Jambudveep's Blog

April 13, 2021

The Slavery of Bharatiyas(Indians) by the British- The case of Forced Labour in British India Part 2

Filed under: British Misrule — Yogeshwar Shastri @ 10:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

Note: By the end of this year, I will be bringing out a book on the subject of forced labour, wherein I will also explain the analysis methodology in detail. If you are interested in the book ( as and when it comes out) please fill in this form.

The readers who fill up the form will be offered a discount of 40% once the book is published.

This part continues where Part 1 left off.

To carry baggage of the Civilian White administrators: A good summary of some of the purposes for which forced labour (called “impressment”) was employed is given by a note from the Collector of Tinnevally in 1860:

 “Impressment was employed for the service of government not for the service of travelers; for example to supply carriage to a regiment ordered to march, to convey treasure to the presidency, to carry salt from the pans to the beach for shipment etc.”[i]

A judicial note from 1849 CE observes that it was extremely suspicious that none of the magistrates had reported a single case of forced labour in Bombay Presidency. It doubts whether people are even aware of the plethora of legislation which prohibits forced labour[ii]. Also, villagers near Mahabaleshwar were forced to work as forced labour for Europeans who left the hill station in monsoon. They were dragged away from their villages just as cultivation was about to begin and forced to provide every bullock for long distance travel. The court upbraided the collector of Thana for suppressing these facts, while the superintendent of Mahabaleshwar washed his hands off the affair. The ingenious ruse applied in this case was to force people from Satara, which was a princely state and theoretically independent, to work as coolies. This meant there were no complaints from British occupied territory.

One of the most common uses was to carry baggage for the Katcheri (government office) as it moved from place to place. Villages which were unfortunate to fall in the route of the katcheri as it meandered through the country were forced to provide free labour to carry the baggage of the katcheri. The baggage usually consisted of the Collectors files, personal luggage and heavy items which were necessary for this institution to function. As the Principal Collector of North Arcot district wrote,

Coolies for conveying the Katcheri baggage are not the regular coolies of the country. They are ryots, village watchers or any day labourers belonging to the village the Katcheri has to pass through. They are not accustomed to carry loads and consequently what is put upon them is not equal to that of a regular hired coolie”[iii].

To put this in context one only has to imagine going to the train station to drop a relation and the local police catching hold of you and forcing you to carry 30-40 kilos of luggage of an IPS officer on your head. And this was not for short distances, it was for at least 20-30 kilometres till the next stop of the Katcheri.

The collector of Savanuru, Karnataka, writing in 1874, has given a good idea of the number of bullock carts which were impressed to carry the official’s baggage[iv]. The number of carts varied depending on how junior or senior the officer was in the food chain. Needless to say, the more senior an officer was (for example collector) the more carts he impressed. Table 2 gives the approximate number of carts impressed by each grade of district official.

 Carts OfficeCarts personalTotal
1st assistant collector2810
2nd assistant collector268
Supernumerary collector156
District deputy collector246

Table 2 the number of carts needed by different district officials while travelling from place to place.

The magic number of 52 carts is representative of only one district, there were scores of such districts in each Presidency in British occupied Bharat. In fact, Savanuru was part of the Kanara district of Bombay Presidency in the 19th century and remained so for some years after Independence. The British-era Kanara district virtually covered the entire coastline of Karnataka and stretched a little into coastal Kerala as well. The collector of Kanara writes in 1874 CE that the collectors were travelling for nearly eight months of the year and each collector required a minimum of 5 carts [v]. He further adds that, “The necessary transport cannot be procured anywhere in Kanara without compulsion”. The core issue in all of this was really saving money for the British Occupation government. If it meant forcing people to provide transport for free, well that was for their own good.

Forced labour for White civilians.

While the use of forced labour by government officials might be rationalised on one level, as possibly one of the evils of the BOB, what is surprising is that white people who were not government servants, made full use of free labour.

 The Collector of South Kanara remarks in 1860 CE that as bullocks were hard to find in South Kanara, people were forced to work as coolies and pull the carts of European travellers [vi]. He further adds that people only agree to this inhumane and degrading practice as they believe that they are required to do so by the British government. This practice was not only winked at by British administrators but also actively advocated to prevent “inconvenience” to white travellers. In the same year, the assistant collector of Vishakhapatnam writes to his superior officer, that, as the availability of palakhi bearers is patchy throughout the district it is necessary to force people to act as bearers for white travellers[vii].

As was usual practice in other parts of Bharat, people were corralled by means of lower-level minions such as peons at each stage of travel in the district. The white attitude is made clear in the officials’ statement when he says that:

To remove bearers from all control whatever, would be to place travelers entirely at their mercy, which would subject them to insufferable annoyance and insolence, and would open a door to unbridled extortion and combination, besides subjecting females in particular to the risk of being helplessly left in unhealthy localities, objects of contempt and ridicule, and of incurring constant collision between male travelers and bearers”.

C-26 From M.R.Weld,.Esq., acting head assistant collector of Tanjore,to H.S. Thomas,Esq., collector of Tanjore,dated Mayaveram, 15-01-1876,No.16

He snidely adds that people must be happy with the current situation as otherwise someone would have complained by now!

