As perhaps never before in history, India is fast becoming two distinct societies unlinked, uninteresting, leading apparently parallel existence. The first consists of a proportionately tiny section (yet, perhaps, numbering several millions) whose ideas, affinities, inspiration, even entertainment are derived from the world outside India. Not all in this society necessarily lead a life of luxury. Many in it perhaps live fairly austerely and consider themselves devoted to ancient Indian values, to socialism, even to the Universalist ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. But all of them one way or another are linked to positions of power and initiative and it has come to pass that without their concurrence nothing can be inflated in India at the public level. A large section of this outward-looking society is without doubt sophisticated, soft spoken, and also compassionate in the abstract. All the same, by a twist of fate, what symbolizes this society most is foreign trade and travel (the modern gadgetry, air travel, the multi storied hotels, and all the rest) and the unending concern for foreign aid and exchange. These two seem to be the most visible Gods of this society.

The other Society is constituted of the rest. It is not one homogeneous whole however, and has multifold divisions, great disparities amongst sections of it, and much of it leads an increasingly disorganized existence. Further, half of this society perhaps has "begun to live marginal lives. But what indicates its oneness is that, for most practical purposes, this society is fast becoming wholly dependent on the former outward looking society which holds the reins of power and initiative. The other element which characterizes it is that, for most purposes, it still continues to function according to indigenous idioms and beliefs, even when it has taken to modern technical practices, etc., and thus far is unable to comprehend, much less master, the idiom of the powerful. Many sons and daughters of this society undoubtedly aspire to pass over from this to the outward looking society and some succeed in doing so. Yet by and large this or any other effort does not seem to lead to any real interaction between the two societies but further accentuates their distinctness and separateness.

The society of the outward looking characterizes the larger society or major sections of it as 'backward', and various’ deliberations are held on how to work for overcoming this 'backwardness'. The question naturally arises: how does India happen to have this 'backwardness'. Further, before any effective remedial measures can be devised, it is crucial to comprehend the factors which have given rise to this phenomenon and have in fact provided it with virtual legitimacy, even a sort of normalcy. The popular version, and perhaps the opinion subscribed to by even many of the progressives, seems to be that India has been 'backward 'from time immemorial; after all, poverty, ignorance, disease , etc. Have been part of Indian life for ages.

While the people of India may have historically suffered from many ills, especially from foreign invasions and the plunder and desecration of religious and cultural places, and political subjection of many areas that such aggression at times led to, they at no time seem to have felt that they in any sense were a lesser people or in modern idiom, were suffering from backwardness. But that was but natural. For it is seldom that individuals, groups and communities use the term 'backwardness' to describe their own state. It may be that they lead a hard and harsh existence as the people of Europe have led till recent times because of environmental and historical causes. For various other reasons a society, or segments of it may at times begin to suffer from marked impoverishment, or be even reduced to a state of pauperization. But such conditions by themselves do not make such sufferers feel that their state is one of what is called 'backwardness'. Backwardness like the term 'barbarians' is an imagery which one applies to others, to aliens who prove weaker and who do not subscribe to one's own cultural norms. To morally justify the conquest, or subjection, or annihilation of others, recourse is then taken to terms like 'backwardness'. And when the people so termed themselves begin mentally to subscribe to such imagery it implies that the process of subjugation of such people has been completed and that they have lost dignity in their own eyes. While there can be some' controversy about the prosperity or poverty of the Indian people, or any segments of them during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the term backwardness does not in any sense apply to them then. Rather, it were the newly arrived Europeans in India who felt that the Indians applied such an appellation to them for their manners and greed Which were considered barbaric and uncouth, about the color of their skin which was thought to be diseased, or even the system of dowry which is said to have obtained in 18th century England but to have been looked askance in 18th century India. By the end of the 18th century, when large parts of India had effectively been conquered and subdued, the tide obviously changed and instead the term 'backwardness' or images of similar nature began to be deliberately and extensively applied to Indian society.

The present note seeks at some length to comprehend the nature of Indian society some two centuries ago when it may be assumed to have functioned according to its own norms: the status of the individual, the peasant, the wage earner etc., in it; the subversions and transformations which occurred in it since then. This would provide the proper backdrop for understanding what actually this phenomenon of ‘backwardness’ is and how it has resulted from a breakdown of Indian society, etc., on it. From an imposition of alien concepts of organization, governance.

In what follows, brief account is given "of the structure and modalities of the Indian society two centuries ago and the subsequent changes that took place, as suggested by historical data, in India, after quite in line A description is given of the changes brought about by the British they became politically dominant in India around the 1750's, change with the social relations in Britain t itself, except that their primary purpose in India was the maximum exportation of wealth to Britain by various means, The primary steps which the new political system initiated were (i) revenue enhancement and centralization, (ii) attempts at breaking the sense of community (geographical "or based on occupation or kinship) amongst the people of India and reducing them to an atomized individual condition, (iii) reducing their needs and consumption to the minimum, especially through higher taxation and lowering of wage rates, and (iv) an imposition of newer concepts of property, rights and laws, backed by suitably picked up precedents from certain periods of Indian history and scriptures, so that the impositions appeared less alien and seemingly derived from our people's own history and past social practice.

The imposition of alien norms over several generations so molded the behavior pattern of the ruling system and those who got allied to it or were its spiritual off springs, be it in the rural 'areas or the metropolises, that it ultimately led not only to the pauperization of the predominant majority of the Indian people but also to the phenomenon of general brutalization and the virtual erosion of their dignity as human beings. It also led to the subversion of the norms by which they and their* societies had for centuries past governed themselves, and treated one another with regard and courtesy. In fact, the phenomena such as bonded lab our, that we see quite widespread today, are merely some of the more glaring consequences of such colossal social breakdown and the calculated degradation of the ordinary Indian.

