What were the factors responsible for the blocking the progress of the people of South India?


Some of the factors which tended to retard the progress of the masses of people in South India were : (1) periodical and arbitrary revisions of land assessment; (2) the uncertainty of the tenure of ryots in Zamindaries and under the Janmies of Malabar; (3) the increasing dependance of ryots on professional money-lenders, the stringency and inelasticity of methods of revenue collection and the absence of a developed system of credit; (4) the decay of domestic industries, the absence of diversity of occupations and the dense ignorance of, and want of enterprise among the agricultural and industrial classes; (5) the excessive cost of litigation; and (6) the disintegration of village communities and the decay of the spirit of cooperation.

The peculiar economic and social conditions prevailing in South India as a result of the political change effected by the British occupation, brought about a new class structure in the society-it was the emergence of a new middle class.

This class consisted of four occupational groups, viz., (1) trading or merchant class whose ranks were filled by brokers, commission agents, shopkeepers, gumastas, etc.; (20) the rent-receiving landlord created under the Zamindari system and Janmi-system of land tenure; (3) money lenders who were also traders in grain and shop keepers; and (4) white collared professional class of lawyers, teachers, civil servants, doctors, jouranlists, writers and clerks.


Even though India had in the past, a middle class of traders, bankers, ship owners etc., the members of this class were drawn mainly from particular castes associated with these professions. But this new middle class was a heterogeneous aggregation of men of different castes and creeds.

Besides the traditional mercantile castes, we find Brahmins, Kashatriyas and Sudhras lacking up lucrative professions which were forbidden to them by the Hindu Shastras. This social mobility was more prominent in Northern India, in the nineteenth century and later it spread to South India also. But the peculiar characteristic of caste rigidity found in South India made constraints on the constitution of these new elite also.

Here this new middle class was confined to Brahmin community alone. As this caste group was a privileged one with all the benefits of economy and education intellectual activity of South India was centered on its members thereby making it easy for them to monopolies professions like teaching, medicine, government service, law, journalism etc.

At the end of the 19th century this caste domination of Brahmins in the economic and political life brought to the fore a violent reaction in the form of anti-Brahmin movement. Thus the Malayali Memorial of 1891 in Travancore indicated an organized attempt on the part of non-Brahmin to oppose the monopolization of all jobs there by “foreign” Brahmins-the new elite of Madras Presidency. Later on this manifestation of non-Brahmin antagonism towards this new middle class, which turned to be the nationalist class and leader of the freedom struggle against the British, took the shape of a movement in Madras (now Chennai)-the Justice Movement.


It was uncertainty of gaining profit from agriculture, tenancy problems and high rates of assessment in the early settlements of land in Madras Presidency that turned the attention of this elitist group from land to white collar professions. The high assessment of the Muslim prices had already made land holding less coveted an asset in South India and a method of forcing land on cultivators and assessing them was given vogue.

The compulsion to cultivate the land was continued in the early British days in Baramahal. As late as 1854 John Bruce Norton wrote that in view of un-remunerative character of agriculture in the Madras Presidency, “Compulsion is necessary to keep even the present amount of land under cultivation.” The ryotwari system made matters worse for ryots and cultivators and drove out mirasidars.

Over-assessment ruined the peasants and scared away businessmen and traders from the agricultural pursuit. Elimination of concealment under the British system further made agricultural operation not only highly unremunera­tive but, if continued, also ruinous to the peasant. The non-agriculturist capitalists, therefore, were not prepared to risk their money in such profitable concern of the rural economy. Major portion of the money advanced to small ryots came from rich peasants and not from non-agriculturist capitalists.

Therefore transfer of land, from the debtor to the creditor in discharge of his debt took place within the agricultural community itself in the Madras Presidency. In the north it generally took place between the debtor ryot and the creditor non-agriculturist money lender. In introducing the ryotwari system, the adminis­trators had the intention to prevent a middle class living on rent of land to arise in India.


What they wanted was to create only a few individual rich men, not a class of them, and to keep the generality if peasantry in poverty and abject servitude. If and when the peasantry and the labour class are freed from indigence and misery and allowed to taste the comfit of easy means or even sufficiency, the British apprehended that the spirit of hautiness and independence would creep into corrupt their minds.

As Thackeray wrote in his Report on Canara Malabar and ceded Districts of August 1807, “It is very proper that in England, a good share of the produce of the earth should be appropriated support certain families in affluence, to produce senators, sages and heroes to for the service and defense of the state; or in other words, that a great part of the rent should go to an opulent nobility and gentry, who are to serve country in Parliament, in the army, in the navy, in the department of science and liberal professionals. The leisure, independence and high ideas which the enjoyment of this rent affords have enabled them to raise British to pinnacles of glory. Long they may enjoy it.

But in India, that haughty spirit, independence and deep thought which the possession of great wealth sometimes gives ought to be suppressed. They are directly averse to our power and interest. The nature of things, the past experience of all governments, renders it unnecessary to enlarge on this subject. We do not want generals, statesmen and legislators; we want industrious husbandmen. If we wanted rank restless and ambitious spirits there are enough of them in Malabar to supply the whole peninsula. “

This clearly shows that the British administrators wanted Indians ever to remain mean and impecunious, to divide their abundant poverty among them­selves, and share their miseries equitably after making over the fruits of their labour to the white ruler.


They did not want Indians to prosper in industry, trade, arts and crafts to grow rich by agriculture and also to develop the faculties of mind. Wherever they showed inclination to encourage agriculture, trade, industry and education, and to build commu­nication lines, etc., it was with a view to enhancing their political and economic power and prestige and to facilitate colonial administration and imperial defense mechanism.

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