White memsahibs also made utilised the free labour service as productively as possible. In my personal experience, having interacted with white “civilization” over the past two decades, it is the women who are the most racist. Anyway, coming back to the point, the memsahibs sent off their peons to drag the nearest tailor from his shop and forced him to sew curtains[viii]. The tailor would rarely be paid and if he was it was below the market rate.

What was the British opinion of Bharatiyas?

The British vultures characterised Bharatiya’s as notorious complainers, apathetic and lazy dolts, selfish, short sighted and insolent. A particularly positive characterisation was of us as “obedient children”. And how did these genocidal buggers see themselves? As “enlightened rulers”!

Notorious Complainers

Consider a case from 1830’s Rajamahendravaram, Andhra Pradesh. The Collector C.Grant is desperately trying to cover his back against a complaint by Jagannatha Rao. The complaint relates to government officials using people as forced unpaid labour (remember the British concept of “caste” wasn’t applied wholesale to Bharatiya society at that time).The Collector is also accused of withholding petitions by Bharatiyas against government excesses. And how does this rat C.Grant characterise the upright Jagannatha Rao?

The rancourous spirits and the unworthy motives which seem to have dictated the petitions of the informant did not at all surpise me, when I saw the notorious names appended to them…The informant, who is a Brahmin, comes forward as the avowed defender of the ryots of the lowest class of the community which his own caste have trampled upon for ages.[i]

So there you go! How dare the oppressive Brahmin fight for the rights of the downtrodden? Not happening in the enlightened English rule. Of course nothing ever comes out of these complaints.

Lazy and Apathetic

Bharatiya’s were reluctant to provide free labour to the government for which they were paying heavy taxes as well. This reluctance was attributed to us being lazy and apathetic for the common good (i.e. the British rulers). The reality was this: the British government in exchange for all sorts of taxes and cesses undertook the responsibility of maintain agricultural and irrigation works. This was previously done by the villagers who pooled in their efforts. But will all independence and incentive taken away from the village system there was nothing left except pay taxes and provide free labour. A related characterisation of Bharatiya’s was as “selfish and short-sighted”. The British officers believed that it was their birth right to make us work for free[i].

The whole difficulty as to the enforcement of the rules for the management of tank calingulas and as to the non-observance by the people of their ancient obligations to make the petty repairs to their irrigation works from time to time required arises, I think from the following causes: their indolence, their short sighted and selfish indifference to the feelings and interests and wishes of others, and their proneness to faction and consequent inability to combine.”[ii]

To remedy this situation the innovative British officers suggested framing new laws or enforcing existing ones like Act I of 1858 to force Bharatiya’s to labour for free. A sample of their thought process is given in the report by the Collector of Masulipatanam below:

From the late collectors circulars in the gazette, and from what I hear from the superintending engineer, I fancy the ryots here are very apathetic about giving their labour; but I think that, if section 6 of Act I of 1858,was enforced here and there, and the villagers are charged twice the value of earth work  done by imported labour, they will learn to get rid of their apathy.”[iii]

Obedient children

At the other end of the spectrum was the classification of Bharatiya’s as docile animals who would follow the white man’s orders. One officer from Belgaum in 1874 CE identified that the obedience stemmed from the farmers resignation to being exploited by their rulers.

Here if carts are required a certain amount of compulsion is often necessary; i.e. the order is given, and the cultivators send their carts with little or no objection, as they regard the having to do so as a necessary evil, and it is one to which they have always been accustomed.”[i]

On the other hand the Collector of Tanjore in 1877 CE lamented in his report that the natives were becoming less “obedient” compared to previous times.

In the old days the collectors order was all that was wanted; like good children the ryots never hesitated to yield a willing obedience, and the recusant few, if there were such a breed, were hustled into good behaviour by the common sense of the village.”[ii]

To be continued…

[i] Revenue Department No.495 of 1874,Letter to chief secretary of government, revenue department, Bombay, from H.B.Boswell, acting Collector of Belguam, 15-04-1874.

[ii] From H.S.Thomas.Esq., collector of Tanjore,to the acting secretary to the board of revenue, dated Tanjore, 13-03-1876,No.1013

[i] Revenue Department No.506 of 1874,Letter to the Chief secretary to government from  J.Moore, Acting Collector,of Khandesh, N.D, 10-04-1874,Camp Borad.

[ii] From H.W.Bliss , Esq., acting collector of  Madura,to the acting secretary to the board of revenue,dated  28-01-1876,No.34.

[iii] From G.D.Leman,Esq. acting collector of the Kistna district,to the secretary of board of revenue ,dated Masulipatam,27-03-1872,No.1038

[i] Complaint of Jagannath Rao on forced unremunerated labour,Rajamahendravaram ( MRO:BP:Vol 1558, Pro:15.5.1837,Nos.37,pp.5300-3).