Any real solution of these and allied phenomena can therefore only arise when this two century old process is wholly reversed, and adequate steps are devised so that a sense of dignity is restored back to the bonded, the poor, and. the many more who are supposed to exist merely on sufferance. Such steps would also have to imply that the resources of India are shared, in such manner that all these sections begin to feel that they have a role in the running of their society, and also in the integrity and prosperity of the country.


In contrast to the West, especially England, Indian society from ancient times had been. Organized on the basis of communities rather than of individuals. Of course, in the sphere of the spirit the individual has been supreme from time immemorial. However, in the social sphere, at least till recent times, and certainly till the advent of European dominance in India, the individual while retaining basic freedom has been an integral part of units larger than himself or herself. Firstly, he or she was a member of a family, the family being a part of a larger kinship group, the kinship group integrated into a caste or sub caste and these achieving varying local and wider integrations among themselves. Simultaneously the family or the kinship group has been constituents of geographical entities, like the hamlet, the village, the small town, or of sections of great cities.

Over tens of centuries, like all other areas in the world, India also has had its periods of political chaos, disruptions, etc., and though imperceptibly, substantial modifications have occurred in it structurally, and as regard to its cultural concepts and their manifestations. Whatever might have been the actual modalities of Indian society tens of centuries ago, regardless of whether they fitted the laws and descriptions of classics like the ManuSamhita or other DharmaSastras, the Indian society of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries functioned differently from what would be apparent from extrapolations from the ancient texts. It is true that a large section of the Brahmins in India to a large extent had maintained their Vedic and sastric heritage and continued the tradition of wisdom, learning, scholarship, simplicity and the pride in it, well into the late eighteenth century. Many of them also con-tinued to live in separate localities like agraharums, sasana villages, etc. But then the Brahmins in India had at no historical, period numerically formed much more than an infinitesimal proportion of the people of India. In the late 19th century they were no more than about 5% of the total Indian population and in fact the number of all those who have traditionally been included amongst the twice turn amongst the Hindus has been no more than some 15% of the total Indian population. Similarly, most of Muslim population of India (except for the 'direct descendants of Arabs, Turks, Persians, Afghans or Central Asians), in spite of their conversion to Islam, have naturally had more affinity and kinship feeling with the respective Hindu castes, etc., of whom they had been an integral part. The same can be said of the more recently converted Christians of India.

For the past century or so, and perhaps from the beginning of British Indo logical scholarship, it has 'generally been assumed, naturally on the analogy of pre1800 European development that except for the Brahmins and the twice born and those belonging to the Muslim aristocracy, the rest of the Indian population, i.e., some 8085% of it, was more or less in some state of serfdom, living at the sufferance of those termed as the 'Brahmanical' or 'feudal' orders. They were also assumed to* have been immersed in darkness and ignorance, which, of course, meant to the late 18th or early 19th century British orator and writer, that such a state of ignorance, etc., amongst Indians arose from not knowing and believing in Christianity and its scriptural heritage, as was the situation of the ancient Greeks and the Romans before Rome embraced Christianity.

But if India was not immersed in darkness and ignorance and if it was not primarily organized on principles 'and precepts laid down in the ManuSamhita or some other DharmaSastras, the question arises as to how it actually did function and what the social. and economic roles were of the predominant no elitist population. There is no doubt that the peasants, the artisans, those engaged in the manufacture of iron and steel, and in the various’ processes of the flourishing indigenous textile industry, the surgeons and medical men, and even many of its astronomers and astrologers belonged! To 'this predominant section. Further, that in most areas the predominant proportion of those receiving non sans critic education came from this 80% is also confirmed by the 19th century data.

Further, according to a 1820's survey of the customs of castes in areas of the Bombay Presidency, the prevailing view according to British researchers then was that the sastras themselves recognized the primacy of caste customs and these latter were to be considered the final authority. Similar information may emerge about other areas if sufficient investigation in depth were undertaken amongst the contemporary records pertaining to them. Such an investigation may also disclose that the majority of the Hindu Rajas of the 17th and 18th centuries in most parts of India were not from amongst the twice born categories.

This is not to say that the Brahmins of the 17th and 18th century did not occupy an exclusive place in society, or that differences in wealth and status did not exist. There were men of considerable wealth especially in the great cities, as there were also a great many people who, while ordinarily wolfed, more or less had few possessions. However, the food arid clothing of the great and the ordinary people on ordinary occasions did not seem to have been very dissimilar. According to an early 17th century European traveler (a man who was by no means an admirer of India, and in fact was used by W. H. Moreland to prove the poverty of Indian life then), even the emperor (Jahangir), like the peasants, laborers,. etc., used to eat food like 'chichi' with butter’. According to a reputed late 18th century British officer, the only’ way the great men at Hyderabad could be distinguished from their servants was that the clothes of the former were clean and washed while those of the latter less washed. In fact one of the constant grievances which the British had against the Hindu Rajas was that they lived rather simple lives and most of their revenue went towards the support and maintenance of temples, chatrams, agr'aharums, and a whole variety of other’ institutions shaped and constituted tb serve what ,was considered primary according to generally accepted Indian priorities.

