Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Writers' Block

( published as lead article in the Statesman, 13 November, 2005)

Sudhir Kumar Jha time-travels to walk the musty corridors of the majestic red structure that has been home to the Bengal secretariat for a century and a half, and the nursery of generations of clerks who are a class by themselves.

THE daily commuters who pass it by every day may not cast a second glance at Writers’ Building in Kolkata, but the building is an acknowledged heritage site. Imperial and Gothic in appearance, it has been home to all shades of political opinion, from the imperialists to communists. Its corridors have been witness to history being made and unmade. It has been the seat of the Bengal Government for almost a century and a half. What may not be so well-known is why Writers’ Building is so called. Nor that the present edifice is not the original but only its latest incarnation. The earliest version, erected around 1690, was a mud hovel within the old fort, meant to accommodate the “writers” of the East India Company. It was destroyed in a storm in 1695 and rebuilt. The site shifted to where the GPO is now, where a single-floor brick building came up in 1706.The East India Company’s building programme in Calcutta during the 18th century was meant to be utilitarian rather than demonstrative of imperial grandeur. It remained so even after the grant of Diwani and the victories at Plassey and Buxar had riveted the shackles of the East India Company’s rule in Bengal. With a spurt in the Company’s activities, there was an increased influx of hands from England. Apart from a larger working space, a place had to be found to house these people. As the newcomers were unencumbered by families, even dormitory-type accommodation was deemed adequate. By now the Company could have the pick of the location. Without disturbing the existing arrangement, fresh construction was taken up at the building’s current location adjacent to the lake. The new structure was in place by 1780. Records show that the new edifice had 19 sets of apartments, all identical, contained in a very long, rather solid three-stories block, classical in style, with 57 sets of identical windows, a flat roof and a central projection with Ionic columns. From all accounts it was uninspiring and resembled a military barrack or a seminary, but it was among the few early attempts at large-scale, classically-motivated architecture in India.This original design was super-imposed in the 19th century in two phases. The first, around the middle of the century, simply embellished the existing structure with low pediments. The second enterprise, undertaken at the height of British imperial power under Queen Victoria, was more ambitious. It now had terracotta dressings, dummy portico and pediment, and a Corinthian facade. The building as we see it today covers 2.8 acres of land and is 705 feet wide; the campus is spread over 10 acres. It is a cluster of 13 four-storeyed buildings and has been home to the Bengal Secretariat since the time of Lieutenant Governor Ashley Eden.Who were these “writers” that this behemoth, literally as well as figuratively majestic, was named after? With a view to compete with the Dutch spice traders in the Indies, a band of entrepreneurs formed a joint-stock company and obtained a charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1600 in the name and style of East India Company. In 1675 the Company established a regular gradation of posts. The lowest rank, that of the apprentice, was discontinued soon. Directly above them were the writers. LSS O’Malley believes (The Indian Civil Service, John Murray, London, 1931) that the appellation originated in 1645 and lasted until 1858 when the British Crown took over the direct administration of the country, by which time the mercantile duties of the office had long since disappeared. Above the writers were the factors (in charge of a trading post and not to be confused with the officer-in-charge in a factory), the junior merchants and the senior merchants — titles borrowed initially from the Dutch East India Company and officially employed till 1842. As a rule the East India Company maintained strictly separate cadres for the civilians and the military but there were exceptions when an infantry cadet received writership and vice versa. George Elliot came out to India in 1779 as an infantry cadet and received a writership two years later. He rose to become the deputy military pay master-general.A writer took about five years to become a factor. As the writers went up the ladder they occupied all the higher civilian offices and discharged assorted functions, mostly related to revenue, the judiciary and mercantile matters. They took on designations such as supervisor, collector, district judge, salt agent and mercantile agent. William Dampiers was the superintendent of police, a post corresponding to the present director general of police of the Bengal Presidency on the eve of the Mutiny and John Elliot, after whom