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5. Weavers of Coastal Andhra


cloth stylesDutch, French, and British traders had come to Coastal Andhra to gain access to the cloth produced there. That fabric was both exported back to Europe and used in the spice trade of southeast Asia. As might be expected, the growth of that trade and fluctuations in governance throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries brought about a stream of changes to the relationships between suppliers and consumers of textiles. Thus, what we find by 1800 is that although all parties in the production process were old hands at dealing with middlemen and foreigners, no settled or reliable system for the production and sale of cloth seems to have emerged. This chapter looks at how weavers in 1800 and later were using the changing nature of East India Company involvement in the region to reshape their own positions in the textile trade.

As a starting point, what we know on the weaver side of things, given histories such as the telling of the Bobbili Katha in the previous chapter, is that játi was most likely a critical epistemic site for the production of knowledge about the self in nineteenth-century India, and not a static, ascribed category; nor was it the core source for definitions of the self in the makeup of Indian society. Also clear are the productive possibilities that were available for South Indians of the nineteenth century from engaging in the negotiations inherent in colonial structures. Those same opportunities inclined the weavers of Coastal Andhra toward the creation of new understandings of játi and occupational categories according to historical (contingent) needs in this period. Here, for instance, we see that the convenient overlay of occupation (weaving) with a few select játi groups (primarily Sáli and Dévánga) in the region is a particularly problematic juxtaposition, and one that needs to be questioned if we are to understand more fully the nature of the categories that emerge by the end of the nineteenth century. At no point in the earlier part of the century are the labels "weaver," "traditional weaver," and "Company weaver" absolutely clear categories or established truths. This wide field of understanding further applied to having been born into the Sáli or Dévánga játi; such a fate did not necessitate that one wove for a living in this period.



Current historiography on weavers of coastal Andhra extends up to and includes their status in the colonial economy of early nineteenth-century India. Most of that work focuses on the weavers who supplied merchants and markets of the various European East India companies. Through Dutch, French and English records Sinnapah Arasaratnam, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Joseph Brennig, and others have detailed textile production in Telugu-speaking areas from 1600. 1 G. N. Rao and P. Sudhir and P. Swarnalatha have looked at textile traders in the region from 1750 to 1850. 2 The thread running through all of these works is their interest in the roles and status of weavers in the economy of the area and how those changed or did not change with the coming of new (foreign) markets or new political administrations of existing markets. Most of these historians point out that textiles were the raison d'être for the historical existence of a European presence in coastal Telugu-speaking areas of India. Perhaps for that very reason it has been easy for them to ignore the history of the people who produced the materials that were traded, while they searched, instead, for currents that related to wider conclusions about the textile industry. This has been so not solely because historiography has only recently sought to explore groups such as weavers, but because the sources themselves have been more or less silent on weavers and because historians have not looked to alternative sources to delve into weaver histories more clearly. 3 This being the case, Sinnapah Arasaratnam could almost ignore the weavers themselves in his wide-ranging history of the textile trade. For the sources for period before 1750 he writes, "Weavers, the producers of the staple commerce, appear as hazy figures in the background, unknown and unknowable." 4 Instead of leaving weavers unknowable, this chapter seeks to hear how weavers of the region came to characterize their own role in the politics of trade and the politics of culture in the early nineteenth century. Although the available sources do not allow us to explore the complexities of weaver identity beyond the domain of the export textile industry, they do permit us to give actors a voice in the portrayal of themselves within the context of that particular commercial process. weavers This should allow us to bring a subject-based ingredient to a group, until now, categorized in terms of its role within the foreign trade economy. I hope to show that the actions and utterances of people who happened to weave for the East India Company tell us both more about themselves and more about the workings of economic relationships than does simply a reliance on the statistics they produced as functionaries in a system. Being a weaver in Andhra came to mean more than working a loom or being born into a játi associated with weaving — being a "traditional weaver." 5 Becoming a weaver came to mean deciding to be part of a solidarity and choosing to be consciously assertive about that membership. Identity for individuals belonging to a group previously labeled so easily using simple criteria was actually a difficult choice made by participants. Recognizing this historical trend has repercussions in an assessment of a social history of the region because it will allow us to examine historical trends not exclusively in terms of economic forces, but, rather, in terms of discursively produced historical imperatives and truths.

This chapter centers its examination of weavers on an integrated (language-based) area of the Coromandel coast. But this examination does not focus on that people's or that region's basic role in the economics of production for domestic and export markets, or on what may have been an arbitrarily drawn geographical region. 6 Instead, I analyze weavers in that area along lines that may have allowed for the provisional epistemic boundaries that they themselves were able to use to envision affiliation with one another in the initial stages of the formation of the "weaver" identity. And this boundary essentially takes in that region where the use of the Telugu language was possible for communication among weavers. 7 Objections by Telugu-speaking weavers to the use of a Tamil term for the weaver játi category in the 1871 census, for instance, makes the Coromandel coast as a whole a problematic unit for the examination of weaver solidarity. In fact, játi differences within Telugu-speaking areas were points of possible contention among weavers, so even Telugu-speaking as a basis for the core set of groupings here is not uncontested. Nevertheless, I will use Telugu-speaking as the basis for linking my analysis of weaver activity along the coast from areas around Visakhapatnam in the north to Nellore in the south, if only because with language weavers could determine among themselves how they decided they wanted to be linked in solidarity as a means to assert privilege and identity.

This chapter is broken into the following distinct sections: "Weaver Definitions and Defining Weavers" and "Weaver Actions and Articulations" set out the ways in which weavers acted to assert the importance of "weaver" categories — through the establishment of solidarities and through various episodes of protest. These sections also attempt to spell out the different ways weavers initially took it upon themselves to challenge labels or establish new ones according to the exigencies of the historical experience. These "weaver" labels then came to work for them in their subsequent moves to perform acts of protest. The last section, "Vestiges of the Weaver Category," looks at the different ways weavers have been characterized by historians and in the records of the East India Company and the British Indian government in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and what those characterizations tell us about the success of weaver actions earlier in the nineteenth century. The method I ultimately use for documenting the ways in which weavers came to designate who they were is necessarily only suggestive of the historical process I believe we are witnessing. But its implications should be seen as the essential bases for the actions I document in the first sections of this chapter. Ultimately, weavers could not have protested in the particular ways they did, I assert, had not the discursive parameters of their "weaver-ness" been in place ahead of time.

Weaver Definitions and Defining Weavers

The "System" and the Representation of Weaver Complaints


The "system" (if there was one) of procurement of cloth for export from the Coromandel coast consisted of a complex series of interactions between growers of cotton, suppliers of thread, weavers, head weavers, kópdárs ("cobdars" in the records: a type of weaver agent), merchants, commercial residents, and the East India Company's Board of Trade in Madras, as well as many others along the way. 8 From the time that the East India Company of the eighteenth century came to control areas of textile production and not simply possess a few factories along the coast, its officers made attempts to formalize the series of interactions and relationships that were required to move cloth from its looms to the market place. For the most part Company officials were not able to develop a foolproof system. Hindering these attempts were, among other things, the eventual loss of a monopoly on trade by the East India Company (1813), and the presence of other Company factories in the area, including the French and the Dutch. 9 But even if we just take a look at East India Company "Company weavers," and the history of their relationship with that Company, we find a series of changing understandings about that relationship, and about how the weavers viewed themselves.

We look here at the relatively short period bounded by the years that the East India Company came to possess the Northern Circars (northern coastal Andhra generally), 1767, and the year that marked the end of the factory production system, 1840. In particular, I focus on certain players in the system and how acting out their roles affected the ways that weavers came to interpret being "weavers of the system." This will take us through glimpses of weavers, kópdárs, zamindars, commercial residents, and the bureaucracy that all these groups helped to develop and manipulate. factory towns The approach I take here assumes that all parties had hands in the production of knowledge about the categories at stake. This came about through the negotiations involved in settling grievances and disputes, the records of which make up the evidence for the historical existence of the involvement of all. Therefore, any document that emerged from a dispute, whether it was a petition from weavers or a letter from the collector, reflects in some way the multiple voices participating overall. I begin now with the role of kópdárs in relation to weavers, and how that intermediary came to serve as a primary focus of weaver's complaints about the textile procurement process. Weaver complaints about kópdárs opened up a world of opportunities for weaver self-definition through their chance to construct an "other."

So far from settled was the relationship between weavers and the East India Company, even as late as 1818, a mere twenty-two years before the absolute cessation of the factory system, that officials of the Madras Board of Trade called for an in-depth report on weavers who produced for the Company. The Board's general goal was to find better ways to manage a troubled procurement system. The report's particular focus, however, was an investigation into the "evils" of kópdárs in the Vizagapatam District. 10 Vizagapatam had a secondary position to Rajahmundry and Masulipatam in terms of its importance for the Company's textile trade overall. Thus it may not offer us the prototypical case of a weaving factory. Certain problems, however, had become prevalent there, the investigation of which exposed the nature of important relationships in the procurement process. Some of the findings of that probe are particularly revealing of the status of weavers all along the coast, and their ability to define the terms of various relationships themselves.

Most of the space of the report is taken up with a description of the system as it stood (itself a rather revealing point, in that one might wonder why the system needed to be described at all at this time). There are, nevertheless, certain moments in the report given to addressing the actual problems that weavers faced. For instance, the Committee of the Board of Trade, in one case, sensed something was awry when papers passed on to them from the commercial resident at Vizagapatam contained "formal avowals of the Weavers perfect satisfaction with the general management of their respective Cobdars." 11 As this was the Board of Trade's tip-off that action needed to be taken, they also must have known that kópdárs and weavers did not get along, and any suggestions to the contrary were suspicious. In fact, further probing revealed that weavers who had "refused their signatures to papers of the contents of which they were then wholly ignorant" were then bribed, threatened, and actually had their advances withheld by those kópdárs. 12 This was also the impetus for a series of petitions from the weavers of that region to officials in Madras.

The complaints from the weavers in the petitions to Madras included a variety of issues, but almost all of them related to unfair practices by the kópdárs. These types of complaints were heard in various places and at different times up and down the coast. A few of the main issues for which they sought redress from the Company were as follows:
1stThat Cobdars pay them a less price for their cloth than is allowed by the Company at the same time inserting the full amount in their Woojetties. 13
2dlyThat the Cobdars take on their own account the rejected cloth paying for the same at a rate far below its value with or without the Weavers consent. 
3dly That the Advances are not made to the Weavers till a considerable time after the cash has been received for such purpose from the commercial resident. 
4thlyThat proportion of Grain, Cotton, and other Articles of Merchandise are substituted for advances which ought to have been made wholly in Cash. 
5thlyThat the weavers have not access to the commercial resident to state their grievances because C. Juggapah's influence with him is such as to induce his belief of every misstatement and their being eventually flogged without a hearing. 
6thlyThat Cobdars M. Paupoodoo, Grundy Vencataramdoo and Maumedy Sooriah all of the Banyan Caste, purchase ready-made cloths with a proportion of the money they receive for advances making it appear by Charcoal endorsement on such supplies that every piece is the real manufacture of registered Weavers of the Company. 
7thlyThat these said Cobdars exact sums of money from the Weavers on all occasions of Marriage Ceremonies at their houses and on various other pretenses, and lastly, that the general tenor of their conduct, aided by their powerful ally, Chinnum Juggapah is so oppressive that the Weavers are unable to follow their occupations in support of their numerous families. 14 [Full text of the report] 

reportIn one respect it seems incomprehensible that as late as 1818 the East India Company should be having these types of problems with the suppliers of cloth to their factories. Almost two hundred years of managing the commerce of Coromandel textiles appears to have amounted to no more than the most perfunctory of commands of some type of system — that is, unless there was no system to command in the first place. One mistake that the Company made for many years, as did some economic historians for that matter, was to believe that adherence to strict principles of trade could result in some consistent and reliable supply of textiles from the region. Arasaratnam has pointed out that only too late did the British realize other factors were involved. For instance, the British had imputed to Indian textile producers the master and apprentice model they understood from Europe. They thought, therefore, that dealing with the "head weavers" would be sufficient in securing access to production through the middle man. 15 In fact, the head weaver had little control over other weavers. His status was social, not economic. The lack of success the Company achieved forced them to seek out and recognize different middle men. This search helped bring about the rise of the kópdár in the system of procurement for the British, and the problems of which the weavers complained.

The records portray the role of the kópdárs in many different ways. Based on what both the Company and the weavers had to say about the roles of kópdárs, it is difficult to say exactly what that functionary was expected to do. In one case, in the course of offering suggestions about how to fix the system, the assistant commercial resident at Ingeram, R. Fullerton, wrote to Benjamin Branfill, collector at Masulipatam.

that the business [of procurement] shall be conducted through the Intermediate agency of Cobdars of the weavers Cast and residing in the Villages in which the Looms under their superintendancy may be, such copdar to be chosen by the weavers who may agree to work under them. Each copdar so chosen shall be allowed by the Company 5 percent on all advances, and he to pay all expenses of sending the cloth to the Factory, as well as to be answerable for all balances in the hands of the Weavers under his management. 16

The kópdárs were to handle the work of actually dealing with the weavers who produced cloth for the Company. Here, though, the crux of the resident's concerns had to do with kópdárs who were not members of one of the many játis that may have constituted the weavers of the area. His "weavers cast" phrase is a bit ambiguous, inasmuch as it may have designated his recognition of the multiplicity of "casts" that wove. But it most likely refers to the notion that whatever group was to be represented by a kópdárs, should have picked a kópdár from amongst its own people as a representative. This type of suggestion, of course, makes clear how thoroughly the East India Company believed that caste was the basis for most social groupings and decision-making by Indians. But it also tells us that there had probably been complaints on the basis of caste against previous kópdárs.

Complaints against kópdárs, however, could easily be furthered by weavers, for at times the kópdárs were seen as being representatives of the resident and not of the weavers. Caste, it turns out, may have only been invoked for legitimizing complaints in some cases. In connection with disputes arising between the Board of Trade and the Board of Revenue, for example, the interests of a resident at a factory in a particular area could be at odds with the plans of the collector for the region in which the factory was located. 17 In one such case the commercial resident at Maddepollam used curious language in a letter to the collector at Masulipatam. "My copdar went to your officer to know the cause of the seizure [of certain cloth]." And, "My copdar reports that a duty is still levied on looms employed for the Public Investment." 18 Here the notion that the kópdár represented the weavers is compromised. With his language here, the resident seems to be indicating a situation that placed a significant distance between the weavers and the kópdár. And that distance was not based on the kópdár's játi; it was based on the structural arrangements of procuring cloth for the Company. In any event, the earlier resident's plan was not made standard policy by the Company — kópdárs were not necessarily chosen by weavers according to caste.

Later years saw further troubles, both in the process whereby the Company and weavers made decisions about kópdárs and in the way the procurement should work in general. This was due to an attempt by the Company to correlate a business relationship with an understanding of society that had been based on definitions of groups, arrived at through comprehensible parallels to European models. Wishful thinking also seems to have driven some of these decisions. The establishment of trading relationships at this time took no account of changing self-definitions by weavers, nor did it acknowledge that weavers would choose to alter the very nature of the relationships to the Company on their own, in the course of promoting their own interests. The committee's conclusions in its report of 1818 regarding the troubles reported by weavers from the area around Vizagapatam reflected this larger symptomatic. The conclusions about the problems, in fact, resulted more from East India Company attempts to define relationships in terms that its officers could understand than in trying to work with terms that weavers and other locals insisted on. The Company, for instance, still grappled with the kópdár issue.

So far as your Committee have been able to judge, hardly any regard is paid in the Vizagapatam District to the true principle of the Copdar system; the investment seems to be provided by a series of large contracts confined to a few wealthy Individuals totally unconnected with, and of a distinct Caste from the Weavers, instead of being divided into small Cobdaries of from 100 to 250 looms each and conferred on respectable Thanapetties or Head Weavers. 19

Banyans are of all castes the least calculated for holding the situations of Cobdars — they are perpetually engaged in trade and will naturally appropriate the company's money to such purpose they will also lend it at exorbitant interest to Zamindars and other and substitute their own various articles of merchandize viz. Grain, Cotton, Tobacco, etc. for Cash advances, and Ultimately defraud the Weavers in the exchange — in fact they will practice every maneuver to profit by the supineness and ignorance of this class of Men. 20

These conclusions were likely too little, too late for those at the scene. It is interesting to note that the resident's suggestions of sixteen years before (see the earlier discussion) had been directed at precisely such diagnosed problems, but had been ignored by Company administrators.

This and other episodes from the period clearly demonstrate how the Company worked within the bounds of its own epistemology of Indian society toward instituting policies, and diagnosing and attempting to solve problems. Thus it was important to the committee, in a case such as this, to keep comprehensible categories alive. Officials carried out this goal by using carefully chosen phrases and terms in almost all descriptions of groups, as well as in the general wording in the records relating to solutions to various problems. For instance, "Banyans" became the issue in this report, not because of any transgressions by some group that called themselves Banias, but because, I would suggest, authorities had arrogated to themselves a profound investment in the maintenance of that category. The enormous investment by the committee in labeling of groups can be seen in general, and, it seems, of Banias — probably their synonym for Kómatis — in particular, in a later passage from this same portion of the records. There the committee adhered to its truth about "Banyan" characteristics, and used it to cast doubt on an argument that a big kópdár did not keep full records.