The question of agricultural productivity and wages in India was discussed on the basis of available information in Britain in 1804. On comparing the Indian data with that relating to British agriculture it was found that the productivity in India was several times higher than in British agriculture. What surprised the British even more was the finding that the wages of the Indian agricultural labourer in real terms were , substantially higher that those of his counterpart in Britain. And it was then 'remarked ‘that" if they were that" high at1 that time (i.e., around 1800 when Indian economy was’ on a steep decline) how much higher such wages must have been before such decline began.

An idea of Indian economy and consumption pattern is provided by 1806 data from the district of Bellary, It is concerned with an estimation of the total consumption of the people of, the district and further indicating the detailed consumption pattern of the three categories of families in which the population is divided by the British authorities. The three categories are, first the more prosperous, second the families of medium means, and third the lowly. According to this estimate the consumption of the first article in the schedule, food grains, differed in quality and value between the families in the first category on the one hand and those in the second and third category on the other. But the quantity of food grains estimated to have been consumed in all three was the same, i.e., half seer of grain per person per day. The schedule includes 23 other items including pulses, betel nut, ghee, oil, tamarind, cocoanuts both fresh and dry, drugs and medicines, cloth, firewood and vegetables, and also betel leaves (pans), As illustrative of the pattern of this consumption the number of pans consumed per year in a family of six is given as 9,600 pans for the first category, 4,800 for those in the second category, and 3,600 pans for those in the third category. The consumption of ghee and oil was in the proportion of 3 :1 : 1 approximately and. pulses 8:4:3. The total per capita per annum consumption was estimated at Rs. 1734 for those belonging to the first category, Rs. 924 for hose belonging to the second category, and Rs. 770 for those in the third category

The pattern indicated in the above paragraph is of course very broad and in reality a number of people may have had a much higher consumption pattern than the average of the first category. Similarly perhaps a much larger number consumed considerably less than the average in the third category. An indication of the extent of such differential between the really high and the really low is provided by some 1799 data again from the Karnataka area. After much enquiry about the income of the officers of state in Tipoo's domain, the British came to the inference that the highest paid officer of Tipoo, the Governor of the fort of Chitradurg, had a total salary of about Rs. 100 per month during Tipoo's reign **. The wages of an ordinary labourer' in this area at this period was about Rs. 4 per month. The new differential which came into being around this period are indicated by the salary of the British district collector (about Rs. 1,500 per month) and a member of the British Governor's Council receiving Rs. 6,000 Rs. 8,000 per month. The new disparities were not altogether related to British salaries. Where state policy so dictated similar decisions were taken with regard to Indians. An example is provided by the raising of the personal allowance of Maharana of Udaipur. Till Udaipur came under British protection in 1818 the Maharana is said to have had an allowance of Rs. 1,000 per month. Within a few months of British protection while various other expenses of the kingdom were either abolished or reduced, the allowance of the Maharana was raised to Rs. 1,000 per day***. Earlier on, in 1799, the Governor General Wellesley had taken a somewhat similar step when he had increased the allowances of Tipoo's sons to five times of what they received from Tipoo himself.


From the time Europeans began to be politically dominant in India, i.e., in the 1750's, Indian society began to undergo a sea of change. The changes brought about by the British were in a broad sense the ones they brought about in Britain itself. The same pattern of hierarchy, the same division of society into high and low orders, the same theorizations like that of Adam Smith that :

'In Great Britain the wages of lab our seem, in the present times, to be evidently more than what is precisely necessary to enable the labourer to bring up a family... There are many plain symptoms that the wages of lab our are nowhere in this country regulated by this lowest rate which is consistent with humanity'. Which prevailed in the homelands of the conquerors, were applied to the subjugated areas. The only difference was that the primary purpose of the new conquests and subjugation' was the exportation of wealth from the subjugated areas to the con-queror's homelands. If such exportation were possible through the extraction of the maximum surplus value from the lab our of the conquered, the conquered were tolerated to exist, multiply and produce the maximum possible. But if such extraction for historical or other reasons was not practicable, the conquered were in time eliminated and their lands colonized by people of European stock, as did happen in .the Americas and Australia*.

In India, the extraction of the maximum surplus became practicable; and it could, because of climatic factors, only be achieved from the toil of the conquered. Hence, the deliberate elimination of people was not generally resorted to, except here and there. But if people died as they did in Bengal in 1769 to the extent of 1 /3rd of its population**, and every few years after that in substantial proportions in large parts of India as a result of fiscal and economic policies, that did not make much difference either.

The changes initiated and effected Jay the British in the various spheres listed earlier are described next.

Enhancement and Centralization of Revenue Following English ideas and practices, and the needs of1 conquest as well as of keeping' the areas conquered under proper subjugation, the first step which had to be taken in India was to dismantle its own fiscal and revenue systems. These in the’ main had followed a decentralized pattern, whereby most of the revenue was assigned at the level of the revenue paying sources themselves for a variety of purposes, including administrative and economic services, the maintenance of police and local militias, and a more complex and extensive infrastructure which in’ broad terms can be classified as religious and cultural. Usually, the Moghal empire is viewed as a centralized state, with a total revenue estimated between Rs. 10 crores and Rs. 20 crores. However, an idea of the revenue that was drawn by the central authority can be had for example from a letter of Aurangzeb to his grandson (available at the British Museum), which states that: (i) The exchequer receipts in Jahangir’s time was Rs. 60 lakhs and the expenditure was Rs. H crores, the deficit being met by the savings left by Akbar (ii) Shahjehan, who followed Jahangir increased the receipts to Rs. 10 crores and reduced the expenditure to Rs. 1 crore.

