WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8302

Date uploaded in London – – – 7 July 2020   

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R. Nanjappa

Reports of Francis Buchanan- South

 In Feb, 1800, Lord Wellesley, Governor General asked Dr.Francis Buchanan, a medical officer of the company, to tour south India and make inquiries into the economic conditions of the people. His work was published in 1807 in London. Some highlights from this famous document.

  • He saw the old Hindu irrigation works for which southern India was always famous. He remarked on one such work in the Jagir of Madras, and said the reservoir could irrigate the lands of thirty-two villages during a drought of eighteen months!
  • On the whole, the Jagir of Madras which was under the East India company for half a century was not in a flourishing condition.
  • He saw an old Hindu reservoir in Kaveripakkam near Arcot – about eight miles long and three miles broad. “I never viewed a public work with more satisfaction, a work that supplies a great body of people with every comfort which their moral situation will permit them to enjoy”.
  • the villages along the road were miserable and poor, and some of them in ruins.
  • the govt which received the revenue was “bound to keep the canals and tanks in repair.”
    • Women (near Seringapatam) often worked in the fields and carried manure in baskets on their heads. They were generally well dressed, and elegantly formed. “I have never seen finer forms… Their necks and arms are, in particular, remarkably well shaped”
    • Reaching near Bangalore, he observed: Women of all castes, except Brahmans, bought cotton wool at weekly markets, spun them at home, and sold the thread to weavers. And thus people of all classes-men and women- found in spinning and weaving profitable occupation.
  • He then goes on to describe how the village agricultural produce was shared between the various people of the village- 16 categories, from the priest to the barber, potter, conductor of water, etc. and says: Thus a payment of 5.25% of the produce of the fields secured to the villagers the professional services of the barber, the potter and the blacksmith, the priest and the astrologer.10% was claimed by the village Deshmukh and the rest was divided between the farmer and the govt. Haider Ali abolished the Deshmukhs and took their share also.
  • The old Hindu rate of revenue, laid down in the ancient law books, was one-sixth, one-eighth or one-twelfth the produce; the rulers and chiefs who took such a large share excavated and maintained vast irrigation works at their own cost and made cultivation possible. And they took their share in kind, not in money.
    • Coming to Coimbatore, Dr. Buchanan found that Major Macleod the collector, had set aside the authority of the Gaudas or village chiefs, and merely employed them to collect the revenue on fixed salaries. The policy added to the revenue, but weakened the ancient village-system of India. 

The overall import of the report is that the revenue was over-assessed, and the condition of the people was therefore one of hopeless poverty.

Francis Buchanan
  • North India
  • Recognising the value of the report, the Company asked Dr. Buchanan to undertake a similar study tour of Northern India, and he again laboured there for 7 years from 1807. But his report was left to gather dust in London and he died. Montgomery Martin, a historian obtained permission to look at the material, and he published his findings in 1838. This too contains much valuable information.
  • In Bihar and Patna, great agricultural activity was noticed with irrigation from canals and wells in winter. Rents paid in kind were being substituted by money -rents.
    • Spinning and weaving were the great national industry after agriculture. All the spinners were women. As the demand for fine goods has been diminishing, women have suffered very much.
    • Paper manufacture, leather work, perfumery, iron-work, gold and silver work, stone-cutting, pottery, bricklaying, and lime manufacture, dyeing, blanket weaving, manufacture of gold and silver thread were among the other important industries.
      • many of these industries and sources have narrowed in the last 100 years. Agriculture has become virtually the sole means of subsistence, with the loss of many industries.
    • The raja of Bhojpur, a kayast, a Mohammadan landlord, a Mohammadan lady, two lalas of the kayasth community all fed all mendicants and strangers, honouring the ancient custom. (Their names are mentioned).
    • In Bhagalpur, it was noticed that people were not much involved in debt.
    • All castes were permitted to spin. Gold had almost entirely disappeared. Most commercial transactions were carried on by exchange of commodities.
    • Gorakhpur: land was subjected to heavy assessment, and the tax-gatherer was more rapacious than the invaders and freebooters of previous times.
    • 1,75,600 women found employment in spinning cotton.
    • Dinajpur: Cotton spinning was the main activity occupying leisure hours,” of all the women of the higher rank, and of the greater part of the farmers’ wives”.
      • the lower caste HIndus wove jute for their own use. Most families had looms, and most women worked in the afternoons. Gold had become scarce.
      • Purniya: One fourth of the produce would be considered fair rent, but the Zemindars in Purnea and elsewhere in Bengal were taking much less, in contrast to the much greater exaction by the company
      • No caste was considered disgraced by spinning, a very large proportion of women did some spinning in their leisure hours
      • On the whole the Zemindars offered some protection to the people. But the sources of income were declining due to the declining state of industries and manufacture.

Thus we observe through Dr.Buchanan the same features throughout India: high rent-revenue collected by the company, leaving little surplus for the people, decline of industries and local manufactures, making agriculture the sole source of income, spinning was the one saving grace where it was still practised, especially among women.

tags — economic downfall-4, wellelsley, buchanan


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