Ever remarkable for their cunning as well for a most rigid and particular method of keeping accounts, will it be believed that M. Paupadoo of the Vizagapatam Factory, a Copdar, with upwards of 1,400 Looms under his own and brother's superintendance, has positively denied (as appears on his examination) having kept any statement of his daily expenditure and consequently has no such document to produce to your committee? 21

This incident lends credence to the idea that the Company was not interested in building new meanings around relationships among the Indians with whom they traded based on how those Indians articulated needs for changes in those relationships. (Of course, new meanings eventually did emerge, despite the lack of interest from the Company, precisely because of the nature of this dialogic engagement. 22 ) Almost nothing in the report, accordingly, attends to the actual complaints put forth by weavers. Only those weaver grievances that coincidentally acknowledged játi distinctions seemed to pique the interest of the committee. It was those issues, therefore, that prompted answers from the committee, answers that could speak to caste-based ideas about society. In turn, as we have seen with petitions, Indians found ways to use this type of interest from the British to further their own needs.

Again, this keying-in on játi and the desire to affirm existing meanings for játi were probably typical of the period (1818), but a corollary would also be true. Any changes in the relationships between weavers and British that did result historically (by the end of the nineteenth century, for instance), stemmed more from weaver assertions of the needs for such changes than from some top-down method of instituting change. The categories that all used when expressing various relationships reflect this "bottom-up" process more so than does, say, the history of economic changes because the Company was not interested in pushing forward changes relating to epistemologies of relationships. The Company administration had an important stake in trying to keep categories stagnant, for it was easier to keep Indians in check when officials felt they could definitively label groups — as with "Banyans." It is of the utmost importance that we understand, then, that the tensions visible in the gulf between weaver grievances and the Committee's assessments of the problems at hand arose because calls for change came from Indians and their desire and ability to alter the terms of their own definitions of culture and society. Problems that arose in the procurement process did so less because of some sort of ability on the part of the Company to understand the weaving hierarchy and system than because the people they were dealing with sought regular changes in the relationships they had with the Company. In fact, one conclusion to this set of circumstances was that the Company's being slow to adopt these needs put forth by weavers created problems for the Company more so than for weavers.

The Company's long time focus on játi as the basis for problems that weavers had with kópdárs was exactly typical of this. A single means of identifying how such a report as the 1818 one could be so misguided in its appraisal of the relationships between kópdárs and weavers is by examining the many instances elsewhere in the records where caste had no bearing whatsoever on the problems that arose between the intermediary (kópdár) and the producer of cloth. In fact, if forcing weavers to accept articles instead of advances was the real issue underlying most of these problems, as the weavers stated, then it did not matter that "banyans" (again, probably actually Kómatis) were the group responsible at all. This substitution practice was common, almost standard, for all individuals and groups in charge of handing over advances to weavers. The Board of Trade itself, in 1811, included this fact in a letter to the Board of Revenue. That letter spelled out a short history of the process of dealing with weavers in the region. They wrote that both zamindars and revenue officers were guilty of forcing advances in kind on weavers. 23 Apparently the tanadar of Devee himself did this in 1799. Vincentio Corbett, resident at Masulipatam, wrote to the collector that he had "received a complaint from the Weavers of Saulempollam Village in the District of Devee, that your Tanadar has been forcing Grain upon them [instead of giving cash advances] which I beg leave to observe is in direct contradiction to the Orders of Government under date 25 October, 1795." 24 Even as early as 1796 the Board of Revenue noted that of all the contentious issues "There were two practices prevalent in the Havelly, one was to force grain upon the weavers at an enhanced price." 25 The entrance of caste, then, into the language of the complaints against the kópdárs, is on rather unsure footing as far as the way weavers might actually articulate those complaints. Weavers had experienced the same treatment from all intermediaries, regardless of játi. If caste were an issue, it was so because the Company official designated it as such, or because weavers could successfully use it (knowing the Company's caste bent) in the course of articulating a grievance against a kópdár who happened to be of a different játi from those of the weavers. This last scenario would also suggest that weavers were perfectly clear on the circumstances that might elicit a response, and a redress of grievances, from the resident at a factory or other officials in the Company's administration. Weavers knew that Company officials felt comfortable (even may have enjoyed) using caste to "explain" problems.

Perhaps the aspect of a series of complaints by weavers such as the ones above against the kópdárs that best reveals the underlying fragility of "the system" at hand, however, is that they came as late as they did in the history of British exports of textiles from the region. Through weaver petitions themselves and descriptions of weaver unrest from this turn-of-the-nineteenth-century period, we will see that not only were weavers continuing to alter the terms of relationships with kópdárs and the Company, but also that weavers also continued to call for new definitions of the self. In order to suggest how it was possible for a "weaver" identity to emerge as a result of weavers joining together to participate in protest solidarities, we will now turn to examples of weaver protests that asserted certain rights and privileges.

Weaver Actions and Articulations

Antitax Protest and the Stakes in Being a Weaver


Problems relating to the moturpha tax offer opportunities to explore a range of protest within a single articulated set of parameters. Weavers who at times resisted the imposition of the tax did so as a statement of who they were in relation to the Company. Other weavers opted out of weaving for the Company at the risk of having to pay that very tax. Others who contracted to work for the Company did so knowing that they could be exempted from the tax. But they also found that they incurred being ignominiously labeled "Company weavers," a title not always highly prized. Further, the bounds of issues relating to the moturpha tax reaffirmed categories of the "Company" versus "non-Company" variety. Weavers who wove for the Company were distinguished from "inhabitants." Weavers who wove for the Company were engaged in "public" production. They thus had to be careful about the weaving they did for non-Company people ("private" production) when the season, or portion of the month, for Company production had ended. 26 The concomitant set of circumstances surrounding the moturpha tax debates gives us a start toward identifying how weavers were able to develop particular political selves by vying for a special status within or beyond the Company textile production system.

The moturpha tax was, in general terms, the tax that the Company imposed on merchants and artisans. 27 It was a way of extracting revenue from those Indians who did not earn livings from owning or renting land. In the case of weavers the moturpha essentially consisted of a loom tax — some amount taken for every loom in use. What must be remembered, however, is that because it was a tax, under the rules of the Company, the moturpha required that administrators from the revenue branch of government be brought in to collect it. Company weavers, however, in the course of their regular production and sale of cloth, dealt almost exclusively with the commercial branch of the Company, primarily the Board of Trade and its "commercial residents" at the factories. Streamlining of Company procedures in the early part of the nineteenth century was not such that potential conflicts in these two branches of government dealing with weavers were easily avoided. In fact, the disparate interests of these two branches of government sometimes collided at the very intersection of Company-weaver cloth production and the collection of the moturpha from weavers in general. We saw an example of this above when a resident (commercial branch) complained that his kópdár was not free to perform his duties because of the interference of the collector's revenue representative (revenue branch). Such conflict will be even more evident in the following discussion of the implications of the collection of the moturpha tax from weavers.

In a Company-weaver household, generally, if the main loom was used in the production of cloth for the Company, that loom was exempted from the moturpha tax. A per-loom tax was then imposed on any additional looms. See, for example, the note an official made in 1828 to demonstrate this levy in the case of a village in the Godavari District: "Two rupees per loom is the moturpha tax levied on each loom. In Bundarlankah out of 16 Company's weavers, 8 of them own private looms for which also they must pay moturpha." 28 That meant that non-Company weavers in that village paid the Rs. 2 for each loom in use, essentially for the right to produce exclusively for others besides the Company. Then, of the sixteen Company weavers, eight would have had to pay a tax for the right to weave additionally for non-Company merchants. From 1793 Company weavers had been excluded in certain respects from having to pay the tax. This had been intended as a type of incentive to lure more weavers to work for the Company, and as one way to streamline the relationship between those weavers and the commercial resident (by cutting out interference from revenue collectors). The Board of Trade had managed to secure such an exemption with a proposal that suggested it would be a means to insure the timely delivery of textiles to merchants, deliveries which could easily be forestalled if the collector in the area, at the behest of the Board of Revenue, insisted on those same weavers paying a loom tax.

A letter of 1811 from the Board of Trade in Madras to the Board of Revenue sought to remind the latter of the history of this exemption for Company weavers. That exemption was a way "to prevent that interruption to the Investment which the Interference of Revenue Officers has never failed to produce." 29 Apparently, the eighteen years between the institution of the exemption and the date of this letter had not settled matters. Revenue officers resented the ability of weavers to circumvent what they saw as the intent of the exemption by weaving "privately" after they had fulfilled the terms of their contracts with the Company. The Board of Trade, on the other hand, found that taxing weavers on the private goods they produced, as long as those weavers had met their obligations to the Company, contravened the streamlining aspect of the earlier statute by adding the collector's demands to the weavers' list of obligations. That board went into further detail to the Board of Revenue.

The weavers, in common with certain other manufacturers, were originally subjected to the Moturpha. The collection of this tax in the hands of the Zamindars and Revenue Officers was attended with much inconvenience and oppression to the weaver. Undue exactions were made, loans were extorted on the plea either of arrears or of an advance of the tax at times when the company's money was in his hands. Grain was frequently forced upon him at an unfair valuation, and various petty vexations were practiced which formed the subject of frequent complaints and altercations between the revenue and commercial officers. 30

The Board of Trade sought most earnestly to protect the advances that it regularly gave to its weavers. It wanted those advances to be used for the production of Company cloth, and not eaten up by the requirements of the various relationships (whether they were with other Indians or with the other branches of the Company's administration) that existed at the local levels. In general, taxation in Company controlled areas was historically easily handled through the negotiations in Madras among Company officials, and with the implementation of resulting directives by collectors of revenue at the locality. Even with a history of some success at collecting this revenue, however, confusion could easily arise with the coming of a new policy. Almost immediately after the exemption of the moturpha had been put into place, the Board of Revenue wrote from Madras to the collector of the Godavari District in answer to inquiries from some of the renters there. They explained that "the abolition of taxes on weavers should not have affected the powers of the renters in collecting revenue [from weaver tenants], and that it was not intended to prevent the collection of arrears." 31

Those areas of the Northern Circars that were under the control of regional chiefs who paid a sum to the Company, in lieu of direct Company administration, were somewhat more difficult to administer when it came to the collecting of taxes on weavers who worked for the Company. In fact, the implementation of the permanent settlement in such zamindari areas of the Northern Circars in 1802 brought this very taxation issue to a head. It was determined that zamindars would not be allowed to collect the moturpha since the collection of a "profession tax" was not one of their rights as renters, but that they could collect a quit-rent on the land occupied by the weavers. 32 This merely acted as a substitute tax that residents at Company factories at first defrayed with their own resources in order to ease the burden on their weavers. But this solution was in turn put to an end when, later that same year, the resident at Vizagapatam brought suit to bar the imposition of these quit rents. His victory in that case resulted in the outlawing of quit-rents for Company weavers in zamindari areas. Even the strictly defined imposition in 1802 of a moturpha only on non-Company weavers did not end the debates surrounding this tax. In fact, they simply took new turns by offering new forums for weavers to act in ways that benefited them, and for them to talk about themselves.

The Moturpha and the Company's Quandary — It Was Relatively Insignificant


Epiphenomena relating to the moturpha tax had economic repercussions for the Company, and ultimately specific implications for weaver identity. Initially weavers found that employment by the Company could mean more to them than simply exemption from the moturpha. For some, even though it did not pay the best prices for finished products, dealing with the Company was a chance to avoid the moturpha, collect a regular advance, and still manage to weave private cloth. This range of opportunities for weavers was outlined in a restatement of the existing regulations that R. Fullerton, Assistant commercial resident at Ingeram, sent to Benjamin Branfill, collector of the third division of Masulipatam.

Every weaver so engaging himself [with the Company] shall be exempt from every Tax whatever, and be considered as a Company's servant and protected accordingly.

[Weavers who do not] enter into engagements with the Company shall be mentioned to the officers of Revenue, and be liable to the payment of every tax which they may think proper to impose.

Weavers who voluntarily agree to produce one Piece of Standard Cloth per month for the Company, shall be permitted to devote the Zamindary part of the month to the Manufacture of Private, or any other Cloths whatever. 33 


The Company, then, was of two minds as far as how to deal with the production of cloth by weavers. Collectors, on the one hand, resented the untaxed activity that the "Zamindary part of the month" represented, and sought to curtail it at first by collecting taxes on those products by weavers that were not related to the advance offered by the Company. The Board of Trade, on the other hand, with its interest in the investment it was making in mind, prevailed over the Board of Revenue, and the relatively small amount of income that would result from such a tax. But various machinations and arguments over the rights of weavers to produce cloth in a variety of ways continued. At the forefront of those arguments were the ways in which weavers managed to circumvent both the tax and the responsibility they supposedly had to the Company.

Individual weavers continued to take advantage of the full range of possibilities, and wove both private and public cloth throughout the Company factory period. At times this instigated what proved to be a hotly contested debate. At one point, Vincentio Corbett, the commercial resident at Masulipatam, sent his gumastah to investigate the practice of weavers engaging in private (non-Company) weaving despite those weavers having contracted with the Company. The gumastah replied at length regarding his expedition.

I found the weavers busily engaged in providing private goods in the quarter. To prevent therefore the persons who had received advances from the Kareedars 34 from having undertaken the private work, I thought it necessary to ascertain the names of such Weavers together with their looms. I inspected the Looms belonging to those who had received public advances, when I found some of them to have been engaged in private Goods. I remarked that it was improper for them not to attend to their duty by being engaged in Private Goods, that it was your positive order to prevent those [who] received public advances being engaged in providing goods for individuals previous to discharging those of the Company .... With the view of forwarding to you some of the cloths belonging to different Individuals, I prepared to take a cloth off the loom belonging to Boddoo Shaniah. But the weavers prevented me doing so, remarking at the same time that they had received advances from the Kareedars in consequence of which the latter should be held responsible in every respect that they (the weavers) should not be prevented weaving private goods, that they would not pay any regard to the Company's orders and that they should not [be] molested in any respect. Should the Weavers be in this manner permitted to go on with the private work it will be difficult that the Company's Goods should be supplied within the prescribed period. Weavers at this quarter seem to be impertinent and consequently unmindful of their public Duty in consequence of their having procured private employment. These being the low class of Inhabitants, I take the liberty to suggest the necessity of punishing one or two of them which will induce the Others diligently to attend to their public Duty. I further beg leave to submit a List specifying the names of those engaged in private work at Ravoory Pettah although they received public advances. I experience considerable trouble in distinguishing the public looms from those engaged in private work and am checking further Imposition. 35

For the gumastah and the weavers, the issue of where responsibility lay could come down to very intense arguments, and personal attacks. That the weavers were "impertinent" and "unmindful of their duty" warranted punishment in the mind of this Company employee. On the other side, the weavers cared little for Company policy. Their allegiances and their sense of appropriate conduct lay based on the understandings they had with the people who dealt directly with them, in this case the "kareedars." The commercial resident at the relatively distant factory, of course, was concerned chiefly with the delivery of his textiles, for which he had advanced considerable sums of the Company's money.

By contrast, the collector in the region could put aside all of these matters since his complete attention was focused on maximizing the revenue of the district. He was prepared to disrupt the delivery cycle of the cloth if it meant that he could collect a tax that might otherwise be circumvented. Well after the moturpha question would seem to have been answered, T. A. Oakes, the collector at Guntur, wrote to the Board of Revenue concerning the extent to which weavers violated the policies on public and private weaving, and the loss in potential revenue that was the result:


To the circumstances of the registered Weavers in very many instances having manufactured private cloths is to be attributed to the small collections which are made at present.

Should it appear that they [weavers] continue to impede my collections by weaving cloth for private Merchants, I take the liberty of requesting that they be no longer exempted from the payment of a tax, which a breach of contract on the their part should subject them to. 

I take this opportunity of requesting that I may be permitted to enforce the demands I have lately made on certain Weavers employed by the commercial resident in whose looms private cloth has been discovered. 


It now becomes my duty to inform you that in the Village of Parallah of five hundred and forty three registered Weavers, four hundred and four have been detected in weaving private cloth. Having stated the circumstance I have now only to request your interference to prevent the loss that must ensue if these irregularities are continued. 36

Almost 80 percent of the Company weavers in one village made full use of the exemption from the moturpha by contracting to the Company and also weaving privately. For the collector it seems the collection here was a matter of principle. He was the local arm of the Board of Revenue. And his existence depended on being able to collect the full amount extractable from the region. Yet, if compared to the revenue from taxes on crops, the moturpha on weavers represented a minuscule amount. Charles Henry Churchill, collector at Rajahmundry, had conceded this in 1804 in a letter to the Board of Revenue. "The revenue arising from this Tax is certainly not very great and if the withdrawing it will make the Weaver more comfortable, it ought of course to be given up." 37 The fact, then, that the zeal most collectors displayed in attempting to realize some sort of revenue from this activity is belied by the insignificance of the amount that might be gained, lends greater credence to the need weavers felt, and the fervor they displayed, to avoid the payment of such a tax. Weavers were also almost certainly aware of what moturpha-avoidance meant to the collector. That is, tax collection here was not simply an uncontested and economic activity for either party, the payers or the collectors. All parties could infuse it with political and social significance. In doing so, each party tells us a bit more about itself.

Weavers Acted on These Moturpha Negotiations


Weavers' dissatisfaction with the collection of the moturpha was widespread. Both those who contracted for the Company and also sought to weave privately, and those who wove cloth solely for private merchants, or for the French or the Dutch, again and again made their displeasure known to authorities who then reflected that displeasure in the records. The collector at Rajahmundry gave a typical assessment of one aspect of the loom tax situation in 1803. "The amount of the tax is trifling in itself, but the collection of it in general being left to the curnums and the lowest rank of the revenue servants, the weavers are thereby subjected to many acts of rapacity and extortion." 38 Later Charles Henry Churchill of Rajahmundry responded to inquires about a petition filed by weavers. He was trying to explain away the frustration the weavers talked of in their petition (which is not available to us now) by placing the blame on the weavers themselves.