[i] No.1974  From J.Silver, Esq., collector of Tinnevelly, dated Tinnevelly,25/04/1860,No.153

[ii] IOR: Board Collection 2337: No 122510: Draft Jdugement 117 (PC 6728): 70 pp

[iii] Principal collector,North Arcot to Board of revenue: 17.17.1837. ( MRO:BRP:Vol 1566,Pro 31.7.1837, No. 47, pp 8658-9)

[iv] Revenue Department No.1211  of 1874,Letter to revenue commissioner, S.D., from E.P.Robertson, Collector of Savanur, 20-04-1874

[v] Revenue Department No.1006 of 1874,Letter to chief secretary of government, from  A.R.MACDONALD Collector of Kanara, 24-03-1874

[vi] Consultation  of board of revenue 15-05-1860, No.2270,  From D.Williams, Esq., Ag.Hd.Asst.Collector in charge of South Canara,08/05/1860,No.67

[vii] C-26 Consultation of board of revenue 23-05-1860 Enc.1 From R.Davidson,Esq.,Offg.Asst.Collector of Vizagapatam.          To E.G.R Pane,Esq.Collector of Vizagapatam,dated Vizagapatam, 05-05-1860

[viii] No.3285,dated 30th august 1883 From- H.E. Perries, esq, commissioner and superintendent, Rawalpindi division.
To- The secretary to government, Punjab

April 1, 2021

The Slavery of Bharatiyas(Indians) by the British- The case of Forced Labour in British India Part 1

Filed under: British Misrule — Yogeshwar Shastri @ 2:35 am
Tags: , , , , ,
Eminent historian Sri Dharampal (Image taken from here)

Before launching into the article, I would like to remember the legendary historian of Bharata -Sri Dharampal. Readers will probably be familiar with his ground-breaking work on Bharatiya society on the eve of British occupation.

Over the course of decades, he diligently collected original material on British India and brought to light how the Christian British destroyed our industry, education system, distorted our culture and subverted Hinduism for their own ends. Most the material he collected from the India Office records ( stored in the British Library in London) in the United Kingdom. Without any prospect of remuneration or financial support he laboured on due to his love for the motherland.

This is what Claude Alvares, a scholar and publisher, whose publication house has brought out several of Dharampal’s works, has to say about the tapasya of Dharampal:

He did not have much of an income. There was also a family to support. But notwithstanding all this, he became a regular visitor to the India Office and the British Museum. Photocopying required money. Oftentimes, old manuscripts could not be photocopied. So he copied them in long hand, page after page, millions of words, day after day. Thereafter, he would have the copied notes typed. He thus retrieved and accumulated thousands of pages of information from the archival record. When he returned to India, his most prized possession was these notes, which filled several large trunks and suitcases.[i]

 From anecdotes on Twitter, his last years were particularly hard in terms of financial assistance towards his research. Not surprising, for the fate of gyana margi people in today’s Bharata is usually one of financial penury and societal neglect. When time permits, I will post the translation of a lament by G.H.Khare, an eminent historian (in the correct sense, unlike the Christo-Islamo-fascist eminences who pass for scholars) on the hardships he faced throughout his life.

A lot of the material Sri Dharampal selected has been put online by Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai. This amounts to nearly 15,500 pages of original British era records like Commissioners reports, collector reports, judicial reports etc. These have been very neatly categorized by the topic and size of the documentation. For every page Dharampal selected from the British archives, he would have to go through at several irrelevant pages. A lot of these he copied by hand and typed them up. Quite a few were cyclostyled by him.

Over the coming years I will be going through all this material and publish my analysis online and in book form.

Note: Some of the references are out of whack as I am still getting used to the new fangled WordPress editor. As they say you cant stop progress. I will sort these out as I get familiar with progress.

In this series of articles, I will be tackling the slavery of Bharatiyas by the British. This is euphemistically referred to in British records as “Forced Labour”. Just as Colonialism is a nice sounding label for outright genocide, similarly, forced labour is a term which blunts the true nature of the atrocities committed by the British. My curiosity in this topic was ignited years ago by a stray sentence in the introduction of one of Dharampal’s books (don’t remember which), where he mentions this as a topic which needs further investigation. Sometime in 2015, I came across the giant repository of Dharmapals documents uploaded by CPS and stumbled upon a folder titled “Dharampal Envelopes”. This again has several sub-folders which tackle different aspects of British oppression in Bharat. It is envelope series C-25 to C-30 which form the entire corpus relating to forced labour in Bharat. This runs close to 700 pages in total.

I went through around 700 pages of original British era records in the Dharampal archive to draw a true picture of how the British used Bharatiyas like beasts of burden, all free of cost. This analysis brings out some shocking and repulsive facts about how the British brought down our ancestors to the level of load carrying donkeys. I did this analysis on and off for nearly 6 years as it is very depressing subject for me personally. This is hardly the stuff that will brighten your day.

Along with the hidden facts of slavery of Bharatiya’s other darker secrets also emerged: the mass rape of Bharatiya women by the Christian British. This is another line of research and in the coming years I will bring out a detailed book on this subject. On a sidenote, these reasons ( alongwith the destruction of our economy) were the real reasons for the Bharatiya-Anglo war of 1857 CE. It is only morons who think that a pig and cow fat greased bullet caused people to magically rise in disgust and murder the white invaders.

I will spread out the content across several articles as it is too big to fit in one blog post. The method I used to analyse the documents is Grounded Theory , which if done properly brings out hidden aspects of the data.

By the end of this year, I will be bringing out a book on the subject of forced labour, wherein I will also explain the analysis methodology in detail. If you are interested in the book ( as and when it comes out) please fill in this form.

The readers who fill up the form will be offered a discount of 40% once the book is published.

All right, lets begin our journey to understanding forced labour in British occupied Bharat. In places I have used the terms “BOB” which stands for “British Occupied Bharat“.

What is forced labour?

