Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Rise and fall of East India Company -3

 Rise and fall of East India Company-3 

It was might be an act of a lower rank Jemmaattdaars, but 10 hours (8 pm to 6 am) night of 20 June 1756 wrote the history of slavery for India. The Black Hole of Calcutta killing 120 of 146 (43 of 64) war prisoners by suffocation in a dungeon of 14x18 feet in Fort William fired the spirit and revenge of the British in India. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Clive was stationed in Madras retaliated and using shoulders of Mir Jafar and one local rich man, defeated and killed Siraj ud Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal in the battle of Plassey. 750 British soldiers with 2100 Indian Sepoy won the battle against 35000 infantry and 5000 cavalry of the Nawab. 5000 infantry and 15000 cavalry of Mir Jafar defected. The casualties were 22  on British side and 500 on Nawab side in a battle fought for 11 hours. What a shameful drama and defeat!

Before battle of Plassey in 1757, the establishment of the East India Company had been almost commercial. The effect of the battle was to raise Mir Jafar against company enemy Siraj I’d Daulah. Mir Jafar was disposed of in favour of his son in law Mir Quasim but he lost battles of Katwa, Murshidabad, Giria and Muger against the Company in 1763. He formed confederation with Nawab of Awadh Shuja ud Daulah and Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II and faced East India Company Forces under Hector Munro who with 7000 disciplined troops of British Army and 30 cannons defeated the native army of indisciplined 40000 soldiers having 140 cannons. 

Battle of Buxar (1764) rather than Plassey deserves to be considered the origin of British power in Bengal, as from that time found no native ruler exercised any real authority there. British defeated three Muslim powers of India. In the 3rd battle of Panipat neither Muslim nor Sikh supported the Marathas and they lost the battle against Ahmad Shah Abdali. In the battle of Buxar the Muslims rulers were isolated and they lost it against British. Mughal emperor granted diwani or rights to collect revenue throughout Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company. 

However, from 1765 to 1772, the civil administration was in the hands of natives. The head of Bengal administration was Muhammad Rheza Khan, Dy Nawab of Bengal and Sehitab Roy in Bihar. In 1774, Warren Hastings was appointed as Governor General who abolished the places and removed both the heads through the agency of Nandkumar. Nandkumar was the first Collector appointed for tax collection by the East India Company was later executed by hanging in August 1775. It was height of the authority that Nandkumar was tried guilty by the Supreme Court of Calcutta and was hanged in 1775 under the the Forgery Act of 1728 enacted for England.  For committing this judicial murder, the GG Hastings along with his friend Chief Justice Elijah Impey was impeached by the Parliament of England. 

The Company was a political authority and was subject to the Emperor of Delhi and to the Nawab of Bengal but not to the Parliament of England. But when it went to the Government for financial assistance after the huge losses following famine (1770) in Bengal, and knowing the spectacular exploits of Clive, the Parliament of England took up the opportunity, enacted Regulatory Act 1773 and extended its political jurisdiction to “British Possession in India”. It was further corrected by the Pitt’s India Act 1774, resulted in dual control on British Possession in India by the Company with the final authority resting with the Govt of England. The Board of Control (political affairs) of EIC was kept under the Govt and the Court of Directors (commercial affairs) was under the Company.

The Court of Directors (COD) was the most important administrative organ of the East India Company, had 24 members and was major policy making body of the company. 12 major committees of nine members each handled different aspects of company affairs. Most important was the Committee of Correspondence which dealt with the political affairs and the administration of the various Indian establishments. The General Court of the Proprietors was the forum where company stockholders elect members of the COD expressed their opinions and had right to reverse the decision of the COD. But with passage of Pitt’s India Act, this power was withdrawn. 

In the early part of the 18th century the main thrust of the company was commercial, but this began to change as the French challenged British interests in India and conditions on the subcontinent demanded political and military involvement. The Army of the Company in India was made of three forces: King’s Troops, Company Army and locals. Before Arcot, in February 1760, 63% of the army was made up of King’s troops. During the war years the Company could sent 1001, 488, 202 and 197 army men to India in the years 1754, 1755, 1759 and 1761 respectively. In 1778, there were 10926 European Soldiers in India and 70,093 natives serving both the armies. The best men available were assigned to the artillery. 

Initially, when the Company was engaged in waging wars, units of regular army were sent to India to supplement the Company troops but that gave rise to disputes between the two military organisations regarding honours and status. The company army had manpower problem in addition to competition with the regular army. The high death rate caused by the long and dangerous passage to India and debilitating effect of tropical diseases drained the company forces. Service in India was terrifying many Englishmen. 

Unlike the regular army recruited by the Duke of York where the Army officers were free to roam the country, beating up for men. The Company was forced to deal with the agents or Crimps who for certain financial rewards (one guinea per raised man), supply the company with recruits. They had no authority for beating up in cities or market towns, by which means they are reduced to employ criminals and kidnappers to pick up men, as they can, at a great expense. Those only come, who from some defect, would not be received anywhere else or who from their debauchery and profligacy are in danger of a gaol and fly to the lock up houses of the company as a shelter. Due to scarcity of men the Company therefore used lock up houses to keep the men prisoners until the ships sailed. Their recruits after having been months confined go abroad the ships, as raw as ever, and ten thousand time more corrupted in body and mind. A great proportion of them die in the passage, and the rest carry insolence, mutiny, profligacy, debauchery and disease into their armies in India. It was most corrupt and inefficient method of raising men. The crimps were dumping men and lads on outward bound vessels within days and hours of sailing without training or due process of law. 

The company couldn’t find enough men therefore out of the recruits from 1771 (2049), 1772 (1429), 1776 (776), 1777 (728), 1778 (1684), 1779 (275) and 1780 (665); 65% of them were under 20 years age and 32% were 16 years or less. 46% were 5’2” or under. 30-35% were Irish born. One of the MPs, Thomas Townsend was saying, let them take the worst of men to die in India. 

There were cases where most recruits died at sea. In 1760, for example, out of 53 officers and men on the ship Osterdy, 33 died at sea. At the same year, 43 of the 61 men on the Worcester never reached India. In subsequent years, the death rate reduced but unfortunately, no details available of the physical conditions of those who were alive when their ships docked in India. Of the recruits, on an average kept 17.5% of the men away reporting for duty either sick or discharged. Death rate was 5.8%. 

The Company had a license renewed every year for recruiting army for Indian. But to maintain its independence from Govt, it had delayed the reforms for 30 years. To implement reforms, the Govt authority withheld the license and brought it to reform agenda. 

GG Lord Cornwallis was angry with the practice of sending ‘gentle men’ who are unfit for the duties of private soldiers but enrolled as recruits merely so get a passage on board the chartered ships to India. He began complaining to the company about the poor quality of the recruits. He had doubts that the six company battalions, he could complete one serviceable battalion onto that day establishment. He had shipped them back so many invalids, ‘height and age’ were being lowered, he protested. He objected the practice of taking sailors. He was unhappy with the quality of the wretched objects and proposed reforms including creation of training depot for the new recruits. His critics countered him by saying that he was more interested in how the men looked during parade than their fighting qualities. 

Finally reforms came in 1799, thereafter the recruitment was governed under GOI Act 1800 where the company officers were to recruit manpower under the IG of the Army. Training depot was set up. The company was given powers to punish the recruits on England soil. 

After ruling for 190 years, British left India by gifting their legacy of ‘gentle men’. 

23 August 2021


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