Elliot Road in Calcutta was named, was the president of the Boards of Police and Conservancy in the early years of the 19th century. Some became commissioners, headed the Boards of Revenue and even became governors and governor-general. In all probability Job Charnock, the putative founder of Calcutta, came to India as a writer as did Robert Clive and Warren Hastings.It was mandatory for these writers, at least during their probationary period, to reside in the Writers’ Building. The stipulation of compulsory residence for writers was annulled in 1835. After being used as mercantile offices for some years, Writers’ Buildings became the home of the Bengal Secretariat. It became one of the community’s most conspicuous landmarks.A writer was what the term conveys — a junior clerk, a scribe. There were so many of them. One can visualize them slogging out their days on a high stool scratching interminable entries into a ledger in poor light, holding a quill in one hand and swatting mosquitoes with the other. These writers were sent to factories (trading posts); they kept accounts and were responsible for correspondence with London. Every letter to the head office was made out in triplicate to ensure that at least one surely reached its destination. Two copies were sent by two different sailing ships and the third went across land. Theirs was thus an existence of unbroken drudgery and tedium. A welcome break came in 1830 when David Wilson, a British national, opened a confectionery-cum-bakery less than 100 metres away. The writers could now take short breaks and hop across for a bun or pastry. The outlet, begun to serve primarily the writers, later morphed into the famous Great Eastern Hotel, the first modern, European-style hotel in the country. Alas, the heritage hotel is reportedly up for sale. Thankfully the Writers’ Building faces no such threat.Contrary to popular belief, writers were poorly paid. Perhaps it was in line with the Company’s philosophy: a penny saved is a penny earned. Sir john Shore, successor to Lord Cornwallis as governor-general, had started his Indian career in 1769 as a writer with a salary of Rs 96, then equivalent to £ 12 a year. He was barely able to afford half the rent of an ill-ventilated modest dwelling. Paying low wages was a sure inducement to indulge in “private practice” and corruption. The Company connived with its employees when it came to creative personal trading, as long as its profits were not affected. Corruption was condoned as a well-deserved recompense for spending half one’s lifetime in hazardous exile.The Company’s policy was to “catch them young”. Writers were inducted at the age of 16. Writers’ petitions or job applications had to include baptismal certificates, testimonials and details of education. Considering the writers’ impressionable age and virtual lack of education, in 1800 governor-general Lord Wellesley wanted to establish a college at Fort William for the purpose of completing the education of the company’s servants but was overruled by the court of directors. His dream came true with the opening of the East India College at Haileybury in England in 1806. Wellesley set up on his own in 1800 not a full-fledged college but a modest seminary for instruction in Oriental languages which survived until 1854 by which time it had long outlived its utility.An act of 1826 gave the directors discretionary power to appoint young men between 18 and 22 as writers. A writership was a passport to great riches and it was not always acquired without dubious dealing and corruption. This arrangement lasted from 1827 to 1832. Those appointed under the “nomination” scheme included well-known names such as Sir Robert Montgomery, lieutenant governor of the Punjab from 1859 to 1865 and William Tayler, commissioner of Patna during the Sepoy Mutiny. An Act of 1853 introduced the system of open competition for appointment to the civil service in India — the principle was not applied to the home civil service until 1870 — and the first exam was held in 1855. Henceforthe writers began learning the Indian languages, customs et al on the job as the arrangement at Fort William had by then been done away with. The East India College, however, sent out the last batch only in 1858 with the result that for two years the list of writers was made up of Haileybury men and Competition Wallahs, to borrow the title from George Trevelyan’s famous book. The hereditary connection with India was to become a remarkable characteristic of the Hailebury system. Sons stepped into their fathers’ shoes as a matter of course and brought their cousins and their nephews along with them. The Bengal lists included several Plowdens, Colvins, Tuckers and Metcalfes. The Bombay and Madras allotments showed a similar trend. As Kipling put it in his story The Tomb of His Ancestors, generation after generation came out to serve India as dolphins followed in line across the open sea. The first Indian to enter the civil service by competition was Satyendranath Tagore (1864), followed in 1871 by RC Dutt, BL Gupta and Surendranath Banerjea. Their induction put Bengal in the forefront of western learning. The writers have long been gone but Writers’ Building stands tall to salute their memory. The Indian Civil Service (ICS), the so-called “steel frame”, had every reason to be beholden to the writers. Our bureaucrats even today find it difficult to forsake the Writers’ legacy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Name Game