Lets start with a textbook definition. Very simply put whenever you are forced to work against your will is recognised as forced labour. One of the definitions given by the International Labour organisation (ILO) for forced labour is:

Forced or compulsory labour is all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.” International Labour Organization Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29).”[i]

Right, so big deal! How does this concern us? What’s this got to do with things that happened in Bharat more than a century ago?

Let’s simplify things with an imaginary scenario. Imagine you are driving on the outskirts of Bhagyanagar in your swanky new car. You see a roadblock ahead manned by cops. You dutifully stop your car. Next thing you know is you are dragged out, your wife gets molested, and the cops commandeer your car. Beaten and bruised you are dumped on the side of the road, while the cops jump in the car and drive off to the next city, say Warangal.

Let’s take this a bit further. You send your wife back home to Bhagyanagar and hitch a ride to the Warangal. On making inquiries you find out that the car is standing in the police commissioners office. You present yourself in front of the police commissioner, who promptly throws you into a cell. Where, of course, you receive the next round of beatings. Twice beaten, once shy, you walk out of the police station and from the corner of your eye you see a surprise. Dumped near the wall is the body of the car with all its parts stripped out. Wiping a tear, you limp into the wide world.

Another scenario while we are at it: A night in the balmy Bharatiya summer. After a long day you are dozing in the compound of your house. A series of loud bangs on the door rouses you from deep slumber. Groggy and bumbling you open the front door of the house. Next thing you know is you are being pulled by a couple of peons from some government department and dragged outside the house. In the morning you find yourself with a 40-kilo weight strapped to your back and trudging through the rising heat. You look back and see a line of unfortunates like you cursing their fate. The stragglers scream as a peon lashes at their backs with a whip. Leading the front is the District Collector sitting comfortably in his Ambassador car.

In both situations you don’t get a single rupee or ten rupees for your troubles.

Outlandish? Difficult to imagine today? Replace the cars with bullock carts and turn the clock back a hundred years and you get an idea what it means when the English talk about forced labour in Bharat. While the current crop of bureaucrats and police officers, in Bharat, are a law unto themselves, they are toddlers (anari in Hindi) compared to their white forebears.

In this part and the following parts, I will touch on each aspect of this oppression practised by the Christian British in Bharat.

What was forced labour used for?

Forced labour was used to run the British occupation in Bharat. This included:

  1. Government works (canals, railways, roads, bridges etc.)
  2. For government officers and their families
  3. Movement of troops
  4. European travellers. Any white person in BOB was referred to as a European. The term travellers meant these were not connected to the British administration but were people travelling on personal business.

I will be addressing each of these points one by one. It is important to note that very rarely were Bharatiyas remunerated for their misery. Most of the time it was free slavery to the British. It didn’t matter if you were in the North, South, West or East of Bharata. The Christian British were equal opportunity enslavers. The below statement made in 1844 CE by a Magistrate in Uttar Pradesh leaves no doubt as to what went on:

It is believed that the commissariat officers on the formation of large camps and the aggregation of large bodies of troops have been in the habit of requiring the intervention of magisterial authority in procuring the attendance of trade people and artificers of various denominations to accompany such camps without remuneration… with such requisitions the magistrates have complied without objection and without reference to the illegality and injustice of such impressment.”[i]

1.      Forced labour for government works

 In terms of sheer numbers this category overwhelms all the other categories.  Indians in their lakhs were forced to work as “free” labourers on government projects and regular maintenance of existing infrastructure. This included:

  1. Construction of canals.
  2.  Railways.
  3. Repair of existing water sources.
  4.  For the trigonometrical survey of Bharat.
  5. Constructing houses of the rapist British soldiers and officials.
  6. Working as porters for British officials who moved from place to place.

Repair and Maintenance of Waterworks: An illustrative example is that of the repair and restoration of the West Yamuna canal in the 1840’s. The issue of forced labour caused heated correspondence between the Superintendent of West Yamuna canal works and the local magistrate. This debate was sparked off by a Court order in 1844 CE which prohibited the forced impressments of artisans and trades people by military authorities. But a bureaucrat  by the name of J.Thronton wrote back to the court saying that for emergency purposes it was still necessary to employ forced labour. So, by 1845 CE the Judge accordingly modified his order to exclude military “emergencies20. As was typical of the devious British government machinery almost everything was fitted into this convenient category.

To this court order a stronger reaction came from the Superintendent of Canals, west of the Yamuna, who threatened to quit if he was not given a free hand to collect people. He further expressed the wish that every canal officer is given a free hand in collecting any number of labourers, without fearing consequences from law. The Magistrate of Karnaul (Karnal near Delhi?), M B. Thornbull wrote back saying the canal works pay forced labourers 7 paise, whereas the “nerrick” (market rate) was 2 annas 6 paise and hence no one was prepared to work.

 The superintendent clearly mentions that 5, 18, 204 people were pressed as forced labourers for constructing the canal. This equated to roughly 43,000 people gathered monthly[ii]. And how were these people rounded up?

I have no hesitation in stating for the information of government, that to the best of my belief not a single large party has been collected unless by sowars, burkandazes, chaprasis, khalasis, malis or beldars of the canal establishment for purpose of bringing them together…” Comment by the Superintendent of Works, West Yamuna canal22.

The superintendent threatened to stop work on the canal if he was prevented from getting forced labour.