It is perhaps generally accepted today that even during the reign of Aurangzeb the maximum revenue receipts never exceeded 20%. But the usual explanation is that the remaining 80% was distributed among the feudal lords. It appears more likely that the overwhelming proportion of revenue was left at the local level itself, to be spent on activities prescribed by age old customs, such as running of chat rams or countries, pates/as or schools, maintenance of tanks etc., grants to temples and other religious activities, honorarium to scholars, poets, medical men, astrologers, magicians, etc. This must have been a very ancient arrangement which was followed even during the Moghul period, and was upset only when the British started collecting 5060% of the gross produce as revenue from all the sources. This took away all the surplus from the villages which could no longer maintain any chat rams, temples, tanks or schools. While most of such assignments were cancelled, and the remaining greatly reduced, the rates of assessment over the revenue paying sources according to certain theoretical formulations were raised to double or triple the previous rates. According to the British record, the Indian practice just before the British took over was of an assessment which varied from about 1/12 of the gross produce in certain areas and on certain types of land, to a maximum of 1/3 m certain others. Practically all these rates were abolished and the general norm which the British established was that 50% of the gross produce should be fixed after its being converted into money and made into a regular annual payment, as the proportion due to the state*. The European practice of the period, whereby the cultivator paid from about one half to three quarters of the gross produce to the landlord, provided the rationale of this new 'assessment**. Indo logical research dug out certain centuries old Indian texts (of ,the time of AllahudDinKhilji, etc.) which were meant to give the enhanced rate legitimacy***. That the conquest of India and its subjugation were wholly paid out of Indian revenues, and India till the 1850's implied areas stretching from St. Helena to the China seas, was confirmed in a very comprehensive memorandum by as high an authority as John Stuart Mill, in 1858*.

In this process of revenue enhancement and centralization, the two main devices used were that of the creation of a system of landlordism, and the other of what was termed as rotary. Both assumed the state as the chief landlord of the country, and where people had been wholly subjugated and appeared to have accepted total' subservience, the system of landlordism was established, first in Bengal and Bihar and later in many other areas*. Theoretically, the Indian landlord was modeled on his British counterpart, and many of the ancient Rajas after being stripped of their political authority were made into reminders, or landlords. But the essential difference was that while the British landlord paid only 1/10 of what he received as rent (from the cultivator) as revenue to the state, his Indian counterpart had to pay 9/10 of what .he was expected to collect, to the British authorities.

No wonder, given a wholly different centuries old tradition, the collection of such enhanced revenue was well high impossible according to old norms. The result was that most of the Bengal and Bihar Amenders went wholly bankrupt in the next 1015 years of the establishment of the system. In the meanwhile, to facilitate the collection of such enhanced assessment, the old norms were replaced by new regulations, whereby the landlord was empowered not only to remove the cultivator from the land he had cultivated for generations but to distain all his property including his pots and' pans for payment of revenue. The precedent for such draconian powers, unheard of in India till then, was that such a provision existed in England itself where as mentioned above the landlord had only to pay 1/10 of the rent to the state. Therefore, its’ enactment in India was all the more justified, where the landlord paid 9/10 of what he was to collect, to the state**.

Regarding the rights of the Indian cultivator, or the peasant, the select committee of the British Parliament in ,1812 observed, 'it was accordingly decided that the occupants of land in India could establish no more right, in respect to the soil than tenant upon an estate in England can establish a right to the land by hereditary residence', and the morasses of a village was therefore defined to be 'a. preference of cultivation derived from hereditary residence but subject to the right of Government as the superior lord of the soil, in what way it chooses, for the cultivation of .its own lands'***.

Exportation of Wealth to Britain

While on the subject of revenue enhancement and maximum extraction of the produce of the land, it is of interest to take a look at the motivation for and the ways and means adopted by the British for the acquisition and exportation of wealth from India.

The main motivation for the conquest of other lands by Europe was always bringing of wealth to Europe. The concentration of wealth and its multiplication had become the principles of the British state system since the Norman conquest of Britain *. Men like John Locke presented this motive of acquisitiveness afresh in philosophical terms and declared that a person shall 'heap up as much of these durable things as he pleases; the exceeding of the bounds of his just property not lying in the largeness of his possession but the perishing of anything uselessly in it '**. Such thinking was further spelled out by many thinking Britons with regard to the purpose of their conquest. Referring to the controversy as to whether such wealth should be drawn from India through the channels of the East. India company or through individuals, or directly by the British State, Prof. Adam Ferguson, wrote in November 1773 to his former student John Macpherson.

'The Company .has received some blows within the 12 months and is still upon the anvil to be hammered into nobody knows what. But I hope and believe that no harm will happen. I shall be sorry if anything be done to hinder the Company's servants from acquiring fortunes in an innocent way abroad for after all that has been said, this I believe to be the likeliest way of bringing wealth from India to Europe. The State I hope will leave the Company in all matters to govern itself, and it will be, wise in any minister to leave them accountable for what happens there but it will be allowable likewise to squeeze them to the last farthing they can pay***'.

It is such overriding search for wealth which created the various and varying devices first to acquire it, and then to get much of it into Britain. The more innocent mode of such acquisition was by fixing the salaries and emoluments of the British military and civil personnel in India in such a manner that the prospect of making quick fortunes not only brought many gifted British men into India, but created an unending stream of applicants for the job of writers (who in due course rose to collectorships and higher up), military cadets and those who were to man various other ancillary professions, including the jobs of chaplains etc., in the Christian churches. Incidentally in the early nineteenth century, the value of recruitment to a writer ship (i.e. at the age of about 1618) was put at around £ 5,000.