The first thing they [weavers] complained of is the mode in which the duty on Bazaar Cloth was levied namely by the Chokee Peons entering the Houses of the Weavers at all times to stamp the goods in the looms. This inconvenience was entirely to be attributed to the obstinacy of the Weavers, who refused in the most peremptory manner to pay the duty or allow their goods to be chopped; the same thing may be observed in regard to the valuation, the weaver refusing to set a price on his goods, it became necessary that some one should do it for him, and if it was too high he had only himself to blame. 39

Weavers, perturbed by the entire system of assessment and collection, found themselves completely uninterested in cooperating with revenue authorities. At this level, many conflicts over the moturpha tended to manifest themselves in the above ways (apparent "obstinacy"), just short of outright protest or rebellion. Weavers seemed to be working out means to actuate their own set of reasonable demands on the system itself. Churchill noted that, indeed, there was more to this entire matter of the moturpha than simply a disagreement over the amount of the tax to be levied:

I must however state it as my opinion that it is not the Tax which annoys them, for that they can always add to the price of the Cloth, but the innovation of what they conceive their privileges, Privileges which they have long been accustomed to regard as sacred, and I must say with some reason, as in thirty or forty mutinies in which they have entered for their support they have uniformly been successful. 40

It was clear to Churchill that weavers had developed a collective understanding of their responsibilities with regard to government. They had taken cues from protests, "mutinies," that occurred before and around them, and had built on that to frame a new knowledge about the limits of their dues to government. Taxes in themselves may not have incited rebellion, but weavers clearly felt that there were certain methods of tax imposition that warranted protest. What resulted in the course of these protests was the exercise of considerable solidarity among weavers who were venting their resentment and anger over the tax. This solidarity would prove to be a strong rallying point for articulations of the self and the later changes in understandings of what it meant to be a weaver.

Yet, if the imposition of the moturpha incited general consternation among weavers, and if the uneven ability of revenue agents to collect it promoted frustration at even the highest levels of the Company's organization, it nevertheless remained an issue that managed to stay within the bounds of debate, and not one that required the requisitioning of troops or the putting down of riots. Oddly enough, however, what the debates produced was a curious series of group boundary and category delineations, epistemic changes that arose from anti-moturpha solidarity. Weavers found themselves pitted not only against the Company, but against other inhabitants of villages and against other weavers. Weavers who did not weave for the Company resented the status that "Company weavers" enjoyed in terms of being exempted from the moturpha. Zamindars who interpreted Company edicts that prevented the collection of a quit-rent from weavers as violations of their powers sought to limit weaver privileges where possible as a means of retribution against what they saw as a favored group. These kinds of group boundary-delineating actions escalated the ability of weavers to draw for themselves clearer pictures of newly emerging, and more strictly understood, "weaver" identities.

As an example, the process of such categorizing might begin with a heated situation in a zamindari area. In 1802, for instance, in an exchange between R. Fullerton, the assistant commercial resident at Ingeram, and Benjamin Branfill, collector at Masulipatam, a request arose for an unambiguous listing of Company weavers in one village. Because the Zamindar of Cotah had continued attempting to extract the moturpha from Company weavers, despite the collector's orders, Fullerton asked that Branfill repeat his orders to the zamindar to desist from that activity. "As it is of the utmost importance that it should be fully understood [in] every village, who are Company Weavers and who are not. I beg leave further to suggest that the Zamindar be deputed" to send a list of Company weavers for confirmation." 41 The resident was ostensibly trying to protect "his" weavers from persecution by the zamindar's officer, his "Cauzee."

The Cauzee who manages that Village has confined the weavers to enforce the payment of Moturpha, whereby they are prevented from attending their work .... The Managers of Villages in which the Company's advances for Cloth have lately been made appear to be taking advantage of this circumstance to extort an extraordinary payment of Moturpha from the Weavers. 42

The weavers of a number of villages in the area eventually removed themselves to try to force the zamindar to ease his pressure on them for moturpha collection. An occasion such as this, finding themselves defined as a specific collection of weavers (that is, they were included in a list of "Company weavers") alone certainly did not lead to the formation of a new identity, but acting together by packing up and leaving their own village to protest the unfair actions of a zamindar could indeed provide the seeds for such a unity.

In other instances, where new lines of weaver-ness seemed to be drawn, weavers might not act as precipitously, not quite feeling it necessary to leave the village. Yet these moments could also sow similar seeds. Harassment of this sort — segregating Company weavers — could happen on a daily basis. And daily responses to it could bind groups of weavers together. This Zamindar of Cotah, for instance, not only pressed Company weavers for a type of moturpha by taxing "cooly weavers" (employees of weavers themselves), but he made a point to mark out those weavers who did not pay the moturpha by denying them certain privileges.

The persecuting spirit of the Zamindar is further displayed in the latter Part of the Petition [from the weavers of the area] whereby it appears that because the Company's weavers are exempted from Taxes and other exactions he has given orders to debar them from those privileges enjoyed by other inhabitants of the Village. More particularly, that of driving their Cattle to the field to graze, a privilege for which, of course, they continue to pay at the usual rate. In districts under the immediate management of the Company, weavers although they pay no Tax, enjoy all these privileges, and exactly on this footing it is intended they should be placed in the Districts of the Zamindars. 43

The type of marking-out apparent here was not only sufficient to lead the weavers to petition the Government collectively, but it was part of a larger symptomatic that appeared in the course of the debates surrounding the moturpha.

Similar situations occurred throughout the region. An employee of the collector at Masulipatam, the collector's darogah, was alleged in a petition from some weavers to have been ordered to sequester a group of Company weavers for a similar reason. This accusation was spelled out in a letter from the resident at Maddepollam to the collector at Masulipatam. "The Copdar of Dovah Mootah reports that your Darogah stationed at Pentapadoo has summoned about thirty-five Public Weavers to his house to demand the payment of a loom tax, and that those weavers were detained five days there." 44 That they were "public weavers" made the darogah's action that much more serious; he was acting against weavers who worked directly for the Company. In fact, the resident made this incident look like an attack on the Company itself. Another episode saw Vencata Gunda Row, the proprietor of the villages of Buttepole and Addiapillee, confine some weavers for nonpayment of the loom tax. In that case the commercial resident responded that exaction of such a tax had to be in form of redress in a court of law, and not by confinement. 45 And even as late as 1821 there was a note in the records that "Zamindars are in the habit of oppressing the weavers of the Company's investment at Ingeram, in various ways, because they do not pay moturpha." 46 Thus, being a weaver for the Company meant donning a controversial set of labels, labels that weavers did not adopt lightly, particularly given the possible consequences. Those who did adopt them, however, were taking part in a project that ultimately involved helping to create a political weaver self, a project that required asserting to others a new identity.

As has been evident, adopting this new identity was not always a desirable course of action. And in a parallel circumstance to the productive aspects of identity assertion, the Company-weaver label became a political position in the opposite direction also. Weavers who did not wish to work for the Company worked out the politics of the category in a negative way, as a status issue, that is, to remain "non-Company" (private) weavers. Perhaps especially in those cases the commercial resident could do little about it. William Brown asked that the Board of Trade change its system of obtaining cloth in 1820 to "enable me to engage a great many more weavers .... The most reputable weavers have not till now dared or wished to come forward with a desire to be employed [by the Company] .... At Anakapilly, for example, the largest weaving village in the Zillah, not a single weaver has been employed for the Company." 47

The "Company weaver" labeling that the Anakapalli weavers seemed dead set on avoiding could become even more problematic when other, nonweaver, Indians recognized it and problematized it based on the resentment they felt over the privileges accorded to Company weavers. Thus at one point it was noted that "The weavers at Sevalah are reported to be oppressed by the inhabitants of that place actuated by motives of malice in consequence of their being exempted from taxes." 48 It was this very kind of singling out by other Indians, as well as the desire by many to avoid the Company weaver label (as in the case at Anakapalli), that likely played a part in the process of the formation of a firm and lived weaver identity category. That is, individuals and groups made decisions about how to go about weaving on the basis of how they wished to define themselves and be defined in return.

In a final note on this emergence of a weaver category in the context of contested tax impositions, and other administrative wranglings, there are even instances in the records in which weavers were singled out and juxtaposed against specific játi groups, as if "weaver" were a single játi itself. "The head inhabitant of the village [of Vaddasoolaroo] is reported to have acted partially and oppressively in the settlement of a dispute between weavers and campoos of the village, with the result that some of the former deserted the place." 49 This dispute arose over the payment of taxes, and focused attention squarely on weavers as a type of identity group. The same kind of grouping appeared in 1799 in a "mahazur," a type of affidavit, when rights to a piece of land were in dispute. Weavers in the village were used as markers for the extent of certain proprietary rights. A section of villagers stated, "We beg leave to represent what we heard from our ancestors and what we know ourselves .... That the custom 50 and moturpha were usually collected from Houses of the weavers and Banians and paid to Nizampatnam." 51 The juxtaposition in each case of weavers with "campoos" and then weavers with "banians" was such that whatever collection of játis might be represented by the gloss "weavers" was conflated into that single designation — "weavers." In the first case, the group of weavers subsequently departed from the area, probably further cementing a transcendent solidarity that could begin to form in just such a circumstance.

Further Forms of Weaver Protest: Indictments of the System and (Mis)understandings of Those Protests


To this point we have seen weavers define themselves and be defined in the context of complaining about the system and when protesting the moturpha. In large part, however, the language of weaver protest is difficult to hear. At times this was because weavers did their protesting with their feet. If a particular tax collector was too rigorous, the weavers could relocate. In 1795 the renter of Ongole complained to the government that several weavers from his area had gone to settle in Vetapollam, in the neighboring division. The government responded by having the renter of Vetapollam send the weavers back, and by insisting that the renter of Ongole restore the cloth he took in place of taxes due. 52 In 1802 a commercial resident wrote to the collector at Masulipatam that "the Weavers of Aurevaudapoo Pettah, Earopilly, Bemagosoopollam, [and] Vantrapoody have been under the necessity of quitting their villages to complain to me of the severities still exercised against them by that Zamindar." 53 Elsewhere the language of weaver protest is muffled. Sometimes it is only indirectly recorded in the records, as with the latter case in which the resident entered into his report that the weavers had come to complain, but omitted to relate what they had actually come to say. At other moments such language is visible only in its filtered form, through the medium of the petition. It is for these reasons that we need to look in different ways at the same records to hear what weavers might have in fact been saying.

One place in the records that permits such a search is the body of letters from agents at the factories and weaving centers in the region to the collectors and the Board of Trade in Madras. What the British had to say about weaver protest tells us more about the concerns of those who ruled than those who wove. There are, however, moments, instances of fear by the British, for instance, when it is possible that some weaver action is getting its point across and is in turn being amplified in communications from the agent to the collector. Importantly, a number of such incidents occurred toward the end of the eighteenth century, at a time when the relationships between the East India Company Government and the weavers who produced for it were reported to have become firmly established. G. N. Rao reasserts this common trope when he writes, "The Company enjoyed near monopoly rights in its sphere of operations vis-à-vis the weaving industry," himself citing a 1926 essay. 54 But Arasaratnam and Subrahmanyam also contend that a similar "secure" relationship had developed. Arasaratnam is particularly strong in his language about the lock the Company had achieved over its weavers by the end of the eighteenth century. The Company "had virtual monopoly of the market, and had effectively exercised control over raw materials and began to extend this control over the weavers' tools. Under the Company weavers had virtually become wage workers on terms and conditions over which they had no control." 55

On the contrary, documentation and characterization of weaver protests well into the nineteenth century belie this sense of monopoly and control. Some of the best recorded moments of weaver protest took place in the areas around Ingeram and Maddepollam, both factories near the Godavari River and Rajahmundry, the town at the center of the Godavari District administrative division for the British, and the core area for the production of export cloth. Richard Dillon, a resident at the factory at Maddepollam in the last years of the eighteenth century, was a frequent correspondent with the collector at Masulipatam, Daniel Ince, on weaver problems. In 1796 Dillon spelled out some of the problems facing the Company and its weavers during a time of unrest among the latter. He pointed out that the main reason the weavers were unhappy was that they could make more money weaving for the French, for private individuals, or for private merchants, and even do so weaving poorer quality cloth. 56 The comparisons were not even close. Weavers could produce of the less fine cloth "3 to 4 pieces per month, and deliver it at a price nearly equal to what the Company allow, which of the Company's assortments, the weaver cannot possibly manufacture more than 2 pieces per month." 57 Accompanying that report was a detailed chart that sought to demonstrate the disparity in the prices paid by the different contractors of cloth. (See appendix 5A, "Comparison of Cloth Prices.") According to Dillon's figures, weavers could even weave cloth that the Company would not begin to consider for purchase, the 12 punjam cloth. 58 Weaving the finest quality cloth at the rate of three units per month, when only one unit of the same quality could be woven for the English Company in the same period of time, meant a difference in profit of more than one Madras Pagoda. This also outweighed, by a small margin, the advantages of the moturpha exemption that the Company hoped to use to offset such a disparity in prices paid for finished cloth. The lack of flexibility, spelled out in the terms of the contracts, and only half the profit, made the cost of weaving exclusively for the Company quite high.

Clearly, this left the situation open for weavers and middlemen to work the "system" in a number of ways. In fact, Dillon's particular points with this chart were twofold. One was that the prices that the French and Dutch offered provided an incentive for middlemen to create a type of deception. They could claim that certain cloth, for which they had already received advances from the Company, was of low quality, pay the weavers a minimal amount, and then sell the cloth to the French, for instance, at excellent prices. 59 Because the middlemen knew that the English Company would not accept the inferior cloth, despite having paid an advance for it, this process could be quite profitable. But it was not only the middlemen who could gain by knowing the intricacies of the system. Weavers could contract with the other companies, and bypass both the so called monopoly of the English and its exacting standards. Furthermore, the chart does not simply show that weavers and middlemen had various options. Instead, it confirms the notion that the control the Company sought to exert, a control alluded to in secondary sources, was of a very tenuous nature. Whatever control the Company was able to exert over weavers existed only to the extent that the weavers were willing to accede to it. But in the process of negotiating the acceptable limits of Company power, weavers also gained a better understanding of the boundaries of their own power and identity as "weavers" within the system.

Tensions that underlay the relationship between the Company and weavers, such as indicated in the above, were not fleeting. By way of example, beginning in January 1798 (two full years after he first noted the issue of weavers opting to produce for other companies), the problems that provoked this resident to put together a chart in the first place had not gone away. Dillon thus decided to instigate a series of actions, including letters to Boards in Madras, in an attempt to get the Company to address the problems at the factory at Maddepollam immediately and on a meaningful level. He briefly summarized the problems that the factory and the Company were having with their weavers at the end of one of his many pleas.

In order therefore to defeat the System of the present Arrangement, which they avowedly profess to attempt, by refusing either to liquidate their Debts, to receive new Advances on Account of the present Year's Investment, or to employ themselves in the provision of the Investment in future, they have assembled themselves, and, quitting their looms, have declared themselves resolved to hold out, in the Certainty of obtaining the same success as was two Years since experienced by the Weavers residing in the Mootah under the Factory at Ingeram. 60

This protest grew to a great scale, and represented something special both in terms of its troublesome nature for Dillon and as a rallying point for the weavers. The movement's strength could be measured by the fact that more than five hundred weavers were willing to leave their looms. "These misguided People are, as I learn at present at Vellasavelly in Parannam Mootah, to the number of about 500. They hope to carry their Points by perpetually shifting their Ground and harbouring at, and near, the smallest Villages." 61This began, then, like the smaller scale protest at Ongole. Dillon was worried, even scared. The mobility of the weavers left him puzzled as to how to handle the matter. In the same communiqué he tried to tell the collector what was really at stake in this protest: "A longer Continuance of these Disorders, if not repressed by the strong hand of Power, may in a short time affect the Minds of the Weavers annexed to the Factory at Ingeram & possibly also shed its baneful influence on those of the Inhabitants." 62

Company officials did not fully agree with Dillon in coming to an explanation for the protests, and in trying to resolve the differences that had led to weavers leaving their looms. They did not take up Dillon's desperate stance. But in Dillon's estimation there was something going on here that extended beyond the bounds of simple protest. He recognized and feared the fact that these weavers had successfully assembled and banded together in such a way as to hold out against the pressures of the factory and the force of the East India Company. The weavers had managed to create a solidarity that carried with it serious implications — a perceivable message, understood among themselves, by other weavers, and by the Company, a message that might "shed its baneful influence." This expression of a solidarity by weavers was both possible for them to the extent that they could leave their looms and means of livelihood, and fearsome to the extent that Dillon pleaded for help. "I trust no means will be left untried to compel unconditional submission and I beg leave to suggest to your Judgment whether the ordering out a strong party of Peons with injunctions to seize the persons of the Abettors." 63

Interestingly, the very notion that weavers could come together and defy the Company of their own accord was, in Dillon's view, impossible in itself. "There must be more to this," Dillon seemed to formulate. As with others who tried to explain weavers' protests, Dillon, perhaps in a frenzied state, and frightened of the protest in general, felt that other factors, or people, had to be involved for such a protest actually to be able to manifest itself. In an earlier letter to Daniel Ince, the collector, Dillon asserted that "the weavers are supported in their refractory behavior by the superior Native Revenue Officers, in charge of Villages, as well as by disaffected inhabitants." 64 Dillon's observations of the weavers in action were at odds with his understanding of the potentiality for weavers to protest and resist the Company in the first place. To some degree he was placing his conclusions within the limits of what may have been a widely held belief, the presumption that there existed no consensus among weavers about themselves, no weaver identity, and thus no scope for collective action and solidarity of this sort.

