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Cutting off hands or thumbs was apparently used on several occasions and in different circumstances both to incapacitate competitors and as exemplary violence or terrorism.

We are trying to find credible sources for this oft repeated claim. I found none thus far, though I did find lots of evidence of torture and mistreatment in various forms (including applying the thumb-screw to whole villages, although not against weavers).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 2nd, 2013 at 05:25:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I had not seen your second post when I made that comment. This documents the destruction of Muhua Dabar in 1857 in the report of a British soldier who survived the beheading of the six British soldiers by the residents of Muhua Dabar:
Mohammad Latif Ansari, 65, had been leading a nondescript life as the owner of a tailoring establishment in Mumbai for many years. But an inexplicable force kept drawing him to a spot near his native village of Bahadurpur, about 15 km south of Basti, a town in central UP. Ansari's forefathers were weavers from Murshidabad in Bengal and had fled that province in the late 18th century to escape atrocities on Bengal's famous weavers by the British who were keen on promoting their textiles by eliminating India's native weaving industry.

Archives at the National Library in Kolkata, accessed by Open, show that the British chopped off the thumbs and hands of master weavers in Bengal, and many of them fled with their families to other parts of India. About 20 such families sought refuge from the Nawab of Oudh, who settled them at Mahua Dabar, a centre of weaving and dyeing near Basti. By the mid-19th century, Mahua Dabar had become a prosperous town of about 5,000 people. But the descendants of the refugees from Bengal could not forget the persecution that their grandfathers and great grandfathers suffered at the hands of the British, and, when an opportunity presented itself to take revenge in 1857, they killed six British army officers on 10 June that year. A little over a week later, British forces surrounded Mahua Dabar, looted it, massacred its inhabitants, demolished all structures, set them on fire and levelled them to the ground. The killings, plunder and destruction took nearly two weeks. By 3 July 1857, Mahua Dabar was no more.


This repeats the claim of the cutting of thumbs in a specific incident at a specific place with twenty specific families in the late 18th century. I have e-mailed Sudheer Birodkar, who has a cited blog on Indian history and culture, about eyewitness testimony as to the original cutting of the thumbs. As I noted previously I do believe this probably happened more than once, but it would be good to better substantiate those occurrences.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Sep 2nd, 2013 at 07:36:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw that already when askod quoted it, but I don't find it credible. (The source, not the notion that the British colonial empire would condone such acts.) To be precise: it is a more or less detailed source on the much more gruesome slaughter in 1857 but a (secondary) source severely lacking in details on the late-18th-century thumbs-chopping claim, and I don't trust it on a correct paraphrasing of what it found in the original sources. This is because at the end of the first paragraph, it is conflating the East India Company's late 18th century monopoly enforcement for the selling of textile at a profit with the elimination of India's native weaving industry in the 1810s-1830s (which changed the equation for the Company, too). Thus, the lacking detail and inconsistency of the text throws up several questions and regarding possible (mis)interpretations:

  • What kind of archives did Open access in that library? Contemporary sources like the Surat Factory Diary or official letters, 100 year old books, 20 year old books? Or did it access any sources at all? (Similar claims are in the two years older The Telegraph - Calcutta article also quoted by askod, but without any sourcing.)
  • If Open didn't misread a source with a claim identical to William Bolts's, who were "the British" who were claimed to have chopped off fingers: soldiers, East India Company British agents, the Company's native agents, or local soldiers doing the dirty work? (Hand-chopping wasn't unheard of in Indian kingdoms, nor 'cooperation' with the British in the exploitation of the underclass.)
  • What was the reason for the claimed chopping according to the original source?
  • Were the 20 families who fled to the Nawab of Oudh specifically known to have fled after their thumbs were chopped, or before their thumbs were to be chopped, or have they just fled the Company's general oppression of weavers?
  • Do sources say that the reason for the killings was the persecution that happened to the killers' grandfathers and great-grandfathers, or is that the Open author's speculation? (The more detailed account in the linked article says nothing on motives; the Calcutta Telegraph article claims that the weavers settled in that village in the 1830s only; and a 2010 article in the Telegraph - India references an unspecified early 19th century British crackdown.)


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Sep 3rd, 2013 at 10:47:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, here are two more original sources I skimmed yesterday:

  • A Letter from the Marquis Wellesley, Governor-general in Council ... (dated 19 July 1804): this was still written at the time India exported textile under the Company's monopoly. the then new Governor-general lambastes the Company's export monopoly with frequent allusion to (unspecified) inhumane and unjust practices vs. native workers (f.e. paragraphs 50-53), argues that giving freedom to workers is not actually against the Company1s interests (next two paragraphs), and suggests (in paragraph 47) that the purpose of the monopoly was not the exclusion of rival British traders but the total control of the weavers' labor and thus the profit from their trade.

  • In a 1831 parliamentary debate on the East India Company, in the testimony of a Mr. Robert Richards, there is a lengthy discussion of the Company's practice to coerce workers prior to 1811 [when he left India] (paragraph 2846). On several prior pages, Richards argues that the company1s 1813 claim that it conducts British-Indian trade at the highest level possible is not true and more would have been possible if natives were allowed free trade, and claims that authorities undermined an 1813 law partially lifting the Company's trade monopoly. (Other testimonies already discuss the then recent flood of British textile imports and consequent job loss for locals.)


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Sep 3rd, 2013 at 11:43:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The claims of cutting off of thumbs was passed down by oral tradition in the families of Mahua Dabar in Awadh, where, indeed, they had reestablished their trade by teaching their children to weave and had a successful village business in cloth manufacture until some of them exacted revenge on British officers for acts most likely committed by EIC officials or their local hirelings. Oral tradition is not proof, but it is substantiation and I, at least, would not dismiss it in this context.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 3rd, 2013 at 12:48:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The destruction of Muhua Dabar was in 1857 but the slaughter of the British soldiers that provoked that destruction was revenge for the mutilation of their ancestors in the late 18th century by EIC operatives. In the late 18th century the British could find little that could compete legitimately in the Indian market, so they destroyed the competition by various means. The genocide in Muhua Dabar was retaliation for the descendents of those having thumbs cut off taking revenge.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 3rd, 2013 at 12:47:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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