Chapter 10 Colonialism and the Countryside: Exploring Official Archives

Question 1.
Why was thejotedar a powerful figure in many areas of rural Bengal ?
Solution :
The jotedar was a powerful figure in many areas of rural Bengal due to following factors :

  • They had acquired vast areas of land.
  • They controlled the local trade including moneylending.
  • A large part of their land was cultivated through sharecroppers (adhiyars or bargadars). They brought their own ploughs and worked in the field. After the harvest they handed over half of the produce to the jotedars. They had become rich in the villages.
  • Unlike zamindars, jotedars lived in the villages and exercised direct control over poor villagers.
  • They resisted efforts by zamindars to increase the jama of the village and prevented zamindari officials from executing their duties.
  • They mobilised ryots and deliberately delayed the payments of revenue to the zamindar.

Question 2.
How did Zamindars manage to retain control over their zamindaris?
Solution :
When zamindars were in bad times, they often resorted to various tactics to maintain control over their zamindari. These were in fact their survival tactics. Following are the important ones.

  1. Zamindars created fictitious sales during auction. Their own men would make highest bid and later refused to pay up. After repeating this exercise for couple of occasions, the government would be tired and sell it back to zamindar at lesser rate.
  2. A part of Estate was often transferred to female members of the family, and that part of property could not be taken by the government any more.
  3. Zamindars put hurdle in purchase and occupation of the estate by others by use of sheer muscle power.
  4. Sometimes even peasants under the influence of zamindars opposed auction of estate.

Question 3.
How did the Paharias respond to the coming of outsiders ?
Solution :

  1. The Paharias were hunters, shifting cultivators, food gatherers, charcoal producers and silkworm rearers. Thus, their life depended on the forest produce. They lived in hutments and considered the entire region as their land. They considered it the basis of their identity as well as survival. They, therefore, resisted the intrusion of outsiders. Their chiefs maintained the unity of the group. They settled disputes and led the tribe in battles with other tribes and . plains’ people.
  2. Paharias raided the plains. These raids were necessary for their survival. These were the ways of asserting power over settled communities. It was their means of negotiating political relations with outsiders. Thus to maintain peace, zamindars paid them regular tribute. Similarly, the traders gave them a small amount for permission to use the passes controlled by them.
  3. When the British encouraged forests clearance for expansion of agriculture, the raids of Paharias on the settled villages increased. This led to conflict with the British. Ultimately, the Paharias withdrew deep into the mountains, insulating themselves from hostile forces, and carrying on a war with outsiders.
  4. After the coming of the Santhals who cleared forests, ploughed land and grew rice and cotton in the areas of lower hills, the Paharias receded deeper into the Rajmahal hills. Thus, it is clear that the Paharias considered outsiders with suspicion and distrust. Every white man appeared to them to represent a power that was destroying their way of life and means of survival, snatching away their control over their forests and lands.

Question 4.
Why did the Santhals rebel against British rule ?
Solution :
The British failed in their attempt to transform the Paharias into settled agriculturists. They, therefore, persuaded the Santhals to settle in the foothills of Rajmahal. They demarcated a large area of land as Damin-i-Koh so that the Santhals might become settled peasants. The Santhals were expected to clear and cultivate one-tenth of the area within the first ten years. Santhals settlements expanded rapidly from 40 villages in 1838 to 1473 villages in 1851. Their population too increased during the same period from 3000 to over 82,000. As a result of it, the revenue for the company increased. The Santhals, who were in search of a place to settle, ultimately got a place and settled in the Damin-i-Koh on the peripheries of the Rajmahal hills.

But they soon found this was not an ideal world for them and they rebelled against the British rule due to the following factors :

  • The state was levying heavy taxes on the land that they had cleared for cultivation;
  • The moneylenders (dikus) were charging high rate of interest and taking over the land when debt remained unpaid;
  • Zamindars were asserting control over Damin area.

Thus, they found that the land was slipping away from their hands. Therefore, to create an ideal world for themselves where they would rule, they rebelled against zamindars, moneylenders and the British. After the revolt (1855-56), the British created the Santhal pargana in the hope to conciliate them.

Question 5.
What explains the anger of Deccan ryots against the moneylenders?
Solution :
The main reasons for the anger of Ryots against moneylenders are as follows:

  1. In rural India it was traditional rule that the interest will always remain less than the principal amount. However, in many cases interest payable was more than the principal itself. In one case the interest was Rs 2000 against principal amount of Rs100.
  2. No receipt was paid in case of payment of loan partly or fully. This opened the scope of manipulation by the moneylenders.
  3. Ryots complained about forging of documents and other fraudulent activity by the moneylenders.
  4. Ryots believed that moneylenders were insensitive to them and made an arrogant and exploitative lot.