The collector at Cassimcotah, Malcolm, had witnessed a protest two years earlier and had made similar observations to Dillon's. In a letter to the collector at Vizagapatam, Nathaniel Webb, he noted that the weavers were "obstinately determined as ever not to return to their villages nor to depute their Shanapettys to explain their grievances." 65 And attempts by Malcolm to ease the tension "were treated with the most extreme contempt." But it is his postscript to the letter that reveals his reluctance to concede the possibility for weavers to think for themselves, and act as weavers.

Since writing the above, I understand they [the weavers] are beginning to disperse which if it takes place, the seizing of their Shanapettys will be unnecessary, who appear to have an unbounded control over the laborious [sic] part of their Cast, an influence that in my opinion ought to be very much discouraged, as certainly nothing can be more improper than these men having it in their power to assemble three or four thousand Weavers, who must either submit to the degradation of losing their cast, or by resorting to their standard leave their wives, and children, to starve, and that under the pretense of redress of grievances. 66

As with Dillon later, Malcolm was willing to grant the possibility of a solidarity based on other lines of allegiance, such as that of caste, or in respect or fear of local leaders, but not along the lines of purely weaver solidarity. Dillon's experiences in 1798, however, would defy his ability to arrive at a simple caste-based postulate, as Malcolm had managed to conclude earlier. That was why Dillon sought for, and believed he eventually found, other plausible reasons for the success of the solidarity, though he was still unwilling to concede its basis in a weaver identity alone.

Dillon looked hard for material explanations underlying a protest that in his mind could not arise out of a weaver consciousness that could not have existed. In a letter of January that year to the president and members of the Board of Trade in Madras he puzzled, "it must become an object of very great surprize by what means people so miserably poor as weavers are generally known to be could have contrived to keep so long together." 67 Even after Dillon's crisis had passed, such conclusions were generally held to be the case. That is, if residents found ways to provide the means for basic subsistence, they could prevent weaver protests. Vincentio Corbett, resident at Masulipatam, wrote as much in 1803. He claimed there had been no complaints by weavers at the factory for the last ten years. Because protest, he asserted, had not been actuated because

of the smallness of the gains of the weavers or insufficiency of the price paid them for the goods, may we not presume that they are perfectly at ease; and well satisfied with their lot, and this is something the more surprising and unexpected in a district where provisions of all kinds are generally higher Priced than further north, at the period the Weavers in the neighbouring factories have been in a state of revolt, but one and all do not hesitate to say they are content and satisfied from having in view as long as they are industrious a prospect of certain bread for themselves and numerous families, under the Protection of the Honorable Company and they look no further. 68

Given this view of weavers, Dillon at Maddepollam was left to explain the bewildering strength of their solidarity as best he could. He thus made a point of including those Indians, people of other castes — "native officers" and "inhabitants" — who must have been aiding the weavers in their effort to plead for different terms of employment. All of this is not to say that weavers did not have supporters among the inhabitants and the Indian employees of the Company. What is clear here, however, is that, despite the wishes of British employees of the Company, weavers were manifesting a weaver solidarity. Weavers were acting in concert to protest working conditions, as weavers, not as particular játi members or as subjects of the Company. Weavers had assumed an understanding of their positions in relation to the Company and were acting on it in force and as a weaver collective. 69

In spite of his analysis of the situation, at a number of points in Dillon's correspondence we come across inklings of how deep and serious the solidarity among the weavers could become. Not surprisingly, these moments of insight show themselves when Dillon expressed his gravest concerns. He began one letter to the Board of Trade, "The Address which I have now the honor to present you is the most serious and important, in which I have been engaged during the Course of my Life." 70 The crux of the letter then reveals something of the weavers' resolve.

It was then [December, 1797] I learned for the first time that the utmost dissatisfaction prevailed among the Weavers and that two head weavers named Caussah Caimiah and Simmutty Agusty living in the village of Daglooroo in the Mootah of Chintapurroo in the 2nd Division, having assembled a Body of about 300 entertained them with a supper & then prevailed on them to swear, that they would never more weave for the Company. 71

This group of weavers then took it upon themselves to test the limits of the solidarity. "They for some time continued to issue Letters, inviting all Weavers of the Casts to join them: in which it should appear, they but too well succeeded." Dillon's wording here works to explain the numbers involved in this particular protest — not just one weaver caste. But he is also giving us yet another indication that the lines of group identity formation were drawn by actors in the event according to the historically contingent needs of the day. Categories took shape as the participants engaged in the challenges of the moment. It is critical to note that játi boundaries at this time had perhaps only the narrowest of meanings, and could be transcended for the purposes of isolating and expressing a new, contextually powerful identity for, in this case, weavers employed by the Company (or soon not to be).

Once the weavers involved in this protest had agreed to discuss the points under dispute with Dillon, the situation became no clearer, but we can at least come a step closer to hearing the weavers talk about themselves. This is so as Dillon paraphrased the demands they made at an assembly at the factory. Initially the grievances of the weavers sounded strange to Dillon. The main one was that "one of the company's Merchants named Toomalapillee Appiah (a man nearly 70 years of age) had pinched the ear of one Weaver & had pushed another Weaver down, that he had also paid unfair price for a piece of Cloth & cut one piece of Patch 72 out of one of the Company's Looms." 73 Dillon decided that he could not find any substantiation for the charges. He also concluded that "points of this nature ... could not be in Reason, supposed to be the true cause of such Multitudes assembling."

Before we discover what Dillon found to be the sufficient cause for such protest, it is important to acknowledge what the weavers themselves put forth initially as the legitimate basis for their protest. They located the cause at an act of bodily harm and a single attack on their livelihood. These were acts of violence, they might have insisted, that compromised the relationship between weaver and merchant. The pinching and the pushing were acts that precisely resonated with forms of violence that weavers could carry out, and had carried out elsewhere, including on themselves to engage the sympathy of fellow weavers. Furthermore, the damage to the work at the loom also happened to be a means of protest weavers had used on their own looms, as we shall see below, to initiate a process of redress from the Company. Essentially, then, Dillon's lack of interest in what he saw as completely trivial instances displays the huge gulf in understanding of some of the actions and stances that possibly motivated weavers and that could propel them toward expressions of anger and forms of protest. The merchant may very well have carried out those acts. He may have also known exactly how provocative they would be in the world of weavers. But perhaps he also knew how lightly such acts would be taken by the British East India Company servant at the factory. The weavers may very well have been sincere about what prompted this particular protest. The pinching and pushing may very well have been the immediate instigation for the weavers' abandonment of work. What I see as pivotal to an understanding of the goings on in this exchange between Dillon and the weavers, however, is the course of action that both parties took next.

After Dillon summarily dismissed the stated seriousness of the allegations against the merchant, he asked what the real reason behind the protest was. Apparently the "real" cause was "that the prices allowed by the Company for Cloth, were inadequate to furnish a subsistence to the Weavers: from the great rise in the Value of Copper Coin & the increased Price of Cotton." 74 Once a cause had been established that found its reasoning in the economic realm, Dillon felt safe attaching credence to it. He then worked out what seemed to him the appropriate compromise. Among other things, he had the merchants agree to less stringent collection of balances owed by weavers. Dillon had searched for a problem to which he could provide the answer. But as soon as he found the problem he had hoped for, the attendant answer, it turned out, "was unattended with the wished for effect of inclining the refractory Weavers to return to their Looms." 75 Dillon was then left stranded at the crossroads of his wished-for material basis for the protest at hand and the wider context of the ways in which weavers constructed meaning in regard to this particular action. And there were no easy solutions for this kind of problem. It was at this point that Dillon explained to the Board of Trade that, instead of returning to work, the weavers hoped to achieve the same success (concessions from the Company) they had witnessed two years earlier at the factory at Ingeram.

This group of weavers was not about to be satisfied with Dillon's narrow appraisal of the significant problems at hand. Though they had only grudgingly come up with an answer for Dillon when he pressed for something more substantial than the grievances the weavers had originally named regarding the merchant, there clearly was, indeed, more to the frustration behind the protest than the weavers offered at that initial exchange. In a sense, Dillon had been correct, the pinching and pushing were not the entirety of the problem. But weaving cloth for the Company was not going to be made acceptable by simply delaying collections. So unhappy were the weavers with their status that neither the cold weather of January nor lack of advances from the Company were sufficient to compel them to return to work. Dillon even tried to apprehend "the ringleaders and instigators of this shameful behavior." 76 But after having been assembled for some time, and after having come to believe, perhaps, more sincerely in their resolve as a group of weavers, they then

declared their intention not only never to weave for the Company; but also never to discharge their Balances, 'til the present Arrangement is set aside, and that their numbers, instead of diminishing had increased. And as they had suggested to each other, that by succeeding in the present struggle, they should not only be at liberty to weave Patch, but also to receive Advances from the French and Dutch. 77

As far as it is possible to understand from the records, the weavers did not come to the factory at Maddepollam with the intention of making this last declaration. They came there, perhaps, to test their own resolve, to make known the fact that they had grievances, and, most certainly, to provoke a response from the commercial resident at the factory. But what they concluded after reaching the factory, after seeing their numbers grow, and after witnessing the interactions between the merchants, the resident, and themselves was that they could make something more out of their positions as weavers than they had originally thought possible. The solidarity that they manifested, and from which they then took strength, allowed them to put forth a new set of resolutions to the resident and to themselves, and to establish vis-à-vis the Company a new definition of weavers, one that had integrity, strength, and was articulable in a new way as a result of the actions they took then and there. Real grievances with a system that prompted protest, and that led to an audience with a representative of that system provided the basis for an eventual solidarity among weavers and the creation of new meanings of what it was to be a weaver. The conjunction of these phenomena, over time, and in various locations along the coast, not just the system used by the Company or any one particular protest by weavers, allowed for the formation of a political self, literally, a "weaver" identity. And this identity grew out of those moments of expression and action, and came to supplement other articulations of the self.

Generally, the series of interactions and protests that Dillon documented was a tiny piece of the protest puzzle. Weavers, for instance, did not require the space of the factory for their protests. That is, they did not protest solely to the actual representative of the government in charge of obtaining cloth from the weavers for the Company. The nature of the relationship between the British and the people who wove for the East India Company was such that protest by those who wove became a commonplace, even daily event as a means to insist on certain practices and rights, and to establish how weavers would be defined within the system. Moreover, even weavers who did not contract to work for the Company found reasons to be agitated against it. In fact, weaver protest was so widespread by the late eighteenth century that informal interactions between Company representatives and weavers could take on a hostility that is not evident in negotiations between the Company and other groups in this area. An account of such is told by a major based in Samulcot, a town in the district of Rajahmundry.

Doctor Mein having wrote to me for some pieces of Upparah Cambrick, I told my Debandh to procure ten for him as expeditiously as possible. A weaver who lives opposite to his house had just received a quantity of Cambrick for Sale from Upparah. He sent a peon to call him, and to bring the Cambrick he wanted. The weaver for some reason or other would not come, tho' sent to 3 or 4 times. Soon afterwards the debandh sent to him again by a Sepoy requesting he would come or send the Cambrick with the prices — but he would not be prevailed upon to do either, when the Sepoy taking him by the hand as he was standing near him — the weaver probably imagined that he was going to take him over by force — immediately struck the Sepoy in the Mouth from which followed a discharge of blood — on which he was attacked by two other brothers of the weaver who was in the house — until they were taken off by some of the neighbouring inhabitants — and the interference of the Head Weaver of Samulcotah who begged the Sepoy would be quiet, and if he would make no complaint on the subject that he would get him satisfaction — but whilst this was adjusting one of the weavers brothers who had begun the fray went and cut all the looms — in the presence of several people — this happened yesterday, and the Head Weaver and the Sepoy conceiving it settled, made no Mention further of the Matter —

But in the absence of the head Weaver yesterday evening, (?) went to the Market at Peddapore — those weavers who had in the Morning made the disturbance now detailed — took up their broken looms and told the Neighbours they were setting off to complain to the collector — in consequence of which the Head Weaver accompanied by some others and the Sepoy came to me this Morning to report what had happened, and which I have taken down from report — and have also directed the Weavers themselves to send it in writing — It is easy to conjecture from their destroying their looms and setting of[f] for Cocanada — the complaint they will endeavor to establish — The weavers of this place describe them as a kind of Madman who are constantly occasioning disturbances in the place — and who for their riotous conduct and the debts in which they were involved, were four years ago obliged to leave Peddapore to which place they belong. 78 


This lengthy account depicts a type of incident not uncommon in the records of the districts in this region, notwithstanding the suggestion that there were simply a riotous few. What is of note in an example such as this is less the fact that the weaver was willing to strike the representative of the major's debandh, than that the groups of weavers were fully conversant in the variety of twists and turns they might take in dealing with the authorities of the Company. Certainly the first strike says something about the lack of a clear and order-instilling hierarchy among independent Telugu speakers and the Company and its servants. In fact, the only clear division at this point is the Company/non-Company division. But the series of follow-up gestures also tells us much about the various levels of understanding between those two groups.

The sepoy apparently was willing to take the cutting of the cloth or the breaking of the looms as a sign of repentance. This is significant in that it would indicate a level of interdependence between representatives of the two groups. If the sepoy had to suffer from the transgression of one angry weaver, then the sufferings of a few innocent weavers could make up for this. The major was made to understand that the head weaver and the sepoy had established this understanding between themselves. And there may very well have been some basic understanding between those two. But, as we can see from what transpired the very next day, the weavers who broke the looms had no intention of breaking them to satisfy the vengeance of the sepoy. They were engaging in what was apparently another example of a history of examples of "riotous conduct." As with Dillon's depiction of weavers' "shameful behavior," the "riotous conduct" of weavers here indicates that weavers were less interested in "performing" the roles of amicable producers in their relationships with the Company. They were not interested in how the British viewed them as much as they were insistent on acting in a way that moved them towards specific goals relating to their own views of what it meant to be weavers.

There are many items of note in this passage about the range of actions available to weavers in relation to their dealings with the Company, and in their understandings of their roles vis-à-vis the Company. But perhaps most telling of the particularity of this occasion and why it signals precisely the notion that these people were coming to, or had already arrived at, a definition of themselves in relation to the Company as weavers, is that they broke their looms. 79 Now, in the context of a specific dispute about weaver rights at the factory or about the price of cloth, we might expect such a display of sabotage. We would expect that the protest by those who wove in such instances would manifest itself in the focusing of anger or frustration on the very means of production of the item that is the basis for the dispute. But here, in what is to a great extent a somewhat isolated incident, independent of these people's specific roles as weavers, the loom became the means to assert a grievance at the door to the office of the collector. It appears to be no simple coincidence that this type of action coincided with Richard Dillon's search for the "real" reason (above) for weaver dissatisfaction. There Dillon sought some economic basis for weaver grievances. In this case, however, the weavers seemed to know exactly what the British would give their attentions to. The weavers who struck the sepoy knew that no case of bickering would garner the collector's sympathy. They had probably seen or heard of instances of officials dismissing such claims of abuse, as Dillon did in Maddepollam. The hope, then, apparently, was that the collector would not take lightly an episode that included much more than an argument; this was the destruction of the production mechanism for these people — their looms, the tools of East India Company prosperity.

The implications of the destruction of the looms or the cloth are difficult to understand unless we consider its analogue in cases of other groups who dealt regularly with the Company. In the case of village accountants a parallel circumstance would involve the burning or destruction of the account books for the village. But, in fact, there are very few instances of that type of expression of defiance in the records. More frequently cited is that case of the grieving party physically damaging himself, either by fasting or self-mutilation, or by claiming physical injury from a Company official. This is something we do not see here, but which was already one established tool of negotiation for weavers. A note from 1793 offers an example of what was probably an action of this sort. "The Dutch Chief informs the collector that the weavers who complained to him of ill-treatment were liable for certain debts, which they cleared after much pressure. They were not ill-treated." 80 A more explicit example is the one from the records describing an incident that took place in 1798:

A weaver of profligate character disguised as a sepoy having occasioned some disturbance in the village of Sittanagrum ... was apprehended ... in order to be sent to me .... But on his way, either actuated by shame, or induced by having observed the success of such barbarous policy on some other occasion seized upon a knife belonging to an Inhabitant ... and with this weapon gave himself some insignificant wounds which, however, requiring attention, the score of Humanity in moments were busily employed by his partisans attending in exciting compassion and stirring up other weavers to take vengeance on those whom they considered the authors of his misfortune though such only by barely having taken cognizance of the affair. 81

The "profligate" weaver, in this instance, understood that by inflicting some damage to his own body he could excite the sympathy of onlookers. Descriptions of this kind of action are repeated throughout the records. Perhaps, if this weaver had been at his loom, he might have broken it. In this case, his body was the one immediately accessible medium for his exhibition of protest — that is, protest by self-mutilation. Because this self-mutilation was a frequently sought method, it is imperative to note that the weavers of Samulcotah, above, did not choose their own bodies for the site of their destructive actions; they chose their looms. The differences in these examples reflect a very basic level of change in the epistemology of the "weaver" self in relation to the Company. These people had come to understand the ramifications of being weavers and had therefore come to define themselves as weavers for the purposes of dealing with the Company. That is why the breaking of looms was absolutely appropriate. Breaking the loom told the Company they were acting as "weavers" (and played on the importance they knew the Company felt weavers had in the system). Self-mutilation only played on a hoped-for (and, at this point, less reliable) interdependence between rulers and ruled.

