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Elite Groups in a South Indian District: 1788–1858

  • Robert Eric Frykenberg


In old Guntur District, as in other districts of South India, several different elite groups, arranged within a highly complex and segmented social order, were interlocked with corresponding elements of the political hierarchy. Each group was associated in one way or another with its own stratum in district government and, at times, with seeral different strata, from die Collector's Office at the top to the village at the bottom. Operating at its own level or in its own area of the district, each group was linked vertically with allied superior and subordinate groups and was often in conflict with another group of comparable and therefore competitive rank and function. Such a pattern of group relationships was further complicated by die fact that it was constantly changing. My purpose here is to look at the positions of diese elite groups in relation to each other and in relation to the administrative structure of one district, and to show how these groups behaved within a changing political system and how traditional processes of power continued under die “rule” of die East India Company.



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1 Officially, Guntur had 882 and Palnad 152 villages. See Census Report of September 9, 1822: Guntur District Records (vol. 3979: pp. 44–45) and the Jamabandi Report of Fasli 1244 (para. 17): ibid (vol. 5392: p. 235), August 5, 1836. Aldiough half the people died or left the district during the great Guntur Famine (1833–1834), the population slowly recovered in the 1840's.

2 Calculations are taken from figures in: (1) House of Commons. Returns on Total Europeans and Natives employed in Madras Presidency, 1800–1851. Parliamentary Papers, 1853, (Indian Civil Service, Sessional Paper No. 366, Vol. V, No. 16). (2) Ricketts, Henry, Report for the Revision of Civil Salaries and Establishments, Part I (Calcutta: 1858), p. 321.

3 Srinavas, M. N., “A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization,” The Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. XV: No. 4 (August 1956), Part V, pp. 485–88, gives us insights into British-Brahman relationships, though his study pertains to Mysore.

4 Board of Revenue Proceedings (para 8) of September 19, 1836: Madras Revenue Proceedings (Madras Record Office: vol. 1522: pp. 12863–885).

5 Board of Revenue Proceedings (paras. 10–11), September 19, 1836: Ibid. Principal Collectors received Rs. 36,000 per annum; Collectors, 30,000; Sub-Collectors, 14,000; Head Assistants, 8,800 or 6,700, depending on whether they had six years' experience (three was compulsory); Juniors, Rs. 350 or 260 per mensem, depending on language tests. Tent, per diem, and housing allowances were generous.

6 Maclean, C. D., Standing Information Regarding the Official Administration of Madras Presidency in Each Department (Madras: 1877), gives details of jurisdiction.

7 Dolbeer, M. L., A History of Lutheranism in the Andhra Desa: 1842–1920 (New York: 1959).

8 Norton, John, A Letter to Robert Lowe on the Condition and Requirements of the Madras Presidency (Madras: 1854), p. 319. For above data see: Board of Revenue Proceedings, September 19, 1836: Op. cit.; Ricketts, H.Report for the Revision of Civil Salaries and Establishments, Vol. I (Calcutta: 1858), pp. 161–65; Boswell, J., A Manual of Nellore District (Madras: 1873), pp. 558–66.

9 Ananda Ranga Pillai, Dubash to Dupleix, was a renowned example. His Diary, edited in English by Dodwell, H. (Madras: 1904–28), is bound in twelve volumes.

10 Ruthnaswamy, M., Some Influences that Made the British Administrative System in India (London: 1939), pp. 87, 293. Dykes, J. W. B., Salem, and Indian Collectorate (London: Wm. H. Allen and Co., 1853), p. 324.

11 “Political Survey of the Northern Circars” (published 1783), in Firminger, W. K., The Fifth Report, Volume III (Calcutta: 1918), p. 26.

12 Ibid., Appendix 13, in Parliamentary Papers, 1812 (Sessional Paper 377, East India Company Reports, Vol. VII), Collection 56, pp. 631–32. Elliot MSS., “On Origin of Village Accountants” and “Translations at Condavid Village,” Local History I; “List of Hakims Administering Guntoor.” and “Historical Memoir of Chebrole,” Local History II; & Local History III (India Office Library: Eur. Mss. F. 46, 47, 48).

13 Elliot Report (para 60), April 14, 1846: Madras Revenue Proceedings (India Office Library: Range 281: vol. 20), No. 39 of December 6, 1847. The first Collector of Masulipatam wrote, June 9, 1798: “A breach of trust … excites no self-reproach. They submit to personal restraint with a composure truly philosophic.”

14 M. Ruthnaswamy, ibid., p. 87. G. Mackenzie, ibid., pp. 346, 358.

15 Board of Revenue Proceedings (para 10) September 19, 1836: Ibid., G.O. of March 22, 1816. Sheristadars were highly paid, as much as 700 rupees per month.

