exotic cultures, treated by us as mere things, could be studied accordingly as things. We did not feel concerned by them whereas we cannot help their feeling concerned by us. Between our attitude toward them and their attitude toward us, there is and can be no parity' (30).
What Professor Claude Levi Strauss said was not wholly new about the science of anthropology or ethnography. Some eighty years earlier Sir Edward Burnett Tyler, acclaimed by some as father of anthropology, had in fact defined the role of anthropology as that of destruction of the old cultures. Concluding his Primitive Culture he had said, 'It is a harsher, and at times even painful, office of ethnography to expose the remains of crude old cultures which have passed into harmful superstition, and to mark these out for destruction. Yet this work, if less genial, is not less urgently needful for the good of mankind' (31).
The above definitions of anthropology and thus of European approach to matter and men naturally had an impact on the alienated in the non-European world.
Towards a Return to Sanity
The non-European societies which came under the dominance of Europe seem to have shared a marked characteristic. All these societies may be said to have maintained a balance with the Gods or spirits they prayed to, as well as with the flora and fauna and human groups and individuals which constituted them. This seems to be as much true of the pre-1492 societies of the Americas, as of the societies of Africa, South East Asia, or India. In the case of India this characteristic is perhaps even more pronounced given the complex nature and vastness of India and the variety of climate and landscape India had. Such balance is any of these societies need not have been a static phenomenon. It could have had, especially in the case of India, a flowing and dynamic quality of its own. It is not only the accounts of Indian society at different times which seem to suggest it but also India's vast literature and India's concepts of kala and chitta. Over a long, period a society like that of India seemed to have moved from one balanced state to another balanced state but much more slowly. In contrast Europeans societies from early times till the present seem to have lacked such balance and appear to have within them as in-built tension and a pronounced hierarchical structure. In addition the aim of European civilization seems to be to emphasize the partial at the cost of totality, with the result that European society seldom seems to acquire balance at any particular point of time. If so this possibly could explain the aggression and the killer instinct of Europe.
It is possible that the world is now emerging perhaps haltingly with a newer vision and with greater feeling about the world-wide fraternity of human beings and has begun to realize the autonomy as well as unity of all creation. If so, such vision has to become more manifest and compelling. It will also require a sense of introspection in individuals, societies and states in the world of Europe as well as in the world of the non-European. Introspection and self-reflection may also help achieve the necessary state of repentance for the havoc of the past five centuries as well as lead to appropriate steps in putting an end to and setting right the accumulated damage.
Finally, while the worldwide havoc was started and fuelled by the skills of Europe, the non-European world by aping Europe made its own situation much worse. Till the European impact the non-European man believing in the autonomy of all reation, and thus not treating himself, as the master or controller of others had developed a relation of co-existence with the other constituents of creation. This attitude possibly did get converted at some stage into a state of indifference. The aping of Europe however made him into a mindless plunderer and torturer. The
return to sanity therefore requires not only the introspection and repentance of Europe, but also of the non-European world.
- In, David B. Quinn, New American World: A documentary history of North America to 1612, five volumes, 1979.
- Sir John Davies, A discovery of the true causes, why Ireland was never entirely subdued, and brought under obedience of the crowned of England, until the beginning of His Majesty's happy reign, 1630, (Reprint 1860).
- H. F. Dobyns, Estimating aboriginal American population, Current Anthropology, VoL7, No.4, October 1966, pp. 395-449.
- Bernard W-Sheehan. Seeds of extinction: Jeffersonian philanthropy and the American Indian, 1973, pp.227-228.
- H. C. Porter, The inconstant savage: England and the North American Indian 1500-1660, 1979, p.428.
- Denton's New York: A brief description of New York, formerly called New Netherlands, 1670 (Reprint 1902), p.45.
- J.C.. Long, Lord Jeffery Amherst: A soldier of the King, 1933, pp.186-187.
- Amongst others, R-W. Fogel and S.L.Engerman, Time on the Cross, The economics of American Negro slavery, 1989, pp.21-22. Fogel and Engerman's figures of 95lakhs relate only to the import of slaves in the Americas.
- Wd, p.l4.
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911, Vol.27, p.636.