It is possible that many of the British who came to India did not take to dubious means to make fortunes. And this may particularly be true of men like William Jones, T. B.Macaulay and the like. But even the primary motivation of the coming to India of men like Jones and Macaulay was to earn such an amount in a few years stay in India, that their savings would, enable them to live comfortably (that is, in conformity to their status arid position in British society) for the rest of their lives*.

According to Lord Amherst, while before he accepted the office of Governor General he was told he will be able to save half of his income, in December 1824, he thought his 'savings will amount to three fifths'. He further informed his friend Earl Morley, that I do not set out with asking myself what can I save but 'what do I require for comfort and splendor'. Under these two heads I have deprived myself nothing......If I stay my full period of five years...'...I shall probably bring home £ 3,000 a year with me.

To Thomas Munro, equally famous and brilliant and with a longer stretch of stay t in India (from 1780 onwards), an appointment like that of the Collector of the newly conquered district of Canara, where according to him there did not seem any possibility of ‘gaining some credit by augmenting the public revenue', seemed like a punishment, and he foresaw in this appointment 'a certain unavoidable loss of reputation'***. He however finally accepted this appointment, did what he could to raise the revenue to the maximum possible, established what was termed as 'tranquility' in the area and within 15 months was rewarded with the principal collectorship of the ceded districts (areas of present day Rayalseema ceded by the Nizam to the British in 1979). In the latter 'area, he of course had full play for his vigor and ingenuity. The devastation brought to the area by an exorbitant land assessment, and income tax of 15% on all the non land revenue paying, population****, both originating with Munro, and a total neglect of the existing irrigation sources, is there still to be seen nearly two centuries after Thomas Munro. Incidentally, it may be mentioned here that at least in the first 2030 years’ of the introduction’ of the British revenue assessments, the collectors etc., of the districts, besides their salaries, also received a certain percentage of the revenues collected from their areas.

While the salaries of the Governor General, the governors, the members of their councils, the judges of the Supreme Court, etc., were fixed by the British Parliamentary Act. of 1773 itself, the salaries of the other civilian officers were put on a permanent footing by Lord Cornwallis. the principle which he applied for such fixing was that the allowance annexed to the principal and most responsible officers be such as will enable the possessors of them with proper economy to return to Europe with a competency (i.e., sufficient savings to provide them an annual income suitable to their status) in a moderate period of service'*. For the more junior posts, Cornwallis' principle was that the emoluments should be such that the officers were able to perform their duties without monetary worry, be able to live like 'gentlemen', and be able to 'advance the interests' of the state by the application of vigor and ingenuity to their jobs.

At the level of the military, whose officers numbered many times the number of those in civil employment, the situation was no different, and in fact making a fortune was the major incentive at least at officer levels for recruitment. As is fairly well known, till about 1860, all appointments at the officer level from Ensign to a Colonel, in all regiments of the British army could only be obtained through purchase, at varying specified payments**. Besides, what the military or naval officer received as his salary etc., ha was entitled to a specified share of plunder, the proportion depending on his rank, and incomes from various other sources.

In such a general climate where the acquisition of wealth not only had acquired such legitimacy and sanctity but its acquirement was also expected of in the overall British interest, no wonder all possible avenues of money making were resorted to. The often condoned manner of additional money making was initially through the creation of private monopolies like that in the production and manufacture of salt, or in the total control of the weavers of ahy area, or in British military and civil officers engaging in trade and expecting their merchandise to be exempted, from the payment of any internal duties, or taxes.

However, the even more important way of making money till the process of conquest was complete, was more complex. After the ruler of any area, like the Nawab of Arcot, had coma under British protection, the British authority first compelled him to accept its military forces for his protection, or the extension of his rule to larger areas. For such protection he obviously had to pay. Not himself having any such money he was enabled to borrow money from “British officers, merchants, members of council, even Governors, at rates of interest which in the period 17551800 are admitted to have ranged from 36% to 60% per annum. For the repayment of these amounts whole areas were assigned over to those who lent such money, sometimes in their own names, but usually in the names of the agents who lent these amounts. The following, from a 1795 observation of the Madras Presidency Governor Lord Hobart, provides some idea of the working of this system.

The European soaker sends his servants and peons into the country, with an order from the Nabob’s manager to the guards placed therein to afford every assistance (as it is generally called), but in fact to obey them implicitly in collecting the amount of the bonds from the inhabitants. Anxiety to secure so precarious a property naturally leads the soukar to adopt such measures as power enables him and the custom of the country authorizes. Then follows this process: if the rot is dilatory in the discharge of his bond, he is confined without victuals, beaten with rods and compelled to pay batta (daily allowance) to these very peons and guards who are the means of his confinement and punishment. In this manner, I am credibly informed that an inhabitant who grants his bond for 100 Chukrums is compelled, before he is released from the consequences, to pay from 110 to 115 Chukrums according to circumstances. If his credit or his other means are exhausted, which is too often the case, he must necessarily dispose of some part of his stock which consists of cattle and seed grain'*.

At lower levels the same sort of treatment was being meted out to the weavers, other artisan's, and the peasantry. The Indian moral sense, of feeling obliged to pay back any sort of debt however incurred, was in such instances grossly abused. Increasingly |in the 18th century, the practice grew of the British forcing little bits of money on the various classes of weavers, so that they were not only compelled but also felt morally bound to manufacture the required cloth for the British, even if such manufacture led to an ultimate loss to the weaver**.

Whether such practices were condemned, or more often condoned, or a blind eye turned to them, it was nevertheless seen that through whatever means it was channelized |most of such wealth ultimately reached the British Isles. Referring to the increasing poverty in his ‘area because of the drain of such wealth the Collector of Bellary wrote in 1823:

'The transfer of the capital of the country from the native government and their officers, who liberally expended it in India, to Europeans restricted by law from employing it even temporarily in India, and daily draining it from the land, has likewise tended to this effect (i.e., the increasing impoverishment of areas ruled by Britain)'***.