16 H. Ricketts, ibid., p. 333.

18 Ibid., p. 334.

19 H. Ricketts, ibid., p. 333.

20 Ibid., pp. 234, 337. In Aitken, E. H., Behind the Bungalow (London: 1889), casual reference to the Sheristadar as the real power.

21 The best overall breakdown of organization I have found is in H. Stoke's letter to Board of Revenue, September 22, 1854: Guntur District Records (No. 39 in vol. 5409: pp. 216–225). This fairly complete muain-zabitah (establishment list) may be compared with separate departmental lists.

22 Ibid. Information given here has come, in bits and pieces, from many sources, which I will happily provide on request.

23 Occasionally a Collector adopted and educated an orphan and thereby provided him with special means for entry into district service.

24 Row, V. V. Gopal, The Life of Vennelacunty Soob Row (Madras: C. Forester & Co., 1873), pp. 130, 62–70, gives a remarkable description of this process.

25 An entertaining and revealing account of how this was done is found in: Khan, Panchkouree (pseudonym), The Revelations of an Orderly (Benares: 1848), any chapter. See Kirby, C. F., The Adventures of an Arcot Rupee (London: 1867).

26 Ricketts, ibid., p. 337.

27 Ibid., p. 335. Note: Ricketts seems to indicate that both qualitative and quantitative factors lay behind the preponderance of Desasthas in key district positions in South India.

28 Row, V. V. Gopal, The Life of Vennclacunty Soob Row (Madras: C. Forester & Co., 1873), pp. 130, 62–70. Soob Row died in 1837 after retiring from a full career in government service. In almost every district he visited, there was an uncle, a cousin, etc. who was Huzur Sheristadar, Head Munshi, Head English Accountant, and so on. Dykes, J. W. B., Salem: and Indian Collectorate (London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1853), pp. 322, 327, confirms this view of Maratha strength. See also: Prinsep, A., The Baboo (London: 1834), pp. 71, 289, 311, 40, 259, for methods of advancement.

29 John Whish to BOR (on orders of June 19, 1826) August 7, 1826: GDR (3965: 345–48). D. White reported in 1845 that the orders were completely ignored.

30 Rules on Pensions (December 22, 1835) Fort Saint George Gazette of February 3, 1836. For 20 years a pensioner received one third, for 30 years one half of the average salary during his last five years of employment.

31 Goldingham Report (paras 10, 46), December 13, 1839: Madras Revenue Proceedings of April 16, 1841. Report on the social and economic condition of Guntur District.

32 Ibid, (paras 13–17). Elliot Report (paras 6–7), ibid.

33 Elliot Report (para 7), ibid. Goldingham Report (para 30), op. cit. Also see S. V. K. Rao's lengthy history of Guntur, Appendix A in Goldingham Report.

34 G. Mackenzie, A Manual of Istna District, ibid., pp. 313, 317–21. Elliot Report (paras 17–22), ibid.; and Goldingham Report (para 31), ibid.

35 Goldingham Report (para 30); Elliot Report (para 7); and Thomas Oakes to Board of Revenue (para 45). July 11, 1819. Even Munro visited the boys in an effort to resolve the conflict. They were willing, but not the diwans.

36 Moore, E. F. (ed.), Reports of … the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on Appeal from the Supreme and Sudder Dewanny Courts in the East Indies (London: 1930), Vol. IV: 1846–50, pp. 1113.

37 Mackenzie, ibid., p. 314.

38 Ibid. Goldingham Report to C. R. Cotton (paras 17–29, 38): Madras Revenue Proceedings, No. 30 of April 16, 1841. Elliot Report (paras 16–22): MRP, No. 39 of December 6, 1847, gives detailed chart of years under amani management for each estate. See seven letters on faithless diwans in Appendix G of same report.

39 Extract of Board of Revenue Proceedings (para 7), August 26, 1841: Guntur District Records (5372: 383–415), on Jamabandi Report of Fasli 1249, November 21, 1840.

40 Board of Revenue Proceedings (para 12), September 19, 1836: Ibid.

41 H. Ricketts, Ibid., pp. 345–46. Want of space prevents my including the interesting details of this list.

42 Arbuthnot, A. J., Selections … from the Writings of … Sir Thomas Munro (Madras: 1886), pp. 583–86. Minute of May 20, 1828 (para 6).

43 Circular to Collector and Magistrate of Guntoor, May 19, 1835: Guntur District Records (977: 63–64).

44 lbid. See also: Report of the Commissioners for the Investigation of Alleged Cases of Torture in the Madras Presidency (Madras: 1855).

