KAPIL'S JOURNEY

P. Capildeo July 2003.
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UTTAR PRADESH IN THE LATE 19TH CENTURY

Long gone was the era when a curious British Officer would decamp up the Ganges and surround himself with Brahmins to learn Sanskrit and ponder the exploits of Krishna and Rama*. The British volte face in attitudes towards race and ethnicity in the late 18th century preceded an era of expansion and conquest which swept away the last vestiges of the Mughal Empire. Since the 17th century Britain had slowly been increasing its influence over India through the medium of the East India Company, but it was only in the late 1700's that British resolve and imperial policy hardened. Once gained, control over India was transferred from the East India Company to the English Parliament. But despite this consolidation of power India ceased to be of great importance to Parliament; the creation of an Imperial Legislative Council in India in 1861 served only to deepen the chasm*. Estranged from the English Parliament, rule over India was transferred to the Crown and Queen Victoria received the title of Empress of India in 1876. By the year 1894, when Kapil embarked on the journey to Trinidad, the Raj had been governing India for over a century.
The British acquisition of control over the area beyond the Benares - what is now U.P., Kapil's home state, was gradual. It was only in 1901 that this area was regularised and named the United Provinces of Agra and Avadh. Control over Avadh was gained in piecemeal fashion from the Nawabs (the rulers at the time) by annexation of various districts won in battle from 1784 onwards. Gorakhpur was ceded by the Nawab of Avadh in 1801, and raised to the status of a district. The British penetration of the area culminated with the annexation of Avadh to the North Western States in 1856. The rest of what is now modern U.P. was brought under control in the 1830's. British revenue officers seized upon the opportunity presented by a trade depression and imposed a stringent revenue settlement upon the area. Rent was fixed at twice the price of the estimated revenue from the land*. Persons of higher castes in some circumstances were able to resist such high rents, the burden of such ignominy falling on the lower castes. The same administrative policies were extended to Avadh. Most of the inhabitants of U.P. in the 19th century who had to pay these exorbitant rents lived in rural villages dependent on agriculture, much like Kapil's village. This remains largely unchanged today.
To the British administrator in 19th century India the chief importance of rural society was its function as a source of revenue. Britain's interests prevailed; any detriment to the Indians was disregarded - but not without consequence. The economic hardships caused by the settlement were exacerbated by poor trading conditions and a shortage of money. Such onerous circumstances brewed the discontent that would manifest in the 1857 mutiny and reach its nadir in Avadh. In the 1857 mutiny or the first war of Indian independence the people of U.P. were to play a leading role. The names of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi; Begum Hazrat Mahal of Avadh; Bakht Khan; Nana Saheb and Raja Beni Madhav Singh are synonymous with the 1857 rebellion.
Kapil and his village, however, would have been uninvolved in the dramatic events occurring in India at this time. Rural village life would have hardly been disturbed by this era of colonisation and revolt. The philosophy and fever of revolution and the quest for freedom from British hegemony that infected the cities would not have spread into the rural villages. Yet the village would not have been immune to the economic distress that followed British colonisation. The expropriation of land; the imposition of rents; the demise of Indian arts and crafts and the increase in population would have taken its toll on village life.
Indeed some thirty-seven years after the 1857 revolt, when Kapil migrated to Trinidad, economic and social conditions in the state had sunk to desperate levels. It would not be too far fetched to surmise that U.P. had become a cradle of starvation and despair under British rule. The 1901 census shows the population of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh* as 47 691 782 people to an area of 107 164 square miles. Lord Curzon estimated that the average income of all persons of all classes was 40 shillings per year compared to 42 per year in the UK. A tax of 4s. 8d. on 40 shillings was described as "a crushing burden a nation which earns very little more than its food" and was estimated to be 40 per cent higher than the tax levied on UK taxpayers.*

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P. Capildeo July 2003.
The author asserts the right of copyright. It is a term of viewing this website that the navigator will not reproduce in any manner or form information contained within. By navigating this website the navigator is deemed to have consented to this term. Reproduction of the verbal or pictorial content of this website from any source without permission from the author infringes copyright law and will be prosecuted.

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*2 Dalrymple, White Mughals, 2002, page 41.
*3 Kulke and Rothermund, A History of India, 1986.
*4 ibid
*5 A different spelling of Avadh.
*6 See footnote 3