- Abbot Emerson Smith, Colonists in bondage: White servitude and convict labor in America, 1617-1776,1947, pp.308-325.
- Victor Ehrenberg, The Greek State, 1969 (1974), p.31.
- Quoted in D. G. E. Hall, Early English intercourse with Burma, 1928, p.250.
- There is vast archival material on such resistance and protest during the latter part of the 18th and in the 19th centuries, in the various British created archives in India and also amongst private papers relating to India in Britain. The details of the 1810-1811 resistance against the imposition of the house tax are given in Dharampal, Civil disobedience and Indian tradition, Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan, Varanasi, 1971.
- The details of the 1843 Surat resistance against the enhancement of the tax on salt are given in the Bombay Presidency Records of that year.
- There is much British material on the pre-British ruler-ruled relationships in the records of the Political Departments of the Governments during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Such material is also to be found amongst published British state papers on India pertaining to this period. One such particular statement is by the historian James Mill in his evidence to a select Committee of the British House of Commons.
- There is a large amount of material on the relationship between the ruled and the rulers and on gift giving and receiving in the archival material relating to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Much of it is also to be found in the records pertaining to the Madras Presidency.
- The Madras Presidency archival records pertaining to the collection of the Moturpha and Veesabuddy taxes include district-wise details of the number of people employed in non-agricultural professions and trades. It also includes the data on looms in various districts. Similar data is also available in the records relating to various other areas of India in the archival records and the early census reports for 1871, 1881, 1891.
- The late 18th and early 19th century archives on India as well as European private papers contain much material on the circa 1800 Science and Technology of India. Some of this information is also included in Dharampal, Indian Science and Technology in the 18th Century: Some contemporary European accounts, Biblia Impex, New Delhi, 1971, and Dharampal, Indigenous Indian technological talent and the need for its mobilization (text of a talk delivered in Calcutta in 1986), published in the PPST Bulletin, No.9, December 1986, pp.5-20.
- Some data on the extent and methodology of indigenous Indian education around 1800 is given in Dharampal, The Beautiful Tree Indigenous Indian Education in the 18th Century, Biblia Impex, New Delhi, 1983.
- Tamil Nadu State Archives (TNSA), Madras Board of Revenue Proceedings (BRP), Volume 2025, proceedings 8/6/1846, p.7457, for consumption data for Cuddapah District Volume 2030, proceedings 13/7/1846, pp.9031-9247, for consumption data for Bellary District.
- The information in this section, and the information on agricultural yields given above, is based on material written in English pertaining to a survey of around 2,200 localities in the District of Chengalpattu during the period 1767-1774. This material is held in the Tamil Nadu State Archives in Madras. Many more details relating to a number of these localities are still available on palm leaf manuscripts now kept at the Tamil University at Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. A detailed analysis of this data is presently being carried on under the auspices of the PPST Foundation and the Centre for Policy Studies, Madras.
- E. P. Stebbing, the Forests of India, Volume 1, 1922.
- TNSA BRP, Volume 2212, proceeding 1/10/1849, pp.14224-14260, especially para 54.
- Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), Volume 42, pp.384-385,10th January 1930.
- CWMG, Volume 35, p.457,12/1/1928.
- CWMG, Volume 25, p.544, J. Nehru to Mahatma Gandhi, 11 /l /1928.
- CWMG, Volume 81, p.319-321,5/10/1945, Mahatma Gandhi to J. Nehru.
- J. Nehru, Selected Works, Volume 14, pp.554-557, J.Nehru to Mahatma Gandhi, October 4, 1945.
- Remarks of Prof. CIaude Levi Strauss at the bicentennial celebrations of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA, November 17, 1965, published in Current Anthropology, Volume 7, No.2, April 1966, p.126.
- Quoted in S. J. Tambiah, Magic, Science, Religion and the Scope of Rationality, 1990, p.44.
Acknowledgement: The origin of this paper is in a short note which I had prepared on the subject in 1988.
Note: The note was seen by several friends including Dr.Claude Alvares and Sri Sundarial Bahuguna. The preparation of: the present paper has greatly been helped by the discussions I have had with Dr.M.D.Srinivas, Dr.J.KBajaj and Sri T.M.Mukundan. I am grateful to them all for their advice, help and interest.