Disruption job Communities:

As stated in the beginning, the community (geographical or based on occupation, or kinship) seemed to have been from very ancient times the primary unit of organization in India. Little .need be said about the kinship organization which is still current in some form of the other; some reference may be made to the lesser known geographical and occupational groups.

The most prominent of all the groups was the village community. Its forms seemed to vary not only between widely separated areas but also "within particular areas themselves. The two more prominent and compact forms were the Samudayam villages*, especially in the Tamil speaking areas, and what came to be known as the Bhaichara villages in areas of the present Uttar Pradesh**. But even where such compact forms did not exist, it appears that in most areas the village community as a whole had the final say, not only in matters which concerned the village as a whole, but also with regard to any transfers, or alienation of village land or other resources from one party to another. In Samudayam villages, and perhaps similarly in the Bhaichara villages, the total land and other resources completely vested in the community while, simultaneously, the individual family had a hereditary claim on its own share of such resources. The land which any of them cultivated was changed from time to time. Such a change in the district of Tanjore, where around 30% of the villages were classed as Samudayam in 1807, was stated to be based on the assumption that a certain alteration occurs in the fertility of all land from time to time which creates inequality amongst the members of the community and hence occasional redistribution was considered necessary. Whether every family in the village was represented in the Samudayam community is not clear from the records of the British period, but it is possible that only a part of the village was represented in the community in connection with land management, and that the rest only in matters of general interest. It may be worth mentioning here that what is known as the Bis Biswa panchayat (i.e. a council of all sections of the community) has continued to exist at least in parts of Rajasthan, and perhaps elsewhere, till very recently***.

The new concepts of property and the laws enacted to implement them made the survival of such communities impossible. Ultimately, they gave way to landlordism, to the absolute rights of individuals, and to the alienation of such rights to all and sundry. The' result consequently was the accumulation of wealth and land into fewer hands, (the elimination of the small peasant and cultivator into a temporary tenant or a day labourer, and eventually the reduction of many to a state of never ending indebtedness*.

A similar phenomenon began to operate amongst other occupation groups too, especially among the skilled craftsmen. From a state of self employment, they got reduced, through various fiscal and other devices, to an employee status, or the status of contractual lab our, as happened on a vast scale amongst the weavers of .India**. Through such interference their earning capacities got much reduced, and in time all this had a deteriorating impact on their knowhow, tools and technologies. If any group cohesiveness still remained amongst these occupation groups, this continued more at the level of kinship and ritual, rather than of techniques or craftsmanship.

But such a development in India was again in line with 18th and 19th century British thought and practice. Various statutes got enacted in Britain during this period against combinations, the full force of .the state was opposed to them, and whatever combinations of trade or craft unions emerged in Britain during the 19th century, it was after great struggle. In fact, the British ruling system did not get actually reconciled to their existence even till the end of the 19th century.*

Lowering of Incomes and Wages:

Simultaneously with the" weakening and disruption of communities, the other phenomenon which got into its stride after 1750 was the deliberate attempt by British authority to lower ordinary Indian incomes, and wages to the lowest level possible. Again, such an attempt logically followed similar practices in the Britain of this period**. [The views of Adam Smith on wages of laborers in Britain have been quoted earlier]. *

By one of the early Bengal regulations in 1766, not only were the wages and salaries of Indians serving Europeans in Calcutta and other towns reduced, but it was further laid down, .'That if any servant refuses service agreeable to such established wages his possessions in land be sequestered and himself and family secluded the settlement' and if he had no possession in land 'then on conviction of such refusal [he] do suffer fine, imprisonment, or corporal punishment'***.

However, it was not only the deliberate individual measures which led to the lowering of wages, the weakening of people's bargaining power, and their accelerated impoverishment. The basic land and revenue policies laid the foundation for such a happening. Still, countless individual measures to reduce wages of craftsmen, of transporters of persons and commodities, of men engaged in governmental) or European domestic service, and of those who had been reduced to a state of complete landlessness, were taken from time to time in the late 18th and 19th century. One of the more glaring examples is of the reduction of the rates of some fifty items, including lab our, in the P.W.D. of the Midnapore Division in Bengal in 1847. The reduction made was of up to 60% within one year, and such reductions were not only approved by the Government of Bengal but the Government directed that information and orders on such reductions and revision should further be conveyed to all other P.W.D. establish-ments. An instance of this reduction was that whereas a certain area of mud wall construction cost 11 annas in 1844, in 1847 the same was to be constructed for 5 annas and 1 pie****.

Imposition of Alien Norms and Laws:

The step which damaged Indian Society most and began to erode the dignity of its communities and individual citizens was the deliberate subversion of its norms, laws, priorities, etc, Largely this development arose from the wish to transplant the prevailing British norm and practices in India, and to a lesser extent by the need to create a situation and an order whereby British over lordship of India became feasible without the constant actual application of military force and martial law.

An instance of the new norms is provided by an address to the Grand Jury in Calcutta by William Jones, the renowned oriental and a judge of the Calcutta Supreme Court. Referring to In the question 'of a master moderately correcting his apprentice observant', William Jones was of the view that if the punishment were moderate' but yet the servant died, the master was not to blame**. It is hardly necessary to mention that the number of persons who were given such 'moderate' punishment by their European masters was indeed considerable, and that a substantial ' number of such persons did die because of it. One of the more well known instances of inflicting such punishment related to the collector of Chengalpet in 1797. He awarded such moderate punishment to no less a person than the head of a village community. The man subsequently died. Writing to the Board of Revenue, the Collector, Mr. Place, stated, 'I thought it necessary to inflict a slight corporal punishment of two dozen strokes with a rattan upon each of the three headmen ***.