45 Recommendations for territorial redistribution, H. Stokes to Board of Revenue, May 25, 1843: Cuntur District Records (5402: pp. 41–51).

46 Map of Guntoor Collectorate (Madras: Surveyor General's Office, 1827), made 1815–19 by military officers under Lieut. F. Mountford.

47 “Hooknamah for Samatdars in Guntoor Zillah,” by Hudleston Stokes, August 17, 1847: Guntur District Records (vol. 5404, No. 124, pp. 103–120). These samuts, later called firkas, must not be confused with larger ancient samutus, which were more equivalent to Company taluks.

48 Stokes' Rules, Ibid., (para 4).

49 Board of Revenue to Stokes, March 28, 1844: Guntur District Records (5375: pp. 91–93), making Act IV of 1844 effective from April 1st.

50 Goldingham Report (para 37), ibid.

51 Elliot MSS., Local History I, “On the Origin of Village Accountants” (India Office Library: Eur. Mss. F. 46), pp. 93–97.

52 Ibid.; “Translations of Dandakavile by Badhamundi Kamaraz, Curnum of Peturu, in Repalle Talook, Zillah Guntoor,” ibid., p. 106; “Historical Memoir of Chebrole,” Vol. II (Eur. Mss. F. 47).

53 “Condavid Country, or Guntoor,” Local History I, pp. 93–106, 330–35, ibid.

54 Sastri, K. A. Nilakantha, A History of South India (Madras, 1955) and Sewell, R., A Forgotten Empire (London, 1924) summarize these events. Corollary works by R. Sathianatha Aiyar, N. Venkataramanayya, and B. A. Saletore add data. District Manuals (Mackenzie, Boswell, etc.) are indispensable. See Mackenzie, ibid., 15–38.

55 Elliot MSS., Local History I & II (ibid.), “On Origin of Village Accountants” and other items cited above.

56 Appendix E of Elliot Report: ibid., has extracts of early findings on this complicated subject.

57 Arzi of S. V. K. Rao on the social and economic condition of Guntur Zillah, Appendix A of Goldingham Report: ibid.Smollett, P. B., Civil Administration in Madras (Madras: 1858), pp. 134. Sewell, Robert, Sir Walter Elliot of Wolfelee (Edinburgh: 1896), with extracts from Elliot's note books containing pujas and mantrams for invoking terror.

58 Daniel Smith to Board of Revenue, June 21, 1806: See extract in Elliot Report (para 83), ibid.

59 F. W. Robertson to Board of Revenue, June 15, 1811: Guntur District Records (vol. 385: pp. 211–223). Appendix C of Elliot report has copies of letters.

60 Robertson to BOR (para 2), May 9, 1811: ibid. On August 20 he wrote: “A systematic combination of the Huzur Servants of any rank in the Cutcherry with those in the Mofussil … exists.”

61 Ibid. See also, letters of March 2 and Aug. 20, 1811.

62 Board of Revenue to Thomas Oakes, December 11, 1811: Guntur District Records (963: pp. 619–39). Oakes and the Board agreed that accusations against Robertson were largely false.

63 H. Ricketts, ibid., p. 335; & M. Ruthnaswamy, ibid., p. 87 ff. Perhaps the most notorious clandestine operation was one at Coimbatore organized by a Banya named Casee Chetty. Thomas Munro and John Sullivan were commissioned to investigate by the Government of Madras.

64 Elliot Report (para 96): ibid., “Chart of Officers appointed Acting or Permanent to the Office of Collector.”

65 Elliot Report (para 50; also see para 37), ibid.

66 Cherukuru Karnams to Walter Elliot (May 8, 15, & 20, 1845), in No. 26 of Appendix B., Elliot Report: ibid.

67 Elliot Report, (para 44), ibid.

68 Elliot Report (para 25), ibid.

69 Elliot Report (para 58), ibid. Daniel White to BOR, May 15, 1845: Guntur District Records (5404: 63–64); and also letter of June 2 and 19.

70 Dykes, J. W. B., Salem, and Indian Collectorate (London: 1853), p. 324.

71 Proceedings at the Public Meetings of the Hindu Community … Held on 7th October 1846(Madras:1846).

72 Dykes, ibid., p. 323.

73 Bourdillon, J. D., Remarks on the Ryotwar System of Land Revenue as It Exists in the Presidency of Madras (Madras: 1853).

74 The Manual of Revenue Subordinate Service: 1931 (Madras: 1947), para 6. District Establishment Lists (Guntur: 1922, 1930, 1939, 1959).

Elite Groups in a South Indian District: 1788–1858

  • Robert Eric Frykenberg


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