This was a pan-Bharat phenomenon and continued for a long time as evidenced from notes and records from all the four ends of the country. The British officials of North West Frontier provinces (now in Pakistan) have recorded in their letters of the growing anger in people due to impressment for canal works and repairs 89 . A note from the collector of the Godavari district in 1872 CE to the Board of Revenue clearly spelt out the free work that villagers were expected to do on canals and waterworks 24:

  1. Digging and repairing of channels by which water is immediately distributed to the fields from tanks or irrigation channels.
  2. Turfing the leaky bunds of tanks in order to prevent breaches,
  3. Making ring bunds when breaches occur.

The collector is very clear about the manner in which people were coerced when he says that, “No instance has come under my own observation in which the ryots of their own accord turfed the bund of a tank, but it is said to be recognized as a duty”27.

Repair and construction of roads:  In building roads the normal tactic to save money was to bundle of portions of the road to nearest village. Free labour was exacted for building roads throughout Bharat. This included the main highways (called as trunk roads and the ones connecting the villages to each other).  A document from 1849 CE mentions that till that time forced labour was used for building trunk roads in Salem district. The note further states that since Rs.9000 had been allotted for the repair of trunk roads, there was no need to force people to work for free 28.

Another alternative to get work done free of cost was to use convicts for road and public works. This was eerily similar to the “slave labour” employed by the Soviet Union where prisoners were forced to dig canals, build roads and do just about anything that the communist party desired (Library of Congress, 2010). An example of use of convicts with details of how much money was saved is given in a report by the public works department on the feasibility of using prisoners to build roads. This report deals with Salem in Tamil Nadu mentions that due to high death rate of prisoners, the use of convicts for road repairs and construction was temporarily stopped in 1844 CE. That this experiment was already tried elsewhere is demonstrated by the report writers statement that,

the employment of convicts in gangs, at a distance from their gaols has been peremptorily prohibited by the Honourable court of directors and the government of India. Chiefly on account of the sickness and mortality which followed the adoption of a similar plan in Bengal”[iii].

The following table gives details of the death rate vis-a-vis the total number of prisoners in the prison in Salem. The total number of deaths comes to a staggering 19,845 people in a short span of 7 years.

 Proportion of deaths to Numerical Strengths
 Convicts employed on road labourPrisoners in gaols
First half of 18398702665
Second half of 18395002630
First half of 18409272743
Second half of 18406863310
First half of 18415002016
Second half of 184118102737
Total Deaths19,845 
Table 1 The death rate of prisoners employed on road construction

 The British occupation government saved an enormous amount of money by experimenting in using convicts to do work instead of forced labor from people. As is presented in this volume there is irrefutable evidence that usually all public works were carried out with free labour. The key focus on saving money, nothing else. The conclusion of the board of public works in their report was, “It is satisfactory to find that the labour of the convicts has been very nearly as cheap as free labour28.

This meant the villagers were responsible for not only building the road for free but also maintaining it. And all the while they were paying high taxes for the “gift of white rule”. This was identified by in a report by the Board of Revenue of EIC:

When the road passes through jungly, or naturally barren lands, the villages are few, and the population very scant. This road labor then must be very oppressive for great lengths of road are portioned off to small villages and the workmen have to waste much time in going to and from.”[iv]

Like most other uses of forced labour, the use of forced labour for making road was a pan-Bharat phenomenon. This is attested by other documents which are from the other extremes of Bharat i.e., Himachal Pradesh, Arakan hills tracts (Myanmar), Dera Ismail Khan, and Assam.

In case of emergencies such as floods and major damage to roads it was almost certain that villagers would be corralled into the repair effort. In Dera Ismail Khan, sometime in 1883 CE, large number of villagers were forced to repair roads and a bridge which had been swept away in a flash flood [v]. This large number was usually in the thousands not hundreds. From the letter it is clear that this was hardly an one-off occurrence.

 In the 1860’s, Sir Henry Ramsey, placed in charge of Kumaon as Commissioner, ruled as a petty tyrant. He constructed dak bungalows and large number of roads from where British officials exercised tyranny over Indians. Kuli, bardaish and begar were different appellations of forced labour, mean, impressed labour with miniscule wages, labour without payment, and grabbing food articles etc. by Government officials without paying for them.

Begar was compelling of people to labour without any payment. Miles and miles of roads were cut into mountainsides by using free and forced labour. In the case of Assam, the deputy commissioner of Gaolpara states in 1881 CE that there were “two instances” of people being forced to work on repairing roads in the district [vi]. It needs to be kept in mind that the commissioner was referring to parwanahs which were essentially records of the orders given to grab people. However, a vast majority of instances were never recorded, being accomplished with verbal instructions to the subordinate Bharatiya officers.

Another instance is from Madras Presidency where a government circular from around 1849 CE which asks officials not to use forced labour in main highways also notes that use of free labour for the major trunk roads was a common practice[vii]. In 1880’s, in Kumaon (Himachal Pradesh) a similar practice existed where the villagers were forced to maintain district roads, while the trunk roads were maintained by the government [viii].

To maintain canals and water storage: A response to a demi-official circular from 1887 CE  asking collectors about the practice of forced labour in Punjab admits that it is common practice for the maintenance and clearance of canals. The local term used for this was “cher[ix]. The legal backing for this practice is cited as Part VIII of the Canal Act of 1873. The same demi-official circular evoked interesting responses for government officials across Bharata. One response from Bombay Presidency asserted that in addition to forced labour for transporting baggage of Europeans, for troops and forced confiscation of carts, it was also used to maintain canals [x]. This was the response from Madras presidency as well where the legal backing was cited as the Act I of 1858.The justification for forced labour is that people are paid rates which are higher than the market rate.