(Cover Story in the Statesman, 8 July,2007)

How the English christened places in India might evoke memories of the Raj, but the circumstances have, nevertheless, become historical legacy that cannot be wished away, says Sudhir Kumar JhaREMEMBER the faux pas in a recent edition of the Oxford English Dictionary? It said Bangalore — not even Bengaluru — got its name as the locals were Bengalis and spoke Bangla. This was the height of untruth and ignorance, a gaffe not expected from Oxford, but it does explain the myth and confusion prevailing in respect of place names. Places get their names by design or sheer accident. These can be plain, catchy or hilarious, obvious or intriguing, but never without some link to the past. Delving into the genesis of the English names of places in India has been an interesting but challenging exercise. For the sake of euphony, the terms “English” and “British” have been used indiscriminately. These place names evoke memories of the British Raj and, notwithstanding the ongoing attempts at renaming them, the circumstances of their naming have become historical legacy which cannot be wished away.It is sad that no definitive compilation of these names is available. At the beginning of the last century, two Calcutta-based scholars, KN Dhur of the Imperial Library followed by Lt-Col DG Crawford of the Indian Medical Service, made an attempt to list places named after the British. They consulted the survey maps of districts and also went through Newman’s Indian Bradshaw, Smith’s Students’ Geography of India published in 1882 and Keith Johnston’s Atlas of India published in 1894. Periodicals such as Bengal Past & Present and Saturday Journal also yielded some names. To the information so gathered, the two added their own knowledge based on folklore and hearsay. Their total came to a sizeable number, well over 150, but was far from being exhaustive. These came from the whole of British India which covered not only what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh but also Burma and the Malay Peninsula for most of the 19th century. Were they to include the localities or muhallas of towns, roads and streets, public and private institutions, monuments, gardens and parks, et al, so named, their list would have run into thousands. Bangalore Cantonment would have provided over 100 and Kolkata at least 20.The Andaman and Nicobar Islands provide over 40 such names. These islands were formally annexed in 1858 and converted into a convict settlement to confine the great number of life-prisoners left after the Sepoy Mutiny. The British gave the numerous names of their Mutiny heroes and members of the Andamans Commission to places in these islands. Several places in the Sunderbans falling in West Bengal and Bangladesh were named after officers of the Indian Navy, Royal Indian Marine, or Bengal Pilot Service. Amitava Ghosh mentions a few in his captivating book, The Hungry Tide. The one class of Britishers to have left the strongest imprint on the naming of places were the civil servants from the Provincial Civil Service and, later, from the Indian Civil Service, as District Collectors, and some as Lieutenant-Governors. In the days of the East India Company, military officers carried the flag into uncharted territories and laid the foundations of civil administration. New civil stations established by them carried their names, for example Daltonganj and Hunterganj in Jharkhand and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. There are railway stations that were named after the British, be it a railway engineer, priest or civil servant, because there was no village of any importance in the neighbourhood after which these could be named — for example Palmerganj between Gaya and Dehri-on-Sone and Twiningganj between Ara and Buxar. Places were also named after ranks in the British army. We have Captainganj and Colonelganj in Uttar Pradesh and Majorganj in Bihar. Brigade Maidan and Barrackpore in Kolkata and Brigade Road in Bangalore, too, have a British army connection. While many names famous in Indian history are commemorated in place names, many more of the first importance are not thus distinguished. There does not appear to be any place named after Robert Clive or Warren Hastings, the real founders of the British Empire in India.It is notable that most English names were given to places in the first 100 years of British rule in India, very few in the second half of the 19th century and hardly any in the 20th. Significantly, though the missionaries carried their work deep into the hills and jungles and made healthcare