This "loom mutilation" was almost certainly not the first case of a weaver doing such a thing. But it was a sign of an existing sentiment, a sign of the limits of the realm of the possible specifically for weavers, a sign of what was included within the limits of these people's identities — their existence as weavers. And, given this triangulation of relationships — weaver, loom, and Company, these weavers knew that they could garner the greatest attention by putting that most manifest aspect of their definition of self, their very ability to act as weavers, on the line.

In the protests reported on by Dillon and Malcolm and the case mentioned by the major trying to obtain cambric for Doctor Mein we see a variety of forms of action taken against representatives of the British. In all cases there is an indication that a stridency regarding the weaver category is just then or has already taken hold, not just for the British reporting the actions and protests, but also for the people reported to be weavers. The early decades of the nineteenth century were a time when crucial institutions were coming into place which allowed for just such groups as weavers to work out and establish identity categories. Years of dealing with foreigners, combined with a new bureaucracy that brought the commercial resident, the moturpha tax and its exemptions, and more officials whom they might petition in general, provided a particularly fecund environment for weavers to work out more precisely the relationship between occupation and játi, and occupation and government. It was an environment that allowed them to establish themselves as weavers in a way that was distinct from játi in the eyes of government and for themselves. The development of this weaver identity would also allow játi (caste) to remain open as an identity category, neither to be supplanted by nor subsumed within the new definitions of weaver.

Coming to Terms with the Term Weaver


Before seeing how the "weaver" category ultimately became meaningful to weavers in a special way by the end of the nineteenth century, it is important to see to what extent the actual English language term "weaver" was meaningful to all parties involved in the textile industry of Coastal Andhra in the early part of the century. This section will seek to show the different ways that the Company tried to make "weavers" a workable category, at times to extract it from its various játi affiliations, and thereby attempt to impose a particular order on the group at hand, and at times to reinscribe it with caste meanings, so as to be able to distance itself from problems within that group that it could not, and did not wish to address. Those same sources of evidence will also help us see how weavers sought to make known to all those who would listen how they wanted to be understood. From this angle too, the weaver category could take on various meanings. What I hope to demonstrate is that for all parties, the creation of categories was an ongoing process, one that required negotiations with all those involved.

In reading through the records one aspect of references to weavers consistently stands out. That is, although this is by no means the only group to whom this phenomenon applies, they are almost invariably labeled by that word, "weaver," and not by their particular játi names. This connection between occupation and categorization of people is not new in this period, but it is a noteworthy item for the purposes of this work. While I have tried to steer this investigation clear of pigeon-holing groups according to any ascribed economic, social, or other status labels, there is something special about the connection in the case of those who wove that emerged in striking fashion during expressions of solidarity by weavers.

Looking at the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century history of the region, it is certainly tempting to say that those who wove textiles were willing to adopt the label "weaver" because that was the actual basis of the foreign companies' relationships with these peoples. And to an extent this top-down categorizing might ring true. But, as with petitions and the genre of the katha, it is by no means certain that a label produced in this way had much, if any, real significance in the set of cultural signifiers for the people to whom it was supposed to apply. How then will it be possible to speak of weavers as a self-conscious collection of actors? I will attempt to confront that problem in two ways. The first approach consists in observing how the space of the records allowed for the production of some degree of definition about weavers by Company officials and by themselves. I will look at the language and terminology of weaver category creation and articulations of self. The other approach, one that I employed earlier, consists in seeing how those who were willing to maintain the label "weaver" managed to act in concert. At some point late in the eighteenth century those in the region who wove adopted the weaver category, and used it as a basis for expressing needs across various játi groupings. Weavers came together and acted in a way that belied other possible cultural entailments.

Initially, working in the other direction, from a point that acknowledges the potentiality of the disaggregation of the weaver label, it is helpful to see to what extent different weaver groups were capable of and desired differentiation from each other. Along these lines, late nineteenth-century census material begins to tell us a bit about that variety of groupings. Those figures offer some basis for distinguishing at least two particular groups of weavers from the larger set of játis and individuals engaged in the profession. The census of 1871 employed a limited range of occupation and caste categories. In the Madras Presidency this translated into the use of only one single term for weavers. And that term was itself the Tamil name for a group of weavers who made up only a tiny porti2on of weaver groups in Telugu-speaking areas. 82 In the three takings of the census in the nineteenth century, weavers of the various categories made up between four and five percent of the total population of the Northern Circars. Those circars took in all coastal Telugu-speaking regions except Nellore, and in Nellore weavers constituted a smaller portion of the total population. The numbers themselves, however, are less pertinent to the constituting of a weaver identity than the fact that after 1871 the terms of the census were changed to accommodate some diversity among weavers. By 1881 the census recognized the reality of variegation within such categories in the Madras Presidency, but it perhaps still underestimated it. This time Telugu-language categories were included, and specific játi labels were added to provide for the recording of further granularity within occupational groupings. Weavers in the Northern Circars were given three categories — Dévánga, Kaikólar, and Sáli. 83 Moreover, by 1891 the Tamil language category, Kaikólar, was dropped entirely from the census figures for the Telugu-speaking areas of the Madras Presidency, and the number of weaver "castes" rose to more than forty. 84 This phenomenon of widening categorization was not unique to weavers. By 1891 there were multiple categories for virtually all occupations, raising the number of so called "caste" groups to the thousands in Telugu-speaking India alone.

British census officials over time came to recognize a variety of particular language-, region-, and occupation-based categories, which they in turn added to official lists. This trend should not come as a surprise. It is entirely suggested by the general process I am elaborating in this work. That process, however, is quite distinct from explanations other historians have proffered given this same census evidence. Regarding the all-India census, for instance, Bernard Cohn has attempted to show that Indian groups in this later period came to see in the census an opportunity to reevaluate who they were. 85 Cohn's article suggests that this process occurred in a particular way: "Through the asking of questions and the compiling of information in categories which the British ruler could utilize for governing, it [the census] provided an arena for Indians to ask questions about themselves, and Indians utilized the fact that the British census commissioners tried to order tables on caste in terms of social precedence." 86

Cohn recognizes an Indian role in the proliferation of caste categories in the census from 1871 to later countings. The history of identity formation, however, suggests a much longer process of being able to arrive at a standard category for one group than a decennial asking of such census-type questions. The persistence of the Dévánga and Sáli categories in the census up to the 1931 cessation of caste inquiries therein, marks a preexisting power related to the category for those who answered accordingly to census workers throughout this period. Nor did the ability to stake out such a label in the census arise magically in 1881. Working out such labels was the result of the very set of negotiations I am remarking on here. By the end of the nineteenth century, when the census was beginning to take shape and add itself to the long list of bureaucratic mechanisms that sought to further the government's categorizing and control of Indians, weavers from this region had already acquired the tools to make sure that such a device would reflect their own constructed identities of their own groups. It is possible that "weaver" alone might have worked in the census and might have been able to cut across many of the various játi terms. It might have been acceptable as a broader category than individual játis tended to represent. This possibility was born out to the extent that we saw how weavers came to protest along such lines — as "weavers." But the use of a Tamil term in 1871 probably altered the perceived role of the census in the minds of Telugu-speaking weavers. If only as a means to distinguish themselves from Tamil speakers, with whom they shared only a marginal allegiance, it may have become important for Telugu-speaking weavers to state their own particular játi names in the space of future census records. The history of the staking out of claims for weaver játis and the "weaver" label thus dates from much earlier in the nineteenth century, and does help us see the scope of possible action that resulted much later, for instance, with the institution of the census.

Looking beyond the census, then, earlier in the records, though rare, it is evident that Telugu speakers who wove for a living were aware and made use of some divisions among themselves. The deputy commercial resident at Ingeram, George Maidman, wrote to the collector of the district in 1803 about an altercation that took place between weaving groups:

I am under the necessity of requesting that you will enforce the late orders you issued respecting a Cast of Beggars called Veramoostyloo, as they still disturb and harass the Salee cast of Weavers, to which they are instigated and encouraged by the 3 other Casts.

At the last Market at Drachavarum, the Davangoloo, Curneeloo and Cayecoloo assembled in a considerable body, attacked the Salees who were present, and ill used and plundered them in a shameful manner. 87font class="line"> 


Note the resident's care to make sure we know Sális are "weavers." This may have authorized his involvement in this manner, for he was in charge of insuring their ability to produce for the Company. But we should also note that at this point he failed to mention that the "3 other casts" were also "weaver castes." Apparently these three weaver "casts" did this to the Sáli "for the gratification of their Envy and Malice which they bear towards the Salees — Furthermore, that the Salees are neither by Law or Custom liable to the payment of Alms now demanded of them by the Veramoostyloo."

Thus, although the presence of this division-marking appears in the records under the guise of the Company's concern for the procurement of its cloth, it seems clear that some such differentiation could be made by the various groups of weavers themselves. The rarity of this type of colorful reference in the records stems partly from the general tendency simply to characterize those who wove as "weavers." When játis were identified, the records designated Sáli the weaver caste, as we will see in the reference to the presence of large numbers of "nontraditional weavers" in a particular area. The description of this dispute in the bazaar with its breakdown of játis appears, then, to be generated as much by the weavers themselves as it is by the commercial resident and his method of reporting events in the area.

Another identification of a distinct weaving group came into the records from a non-British and non-weaver source. The Zamindar of Peddapuram, Rajah Roya Juggaputty Rauze, wrote to the collector of Masulipatam, George Balmain, in 1801,

Davaungooloo a class of weavers the Inhabitants of Tooney in my zamindary having one day lately formed themselves into an assembly bearing the different Arms in their hands proceeded against the Lodging of Muncherauze Vencannah a Gommastah of the Renter at that place made every disturbance and plunder. [The weavers] understood that he will press them for the Circars Moturpha money, have formed a pretext and mark trouble against him. The said Weavers have absconded, [and] as a considerable moturpha money is due from them to the circar you will please to take such measures as may be deemed proper by your honor in this case. 88

This description of the goings on of a particular group of weavers would seem to have no call for an actual use of their játi name. The Zamindar may have used the játi term to make his knowledge of some of the politics of the situation stand out for Balmain, who was to have made a decision on the matter. It appears likely that he intended there to be a reason for the weavers being able to act in concert against the workings of the Company's taxation scheme. Being weavers alone, at this time, in the minds of authorities, may have been an insufficient basis of understanding for such a group to form a solidarity with which to air grievances. The moturpha tax was a contentious issue, as we saw above. But the zamindar seemed to need more than a protest against a loom tax to explain why there was unrest. As with the British, for the zamindar, játi was a convenient basis to explain actions by weavers or others who should normally have been controllable. Játi was that "religious" shield through which authorities could not pierce. But it also became a shield of convenience for those same authorities who desired reasons for their supposed control of a system gone awry. What the British and zamindar exposed in their descriptions of such protests, despite their labeling of the weavers according to játi, was the distinct possibility that weavers had decided that they could act precisely because they were upset with their status as weavers in relation to the Company's system, and not solely because they were Dévángas, or Sális for that matter.

A more oblique reference to the particular status of a weaver group came from a gumastah sent to compel some weavers to follow the terms of a contract:

Weavers at this quarter seem to be impertinent and consequently unmindful of their public Duty in consequence of their having considerably procuring private employment. These being the low class of Inhabitants, I take the liberty to suggest the necessity of punishing one or two of them which will induce the Others diligently to attend to their public Duty. 89

The gumastah felt that the collector would be more inclined to punish a "low class" group, in the same way that the zamindar probably felt that the collector would be able to deal more appropriately with the matter if he were to know that the weavers were Dévángas. Though it is possible that the gumastah's reference was to weavers in general, elsewhere in the letter it appears he was marking out a particular group of weavers. The failure to specify a group — unless needed (as with the resident earlier) or in the rather unusual instance the zamindar gave us — is not inconsistent with the level of "typing" in the records at this period, 1800. Present throughout these references, however, is the very real possibility that these speakers sought to explain away inconsistencies with successes in the "system of weaving for the Company" through such qualifications of weaver protest. That is, despite the fact that these authorities were being faced with weavers who were protesting their status within the system, those same authorities sought to designate that protest as protest being acted out by particular játi groups or by such people as those who were "low class." Weavers had begun acting together as weavers, defying the characterizations that authorities sought to place on the type of activity their protests represented. Importantly in these instances, this may also mean that significant differentiation between groups of weavers had little basis once those different groups came to participate on similar terms in the system of weaving export materials. The circumstances of their coming together under those auspices allowed for the formation of different kinds of alliances.

Adding weight to this last suggestion, that weavers were beginning to act on the basis of a weaver identity, is that in the context of the records from this time, even these less direct references to specific weaver groups are rare. A section from a follow-up letter to the Ingeram incident (at which place the various groups of weavers fought) indicates, perhaps, why we see so little of játi distinctions in the records when weavers are discussed, as I posited may have been the case with the zamindar also. The commercial resident at Ingeram, R. Fullerton, wrote,

As the dispute is purely of a religious nature I conceive it would be advisable to ascertain by means of the zamindars 90 and others of the principal Inhabitants of the district, who must of course be well acquainted with the customs that have long prevailed regarding those (Weeramoosty) People whither it has really been usual for the Cast of Salees to bestow alms on that class .... I have addressed a letter to the Heads of those Casts now assembled at Auravattam recommending them to dismiss their followers and submit the discussion of the dispute to persons of respectability chosen by the consent of both parties and will communicate to you the result of my endeavors towards bringing about an accommodation, and preventing the many unpleasant circumstances which seldom fail to attend a religious dispute. 91

This kind of social breakdown of areas of concern by the British, of course, presents problems for the historian who seeks to unpack the term "weavers." An articulation of a particular grouping was easily lost in the records by a colonial practice that attempted to assert its own means of marking out groups. Just before this last section, Fullerton mentioned that the weavers in general in the area "had recourse to their usual mode of proceeding on such occasions, quitting their looms, stopping thread markets, and holding tumultuous assemblies in different parts of the country." 92 Although here it is possible that Fullerton intends the Sális when he writes of the weavers reacting to the situation, it is actually unclear. What is clear is that the other three weaver groups did manage to ally themselves on this day. Despite Company desires to have either a general weaver category or separate "religious" játi categories, the linkages or divisions of occupation and játi were not certain. Solidarities could come and go and, as was evident in this instance, could be introduced for very specific reasons.

Especially difficult for the historian in sorting out references in the records is the East India Company's strong desire to separate what it viewed as purely religious from what it felt was trade-related. Regarding the latter, the Company felt it had a legitimate interest, and this interest was translated directly into the records with rather transparent language. Matters deemed religious were offloaded and usually only alluded to. The above explicit mention of a wish to keep the "religious" distinct from matters of the collectorate is only the most obvious example. In fact, that which was deemed religious may have simply been elided from the records in most cases. Furthermore, if the "religious" was left out of or removed from the records, then it almost certainly occurred even in instances that could only be deemed ambiguously religious by Telugu speakers. (Certainly there was no exact parallel on the part of Indians regarding the religious/secular divide.) A perfect example of this occurred in the case of a petition filed by "The Honorable Company's Careedars or Weavers residing in the Paddanah Village." 93 The actual Telugu petition includes the use of the words néta and kharidár, literally "weaver" and "price holder," respectively. But their uses in the petition are not as glosses for each other, contrary to the sense of the English translation. Rather, the petition uses a phraseology that indicates something else. It probably translates better to, "We, the weavers of ... who are also the buyers of goods, in this case." 94

I do not point this out simply to highlight one instance of a less than perfect translation. What is significant here is that the translator could decide to ignore or alter a label that a group might choose to use for itself. The Telugu petition uses "weavers" and "buyers" because the petitioners specifically wanted the resident and the collector to know who they were in the larger scheme of relationships that was the factory system at this time. Although it may be tempting to focus on one obvious aspect of the petition, that these petitioners could go beyond játi terms and call themselves "weavers," just as they also called themselves "buyers" here, these men were also conveying that they were not merely producers. These three were trying to explain to the East India Company that weavers were purchasers of commodities also. In this case they were buying indigo to use in the cloth they made for the Company and were being put in an awkward position because the supplier was raising prices arbitrarily. The "weavers" and "buyers" labels were important to the petitioners because they could invoke their privileges to petition as Company weavers in order to show how they had been victimized, to a degree, as buyers. The absence of a certain attention to detail in the translation of the petition in this instance forces us to place in doubt a huge number of references to "weavers" elsewhere in the records, references which may be not only truncated notes on the ways in which weavers perhaps wished to express themselves, but were actually incorrect glosses for a wider variety of categories by which weavers sought to represent the cultural and economic diversity of their roles in society. Unfortunately, we will never know the full extent of this phenomenon since virtually all Telugu-language petitions from this era, the one here being a glaring exception, were destroyed at the time of their translation.

Finally, the two marks and one signature on this petition are microcosmic demonstrations of the opportunities individuals had to express aspects of their identities. In this case we see a chance for people to determine the degree to which they wished to make overt their connections to játi labels, labels that officials might, in turn, mark as religious. Two of the petitioners offered merely their marks, and the transcriber simply noted their names, Banlla Buchanna and Kalkula Virappa. The third person was able to write his own name, and did so as Perisetti Gangayya. In his case the "setti" portion of his name was also probably an indication that he was of the Dévánga játi. 95 The commercial resident would certainly have taken this to be the case. But at no point in other parts of this matter is the idea that these petitioners were acting along caste lines alluded to. Nor do we have any indication whatsoever, even in their surnames, of the possible játis of the other two petitioners. We saw earlier that when the dispute at the market occurred, the resident found it simple enough to call the weavers by their játi name (there he used "Sáli"), and that allowed him to apply religiosity to their actions. However, it was clear that the resident could have opted to label any number of issues as religious, or he could have chosen to refrain from doing so altogether, as he saw fit. It is also likely, furthermore, that weavers could indicate a desire for the resident to make it religious. (They could have overtly indicated a játi affiliation in the text of the petition.) Or, as in this case, they could distance themselves from the possibility of such an interpretation by making no direct reference to játi.