A very common use of forced labour for government works was done under the excuse of “customary village labour”. The word customary had nothing to do with what was traditionally the villager’s responsibility, it had everything to do with what the British civil servants thought the villagers should do. Customary forced labour was commonly used to maintain the water channels, clear riverbeds, repair breaches in the canals and dams etc.

Additionally, even British officials admitted that there was no clarity as to what customary labour constituted[xi]. The acting collector of Godavari district, H.E Sullivan, characterised customary labour in 1872 CE as a “flimsy pretence” to force people to work for free [xii] . It needs to be kept in mind that the villagers were paying a wide assortment of taxes to the British rulers to maintain the waterworks. Collectors and tehsildars routinely used the threat of punishment to force the villagers to look after the irrigation works [xiii]. By the second half of the 19th century forced labour had become a way of life for most Bharatiya’s. Hence, it is not surprising when the Acting Collector for Godavari district informed the Board of Revenue in Chennai 1872 CE that:

“(In this district) the obligation to furnish unpaid labour for petty repairs to irrigation work is recognized by the ryots, and there is no practical difficulty in exacting it.”[xiv]

A detailed list of what all the villagers were forced to do is given in a reply to the question of forced labour around 1874 [xv]:

  1. Fill up dry gullies or repair other injuries caused by rain or the action of the water to the tank bunds and supply channels.
  2. To clear bunds and channel banks of prickly pear and other weeds.
  3. To remove accumulations and deposits in supply channels and sluices.
  4. To perform minor repairs to the amount of rupees 15 or 20.
  5. To strengthen tank bunds in all dangerous places and to watch them carefully in the rainy season, and to turf those parts liable to be acted upon by the waves.
  6. To construct temporary dams across jungle streams to catch water.
  7. To construct ring dams where necessary.
  8. To clear sluices and to close or keep open calingulahs with reference to the state of supply in tanks.
  9. Erecting embankments in the beds of rivers to lead the water to the head of channels.

The fact that these extensive works were standard across the board in South India is shown by the consistency in the replies given by various collectors to the Board of Revenue’s query to collectors in the Madras Presidency in the early 1870’s. The list of activities clubbed under the label “customary labour” is consistent with a few variations according to the geographic location. Punitive fines which had no legal basis were levied on the farmers who refused to slave for free. Farmers were beaten into submission by the British overlords or their Bharatiya minions. They had little say in the matter as they were ignorant of their rights. One such fine was levied in Nellore district was called a “nagalu” and was levied by the Tehsildars to bring errant farmers into line [xvi].

Most collectors were of the view that fines should be imposed on those ryots who refused to perform free labour. In fact, often fines were imposed, irrespective of their legality, and the collector’s acted as demi-gods who could fine and punish the ryots. One method to make the ryots submit was to force them to pay double the cost of the earthworks or refuse to lighten their tax load in times of distress [xvii]. One collector even recommended that revenue officers should be given legal powers to impose a fine four times the value of the work and the ability to auction off the zamindars and ryots properties to realise the money [xviii].

Prior to British rule (i.e. before 1800’s) the usual practice was for farmers to maintain the village tanks and other water storage sources. The key point to understand is that taxation in money was unknown in Bharata and the ruling powers (the Hindu ones) did not expect the farmers to pay tax and also maintain the water tanks, canals etc. The revenue was taken in form of grains and an amount set aside for repairs of the water tanks. In a letter from 1872 the collector of Chennai observes that there existed 2,885 small tanks which “were constructed by individuals or village communities and not by the Circar (the British government), and many of them are ancient ruined tanks restored by the ryots[xix].

 In the early 1800’s the asura Munro introduced the ryotwari system which was the caused tremendous damage to the social and economic fabric of Bharata. This imposed a fixed money assessment i.e. every year the farmers paid a fixed amount depending on their landholding. This amount was paid in cash and did not vary with the dire straits that farmers often found themselves in. After the imposition of the fixed assessment the creative and devious government officials came up with ways to make the farmers work for free. One method was to make the farmers responsible for any repair works below a certain sum. For example, in Madras in the 1870’s farmers were expected to carry out repairs under the sum of Rs.25.

This was also attested by the collector of North Arcot in 1872, when he wrote that, “(when a) Taram assessment imposed by the British government the state than assumed the responsibility of maintaining all works of irrigation on this consideration, that the so-called Taram assessment is made up of a tax on the soil, plus a rate for the water which the government undertook to provide for raising wet crop”[xx]. That the government did not fulfil its part of the bargain was evidenced by the complaints made by the farmers regarding the poor maintenance of large water channels [xxi].

Force was almost always necessary to compel people to work for free. On occasions where hundreds of “coolies” were needed for works such as clearing the dry riverbeds, tehsildars were deputed to terrorise the people into submission [xxii].  Farmers paid taxes such as the “irrigation cess” which was around 1 to 5 annas per acre of wet land 44. This cess was used to maintain the water channels and ensure regular distribution to the villages. However in spite of collecting this cess, the British officials utilised “customary labour” to make up for any shortfall in the cess collection. The focus thus was on saving money and maximising revenue for the British machinery in Bharat.