and education available to tribal settlements, not many places are named after them; they apparently did not try to impose their own or any other foreign names. Nor did the British try to change the names of villages already in existence.It is not that places were named only after Europeans, though exceptions are few and far between. For example, Achipur near Kolkata, on the banks of the Hooghly river, is named after Yong Atchew, the first Chinese settler in India in modern times. He came to Kolkata around 1780 and enjoyed the patronage of the East India Company as a cultivator of sugarcane.Exceptions apart, these exotic place names are in two parts. The prefix is English while the suffix is vernacular, invariably Persian-Urdu. By far the commonest, in northern India, is ganj, which means a market. Also common are abad and pur, meaning town. Whereas the Hindi garh has been used at least once, as in Georgegarh, nagar does not appear to have been used at all. In southern India, the suffix used is pet, again denoting a town or market; it has also been used in Marathi as Malcolmpet in Mumbai.Places were not always consciously baptised with English names. They just evolved as a corruption of vernacular names. Take the case of Bangalore. The British, after defeating Tipoo Sultan and restoring the Raja of Mysore in 1799, obtained the right to station their own troops in the state. They built their cantonment on ceded village land just east of the ancient town and fortress of Bengaluru, which was soon anglicised to Bangalore. English Bazar in West Bengal’s Malda district was originally the Rangreza Bazar, the dyers’ quarter. The first letter was dropped along the way and it became Angreza Bazar, and hence English Bazar. Kidderpur in Kolkata is not named after Colonel Kyd but derives from an older local name, Khettarpur. Some names got Anglicised, in pronunciation and in spelling, because the British could not pronounce these the local way. Kanpur became Cawnpore and Munger became Monghyr and Danapur Cantonment in Bihar became Dinapore. Likewise, Waris-ali-ganj in Bihar’s Gaya district began to be called Worsleyganj. Grierson market in Madhubani, Bihar, was named after the eponymous linguist, Sir George Abraham Grierson, ICS, who set up the market while he was posted as the SDO of that area. It has been known as Gilesan Market for generations. Bhendi Bazar in Mumbai is a phonetic caricature of “behind the bazaar”.Given below, by way of illustration, is the etymology of some place names from Bihar and Jharkhand:Goldinganj: This is a small village on the Chapra-Sonepur road about 12 km east of Chapra, an old district town in north Bihar. The only claim to fame of this otherwise nondescript place is a ring of mystery surrounding its name. It has a railway station catering to the North Eastern Railway and a post office with the postal index No. 841211. The station is spelt “Goldinganj” while the postmark reads “Gultenganj”. Old records reveal there was in fact one Edward Golding after whom the place was in all probability named. He was appointed the Company’s Commercial Agent at Bettiah in 1766 after the local Raja had capitulated to the East India Company’s forces. In 1769, Golding was promoted as the Supervisor (precursor of Collector) of Saran Parganas. His bailiwick covered what are today Chapra, Siwan, Gopalganj, Motihari and Bettiah districts. Lesliganj: This is an outgrown village, more of a kasba, in Palamu district of what is now Jharkhand. Located about 15 km east of Daltonganj, the district headquarters, on the road to Manatu, it has the usual appurtenances of an administrative outpost — a dak bungalow, a police station and a block development office. It has nothing much to offer except its exotic name. It was founded by, and is named after, Matthew Leslie, Collector of the Ramgarh Hill Tract in the 1780s. As with other East India Company officials of the 18th century, Leslie’s biographical details are extremely difficult to get. His revenue jurisdiction included the whole of what later became Palamu and Hazaribag districts and part of Gaya up to Sherghati. The Cheros had been the rulers of Palamu but their internal feuds afforded the British the opportunity to intervene and eventually assume control. As Leslie had to continually camp in Chero territory, he chose a hamlet that soon became known as Lesliganj, dropping an “e” from his name. It appears that Leslie’s good work as Collector of Ramgarh was taken note of and he was transferred as the Collector and Magistrate of Rungpore district in East Bengal (now Bangladesh), a more prestigious charge. Daltonganj: Situated on the Koil river, this is the headquarters of Palamu district, now in Jharkhand. It has the usual components of a civil station but nothing else and has been a poor and neglected cousin of the other towns in Chhotanagpur. Though connected by rail and road to the rest of the country, its back-of-beyond location is responsible for its relative isolation. The town is named after Colonel Edward Tuite Dalton who, as the Commissioner