Dwarkanath Tagore’s Evidence

In 1838 the Calcutta Committee of Enquiry [CCE] into the unregulated system of Indian labour migration to Mauritius was set up. The Committee was composed of Theodore Dickens, a barrister and planter, the Reverend James Charles, J P Grant, William Dowson, a merchant and Russomoy Dutt. On 9th November 1838, Dwarkanath Tagore, a local businessman, was interviewed.

Q. Are you not a Justice of Peace for Calcutta? – A. Yes, I am.

Q. In that capacity have any complaints been laid before you by Coolies about to proceed to the Mauritius? – A. The Syce of my partner, Mr. William Prinsep, came to me to complain that his brother was kept in confinement by the Duffadars with the view of being sent to the Mauritius – I sent him to Mr. McFarlan the Chief Magistrate, and after a great deal of trouble his brother was brought to the Police.  The other party alleged that the man had received an advance of a rupee and the Magistrate decided that he could not release him till the rupee was paid, and as the brother could not afford to pay it Mr. Prinsep sent it from his own pocket.

Q. Do you know of any other cases of your own knowledge? – A. I know of several other cases.  The brother of a servant in the employ of Baboo Neel Rutton Holdar, came to me complaining that some of the Duffadars had forcibly taken his brother to the Mauritius, but nothing could be done in this case as the ship was gone.  And many other cases of the same kind occurred.

Q. From your knowledge of the people of this country of the class which has been exported, do you believe that they could be easily influenced or persuaded to leave their homes to go beyond sea? – A. From what I know of the lower class of natives, I am persuaded that they would be easily induced by the village Gomastha or the Mundel of the village, or any other influential people, to leave their homes and come to Calcutta, or any other distant place, but if they perfectly understood that they would be required to go a voyage of a month or six weeks it would be difficult to get their consent.  If they were persuaded that they were going near Europeans, for whom they have a great respect, that they would soon come back, and that they would derive great advantages from the employment, they would be more likely to comply.

Q. Have you had any of the people of the Dhangurs in your employ, and from what you know of their habits do you believe that they would easily be persuaded to leave their homes and families for five years? – A. I think not.  I know this that in the Indigo Factories we cannot keep them a whole twelvemonth, even by giving them their full salary when they are not at work.  At the end of the manufacturing season they return to their homes for two months – I have induced some of them to come with the families and settle, and they remain the whole year, but those who do not bring their families always return to their homes.  They are as much attached to their families as any civilized people.

Q. What wages do they ordinarily receive and are they able to effect any saving out of them? – A. They get from three to four rupees, and their expense for living is one rupee eight annas.  They send part of their savings to their families and with a part purchase silver jewels for their children.

Q. Do you think the Coolies or labouring classes in Bengal are generally well off? – A. Why I think it has improved compared with what it was before.  Sometimes when there is a famine, an inundation or any similar disaster, they are in a very wretched condition.

Q. Is there not much misery prevalent among these classes? – A. Certainly not in Bengal.  I speak only of Bengal.  I am not well acquainted with the condition of the people in the Upper Provinces.

Q. Bengal being very populous, to what cause do you attribute it, that those Dhangurs who are emigrants from the hills, find such ready employment at good wages? – A. The natives of Bengal are naturally an idle set of people, and the Labouring class generally have a little land of their own on which they work, and although it is not sufficient to employ their whole labour it is sufficient to afford them the means of subsistence.  Hence they are not good workmen and the Dhangurs or Hill Coolies, being much better workmen, are preferred by Indigo Planters and others who employ many labourers.

Q. Have you not been engaged in various experiments in the cultivation of the Sugar Cane and manufacture of Sugar in different districts of this presidency? – A. I am the first person who commenced cultivating Sugar Cane by the European process and under European superintendence, in India.  I cultivated about six hundred beegahs at Barripore with Otaheite Cane, and also advanced money to natives and gave them cuttings of Otaheitan Cane for them to cultivate it, and I bought the Cane from them.  I put up horizontal Sugar Mills with a Steam engine.  The Cane grew to a large size, but only a few seers of Sugar were produced, not one maund.  The next year I tried China Sugar Cane and though it produced Sugar, the quantity was small – I sent Mr. Henley, the English Superintendant, whom I had hitherto employed to learn the practise of Sugar planters at Mauritius, and on his return I tried the experiment for a third time, but I found that though I could produce Sugar as good as that produced by natives with the common native process, the cost price, exclusive of interest on my original outlay, was more than double the common selling price of Sugar in the bazar.  I lost more that two lacs of rupees by the experiment at Barripore.  I then tried similar experiments in the Districts of Ghazepore and Pubna, two remarkably fine Sugar Districts, for three seasons, under different European superintendence, but these experiments failed in the same way.  My European Superintendants at last came to the opinion that they never could make Sugar in India so cheaply as the natives do now.  I still make Sugar largely, but I buy the Goor from natives and the Sugar costs me one-fourth of what it did when I cultivated the cane and boiled the juice.  After the repeated failures mentioned I have now reverted to the native process.