Question 6.
Why were many zamindaris auctioned after the Permanent Settlement?
Solution :
Under the Permanent Settlement of Bengal 1793, the East India Company had fixed the land revenue that each zamindar had to pay. At the same time, it was stated that the estates of those who failed to pay would be auctioned to recover the revenue. The company fixed the total demand over the entire estate whose revenue the zamindar contracted to pay. The zamindar collected the rent from different villages, paid the revenue to the Company and retained the difference as his income. He was expected to pay the Company regularly. However in practice in the early decades after the Permanent Settlement, zamindars regularly failed to pay the revenue demand and unpaid balances accumulated due to the following reasons :

  1. The initial demands were very high because it was felt that under Permanent Settlement, the Company would never be able to claim higher share in case of rise in prices and expansion of cultivation. So in anticipation of such loss high revenue was fixed. It was argued that the burden on zamindar would gradually decline as agricultural production expanded and prices rose.
  2. At the time of the settlement, the prices of agricultural produce were low. It made it difficult for the ryots to pay their dues to the zamindar who in return could not pay revenue to the company.
  3. The revenue, regardless of the harvest, had to be paid punctually under the Sunset Law.
  4. The Permanent Settlement limited the power of the zamindar to collect rent from the ryot and manage his zamindari. The Company had disbanded their troops. Their courts (catcheries) were brought under the supervision of a collector.
  5. Rent collection was a perennial problem due to bad harvests and low prices. Some times ryots deliberately delayed payments.

Under the above circumstances, the zamindars could not make payment punctually, and under the Sunset Law, if payments did not come in by sunset of the specified date, the zamindari was liable to be auctioned. This led to auction of many zamindaris after the Permanent Settlement in Bengal.

Question 7.
In what way was the livelihood of the Pah arias different from that of the Santhals ?
Solution :
The livelihood of the Paharias was different from that of the Santhals in the following way:



 (i) They lived around the Rajmahal hills.

(i) They came into Bengal around the 1780s

(ii) They subsisted on forest produce and practised shifting cultivation. They did not cut forests. They grew a variety of pulses and millets for consumption.

(ii) They cleared forest, cut down timber and ploughed the land for cultivation. They grew rice and cotton.

(iii) They scratched the ground lightly with hoes.

(iii) They used plough for cultivation.

(iv) The Paharias were hunters, shifting cul­tivators, food gatherers, charcoal producers, silkworm rearers. They were intimately connected to the forest. They resisted the intrusion of the outsiders. They did not take to plough agriculture.

(iv) The Santhals gave up their earlier life of mobility and settled down, cultivating a range of commercial crops for the market, and dealing with traders and moneylenders.

Question 8.
How did the American Civil War affect the lives of the ryots in India?
Solution :
American Civil War that began in 1860 had a huge impact on the ryots of Deccan region in India. Following events explains how the impact took shape:

  1. Britain was the country where large cotton mills were operational. These cotton mills depended on cotton imported from North America.
  2. When the USA was reeling under civil war, it was naturally very difficult to import cotton from there.
  3. The cotton mills were forced to look for alternative suppliers of cotton apart from US. India made a good option.
  4. The farmers in Deccan were encouraged to grow cotton. One way was the easy access of credit. The moneylenders would give credit of Rs 100 for every acre of land under cotton cultivation.
  5. The farmers benefitted out of this demand for cotton. But the real beneficiary were the big farmers and traders.
  6. However, things changed as normalcy returned to US. Now the demand of cotton in India declined and so declined the easy availability of credit. The ryots fell back to old days of penury and rose in rebellion in many places.

Question 9.
What are the problems of using official sources in writing about the history of peasants?
Solution :
In using official sources for writing the history of peasants, the following problems are faced:

  1. The official sources reflect official concerns and interpretations of events. For example, the Deccan Riots Commission was specifically asked to judge whether the level of the government revenue demand was the cause of the revolt. The Commission reported that the government demand was not the cause of peasant anger. It was the moneylenders who were responsible for the riots. Generally, the colonial government never admitted that the discontent was due to government’s policy. In fact, the increase in revenue demand from 50 to 100 per cent was also responsible for the bad condition of the ryots.
  2. Official sources explain certain events with exaggeration. For example, the evidence contained in the Fifth Report is invaluable. Researchers, however, indicate that, intent on criticising the maladministration of the Company, the Fifth Report exaggerated the collapse of traditional zamindari power. They also overestimated the scale on which zamindars were losing their land. In fact, zamindaris were auctioned but zamindars were not displaced in every case. In most of the cases, they retained their zamindaris.

Thus, the official sources are written from the point of view of the government. Even Buchanan wrote what he was asked to write by the East India Company. That is why the Paharias viewed him with suspicion and distrust. He was perceived as an agent of the sarkar.