of Chhotanagpur, founded a settlement here in 1861 on government land where the headquarters of Palamu subdivision was shifted from Lesliganj the following year. When Palamu was made into a separate district 20 years later, Daltonganj was the obvious choice as the headquarters of the new district. Dalton was the commissioner of Chhotanagpur during the Sepoy Mutiny and for many years thereafter. He initiated several administrative measures. In 1862, he ordered an outright substitution of Hindi written in the Devnagri or Kaithi script for Urdu in the Persian character as the medium of instruction and for court work throughout his commissionerate. In September 1870, Dalton laid the foundation of a permanent church at Ranchi in the presence of a large and assorted gathering. He is best remembered for his magnum opus, The Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, published in 1872.Forbesganj: This is today a subdivisional town of Purnea division in northeastern Bihar. It borders Nepal and is not very far from the Bangladesh border. The checkposts of various government departments notwithstanding, its busy market caters to buyers from both India and Nepal. The main business today is in grains and timber, jute having lost ground to plastic. How did Forbesganj acquire its exotic sounding name? It is named after Alexander J Forbes, an indigo planter and zamindar in Purnea district. His biographical details are not available except that he came out to India in the early part of the 19th century and spent the greater part of his life in Purnea, where he amassed a large fortune, mostly from indigo. One of Forbes’ indigo factories was at Forbesabad, which name was presumably changed to Forbesganj as the place developed into a township with a flourishing market. While on a trip to Calcutta, he died in 1890 at the age of 84, and lies buried at Purnea.Sandys’ Compound: In the heart of Bhagalpur civil station, there is a large tract of land that is locally referred to as Sandys’ Compound. At one time this whole area formed the compound of the residence of Teignmouth Sandys, who was the Judge of Bhagalpur around the middle of the 19th century. He belonged to the Indian Civil Service, though the nomenclature had not been fashioned till then. He was recruited as a Writer, like many others before and after him. William Tayler of Patna fame was his contemporary. Educated and promising youngsters from England were appointed as Writers, something like probationary Assistant Collectors and Magistrates, and rose to become Supervisors/Collectors if entrusted with revenue functions or as Judges if utilised for judicial work. Sandys belonged to the first batch of Writers nominated in 1826 for the qualifying examination in 1827.Revelganj: This is an inconspicuous town in Saran district in north Bihar. Situated 12 km west of the district headquarters town of Chapra, it is served by road and rail. Unlike some other places with European names, it is well known that Revelganj was named after Henry Revel. The East India Company posted Revel as the Collector of Customs at Chapra. It may be recalled that at that time, in the absence of satisfactory road and rail transportation, the East India Company carried on the bulk of trade and commerce by the river route. Revel realised the value of having a proper Custom House to earn revenue for the company so he set up one at Godna in 1788. A market grew around it and in no time the place developed as an important river mart. Revel appears to have been resourceful as well as kind-hearted and became a legend in his lifetime for his humanitarian and charitable acts. His memory was held in such repute that his grave was considered a shrine and his name invoked on occasions of calamity and adversity. It stands in front of the Eden bazaar alongside the Chapra-Guthni road. Tarapada Mukherjee, a local zamindar and lawyer, gave the place a facelift and was also instrumental in establishing a municipality in 1876 by combining the twin revenue villages of Godna and Semaria and, as it’s first vice-chairman, had the new township named Revelganj after Henry Revel. Bakarganj: Not to be confused with Bakerganj in Bangladesh, this lies in the heart of Patna and is named after Robert Barker, an officer in the East India Company’s army. The grant of Diwani to the East India Company in 1765 made the British the virtual rulers of what later became the three provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. A reorganisation of the East India Company’s army followed. Barker had long served the Company’s Artillery and distinguished himself during the siege of Madras. In the reorganisation, he was to have been made Colonel of the Artillery but had to contend with the place originally slotted for Major Knox of Patna fame. Of the three refashioned brigades, the first was located at Monghyr, the second at Allahabad and the third at Bankipore (Patna) under Barker. The 21st battalion raised by Barker at Bankipur became known as Barker-ki-Paltan just as the 20th battalion raised