Expressions of identity were not taken lightly by articulators of identity. This is consistent with the purposefulness (but not necessarily politically motivated use) of játi labeling by Mallésam in telling the Bobbili Katha in 1832, as we saw in the previous chapter. Thirty-three years before Mallésam recited his story, in a petition from three weavers who were also buyers, the one actual signature in the petition also offers a hint at játi. Yet nowhere else do we see játi invoked to further the call for some action in response to the grievance. This could be the result of a desire on the part of the three not to have their complaint taken as a religious issue. But it is equally as likely that the three wanted to petition purely as kharidárs, without regard to any játi ties.

One very striking possibility emerges from the variety of references to weavers by East India Company officials and by weavers themselves. That is, it is unlikely that various instances of protest by groups referred to as "weavers" in the records were undertaken by one weaver-játi group alone in each particular instance. Weavers could choose to make clear játi lines and residents could choose to report them. Conversely, both groups could also choose simply to designate weavers as "weavers," and elide possible játi differences. Declan Quigley's notion that "Castes which supply services for others are defined by those who patronize them," is at complete variance with the constantly shifting experiences of identity definition we see here. 96 In fact, the indeterminate nature of identity is what indicates that the very opposite process is underway, that people are constantly redefining themselves, and their castes, as the historical circumstances change. Under the existing "system" of the early nineteenth century for the Company and its weavers, different játis worked near each other, and shared similar working arrangements for the production of textiles for export. When conditions warranted protest by "weavers," they were conditions that could have affected all the játi groups that wove for the Company. At least two notions, then, need to be questioned, and ultimately dismissed, here. One has to do with the supposed inability of Indians to act across their various játi category boundaries. The other has to do with the notion that once individuals did look beyond játi, they could not act collectively under new group conditions, and then define themselves anew.

Vestiges of the "Weaver" Category



The main point of departure this chapter makes from the economic histories of the region pertains to what is clearly the most problematic aspect of these assessments. The variegation that existed socially and culturally, not to mention economically, within the boundaries of the so-called Coromandel coast textile production area makes the tendency for most of those economic analyses to be based on that very geographical area an obvious target for criticism. The difficulties that the East India Company had in bringing the area under one system of management itself should indicate the problems of doing this. Indeed, one economic historian, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, attempts to make this issue an advantage when challenging Sinnapah Arasaratnam and Joseph Brennig. Subrahmanyam points out that inherent differences at the level of the production center are what explain larger economic trends that other writers could not so easily incorporate into their models. 97 His identification of local idiosyncrasy here, however, is along lines that work for economic historians such as himself and those he is rebutting. The isolation of a producing region allows him to focus on discrete amounts of textile-production data to show how that industry, and its various upturns and downturns, is determined more by regional economic linkages than by the vagaries of distant European markets and systems of extraction beyond the Coromandel coast. But a historian less interested in purely economic relationships among weavers and buyers must argue that this choice of direction for examination is itself determined by the shortage of available sources to use towards the examination of weavers as subject-producers and their specific roles in the production of textiles. That is, Subrahmanyam's solution (his focus on limited, smaller areas and his use of archival data) might be critiqued along the very lines that he uses against Frank Perlin and others. 98 In trying to invigorate ideas about the importance of local systems of production (instead of discounting them in relation to the export market as a whole), he too has selected sources that have overdetermined the means and nature of his analysis — economic systems over historical subjects. Subrahmanyam has given us a history that participates in a larger project among economic historians who avoid writing on weavers themselves, despite their occasional claims to the contrary.

These economic histories are generally based on preconceptions that should probably be reconsidered given the changing historical situations in the region. The coming of the British East India Company control of much of the export textile production for England after 1770, and the decrease in the strength of other companies in the region, meant a larger place for weavers in the Company's records that are still available to historians. Arasaratnam points this out, and, in fact, reads back from that evidence in the British records to fill in some of his history of weavers up to 1750. But even with this post-1770 evidence in hand, we hear little from him of what role the weavers played in larger understandings of the textile trade. With the new evidence comes no change in the characterization of the workings of the industry as top-down. For instance, Arasaratnam characterizes the post-1750 period in this way: "The Coromandel handloom industry was set on a downward course. It only needed the eradication of European competition and the virtual monopoly of the market by the English to grind it down into the ground, and with it the weavers and the merchants." 99

Certainly, Arasaratnam offers us an in-depth look at the weaving industry along the coast, a look that seeks to show how trends in the trade were influenced by the demand for cloth from European markets, but he makes little room for the ways in which the industry was constituted by the weavers who produced the cloth. Again, Arasaratnam's conclusions are not unique among historians of textile production, even for other regions of India. Two fairly recent works on weavers in Bengal submit similar circumstances for the history of the textile industry. Hameeda Hossain goes as far as to say that "resistance from the weavers remained passive; they were totally dependent on the Company and the latter's shifting economic interests had reduced them to a condition of chronic underemployment. When they could no longer meet the conditions imposed on them they either left their place of work or changed their occupation." 100 Thus, the consistent trend in the historiography on weavers in many parts of India has been to place them squarely in the framework of a history of the structuring of European systems of procurement of cloth for export.

The rare instances in the historiography of weaving that attempt different characterizations are, therefore, worth noting. Subrahmanyam, to his credit, for instance, insists on dismantling the conclusions of earlier scholars whose arguments about the changes in textile production, he believes, are too limited, and are arrived at through counter-factual processes. In speaking of historical instances of expansion in the textile industry, and particularly in response to Arasaratnam's approach, he says, "it would be simplistic to see them merely as cases of 'export-led growth' which are snuffed out when autonomous external demand ceases to grow." 101 Subrahmanyam wants to suggest historical change in an economy took place through the complex interactions of multiple factors, an analysis of which may only be arrived at through careful examination of "the actual processes." 102

Problems with a work such as Subrahmanyam's, however, do not arise in connection with these types of astute conclusions. The problem comes when he and others try to explain how Indians made sense of the production system. According to most of those historians, locals automatically used caste as the epistemological basis for constituting defensive or evasive strategies to counter the inroads made by European companies. "While the caste hierarchy may provide a rough and ready first approximation of gainers and losers — the dominant agricultural caste as gainers, untouchables as devoid of access to gains — it does not adequately emphasize how within each caste and occupational group, wealth and income came to be unequally distributed." 103 Arasaratnam had done this earlier also. In explaining how weavers could migrate to other areas to protest Company attempts at coercion, he writes that they could do so "because of the caste network and regional links." 104 This convenient fallback onto caste when attempting to incorporate the totality of Indian maneuvers into historical analysis rests far short of allowing Indians to describe more widely their roles in the system. Granted, the works of Subrahmanyam and others, with their unquestioning acceptance of a caste hierarchy, do not, perhaps, aspire to rendering subjectivity to Indians. So it would seem unfair to criticize them in such a vein. But the almost exclusive presence of such an approach in works about the system of textile production in this region begs the question of how the weavers themselves perceived their own roles in the various relationships that existed in connection with the production of that cloth. Even Subrahmanyam himself criticizes Arasaratnam and Chaudhuri along these lines with his claim that they incorrectly characterize the weavers as being unable to engage the European companies on their own terms. These primarily economic histories have employed various and extensive statistics to locate weavers as objects of historical forces, and not as participants in the making of the history of the area.

G. N. Rao, whom Subrahmanyam also cites, deviates slightly from these wider trends with the inclusion in his work of figures that suggest different sets of roles played by various groups of weavers. He notes, in an attempt to downplay the effects of higher levels of imports of British textiles in the first half of the nineteenth century into the region, that it may have been more intense competition from increasing numbers of "nontraditional" weavers entering the handloom industry that contributed to the worsening condition of weavers as a whole. British imports had primarily affected weavers who produced finer cloths while production of coarser cloths still expanded up to the 1830s, and was thus possibly seen as a viable occupation for newcomers or for small peasants forced off the land. 105 The groups of so-called nontraditional weavers noted by G. N. Rao included "Malaloo (present day Harijans [sic]) and other socially backward communities like 'Imdras' and others [who] had come to form a sizable portion in the weaving community." 106 This set of statistics permits conclusions in direct contravention of Subrahmanyam's conclusions about the gainers and losers in the industry, and so should serve well to aid in questioning economic models. But G. N. Rao uses the numbers in another way, to show that the local economy was capable of decline on its own, and did not need European assistance. His goal is to undermine economic analysis of the region, and is not geared to enhance social-historical analysis. For example, those same statistics could have been cited in another way, as a means to demonstrate that the structure of the industry was dependent on more than the making of fiscal policy or costs of commodities. In this case, despite the fact that the textile industry was in trouble, peasants appear to have been in worse shape than even weavers, and thus perceived weaving as the lesser of two hardships. These numbers also suggest that even "untouchables as devoid of access to gains," to use Subrahmanyam's phrase, had some choices in the matter of how, at least, to attempt to achieve some gains, meager as they might be. Nevertheless, we can see in precisely this type of example that G. N. Rao makes no effort to instill his work with the idea that there was a subjectivity on the parts of weavers. His rich facts might have permitted him to try this approach, but such an attempt does not materialize.

More to the point about the use of statistics such as the ones Rao incorporates, as was the case with Subrahmanyam later, is the unquestioning adoption of categories either put forth by the records themselves or taken from certain contemporary contexts. Thus, when Rao is trying to show that local competition was sufficient to put pressure on the industry in the region, he comes to that conclusion by trusting in the labels that the collector of the region used to describe the weavers. Following are the headings of the table (with columns numbered from one to five) that Rao cites, and from which he draws his conclusions:

1. Year2. No. of looms of traditional weavers 'Sauleloo'3. No. of looms of non-traditional weavers 'Malaloo' 'Imdras' and other castes4. Total No. of looms5. Remarks

Both columns two and three (reflecting numbers of looms by social group) conflate játi names with the occupation of weaving. This is to say, those columns reify the idea that members of certain játi groups either did or did not weave according to some set of ideas drawn up about the "essential" natures of the játis.

Because the report itself was drawn up to suggest that people could move into and out of the profession, whether they were weavers from "traditional" or "nontraditional" groups, the entire presupposition of the column headings needs to be called into question. Though Rao does not do this, other historians have. Arasaratnam, for instance, noted the problem. "The composition and spread of the weaving castes show that there has been considerable mobility among weavers, both geographically and socially." He further pointed out "other occupational castes, such as fishermen and landless labourers of untouchable castes, have come into weaving." 108 But even putting aside this somewhat deconstructive analysis of the column headings in the source, from the records and from popular sources elsewhere, it is clear that in Telugu-speaking India there existed more than one group to which the label "traditional weavers" might apply. Arasaratnam makes the claim that "the two great Telugu weaving castes were the devangulu and sale." 109 This means that column three (the number of "nontraditional" weavers), in fact, probably included numbers of at least the Dévánga játi members as well. Therefore, based on these statistics, the ability to say that there arose an influx of so-called nontraditional weavers who suppressed the prosperity of the region is in all likelihood erroneous. Even in an attempt to counter the notion of export led growth and contraction in the textile industry, statements such as these in a sense "colonize" caste and make it serve the master of the model. Using caste in this way also fuels other stereotypes about a concept that requires more sensitive deployment. Here, for instance, the conclusion adds weight to nostalgic views of caste that hearken to the supposed balance that the "caste hierarchy" offers, disruption of which (by "nontraditional" weavers, for instance) leads to the "troubling" results that Rao was trying to explain.

If a general statement might be made about the works put forth by this collection of historians, it is that these scholars, in the course of asserting various economic theories about the production of textiles in South India, have made weavers the sites for the production of that knowledge about economic relationships. They have developed a historiography on the issue of weaving, and not a historiography on weavers. The work of attempting to understand some of the ways in which weavers might have constituted, or continue to constitute anew, their own identities has been left to anthropologists such as Mattison Mines and his work, The Warrior Merchants. 110 His particular investigation into a Tamil weaving community, however, cannot speak for all of South India. Nor can it breach the gulf between an analysis of the experience of weavers during the heyday of European domination of exports and the current status of weavers in their own societies. There is an historical process missing in the corpus of Mines's work on weavers, one that needs to attempt to show how seventeenth- and eighteenth-century phenomena — the coming of British control over much of the production for export from the region, and the end of the export market — play a part in the construction of a contemporary weaver identity. This chapter has tried to document one telling of that history by showing nascent manifestations of weaver identity played out in the demonstration of solidarities among weavers in the early part of the nineteenth century.

From Colonizing to Orientalizing Handloom Textile Production



Early nineteenth-century coastal Andhra was witnessing the tail end of the British East India Company's factory system of acquiring textiles for export. 112 Various reasons lay behind the eventual demise of those acquisition practices. Foremost were that the East India Company eventually ceased to engage in trade itself (1833), and that the production of similar textiles in Britain was on the rise. The end was in sight long before the official termination of Company participation in commerce. In 1830 the collector of the Godavari District had to take charge of the factories at Ingeram and Maddepollam because of the excessive debts that merchants and weavers were accruing. 113 The export of textiles through these factories was ceasing to be profitable. By 1831 the factories at those two places, once the centers for the collection of textiles in the region, and, therefore, the chief markers of prosperity for the Company there, had been abolished. It was their closure, in fact, that was used by the collector as an explanation for the lower tax revenue in the area. "The abolition of the factories of Ingeram and Maddepollam by which much floating capital has been withdrawn from the district is one cause of the deficiency of the collection money being very scarce throughout the district." 114 The repercussions of the abolition extended also to the revival of the debate on the validity of imposing a loom tax on all weavers, since a connection to Government no longer existed for them. But this heightened interest in weavers was short lived. In 1837 both Ingeram and Maddepollam, with their godowns and washing areas were auctioned for about Rs. 5,300 each. 115 With that, two paradigmatic factories of the East India Company factory system ceased to exist, as did most government interest in textiles for export and the weavers who produced these textiles.

After the cessation of the use of the factory system by the East India Company and the Company's subsequent departure from the earlier schema of trade in India, weavers and handloom weaving disappeared from their places of prominence in the records of the Company. This development was certainly not unexpected. As long as the export of textiles figured prominently in the revenues of the East India Company, we would expect it to take its appropriate place in the records. With the shift to crown rule, and income from India derived primarily from taxation, and not trade, weavers moved to a position, with relation to the government, at the extreme periphery. This movement from center of export trade to marginality occurred in an extremely short period of time. By the mid-1880s finished clothing from Britain was less expensive than Indian made cloth. And the Indian handloom weaving industry, as far as the Government of India was concerned, had become an artifact of an earlier age. Venkataraman's somewhat sarcastic chapter heading from 1940, "The hand-loom still survives!" reflects this attitude.

In the mid-1880s, seeing that this change in the relationship between government and the handloom weaving industry had taken place, E. B. Havell was dispatched by the revenue branch of the government in Madras to investigate the status of the arts and industries of Madras Presidency. So removed from any awareness of the textile industry had the government become that Havell was seen as an explorer of sorts, venturing out into the hinterland of production, of which nothing was known. One of the first reports he sent back to Madras noted this situation. "The majority of Europeans know nothing of it [the weaving industry], except those few who benefit by its commercial ruin; and the means of obtaining any information with regard to it are very scanty." 116 Havell found that his travels were to be an investigation into the hardships of those who wove for a living, and how they endured the competition from Britain. Though he had been dispatched to look at a number of industries, Havell found that weaving remained an important industry in southern India. He wrote, "Dealing with the weaving industry first, as it is by far the most important in respect of the numbers employed in it, I find that a great variety of textile manufacture is carried on in these districts." But that kind of observation had to be mitigated by the industry's overall status. "The general condition of these industries is altogether unsatisfactory. Hardly one of them can be said to be really flourishing. Many of them seem to be fast dying out." 117 And a report of fifty years after Havell claims that the industry only survived that long because "the weaver is content with low wages." 118

What, then, was being woven by that troubled industry and who were its workers? Havell primarily gives us an in-depth look at the variety and types of cloths produced. His is the eye of an archeologist of the loom. We hear that there were two primary types of cotton cloth woven, white and colored. Of the colored there were further breakdowns according to the quality of the twists or the coarseness of the fabric. And, as an orientalization of the industry might be expected to produce, there are the careful references to the correlation between cloth and market. "The specialty of these places is a well-woven and finely dyed cloth worn as a dhoti by Mahomedans throughout the Northern Circars and exported largely to Hyderabad." 119 And "The second variety of colored cloth is made at Rajam in the Vizagapatam District. They are cloths for female wear, but are worn by the hill tribes." 120 The largest part of textile production focused (in 1888) on what Havell described as "cloths of various degrees of fineness, none remarkable fine, all of imported twist." 121 Those cloths might have had a band at the end, of colored thread. Some might even have used embroidery with silver. Most of his report is along these lines, though Havell also documented some of the troubles faced in the region by the weavers themselves. It is here that we see one of the major results of changes in category production about weavers compared to the beginning of the century. At one point Havell turns the table on weavers and identifies them not by language, játi, or region but by the textiles they produce. "These two classes of weavers are common to nearly all districts." 122 That is, those who produced the two different types of cloth.