To carry troop supplies:  Like rest of the government machinery the most atrocious use of Bharatiya’s was to act as mules for the genocidal white army in Bharat. As the British Indian Army was the sole means by which the British ensured their occupation, no complaints were entertained against the atrocious behaviour of the military 4.  The military officers used to pressurise the local civilian officials, such as district magistrates, and get them to round up people to carry their supplies. This was mostly “free” and in many cases resulted in losses for the Bharatiya’s, who had to leave their occupation and slave for the white oppressors. No varna or jati was free from this atrocity and anyone at hand was dragged to work as beasts of burden for the evil British. The troops could be under the command of Bharatiya traitors or White people, but the result was the same: loss of livelihood and acute distress to the Bharatiya people.

“When detachments are marched under the charge of European officers, sometimes pressed coolies are paid and sometimes they are not. Similar treatment occurs when officers are travelling in consequence of removals etc. as well as when other gentlemen pass through the country.”[xxiii]

This practice was common right from the time the English were fighting for military supremacy in Dakshina Bharata. A letter from 1773 CE from Sir Robert Harland to the Earl of Rochford, where the former decries the loot perpetrated by the officers of the East India Company in Arcot [xxiv].  At this point in time Arcot was ruled by the Nawab Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah. The letter notes that, “The pressing of his people to serve as coolies, and their bullocks to carry baggage, which ought to be employed for the purposes of cultivation,are what would appear to be some of the Nabob’s greatest grievances.”

A note from the collector of Tinnevally in 1837 admits that, “the baggage for troops marching is invariably carried by carts or by coolies, engaged to perform service for the whole distance”[xxv].  This was hardly service done by Bharatiya’s out of love for their oppressors. The usual tactic was to get a white civilian officer to force them to work as slaves. Sometimes the carrot of a slight reduction in their taxes was used as inducement to try and get the Bharatiya’s to work for free.

Occasionally a right minded British civil servant such as a magistrate would protest against being made to forcibly impress Bharatiya’s of all walks in order to serve the British occupation army. One such honourable exception was the Magistrate of Kanpur who in 1843 wrote a strong letter to the commissioner of Allahabad division about the illegality of asking public officers to grab trades people whenever the military asked them to 52. He pointedly remarks that a majority of magistrates simply agree to whatever demands the military made in terms of impressing people. He further describes the method in which this was done, “Usual course was for the kotwal of the city to collect all the trades people; and they were forced to make up a purse among themselves with which they indemnified an individual of each craft, who was thus persuaded to go with the camp” 52. The military officials, referred to as the Commissariat, refused to compensate the tradesmen who were thus forced to accompany army divisions on the march, and insisted that they earn their living by selling goods within the army camp [xxvi]. The magistrate’s letter led the Lt. Governor of North-West Provinces (today’s Uttar Pradesh) to inquire with the Commissariat regarding the magistrate’s accusations. The commissariat flippantly replied that, “We would suggest that the magistrate be advised that it rests entirely with himself to refuse compliance52.  The Magistrate of Kanpur listed thirty-four types of tradesmen who were forced to accompany military units on the march. These tradesmen were forced to carry their tools and supplies for long distances without the guarantee of any payment for their trouble.

It is worth noting that till the advent of the mass manufactured automobile in the 20th century the main vehicle of travel and for carrying supplies was the bullock cart. When fighting with Bharatiya powers in the 18th and early 19th century, the British forced our people to give up their bullocks and carts in their thousands. A good example of this is the forced requisitioning of around 3000 to 20000 bullocks by Munro from Andhra Pradesh during the Second Maratha-Anglo war of 1803-1804 CE (Stein, 1989). Thousands of bullocks died during the war and the lack of bullocks for tilling the fields led to severe famine in coastal Andhra Pradesh (Ceded districts).

This became the routine even when the white tyrants had established their power in Bharat. Every time British troops and their local mercenaries marched through the country, carts and people were forcibly procured and used.  In the early 1820’s the Magistrate of Bellary in Karnataka, A.D Campbell, wrote to his seniors about the severe hardships the local people faced  from being forced to serve as coolies and to furnish supplies from detachment of troops [xxvii]. He details how in the short span of three months, eight corps and numerous smaller detachments marched through the district. The chief complain of the people was not about providing labour but about not being paid properly and being mistreated by the occupation forces. Campbell listed the following military formations which had marched in the district from around June to end of August 1820 CE: 1st of the 7th N.I, 2nd of the 16th N.I., 3 of the 17th N.I., 1st of the 19th N.I., 1st of the 20th N.I., H.M 3rd regiment, H.M 46th regiment, and  2 light cavalry besides smaller detachments.

The carts and their owners were dragged to wherever the soldiers were marching and this could be hundreds of miles away. They were rarely paid and had to come back empty thus forgoing their livelihood for many days altogether . To escape this tyranny villagers used to dismantle the carts and hide them in the jungle. The British resorted to keeping the “knowledge of the movements of troops in the background, as long as possible, so that district officers may, when the carriage is required, pounce down and seize every available cart” [xxviii]. This continued for a long time and in response to a circular from the Governor Generals office asking for details of forced labour, a reply was received from Bombay Presidency that forced labour was used for movement of troops [xxix].