But it is not only the domestic servants, or uncooperative heads of villages who were awarded such punishments. Things like abortions, which in the present 'enlightened' age are seemingly something to be proud of, and in the India before British rule would, if considered at all, have been treated in some wholly different manner at the level of the Kinship group or the family, became a serious criminal offence ****. Otherwise traditional offences began to fetch punishments of 1,500 lashes *****; and any protests through age old Indian practices like Dharma etc., had special regulations enacted to make them serious criminal acts ******. Those who had earlier belonged to the indigenous Police or militians, and who having been deprived of their revenue assignments' rebelled against British authority as could be expected, were hunted down, and classed as dacoits. According to a newly enacted 1772 Bengal regulation, they were to be taken to their home villages and publicly executed there and their families and relations were ordered to be sold as slaves of the state *.

The enactment of new laws, etc. of course did not stop windily such enactments. As years passed, they infringed on all aspects of Indian life: personal, social, religious and political. While the conceptual framework and its procedural frame were wholly molded on British precedents, their verbiage as far as possible was made to appear as Indian. Translations of such Indian scriptural and legal texts, which seemed to provide legitimacy and confirmation to the new enactments and procedures were not only played up, but were presented as the authorized customs and laws of India. And as time passed, much of this subversion was accepted by the newly established Indian elite as if all these had governed the life of their society from time immemorial. In Bengal by the 1790's, it was assumed, at least by those in authority or those allied to it, that Sir. William Jones knew the Indian sastras better than even the learned pandits of Varanasi **.

It is a wholly false impression that the early 19thxentury British mind was in any sense concerned with economic or social backwardness and that its usage of the terms 'ignorance' or 'wretchedness' pertain to a .socioeconomic context. Its concerns at that period whether at home or in its expanding empire were wholly different. What obtained in early 19th century Britain were a very well defined and centuries old hierarchical structure***, a rigorous legal system which still treated 200 offences (including the stealing of goods worth five shillings and above) **** as deserving of capital punishment, an administrative and military structure admission to which was based on birth, patronage and purchase, and army punishments of 400500 lashes and at times going up to 2000 lashes for certain offenders******. To such a mind the liveliness of ordinary Indian society, its relatively cohesivesocial structure, its educational institutions admission to which did not 'depend on wealth," its joint ownership of land and the security of its peasants, rights' or the means through which it was accustomed to enforce its moral disappropriational of what it considered unjust were not points in its favour but elements which indicated its depravity and' laxity.

" If some deeper studies were undertaken into "the transformation which occurred at this time, 'Mt may emerge that not only were* alien notions and concepts loaded on Indian political, social and economic life but that in respect of personal law also' what became respectable sanctified, authoritative, and legally acceptable was that which more nearly conformed to the then British precepts, or was seemingly so rigid' and conformist, that it" created the least problem for the new rulers 'of’ India.

With the imposition of all such changes, ordinary life in India had inevitably to become brutalized. ( In districts of Bihar (especialy areas like Hazaribagh) 'a system of serfdom On a large scale “known" as Kamias had begun to develop in the later years .of the l 9th century* and similar developments were found to be occurring in "various districts of trie Madras Presidency. According to a Madras Presidency report, the majority of Khonds in the Ganjam area 'had been forced to alienate their holdings and to work on lands which once were theirs, as coolies'' and no longer as, tenants. Similar developments were found to be on the increase in many other/districts like Chingleput, South Arcot, Janjore, Malabar, etc.**

It is not, that the people accepted all these changes passively. They revolted where they could, there were huge peasant and urban protests, and a whole variety of devices with which the people of India were long familiar, were resorted to counter such humiliation and brutalization. The surface appearance of this society seems to be of lethargy, of exhaustion, of seeming sloth or to put it differently of tolerance and passivity. Yet there seem to have been deep feelings of justice and injustice, of righteousness and unrighteousness, an undercurrent of pulsating activity beneath the surface passivity. A moral sense about things seem to have been, deeply entrenched and, whenever it seemed to have been violated there was much recourse' to opposition, to protest, to dharna, to traga***, to peasant movements, to even what in modern usage may be called' civil disobedience. The prolonged protest against the imposition by British authority of a tax on houses in 181011 was centered in the city of Varanasi. According to official reports the whole city had completely stopped work for days together creating a situation that not even the dead could be cremated and had therefore to be cast in the Ganga without the performance of customary rites. According to the Varanasi collector over 20,000 persons, had been continually sitting in dharna, while another estimate placed the number of people collected between Secrole and the city at more than 2,00,000*.

Whatever be the story of these protests, the lack of success merely accelerated the process of pauperisation and humiliation. Such a state in due time split Indian society as under, and most older norms and relationships having got eroded, the subjugated India in time became two nations, the one of the few powerful who gradually made their peace with the alien system, and the other of the predominantly weak and poor who from year to year got reduced to ever increasing indignity, pauperisation, and a loss of confidence in themselves.