In the records, then, the weaver category had taken on a new meaning, and an ironic one at that; it was one of the objects in the production of knowledge about artisanal, noncolonized India (and thus later could become, for Gandhi and other nationalists, an expression of opposition to colonialism). No longer was it the group of people weaving cloth for the Company who happen to exist according to the inscrutable workings of their various "weaver caste" categories. They were not even the objects of contesting knowledge about the export industry — "Company weavers," for instance. They were now those subjects of the crown who eked out a subsistence living according to the production of a variety of "native cloths." The "producers of native cloths" was apparently the easiest way for Havell to articulate the primary difference that persisted for that body of people from others around them in their society. Caste was not an issue for Havell because the government no longer arrogated to itself the task of "organizing" weavers to promote production for Company export activities. Earlier in the nineteenth century caste had been an additional and useful discursive tool, an attempt to augment the Company's juridical control over the industry. Seventy years later Havell observed weavers through an entirely different lens — categorizer of crafts, and fit his data into existing artisan category spaces he felt appropriate, or into those he constructed.

As weavers moved in the imperial imagination toward becoming objects of knowledge about Indian society and away from objects of knowledge about the production of a staple colonial commodity, the perceived reasons for a need to engage in dialogue with them also changed. Inquiries about weaver-ness did not hold a privileged position in the records of the business of India, but rather in the anthropological data on India. And if caste were not part of the inquiry equation, weavers did not seem to call for further negotiation on that label. Where the weaver category did appear in the records, it was placed alongside other groups in Indian society, on almost equal footing. Thus a less contested "weaver" label emerged, and proved important, for instance, in smoothing census categories, easing the ways by which the British worked toward definitive census mechanisms. Although weavers certainly had not ceased working out definitions of self in conjunction with bureaucratic tools, the term weaver did not prompt riots or loud calls for further refinement. Figures such as Havell who sought to mark weavers in a particular way could use this term with little contest. If negotiation was still there, it worked at a much more sublimated level by this time.

This movement from one sort of knowledge production to another, from a type of colonization of weavers to their orientalization has also factored into secondary source material on the history of the handloom weaving industry and its workers in South India. Because that industry was not a meaningful part of any ongoing government enterprise by the end of the nineteenth century and was seen as an aspect of the backwardness of India, it could be relegated to a separate place in the writing of Indian social history. Read here, basically absent from social history. Economic historians could pick up on its role in the earlier European export trade because that represented a viable focus of historical research, that is, the primary reason for the coming of Europeans to India, and how the Indian economy adapted to the introduction of these foreigners. But the legacy of the shift in weaving in the late nineteenth century from handloom to mill and import cloth combined later with the choice by the Swadeshi movement and Gandhi to wear hand-spun and even hand-woven cloth as a marker of Indian strength and pride made handloom weavers objects of nostalgia. It has also subjected the historiography on weavers to allegations of nostalgia or even Gandhian idealism.

The shift to the orientalized "weaver" (manufacturer of the variety of cloths that are distinctly Indian for use by Indians, or that cloth designated representative of authentic Indian handicrafts) had taken shape by the time of Havell's reports in the 1880s, and has continued to the present. K. S. Venkataraman's 1940 work The Hand-Loom Industry in South India is an excellent vantage point from which to see this. In that work the term weaver is used almost unfailingly to describe those who worked in the hand-loom industry. Weavers are laborers and are unmarked by social or cultural signifiers. Mention of játi, for instance, is almost absent. In fact, it appears there is a concerted effort on Venkataraman's part to avoid any use of játi names in the course of describing weavers, except for the twelve-page chapter XV, entitled "The Weaver." There, the author's use of contemporary census figures (by 1940 those figures did not include caste) allows him to bypass social distinctions that may have existed within the weaver category. Numbers representing workers in the industry are presented in terms of "cotton spinners and sizers" or "cotton weavers, mill-owners and managers." He continues this sort of citation even when quoting from the 1891 census, a census that went out of its way to display the range of social subgroups within occupational labels. 123

For Venkataraman caste appears only as a type of footnote in a work on the textile industry in southern India as a whole. Even when he does take a moment to delve into that aspect of weavers' lives, he almost apologizes: "The rapid break-down of caste monopoly of occupations has not affected very much the hand-loom industry; for still over 60 per cent of the hand-weavers are mainly weavers by caste. The Kaikolars, Devangas, Sales and Sourashtras are the important weaving castes found in the Madras Presidency and a brief survey of their social customs and characteristics is not out of place." 124 The author seems to be excusing himself, explaining that because 60 percent of the weavers in South India are from "weaving castes" he is warranted in incorporating analysis of those castes. Thus it is only because of the coincidence of two sets of statistics (first, that there were census documents indicating "weaving castes," and second, that 60 percent of weavers were from those játis) that Venkataraman includes this chapter. How játi plays into the makeup of "weaver-ness" is as little a consideration for him as it was for Havell. Whereas religion — caste — had been an integral episteme in constructs about weavers for East India Company officials earlier, "weavers," in its purely production-based manifestation, was now substituted by Venkataraman as a new and different kind of marker of that social unit. Caste had become a purely adjunct label, one that might help explain discrepancies with other data in the records. This is critical, and it needs to be contrasted to a situation in which the East India Company records portray caste as itself the essence of weaver-ness and weaver action, and the hidden motivating characteristic behind weaver activity for which Dillon and Malcolm had earnestly searched more than a century earlier.

The uses Venkataraman makes of "weaver" and caste indicate something of the changed nature of classifications of groups over this period. Especially revealing is Venkataraman's larger description of weavers and weaving, a picture which he clearly tore from wider census-means of labeling. His is a reading of statistics, particularly with regard to "religion," that views the numbers as transparent. Those statistics are capable of providing meaning for themselves in the hands of his readers. He offers no elucidation, and even feels free to produce blanket statements about castes. Of Dévángas he can say, "The caste is socially self-contained; they have their own dasis, and other social institutions." 125 Individuals are nowhere to be found. If people are there, it is caste that makes them who they are in relation to their "social institutions," and that suffices by way of explanation. He makes no allowance for the possibility that social constructions, productions of knowledge about weaver selves based on their own cultural experiences, might shape the ways in which they constitute themselves as weavers, which for him means producers of cloth. Obviously, this suits his economic analysis nicely, since he need not complicate models about the way the industry developed overall with the incorporation of potentially conflicting data based on the activity of people who acted of their own accord, for their own stated reasons.

Caste had remained distinct and impenetrable in the earlier East India Company records (and this impenetrability served the Company's needs nicely — find a reason in caste, and one need go no further for an explanation). For Venkataraman in the middle of the twentieth century, instead of caste, it was the impenetrability of the weaver category that proved serviceable for his economic history needs. Records from the beginning of the nineteenth century indicated some kind of inscrutable link between játis and the occupations associated with them. Venkataraman's account makes the link no less scrutable, it merely forces a disjunction of those two aspects of culture. "Weaver" had indeed become, by 1940, a legitimate category for those whose occupations were weaving, but it was still a label that scholars felt was as opaque as caste, the category they had almost discarded as a means of description for weavers. Economic histories forty and fifty years after Venkataraman continue to analyze the textile industry and its weavers in a similar vein.

Venkataraman's work is not meant to be seen here as the definitive example of the orientalization of weavers. Yet his book does offer another link in the chain that connects earlier studies to contemporary accounts of the history of the weaving industry and its weavers, none of which attempts to deal with the role of the weaver in the making of the industry or the multifaceted workings-out of the epistemologies that go into the making of the weaver category itself. Ultimately the point here is that it is precisely through a process typified by the earlier exchanges between government and weavers that the latter were able to stake out spaces for themselves in society and in the records to articulate who they were in their own terms, and how they wanted to be designated and dealt with — whether or not that was to include játi, regional language designations, or economic roles (e.g., buyers of indigo). The very viability of a "weaver" category for Indians in 1940 is evidence of exactly such an historical process. Furthermore, that process of producing weavers did have an impact on the history of the industry. We can see this impact best by noting a decline in the intensity of negotiations about defining weavers. 126 Havell's later report on weavers, for instance, offers no new knowledge about those people — no new epistemologies of the self. The category itself had ceased being hotly contested, a fruit of the previous century's dialogue. The government bureaucracy (factories, residents, collectors, and the records) that had earlier tried to control the industry and its workers was now absent, but had left its mark. That bureaucratic presence had allocated space for the articulation of the self and the development of categories. It was a space from the early nineteenth century that did permit categories (weavers) to be politicized, as we similarly saw with petitions and the resolution of boundary disputes. Its role was not unlike that played by burgeoning Telugu-language print culture. 127 Observing this process even further, we see that by the time Venkataraman writes his work, some fifty years after Havell, "weaver" as a category has become even more accessible, less contested, and can further displace weavers themselves as subjects from the writing about their industry.

Importantly, Havell's report of the late nineteenth century presents us with a way to come to terms with what had become an established category by that time. In the course of his comparison between the lots of the cotton printers and the weavers themselves, for instance, Havell makes a comment that could be likened to descriptions of Brahmans in the early part of the century:

The Masulipatam workmen are well paid compared with the weavers. Probably they adapt themselves to circumstances more easily. The weavers seem to have an almost invincible objection to any other occupation and will hold on to their looms as long as they can earn enough to provide themselves with scanty food. 128

As far as the weavers' families were concerned, the same was true:

The cotton weavers are perhaps worse off than most others, for though an ordinary carpenter or black-smith receives no more than an average weaver, his wife and family are at liberty to work in the fields or as coolies and thus add to their earning, whereas a weaver's family is wholly occupied in giving assistance as preparatory work for the loom. 129

Weavers, again, were no longer those who happened to have acquired an adjunct identity through their relationship to the Company. That is, weaving was no longer, in the minds of those who analyzed weavers, simply an outgrowth of some "natural" játi identity. "Weaver" had become an essentialized category, with all of its own necessary associations. This stage of development meant that, for instance, actions performed by weavers of the late nineteenth century did not have to be explained in terms of caste or economic hardship, as those actions had been one hundred years before by the likes of Malcolm and Dillon. Thus Venkataraman in 1940 had to apologize for including a brief discussion of játi in a book about weaving since readers might construe such a discussion as an acceptance of caste as the basis for explaining weaver behavior. It was not just that he needed to retain economic bases for such analyses, but that játi and weaving had become two unrelated means for constituting identities in Venkataraman's understanding of society and economy in India. As far as such analysts and Government were concerned, weavers were now a completely distinct category, a category explicable in itself as a discrete unit, whose participants acted according to ascribed guidelines, even to the point of that term constituting a caste of sorts.

A completely separate piece of data bears out this characterization to a high degree. In a list of the groups that made up the constabulary in Madras in 1870, under the heading, "Castes and Race of Constabulary by District on 31 March, 1870," are twenty-one different group labels. Among those categories are Christians and Brahmans. But right between Vunniers and Yeddiers (two Tamil language categories) is "Weavers." 130 It is the only category of the twenty-one that uses an English language occupation name to double for a "caste and race" term.



Certainly there is no absolute way of being able to prove that weavers had become a "self-actualized" group with their own category by the end of the nineteenth century. Economically, the weaving sector had ceased to be an important part of the colonial experience. But, as G. N. Rao's general conclusion submits, the introduction of British mill cloth had not brought about the end of the handloom industry. "Undue emphasis should not be placed on the price-competition factor as it did not vigorously disturb the native market for coarse cloth in the region." 131 Havell's observations substantiate this statement. The textile industry had its own dynamic and was only partly reliant on the opportunity to produce for an export market. The ability of groups and individuals to move into and out of the industry, depending on the viability of earning a living at any one time, provides a basis for understanding how weaving as an occupation could become a context for the formation of a new identity category. The notion of "traditional weavers" lost much of its substance during this period, as Venkataraman's rather low 60 percent-of-weavers-coming-from-traditional-castes figure and the difficulty of maintaining consistent weaver categories in the census seem to indicate. Moreover, the argument that the agrarian expansion of the middle nineteenth century alleviated some of the pressure that weavers were beginning to face during the second quarter of the century lends further credence to the idea that weaving for the domestic market could remain an important part of the local economy and support those individuals and groups who remained weavers, while others turned or returned to agricultural occupations. 132

Arasaratnam's contention that the policies instituted by the English East India Company afforded an "historical inevitability" to the changes in the handloom industry must be rejected, except to say that the inevitability of change in the industry in general had to be expected in the first place. 133 The policies of the Company attempted to change the nature of the relationship between the weaver, his loom, and the finished product. Though change may have resulted to some degree, what the coming of the Company bureaucracy actually did was provide a new and different forum for weavers to articulate needs and definitions of the self to the Company and its servants. The inevitable set of circumstances we might be seeing here were that the weavers in the Northern Circars, as a result of participating in the procurement system, and thus of having an opportunity to voice ideas about identity politics to such a company through petitions and protest, developed a profoundly new understanding of their own roles as weavers in their villages, in the industry, in relation to the Company, and in relation to other, non-weaver groups. This formation of identity, and the ultimate staying-power of the weaver category, required a growth in the ability of weavers to use very specific tools, including petitions, protests, and the voicing of an ideology of the self. These were tools that, in fact, would easily transfer over to the waging of the battles over the politics of identity that stretched from the late nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, the assertion of other contentious categories — nation, language, and religion. The very tools used to fight those twentieth-century battles had been honed during the expressions of solidarity made many years earlier.

The history of the weavers of coastal Andhra has been portrayed by historians as an economic history, one that can tell us something about the relationship between European capital and an Indian industry. The intricacies of this history have been debated in many ways, and existing historiography can thus provide an important starting point for looking at the history of weavers themselves in the nineteenth century. But the early nineteenth century is as recent as that historiography brings us or attempts to penetrate. The historiography, furthermore, does not speak to the possibility of the formation of a weaver identity through the discursive process I have tried to outline. The full course of the nineteenth century is beyond the scope of most of those economic histories of weavers, and that in itself necessitates an incompleteness for that historiography. The nineteenth century, with its culmination of a bureaucracy in India, and the passing of the colonization of the industry, is the critical juncture for a look at this identity formation process. End-of-the-nineteenth-century indications suggest that the process of articulating weaver identity in new ways had become less open. "Weaver" as a label had ceased being dialogic with respect to government. This also corresponds to the fact that there is no evidence that it was any longer a contested category, as it had been earlier, for Telugu speakers. On the other hand, the debates surrounding the names of categories to be used in compiling census data show that Sális, Dévángas and others had cast off neither their játi affiliations in favor of the weaver category, nor their desires to assert the játi characteristic of their identities. Weavers, then, continued to be able to adopt a range of group labels, and to constitute identity in complex ways. In fact, the census debates may actually be showing that it was caste, and not occupation category, that was being discursively produced, and that indeed játi had been a much less politically charged issue earlier in the century, as it seems in the same fluctuating manner occupation lost some charge later in the century. In any case, by this time, those who wove had already taken on new identities. A century of articulating weaver "rights" in the space of the records helped produce a new category for those who chose to adopt it. "Weaver" became a legitimate label for both those who wove and the government that reserved a space for it.


Note 1: See Arasaratnam, Merchants, Companies and Commerce, and "Weavers, Merchants and Company: The Handloom Industry in Southeastern India, 1750-1790," The Indian Economic and Social History Review [IESHR] 17, no. 3 (1980): 257-281; Joseph Brennig, "The Textile Trade of Seventeenth-Century Northern Coromandel: A Study of a Pre-Modern Asian Export Industry" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1975) and "Textile Producers and Production in Late Seventeenth Century Coromandel," IESHR 23, no. 4 (1986): 333-355; Sanjay Subrahmanyam, "Rural Industry and Commercial Agriculture in Late Seventeenth-Century South-Eastern India," Past and Present 126 (Feb. 1990): 76-114.  Back.

Note 2: G. N. Rao, "Stagnation and Decay of the Agricultural Economy of Coastal Andhra," Artha Vijñana 20, no. 3 (Sept. 1978): 221-243; P. Sudhir and P. Swarnalatha, "Textile Traders and Territorial Imperatives: Masulipatnam, 1750-1850," IESHR 29, no. 2 (1992): 145-169.  Back.

Note 3: This general critique of the records is a major concern for historians of the Subaltern Studies project, who presage much of their work on the inadequacy of the records to reveal anything other than that which colonial discourse encompasses. Although I acknowledge that there are problems with some of the uses of the official records in writing a history of weavers, I will attempt to use those records in a way that recovers what the discourse of colonialism would otherwise bury.  Back.

Note 4: Arasaratnam, Merchants, Companies and Commerce, 265.  Back.

Note 5: A term used at times in the records and by some historians.  Back.

Note 6: The Coromandel coast encompasses a huge area of diverse languages and cultures from the far south of the Indian peninsula to somewhere along the Telugu-speaking eastern coastal areas some hundreds of miles to the north.  Back.

Note 7: I do not propose a specifically "Telugu" identity with this designated area, but instead that Telugu was a significant medium for communication across certain boundaries. The importance of Telugu as such a medium was also evident in the Bobbili Katha, where it was the basis for expressing relationships between Vizianagaram and Bobbili.  Back.

Note 8: Kópdár (kópudárudu) in Telugu refers generally to a person who sells goods (C. P. Brown's "one who imports goods for sale" (A Telugu-English Dictionary [Madras, 1903], 327.) and J. P. L. Gwynn's "traveling salesman, hawker" (A Telugu-English Dictionary [Delhi, 1991], 145). Thus a Kómati (Vaisya) might fit the bill. But in the context of weavers and the procurement of cloth from them, kópdár refers to the person who worked as the intermediary, both contracting with the British and handing over advances to the weavers. Despite assertions by some historians one way or the other, it is not clear that kópdárs had ever been from "traditional weaving castes" or from any caste in particular at all (though they did come to play critical roles in the formation of weaver identity). The commercial residents were the East India Company's officials in the factory towns that collected and sorted textiles for export. Those functionaries had an important stake in securing a regular supply of fabric from "their" weavers. Some of the implications of this stake are described below when I take a look at British commercial residents clashing with British tax collectors over a variety of issues. The Madras Board of Trade was the branch of the Madras government in charge of, among other things, investing in, taking profits from, and tracking the flow of Company textile exports from South India.  Back.