at Lucknow was called Hussaini-ki-Paltan for having been raised on the day of Muharram. Ironically, Barker-ki-Paltan, after several changes of nomenclature, mutinied at Azamgarh in 1857. Barker rose to become a general and Army Chief and was also knighted. He spent three years at Bankipur (Patna) roughly from 1765 to 1768, that is, until the cantonment was shifted to Danapur. The area around his residence developed as a military bazaar or mandi on the eastern side of Gandhi Maidan and was named Bakarganj after him. It is today an extremely congested commercial-cum-residential locality.Hunterganj: Contrary to popular thinking, Hunterganj in Chatra district, now in Jharkhand, is not named after the famous educationist and indologist WW Hunter. It derives its name from William Hunter who was the Collector of Ramgarh (spelt Ramghur) Hill Tract in 1794. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William had appointed him and other Collectors of the Bengal Presidency Justices of Peace. Hunter’s jurisdiction extended right up to Sherghati in today’s Gaya district. A patch of jungle was cleared to set up his camp during his visits to Sherghati and human habitation slowly grew around it. Soon it was being referred to as Hunterganj and developed as an administrative centre.McCluskieganj: McCluskieganj is a sad saga of aspirations gone awry. The Anglo-Indians were, generally speaking, a town-bred community without knowledge of agriculture or experience of village life. They were doled out petty appointments in the Railways and Telegraphs departments while their women worked as teachers in convent schools and as stenos in multinational companies. It was becoming difficult to find employment, whether in government departments or in commercial concerns, for the increasing number of Anglo-Indian youth. Having observed their conditions first-hand, the Indian Statutory Commission made a suggestion, with the concurrence of the government of India, that an attempt be made to bring the Eurasians, chiefly the Anglo-Indians, to the land and open up a wider range of self-employment for them. The Anglo-Indians seized upon the idea and was thus born in 1933 The Colonization Society of India Limited, registered as a limited company. On behalf of the company, ET McCluskie, a Calcutta-based Anglo-Indian real estate agent and member of the Bengal Legislative Council, discovered a beautiful spot in the Chhotanagpur forests, 60 km from the district headquarters town of Ranchi. The Society bought 10,000 acres of forest land from the local Maharaja in 1932. Plots were allotted as per the layout plan prepared by McCluskie. In a creditable display of grit and determination to conquer the natural difficulties, they made the clearings, dug wells and planted orchards. It was not long before a large number of sprawling bungalows and cottages situated in the midst of several acres of land came up in these sylvan surroundings. The new colony became home to nearly 300 Anglo-Indian and domiciled European families. McCluskie died soon after and, as a fitting tribute to this pioneer, the new settlers named the place McCluskieganj, the putative Tel-Aviv of their homeland. Come Independence and, feeling deprived and insecure, there was a mad rush to migrate to Australia, the USA, Canada and the UK. The Society went into liquidation around 1955. Today there is nothing much to see here but a place gone to seed. One can take long walks through the forest, do some bird watching and listen to their chirping. Not more than 35 Anglo-Indian families now live here and fewer are descendents of the original allottees.There is no dearth of English place names. One only has to be inquisitive. There has been a trend in favour of demolishing English names originally given to a place. We cannot turn the clock back by renaming such places. Naming Calcutta Kolkata has not made the traffic less congested. People still prefer VT to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and refer to Connaught Place as CP and not by its new official appellation. Whether we like it or not, these mysterious place names have become a part of our heritage. Dhur and Crawford could not trace the etymology of each and every name they catalogued, leaving enough scope for future probe. Before the trail gets colder, all such names should be collected, collated and a funded research undertaken to record for posterity the circumstances of their naming.
(The author can be contacted at


(Published in the Indian Police Journal, Oct-Dec, 2002)

We are stuck with the police the British gave us in 1861, which was not what they had back home. Theirs was an unarmed civilian ‘service’; ours was an armed ‘force’. Theirs was the people’s police; ours was the ruler’s police. The Colonial policeman was not meant to have the friendly face of the London Bobby. The paramilitary character and ‘force’ orientation of our police bore the imprint of the Royal Irish Constabulary and its parent, the Napoleonic Gendarmerie, though the British never acknowledged the French lineage.
