Commentary on
William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’


Now we arrive at the location of slavery in the subcontinent. It is a very curious situation. The whole social system worked on a foundation on indentured or bound-to-the-soil slaves. It was so common an issue that it was not seen as noteworthy at all. In many ancient traveller writings, there is mention of slaves in a most casual manner, as if they are part of the furniture.

The state of being a slave is not a statutory one as one would understand how it was treated in the US southern states. Over here it is more or less maintained by the language system, which in turn created the powerful layers and slots of the caste system. So that each downward layer or caste is a sort of slave to the higher layer/ layers.

From this perspective, the Brahmins are the highest slave-masters. However, that is not the full truth. In that many of the downwards layers would not have any complaint on being in subservience to the Brahmins. For instance, the Nayars were totally willing to allow their women folk for the cohabitation of the Brahmins, if and when they came home. The Nayar male would exhibit all kinds of reverences to the Brahmin Nambhuthiri. And the Brahmin in turn would bless him.

The Brahmins gave the Nayars the rights over the many lower castes under them. So, it was not an enslavement totally for the Nayars. For, they were to become the supervisors and the masters of the lower castes. They had full rights over them to the extent of even maiming or killing them.

This social consciousness in the Nayars continued till the advent and empowerment of the English rule in Malabar, both in north Malabar as well as in south Malabar. In the kingdom of Travancore, also there were Nayars. However, they continued it for much longer, because that kingdom continued to exist as an independent kingdom till it was taken over under military intimidation by India.

See this QUOTE from Native Life in Travancore: A good deal of controversy has taken place on the subject in the public prints, and a society for the reform of the Malabar laws of marriage (and inheritance) has been formed at Calicut by the leaders of the Nayar community, especially those educated in English. END of QUOTE

It might be true that there was no such corresponding event in Travancore. For there, subservience to the Brahmins was part of the system which gave the Nayars the authority over the lower castes. However, in Malabar, subservience to the Brahmins was a wasteful attitude which was not going to give any more returns. It is like being obsequious to an IPS officer by a constable, after the demise of India.

QUOTE: The questions of slavery and the slave trade attracted the early attention of the Honourable Company’s Government. So early as 1702, the year in which British rule commenced, a proclamation was issued by the Commissioners against dealing in slaves. A person offering a slave for sale was to be considered as a thief. The slave was to be forfeited and the person offering him for sale was to be fined five times his value. The purchaser was to be similarly treated. The houses of suspected slave traders were to be well watched and entered and searched on the smallest suspicion, and the traders caught in flagrante delicto were to be handed over to the Rajas to be dealt with.

This proclamation was, however, directed chiefly against the practice, then prevalent, of bands of robbers carrying off by force from their houses the children of “the most useful inhabitants, the Tiyars and other cultivators.” END OF QUOTE.

The most valid truth is that the English rule crushed slavery and the practise of slave selling in the subcontinent. However, there are many writings that try to prove that the English rule did sell slaves. It is all nonsense. Beyond that there are attempts to confuse the issue with mixing up the theme to the deeds of Continental European groups such as the French, Dutch &c. and then cast the blame on the English rule.

QUOTE: on the 23rd December of that year the Principal Collector received orders desiring “that the practice of selling slaves for arrears of revenue may be immediately discontinued.” END OF QUOTE.

The English rule took time to slowly remove slavery. And who is there to appreciate the actions? The people of current-day India would find it very awkward if they were asked not to use the pejorative form of addressing and referring to and about their house servants. If they are asked to allow them to sit on a chair and eat from the household dining table, they would go wild with anger. To explain the actions of the English rule to these kinds of people would be a waste of effort. For, they have no interest in the lower classes improving. However, to place a blame on the English colonial rule, they would not miss an opportunity.

QUOTE: The matter in this and other ways reached the ears of the Court of Directors, and in their despatch of 12th December 1821 they expressed considerable dissatisfaction at the lack of precise information which had been vouchsafed to them regarding the cultivators in general, and in particular said : We are told, indeed, that part of them (an article of very unwelcome intelligence) are held as slaves ; that they are attached to the soil and marketable property.

You are directed to obtain and to communicate to us all the useful information with respect to this latter class of persons which you possibly can; the treatment to which they are liable, the habits of their masters with respect to them, the kind of life to which they are doomed, the sort of title by which the property of them is claimed, the price which they bear and more especially the surest and safest means of ultimately effecting their emancipation.

We also desire to know whether those occupants, 150,000 in number, cultivate immediately the whole of the lands by their slaves and hired servants, or whether there is a class of inferior tenants to whom they let or sub-let a portion of their lands. If there is such an interior class of lessees, you will inform us under what conditions they cultivate, what are their circumstances, and what measures, if any, have been employed for their protection END OF QUOTE.