It was not only carts and coolies that were commandeered by British troops, boats were requisitioned as well. This caused considerable hardship to the boatmen who lost their livelihood for as long as the occupation forces needed their service. The assistant commissioner of Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) writes about an incidence where boats were forcibly requisitioned to facilitate the movement of the 10th regiment of the N.I 55. The Bharatiya lower rung officials such as Mirasdars absconded when the assistant commissioner sent orders to grab boats and boatmen. These absconding officials were then taken to task by the commissioner for “neglecting” their duty. The commissioner details the whole disgraceful episode as ,

In the cold weather of 1880, when the 10th regiment N.I passed through the Karimganj subdivision en-route to Cachar, about 20 boats were impressed in the sub division and sent to Balaganj (20 hours journey downstream) to assist in transport. Boats and boatmen were impressed with considerable difficulty”.

Continued in Part 2

[i] Registrar Nizamut adawlut NWP to Magisterial authorities : 24.8.1844, no.1364

[ii] India revenue dispatch, March 1846: 1/Ap/NWP/N.4/1846 (extract) Registrar Nizamut adawlut NWP to Magisterial authorities : 24.8.1844, no.1364

[iii] Report from the Board of public works on the experiment of employing convict labour in construction of public roads. Ref: Appendix to the minutes of evidence taken before select committee, Appendix B, no .106,Public Works Department

[iv] Gratis, unpaid labour on road building in Madras Presidency (MRO:BR: PWD Cons: Vol.47, Cons: 25.11.1851, No.10-1, pp.1766-85,extract).

[v] No.385,dated dera ismail khan,10th august 1883 From- Lt.Col E.L. Ommanney, Officiating commissioner and superintendent, Derajat division To- The secretary to government, Punjab
[vi] No.391, dated Dhubri, 14/09/1881 From T.J.Murray, Esq, C.S., Offg. Deputy commissioner of Goalpara, To – the commissioner of the Assam valley districts

[vii] MRO:BR: PWD Cons: Vol.47, Cons: 25.11.1851, No.10-1, pp.1766-85,extract.

[viii] Northwestern provinces and Oudh ( Demi official, 07-05-1887)

[ix] Punjab ( Demi official, 28-04-1887)

[x] Bombay ( Demi official, 28-04-1887)

[xi] From  E.J Melville, Esq., acting collector of Vizagapatnam,  to the acting secretary to the board of revenue.dated  Vizianagrum, 14th February 1872, No.30

[xii] From H.E.Sullivan,Esq.Acting collector of the Godavery district,to the secretary to the board of revenue,dated Cocanada,22nd April 1872,No.96

[xiii] Proceedings of board of revenue, Consultation of 19-03-1860,No.1258 From J.Silver,Esq.Collector of Tinnevally, dated ?, 13-03-1860, no.96.

[xiv] Consultation of board of revenue 6-05-1876.From H.E.Sullivan,Esq.Acting collector of the Godavery district,to the secretary to the board of revenue, dated Cocanada,22nd April 1872,No.96

[xv] From G.Vans Agnew,Esq. collector of Nellore,to the secretary of board of revenue district,dated Nellore,26-06-1872,No.1441

[xvi] Rom G.Vansagnew, Esq.,Collector of Nellore,to the Secretary to the board of revenue, dated Nellore, 26th June 1872,No.1,441

[xvii]  G.D. Leman, Esq. Acting Collector of  the Kistna District, to the secretary  to the Board of Revenue, Dated Masulipatnam, 27th March 1872, No.1038.

[xviii] J.H Garstin,Esq., Collector of South Arcot, to the  Secretary to the Board of Revenue, dated Cuddalore, 26th March 1872, no.99

[xix] From W.Mcquhae, Esq., Acting collector of Madras, to the secretary to the board of revenue, dated 24th January 1872, No.21

[xx] From J.D Robinson, Esq., Collector of North Arcot, to the secretary to the board of reveneu, dated Gudiattum, 14th February 1872, No.63

[xxi] From T.A.N Chase, Esq., Collector of Kurnool , to the Secretary to the board of revenue, dated 23rd November 1871, No.386

[xxii] From W.S. Whiteside, Esq., acting collector of Trichinopoly, to the secretary to the board, board of revenue, dated 29th Febraury 1872, No.50

[xxiii] India Office Records: P/285/17 Madras Board of Revenue Proceedings 1st October 1795. (MRO: BRP: Vol.137: Pro 1.10.1795,No.12-13,pp 7354-64)

[xxiv] Home Mic. III East Indies 19,1773,Sir Robert Harland to Earl of Rochford (No XII) Recvd 10.4.1773

[xxv] collector,Tinnevelly to Board of revenue: 5.8.1837. ( MRO:Vol 1569,Pro 21.8.1837, No. 31, pp 9556-8)

[xxvi] From the magistrate of Cawnpoor to the commissioner of the 4th or Allahabad division on the administration of criminal justice for 1843, 28-02-1843,general remarks para 15

[xxvii] C-28, Magistrate  ,Bellary to Government, 31-8-1820 (MRO: Jud. Con.: Vol no. 151.B, coN 15.9.1820, Nos 9-13, pp.2203-68)

[xxviii] C-26 Letter to  Chief secretary to government, Bombay, from  J.W.Robertson, Collector, Tanna,  27-05-1874.

[xxix] Bombay Demi-Official ,05-05-1887

[i] https://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/t_es/t_es_agraw_dharampal_frameset.htm

[ii] http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/news/WCMS_237569/lang–en/index.htm

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