Napoleon Bonaparte may have been England’s bete noire but for France he was her ‘saviour’. His avowed aim was to save the French from themselves after the excesses of the Revolution. At the same time that he was creating havoc on the borders of his empire through his endless wars with rival powers of Europe, Napoleon was giving those parts of Europe under his own control the highest standards of law and order yet seen on the Continent. Napoleon’s chief tool to this end was his policing policy which allowed him to restore order effectively in an even-handed, professional manner. He rejuvenated the Gendarmerie that he had inherited from the revolutionary governments and refashioned its role. He made it into an armed police force, a paramilitary force in today’s parlance, for maintaining peace and preventing crime in the French countryside. Napoleon was thus the first to create a force exclusively for police functions, leaving the military free to defend the borders and fight wars. Police was to deal with internal security and the army was to take care of external threat, a role distinction that was to become a standard practice all over the world. Soon the Gendarmerie became a solid fixture in the life of rural, provincial France and those other parts of Europe where Napoleon extended his rule. Long after Napoleon was dead and gone, the Gendarmerie became a model for police forces throughout Europe in the nineteenth century. Wherever a state had unruly rural hinterlands to deal with, and where a government was strong and solvent enough to create it, a Gendarmerie appeared. Arguably it had the widest influence of all Napoleonic institutions. Without saying ‘thank you’, the British freely applied the principles underlying the Napoleonic Gendarmerie to the police system they introduced in India in 1861. In 1869 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police did the same when they adopted the Irish model for a centralized, paramilitary force that would keep order until settlement was complete, so that Canada could avoid the experience of the United States where the Western frontier was the scene of bloody warfare between indigenous settlers and white people.
Napoleonic Gendarmerie was an elite force subject to a strict code of conduct. Gendarmes were specially chosen serving or former soldiers. They were elegantly uniformed and better armed which, combined with their height, was meant to produce an impression of reliability, professionalism and glamour. Napoleon wanted the Gendarmerie to be close to the rural communities it served but also stand apart from them. He tried his best to balance this and was largely successful. With its own hierarchy, following a pyramidal pattern, the Gendarmerie was scattered throughout the French countryside in small ‘brigades’ – units of six to ten men, so that no area was left uncovered, not very different from police stations in India. The Gendarmerie, like the police in India, was thus not only the arm of the state closest to the people but also was the most visible symbol of government’s authority. Gendarmes, including their families, were to be housed in barracks, to keep them separate from those they policed and to prevent them becoming a financial burden on the communities they served. Secondly, gendarmes were not to be local men but to come from parts of France other than those they policed. Finally, the Gendarmerie was not accountable to the civilian authorities though the latter could call upon its services.
Britain, the arch-enemy of Napoleonic France, paid the Gendarmerie a left-handed compliment when, in 1820s, Robert Peel chose the Gendarmerie as his model for the Irish Constabulary for policing rural, rebellious Ireland but developed the police of mainland Britain along very different lines. The challenge before the Irish Constabulary (Queen Victoria granted the force its ‘Royal’ prefix for having successfully dealt with the Fenian rebellion in 1867) was similar to what the Gendarmerie had been faced with – to control a hostile rural, Catholic peasantry. Like the Gendarmerie, the Constables were carefully attired, accoutered and armed. Both the forces were subject to a strict code of discipline. The Constabulary too was a centralized paramilitary force with its own chain of command and the only civilian control was at the level of the Secretary for Ireland. The men were not to be billeted on the communities they policed but were to live separately in their barracks. Each County was supervised by a County Inspector, with the counties subdivided into a number of districts, each headed by a District Inspector. At the headquarters the Inspector was assisted by a Head Constable on whom rested the main responsibility for operational policing and conduct of the men in the barracks. There were a number of barracks in each district, usually with a Sergeant and four constables.