A most wonderful attitude!

QUOTE: On 16th November 1836, the Government ordered the remission in the Collector’s accounts of Rs. 927-13-0, which was the “annual revenue” from slaves on the Government lands in Malabar, and the Government was at the same time “pleased to accede to the recommendation in favour of emancipating the slaves on the Government lands in Malabar.” END OF QUOTE.

QUOTE: Government issued orders on 12th March 1839 “to watch the subject of the improvement of the condition of the Cherumar with that interest which it evidently merits, and leave no available means untried for effecting that object.” END OF QUOTE

QUOTE: Their freedom was not, however, to be proclaimed, and the measure was to be carried out in such manner “as not to create any unnecessary alarm or aversion to it on the part of other proprietors, or premature hopes of emancipation on that of other slaves.” END OF QUOTE.

QUOTE: The Directors on learning what had been done "entirely approved” of the measures adopted, and requested the Government to consider how to extend similar measures to the slaves of private owners, and urged the necessity of carrying out the measures with "extreme caution”. This was contained in the Directors’ despatch of 17th August 1838, and in penning it they evidently had before their eyes the fear of being heavily mulcted after the West Indian fashion in compensation to owners if any overt act was taken towards publicly recognising a general emancipation of slaves. END OF QUOTE.

The above are some of the quotes that stand testimony to what a private trading company was doing for the emancipation of a huge number of slaves in a far-off land. Actually if they had not even bothered nothing would have gone wrong from their trade. On the other hand, there was the brooding fear that if they acted too fast, the Nayars and their higher castes would unite to crush down the foreign power which was enforcing egalitarianism in a land where the language codes do not support egalitarian ideas.

QUOTE: Women in some taluks fetched higher prices in order to breed slaves. END OF QUOTE.

Actually in the new nation of India, no one is really bothered if anyone is sold or bought. Almost all persons are quite selfish. There are immense locations in India where people do not even bother to notice the terrible poverty all around. It is not possible to interfere. For the languages are hierarchical. They cannot go and simply converse as it would be possible in English. There are verbal hierarchies to be enforced in all conversations, if one should not get bruised by indicant word forms.

QUOTE: “Any person claiming a slave as janmam, kanam or panayam, the right of such claim or claims will not be investigated into at any of the public offices or courts.” END OF QUOTE.

This was one more step to saving the slaves from the ‘Indians’.

QUOTE: there is reason to think that they are still, even now, with their full consent, bought and sold and hired out, although, of course, the transaction must be kept secret for fear of the penalties of sections 370, 371, etc., of the Indian Penal Code, which came into force on 1st January 1802 and which was the real final blow at slavery in India. END OF QUOTE

English government made slave-trade a prohibited item. However, from the above-statement it is hinted at that the ‘Indians’ did try to continue their slave-trade in a clandestine manner. That of dealing in contraband.

QUOTE: It was apparently these letters of Mr. E. B. Thomas which eventually decided the Board of Directors to send out orders to legislate in the matter, for in their despatch of 27th July 1842 they first sent orders “for the entire abolition of slavery”, and in a second despatch of 15th March 1843 they called the special attention of the Government of India to the question of slavery in Malabar where the evils, as described by Mr. E. B. Thomas, were so aggravated “as compared with other portions of India”. END OF QUOTE

The reader has to note that the evilness of slavery in Malabar is mentioned as more terrible than other parts of the subcontinent. If the birdbrain who is demanding reparation from England is asked to compensate for the thousand of slaves his ancestral household had kept in confinement, it might wipe out the entire financial acumen of his entire family members. That is the truth.

QUOTE: The Government of India thereupon passed Act V of 1843. On the passing of the Act, its provisions were widely published throughout Malabar by Mr.Conolly, the Collector, and he explained to the Cherumar that it was their interest as well as their duty to remain with their masters if treated kindly. END OF QUOTE.

There is terrible pathos in the above statement in the offing. For this very Mr. Conolly, much beloved Collector of Malabar was hacked to death by a few Mappillas in their rage at the government interference when the Mappillas were wreaking vengeance on the Nayar and Brahmin overlords. This is the typical issue. The English rule did its best for the peoples of the subcontinent. However, the people learn from schools and colleges that they were ‘looters’ and other evil deed doers.

The same way, the Mappilla murderers had no other way to understand the government deeds to control the communal clashes. It is noteworthy that a lot of enlightened Muslims stood by the English administration and lend support to catch the Mappilla miscreants.