Economic and social backwardness as separate to what are termed as primitive ways and customs (which usually are western ways of describing other cultures) may be taken as post1800 phenomena in India. It seems to have been caused firstly, by a collossal disorganisation of the Indian bodypolitic, ( secondly, by the centralisation of all authority and resources by the British System. The result was that for the next hundred years and more such authority and the ever increasing proportions of the resources it began to command was applied (i) to the purposes of further conquest, including the conquest of areas up to the China sreas and St. Helena near the Atlantic coast of Africa, and virtual military rule in the conquered areas, (ii) the erection and maintenance of the new metropolises, other centres of European population, and the military cantonments, and (iii) the export of the maximum possible Indian revenues, under the name of a variety of demands, out of India and for the larger purposes of the British economy. Lastly, when disorganisation, impoverishment, subjugation had gone far enough and could not go any further without having adverse effects on the total revenue receipts, the whole of Indian society was placed under a sort of freeze and it then became the task of scholarship to establish that such disorganisation, etc., had been endemic to Indian culture. That the Indians have always been a subjugated people and that wretchedness and impoverishment is nothing new to them is generally subscribed to even today.

The above inferences may' seem rather too harsh on British rule and perhaps even farfetched*. Perhaps too British statements, the first relating to 1600 Ireland on how best it could be entirely subdued and brought under English obedience, and the second pertaining toj1800 southern India again dealing with the problem of entirely subduing it, etc., may be of some relevance in this respect. The first by Sir John Davies, English attorney general of Ireland had the following to suggest 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 civil Government. For, the husbandman must first break the land, before 'it be made capable of good seed; and when it is thoroughly broken and manured, if he do not forthwith cast good seed into it, it will grow wild again, and bear nothing but weeds. So a barbarous country must be broken by a Warre, before it will be capable of good Government; and when it is fully" subdued and conquerred if it be not well planted and governed after the conquest, it will festoons return to the former Barbarism'. **,

The second about India by Mr. Henry Dundas, President of the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India, was sent in a despatch to the Government of Madras Presidency on 11 February 1801. Advising against a permanent settlement (of revenue* legal arrangements, etc.) it stated :

'There is a material difference between the state of the several of the provinces in the Carnatic and those of Bengal, where the measure of the permanent settlement was first taken into consideration. The Bengal provinces were infinitely farther advanced in the habits of order and subordination to Government than most places in the Carnatic... They [i.e., the Carnatic] are not so ripe for the reception of those benefits and blessings intended for them... Any attempt to introduce a regular system of order... would be idle, and nugatory, till once their minds to a certain extent were prepared to feel the importance of the benefits they were about to receive... This can never effectually be done, till you have suppressed that spirit of rebellion and insubordination, which is so conspicuous in many parts of the Northern Circars... The countries to which this observation applies must be brought to such a state of subjection as to acknowledge and submit to this principle. As they must be indebted to our beneficence and wisdom for every advantage they are to receive, so in like manner they must fell solely: indebted to our protection for the continuance and enjoyment of them. We hold these truths to be so incontrovertible.'*


The above would suggest that what is more commonly conveyed by the term 'backwardness' today (like backward castes, classes, etc) can perhaps more accurately be described as depletions and deprivations in matters of social expression, political initiative, and material and fiscal resources. To these may be added the effects of about two centuries of impoverishment. Basically the solution lies in the reversal of the process which brought such conditions about. To an extent a reversal did begin to happen especially at the psychological and conceptual levels under the leadership of Gandhiji. His concept of Swadeshi in fact dealt effectively even "with the ethnocentric aspect of the term backwardness. According to Gandhiji :

'Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to* the exclusion of the more remote. Thus, as for religion, in order to satisfy the requirements of the definition, 1 must restrict me to my ancestral religion. That is the use of my immediate religious surroundings. If I find it defective, I should serve it by purging it of its defects. In the domain of politics, 1 should make use of the indigenous institutions and serve them by curing them of their proved defects. In that of economics, 1 should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbors and serve these industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting**.

But evidently the reversal did not get far. The alien moorings and structuring of the Indian politicaladministrative system as well as other world forces if not wholly hostile to such a reversal are in any case not attracted to it. To them what happened to India during British rule while it may have been regrettable represents an irreversible process of history.

If what has happened in the West in the past thousand years has universal validity and all cultures and civilizations must pass through such a process as is at least apparently indicated by the history of the past century, then what India has to do is already charted out. In fact that is what has been taking place in India during the last three decades, but because of the memories and values of the Gandhi an era in somewhat a subdued manner. If India were convinced of such inevitability the best course will be to reduce this interregnum and to accelerate the process of the atomization of Indian society not only to bring the millennium sooner but also to reduce current misery, at least its duration. But if the former has no such validity and if one held to the belief that cultures and civilizations can renew themselves only through ways which have their source in their own psyche and the concepts which shape their societies then India, and areas like it, have to make great spiritual and intellectual effort to come into their own. In such an attempt the talent and priorities of the Indian mind (as well as Gandhiji's vision and skill) become crucial. One has then indeed to fall on what as a blanket term may be called 'indigenous resources' (the resources of the mind, the practical traditional wisdom, as well as the physical and material things) and demolish what has to be demolished, save what could be saved, and restructure on such foundations with the help of such resources. It is not necessary that all experience of others in the achievement of similar tasks has to be shunned. When properly analyzed and digested such experience may indeed be of considerable value particularly in avoiding some of the inevitable pitfalls. Also, in the same way that such renewal will require a considerable redistribution of the capital resources and wealth within Indiai. e., a movement of resources had incomes from the metropolises to the areas where such resources originally arisen; Such transfers may also have to happen similarly on an international level. But such transfers if they happen will be in the nature of reparations* rather than as charity and aid and will thus have a different psychological impact. The present charity and aid as is now well realised (whether it is through governments or at voluntary levels) in the longrun merely erodes and further shatters the societies of the aided.

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