In India, the East India Company had been tinkering with police reforms right from the time of Cornwallis but, in the absence of an existing model or a ready blueprint to copy from, only ad hoc measures could be taken. The motley crowd that passed as policemen was under the District Collector who was too busy with his other responsibilities to be able to control the Thana Daroga who behaved like a despot. The public suffered in silence. It was in this background that Charles Napier came to India fresh from the reforms instituted by Robert Peel in England and Ireland. He had seen the police at home regenerated from a state of notorious inefficiency into a fine body of men under proper supervision. No sooner had Napier conquered Sind (now in Pakistan) in 1843 than he set himself to the task of introducing an efficient police on the model of the Irish Constabulary, itself a replica of the Napoleonic Gendarmerie. Police was to be a separate force under its own officers and employed solely on police work. It had to have nothing to do with military or revenue functions. Though the policemen were to be available for assistance to the chief civil officer of the district, yet in each district they were to be supervised by an officer whose sole duty it was to control and direct them. The paramilitary character of the force was reflected in its deportment, weaponry and drilling. The Gendarmerie had made its proxy debut on the Colonial subcontinent.
Enthused by Napier’s successful experiment in Sind, the Court of Directors of the East India Company wanted the Government of India to have one general plan of police organization for the whole country, preferably on the pattern of the Irish Constabulary, read Gendarmerie, but modified according to local conditions. Police was to be taken out of the control of the Magistrate of the district and made into a separate department under a European officer seconded from the military. The reform would have gone through but the Sepoy Mutiny a year later led to reconsideration of certain principles that had been accepted earlier. With the Mutiny still haunting them, the Police Commission toned down the Irish model. They felt that, politically, while the civil constable was more useful he was less dangerous than a military policeman, who was in effect a ‘native’ soldier. They recommended complete separation of a military armed force with military duties under military command and a civil constabulary with civil duties, evoking memories of Napoleonic France. They wanted to combine features of the English and Irish Constabulary Acts so far as they were capable of adaptation to India. Under the Act of 1861 the new police was to be an armed civil constabulary not independent of civilian control. While the Gendarmerie was under the direct authority of the central government, in view of India’s size the new police was placed under the executive governments in the provinces. The general management of the force in each province was entrusted to an Inspector General who was to be a European civilian. While not letting go of magisterial supervision, police in each district was placed under the control a District Superintendent, also a European, seconded from the military. Borrowing the rank structure and even the nomenclature from the Irish constabulary the subordinate force was to comprise of Inspectors, Head Constables, Sergeants and Constables, the Head Constable being in charge of a police station, and the Inspector of a group of stations. Police stations corresponded to ‘brigades’ in France and ‘districts’ in Ireland. India had a long history of village policing which France and Ireland did not have. The new Thana police was therefore to be linked to the village police so as to make the latter a useful supplement to the former. So far the army alone had been housed in barracks; keeping policemen in barracks was Napoleon’s idea he applied to the Gendarmerie. Ireland had followed suit and now India too. The Colonial constabulary was to be paid, like the gendarmes, directly from the government treasury so that they did not become a burden on the local population.
Napoleon had also inherited from the revolutionary governments a less well-known ‘administrative police’, a civilian force which served partly, but not entirely, as the secret police of his sinister Ministers of Police, Joseph Fouché and Jean Marie Savary. In its seedier role, this force coordinated informers and spies, received and evaluated denunciations of one person by another, and enforced state censorship. Britain would have none of this on their mainland, in Ireland or in India. Under the new dispensation there was to be no detective body, no spies and informers, who had been the curse under the later Mugals and continued under the East India Company. Of course, political situation at home and in India was in due course to force the British government to bring in the spies and the censorship.
Napoleon was proud of his elite Gendarmerie; no one was enamoured of the new constabulary. Appearance and efficiency weresacrificed in the name of economy. Despite attempts at ‘civilianization’ the new police could not shake off the imprint of the Gendarmerie and the Irish Constabulary and took on a distinctly paramilitary appearance. As the officers entrusted with putting the new police in place were all Europeans seconded from the military, at least in the initial stages, some degree of militarization was inescapable. The uniform and the badges of rank adopted by the police bore close resemblance to that of the army. Police followed the army drill manual and there was too much emphasis on the physical aspects of training. The ‘service’ orientation expected in a civilian constabulary was never encouraged. Gradually the Colonial police developed the psyche of a ‘force’. The arrangement suited the British rulers and has continued to find favour with successive Colonial governments since independence. Police in India remains an ‘armed police force’ of the state, ‘paramilitary’ in body and mind. The ghost of Gendarmerie continues to haunt.