Note 9: The French had a factory, for instance, in Yanam, near Rajahmundry, and the Dutch had many factories, including a presence in Bimilipatnam, near Vizagapatam.  Back.

Note 10: Transcript of Report from Madras Board of Trade to Collector, Godavari District, on Cobdar system in Vizagapatam District, 18 January 1818, Godavari District Records, vol. 832, fols. 294-340.  Back.

Note 11: Godavari District Records, vol. 832, fol. 298, 18 January 1818.  Back.

Note 12: Godavari District Records, vol. 832, fol. 297.  Back.

Note 13: These were the records of the transactions between the weavers and middlemen.  Back.

Note 14: Godavari District Records, vol. 832, fols. 298-300. The full text of the report is vol. 832, fols. 294-340.  Back.

Note 15: See Arasaratnam, "Weavers, Merchants and Company," 267.  Back.

Note 16: Godavari District Records, vol. 940B, fol. 242 (17 February 1802).  Back.

Note 17: The Boards of Trade and Revenue represented two very different roles for the East India Company in India. Obviously, the names of the boards reflect their different interests, but the fact that those interests could be in direct conflict with each other is not so apparent. These conflicts will become more evident when I discuss issues such as the moturpha (below), a tax levied on weavers and their looms. In the case of that tax the potential conflict lay with the fact that the Board of Revenue collected the moturpha, but the Board of Trade supervised the production of textiles by "Company" weavers.  Back.

Note 18: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 3079, fol. 251 (21 February 1813).  Back.

Note 19: "Thanapetties" is actually sénápattis ("generals," "leaders," or, here, "head weavers").  Back.

Note 20: Godavari District Records, vol. 832, fols. 300-302 (18 January 1818).  Back.

Note 21: Godavari District Records, vol. 832, fol. 302.  Back.

Note 22: Note, for instance, the same results evident in chapter 4.  Back.

Note 23: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 2960, fol. 124 (16 September 1811). The Board of Trade appealed to the Board of Revenue in this manner because zamindars came under the revenue branch of the Company's administration. Weavers, on the other hand, were administratively attached to the Company's Board of Trade through its representative at the local level, the Commercial Resident. Joseph Brennig has noted the practice of a "guddem" tax levied on nonagricultural communities lasting late into the eighteenth century. Joseph Brennig, "The Textile Trade of Seventeenth-Century Northern Coromandel: A Study of a Pre-Modern Asian Export Industry," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1975), 198-212 passim. That tax takes the form of grain being forced on those people at higher than market prices. The instances we see here, however, seem to be of a quite different nature. In these cases no mention is made of such a tax, and instead the exchange is only referred to as an abuse of the relationship between weaver and the provider of advances.  Back.

Note 24: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 3075B, fol. ? (illegible) (30 December 1799). Tanadars were East India Company revenue officials.  Back.

Note 25: Godavari District Records, vol. 885, fol. 30 (19 March 1796). "Havelly" refers to a certain type of land tenure.  Back.

Note 26: The "public"/"private" distinction here is important, but must be contextualized. Public or private production and public or private weavers were exclusively categories for use in the records and among administrators. "Public" was a term to be used for that cloth and those weavers connected with Company procurement. "Private" referred to cloth and weavers not playing a part in the system of procurement for the Company. In these instances, public and private did not refer to uses (politicized or not) of space. They were not, therefore, terms used in the same way Freitag analyzes them or in how she adopts them for use from Habermas. Of Freitag's see, for instance, "Enactments of Ram's Story and the Changing Nature of 'The Public' in British India," South Asia n.s. 14, no. 1 (June 1991): 65-90. That article uses JÜrgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, 1989).  Back.

Note 27: According to H. H. Wilson, moturpha (also motarfa) "included a variety of taxes indefinite in their amount and vexatious in their nature. These consisted of imports, on houses, on implements of agriculture, on looms, on merchants, on artificers and on other professions and castes" (A Glossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms [Calcutta, 1940 (1855)], 549).  Back.

Note 28: Godavari District Records, vol. 4662, fol. 318 (11 June 1828).  Back.

Note 29: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 2960, fol. 123 (16 September 1811).  Back.

Note 30: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 2960, fol. 124.  Back.

Note 31: Godavari District Records, vol. 883, fol. 242 (7 September 1793).  Back.

Note 32: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 2960, fol. 127.  Back.

Note 33: Godavari District Records, vol. 940B, fol. 241 (17 February 1802).  Back.

Note 34: The "kareedars" in this passage are the intermediaries between the Company and the weavers, as in the case of kópdárs elsewhere. "Kareedars" could refer to people playing various roles in this economy, and is the same word that will refer to the "buyer" in an instance later.  Back.

Note 35: Letter from gomastah Dauvooloory Ramaiah, trans. George Coleman, Deputy Commercial Resident, 23 June 1800, Masulipatam District Records, vol. 3067, fol. 117.  Back.

Note 36: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 2960, fols. 149-150 (4 October 1812).  Back.

Note 37: Godavari District Records, vol. 863, fol. 192 (21 May 1804).  Back.

Note 38: Godavari District Records, vol. 895, fol. 109 (7 October 1803).  Back.

Note 39: Godavari District Records, vol. 863, fol. 191 (21 May 1804).  Back.

Note 40: Godavari District Records, vol. 863, fol. 194. It is possible that these "mutinies" were the work of a type of weaver trade groups (samáyulu), but no specific mention is made of these groups in the records.  Back.

Note 41: Godavari District Records, vol. 940B, fol. 323 (8 March 1802).  Back.

Note 42: Godavari District Records, vol. 863, fol. fol. 261 (19 February 1802).  Back.

Note 43: Godavari District Records, vol. 940B, fol. 378 (17 March 1802).  Back.

Note 44: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 3079, fol. 247 (22 January 1813).  Back.

Note 45: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 3053, fol. 535 (13 September 1804).  Back.

Note 46: Godavari District Records, vol. 4649, fol. 247 (2 August 1821).  Back.

Note 47: Letter to the Board of Trade from William Brown, Commercial Department, Vizagapatam, 2 April 1820, Godavari District Records, vol. 832, fol. 153. Zillah was the Persian term for what became, under the British, the district. It consisted of a number of smaller land units, one kind of which, for instance, was the purganah (Wilson, A Glossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms, 902-903).  Back.

Note 48: Godavari District Records, vol. 944, fol. 469 (15 May 1802).  Back.

Note 49: Godavari District Records, vol. 946, fol. 565 (16 February 1803). "Campoos" refers to one játi group.  Back.

Note 50: Here "custom" indicates a customary tax.  Back.

Note 51: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 3075B, fol. 425 (25 September 1799). Note also that in the Telugu version the word translated as "Banians" is Kómatis.  Back.

Note 52: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 2992, fols. 99-100 (13 November 1795).  Back.

Note 53: Godavari District Records, vol. 940B, fol. 279 (24 February 1802).  Back.

Note 54: "Stagnation and Decay," 234. Rao cites S. V. Puntambedar and N. S. Varadachari, Hand-spinning and Hand-weaving: An Essay (Delhi, 1926), 67.  Back.

Note 55: "Weavers, Merchants and Company," 281.  Back.

Note 56: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 56 (4 June 1796).  Back.

Note 57 Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 57. See Appendix 5A: Comparison of English and French Prices Paid for Cloth in 1795  Back.

Note 58: Punjams were a measure of quality "according to the number of threads in the woof" (Wilson, A Glossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms, 681.)  Back.

Note 59: This activity was apparently widespread. It is listed, for instance, among the series of complaints from weavers at the factory at Vizagapatam. (See the earlier discussion of kópdárs.) The second in that number of grievances against kópdárs hints at this process going on in 1818. "The Cobdars take on their own account the rejected cloth paying for the same at a rate far below its value with or without the Weavers consent" (Godavari District Records, vol. 832, fol. 298 [18 January 1818]).  Back.

Note 60: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 36 (18 January 1798).  Back.

Note 61: Godavari District Records, vol. 886, fol. 462 (26 February 1798).  Back.

Note 62: Godavari District Records, vol. 886, fol. 462.  Back.

Note 63: Godavari District Records, vol. 886, fol. 462.  Back.

Note 64: Godavari District Records, vol. 886, fol. 469 (6 February 1798).  Back.

Note 65: Vizagapatam District Records, vol. 3707A, fol. 482 (31 July 1796).  Back.

Note 66: Godavari District Records, vol. 886, fol. 485.  Back.

Note 67: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 23 (19 January 1798).  Back.

Note 68: Godavari District Records, vol. 832B, fols. 413-414 (14 October 1803).  Back.

Note 69: The high potential for contrary understandings of these actions is noted by Ann Laura Stoler as well in her work on the Dutch East Indies. She writes,

assaults [on Europeans] were classified either as retaliations against an individual who happened to be European or expressions of an orchestrated assault on generic Europeans tout court. These narratives, however, allow for another scenario, the possibility not only that the personal was highly political but that outrage at planter abuses — be they physical, financial, moral, or psychological — were shared by different members of Deli's subject population who met the affronts of the estate economy and its violence by undermining its order in various ways.

This is not to suggest that a metanarrative reducing these events to "resistance" captures the complexities of this violence but to understand that the categories available to most colonial officials constrained what they could envision as a possible plot.

From "'In Cold Blood': Hierarchies of Credibility and the Politics of Colonial Narrative," Representations 37 (Winter 1992): 172.  Back.

Note 70: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 24 (18 January 1798).  Back.

Note 71: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 26.  Back.

Note 72: Patch was the term used in the Records for cloth other than long cloth sold for export. The British East India Company contracted primarily for the long cloth. So finding a piece of patch in a loom that had been contracted for weaving Company cloth probably meant that the weaver was using his advance from the Company to weave cloth for some other (competing) buyer. Finding such cloth in a Company loom might justify the merchant's actions in the minds of the British. At this time in the records other cloth, not intended for export, was termed "gentoo" cloth. The variety of cloths, in general, was extensive. According to Subrahmanyam, the European market "consumed not only the chintz and painted cloth of the Krishna and Godavari deltas (which in any case accounted for only a small fraction of total production), but also plain cloth — in particular the varieties known under the trade names of salampuri, percalla, muri, bethille and guinea-cloth (or long-cloth) (Subrahmanyam, "Rural Industry and Commercial Agriculture," 82). Arasaratnam also gives some attention to the variety of cloths from this region. See Merchants, Companies and Commerce, 98-102 passim.  Back.

Note 73: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 28.  Back.

Note 74: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 29.  Back.

Note 75: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 36.  Back.

Note 76: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 41.  Back.

Note 77: Godavari District Records, vol. 830, fol. 43.  Back.

Note 78: Godavari District Records, vol. 886, fol. 607 (10 September 1798).  Back.

Note 79: They may have actually only cut the cloth prior to its completion, a less severe course of action than breaking the loom. The passage is not completely clear on this point.  Back.

Note 80: Godavari District Records, vol. 883, fol. 216 (27 September 1793).  Back.

Note 81: Letter from Alexander Denton, Superintendent of the Corcondah Farm, Rajahnagagrum to Benjamin Branfill, Collector 3rd Division Masulipatam, 25 January 1798, Godavari District Records, vol. 847, fol. 198.  Back.

Note 82: Kaikólars represented only 16,633 of 190,301 weavers from Telugu-speaking districts, made up, in the 1881 census, of three different weaver játi groups. 1881 Census Report (Madras, 1883).  Back.

Note 83: Even then, only castes with more than 100,000 members were registered, and "Kaikólars," as a category for Telugu speaking areas, was then a vestige of the belief that a generic Indian-language weaver label might be sufficient. The 1871 census had only acknowledged Telugu categories in a separate note, after the presentation of its statistical tables.  Back.

Note 84: the full census report, but not in the summary for Telugu areas, the Kaikólar category was included for North Arcot District, which, though part of the "Telugu" areas for census purposes, was a Tamil-majority area. A typical problem with the census, even given the extensive list as it appears in the excerpt, is that Malas as a weaver group are not included because they were classified by the British simply as pariahs. Many Malas were in fact weavers. This speaks to the caste-as-occupation logic that colonialism tried to apply to India.  Back.

Note 85: Bernard Cohn, "The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia," in An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays (Delhi, 1990), 224-254.  Back.

Note 86: Cohn, "The Census," 230.  Back.

Note 87: Godavari District Records, vol. 946B, fol. 617 (26 March 1803).  Back.

Note 88: Godavari District Records, vol. 942, fol. 83 (12 September 1801).  Back.

Note 89: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 3067, fols. 120-121 (23 June 1800).  Back.

Note 90: Resorting to zamindars here places that group in an authoritative position vis-à-vis the East India Company's conception of religion. Oddly, zamindars become designated arbiters of the religious system because the East India Company wants no part of it, permitting the resident to distance himself from what is amounting to a volatile situation.  Back.

Note 91: Godavari District Records, vol. 946B, fol. 635 (2 April 1803).  Back.

Note 92: Godavari District Records, vol. 946B, fol. 635.  Back.

Note 93: Masulipatam District Records, vol. 3075A, fols. 284-286 (19 August 1799). Two different petitions from Kharidars are available in this section (the one discussed here and another immediately following, fols. 287-289).  Back.

Note 94: The actual Telugu petition is located in Masulipatam District Records, vol. 3075A, fol. 286. "Kharidárulu" means "holders of the price" and is another way of expressing the purchaser in a transaction.  Back.

Note 95: Edgar Thurston notes that Dévnágas, a group he calls a "weaving caste," could take the appellation "Setti" to denote "headman" (Castes and Tribes of Southern India, vol. II, 159).  Back.

Note 96: Declan Quigley, The Interpretation of Caste (Oxford, 1993), 166.  Back.

Note 97: Subrahmanyam, "Rural Industry and Commercial Agriculture," 77.  Back.

Note 98: Subrahmanyam uses Perlin's argument in the latter's "Proto-Industrialization and Pre-Colonial South Asia," Past and Present 98 (Feb. 1983): 30-95, as a jumping off point for his case about the dynamic of the local production systems in South India.  Back.

Note 99: Merchants, Companies, and Commerce, 273.  Back.

Note 100: Hameeda Hossain, The Company Weavers of Bengal: The East India Company and the Organization of Textile Production in Bengal 1750-1813 (Delhi, 1988), 177. See also Debendra B. Mitra, The Cotton Weavers of Bengal 1757-1833 (Calcutta, 1978).  Back.

Note 101: Subrahmanyam, "Rural Industry and Commercial Agriculture," 114.  Back.

Note 102: "Rural Industry and Commercial Agriculture," 114. Subrahmanyam's emphasis.  Back.

Note 103: "Rural Industry and Commercial Agriculture," 110.  Back.

Note 104: Merchants, Companies, and Commerce, 270.  Back.

Note 105: See Rao, "Stagnation and Decay," 239-241.  Back.

Note 106: Rao, "Stagnation and Decay," 240. Note that "Malaloo" refers to Málas, members of a játi that are today, for bureaucratic purposes, one of the two main, along with Mádigas, scheduled castes of Andhra Pradesh. For continued classifying of this sort, see K. S. Singh, The Scheduled Castes, Anthropological Survey of India, People of India, National Series, vol. 2 (Delhi, 1993).  Back.

Note 107: Rao, "Stagnation and Decay," 240. From MBR Consultations, 1844, fols. 11,756-11,763. In 1909 Thurston wrote that "The Sálés are the great weaver class among the Telugus" (Castes and Tribes of Southern India, vol. VI, 265). This is probably one reason why Rao does not question the 1844 classification "traditional weavers 'Sauleloo'" in his column heading. Thurston also quoted Nicholson, who stated, "'The chief occupations of the Malas are weaving, and working as farm labourers for Súdras.'" (Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, vol. VI, 350.) The point here is that Rao perpetuates the categorizations that are convenient for his analysis. Weaving was a "traditional" occupation for Málas, making them, if such designations exist in the first place, a traditional weaver caste! I do not intend to authorize Thurston here; I want to problematize the genealogies of categories that Rao would claim as legitimate.  Back.

Note 108: Merchants, Companies, and Commerce, 267.  Back.

Note 109: Merchants, Companies, and Commerce, 266. Elsewhere, also according to Thurston, "The Devangas are a caste of weavers" (Castes and Tribes of Southern India, vol. II, 154).  Back.

Note 110: Mattison Mines, The Warrior Merchants: Textiles, Trade, and Territory in South India (New York, 1984).  Back.

Note 111: K. S. Venkataraman, The Hand-Loom Industry in South India (Madras, 1940), 28.  Back.

Note 112: Though I use the term system here, it is done loosely. This chapter clearly has attempted to show that there was much less power behind the controlling series of practices by the Company than the term system might imply.  Back.

Note 113: Godavari District Records, vol. 4643, fol. 51 (29 April 1830).  Back.

Note 114: Godavari District Records, vol. 4644, fol. 112 (30 June 1831).  Back.

Note 115: Godavari District Records, vol. 4663, fol. 179 (29 June 1837).  Back.

Note 116: "Reports Submitted by Mr. E. B. Havell During the Years 1885-1888 on the Arts and Industries of Certain Districts of the Madras Presidency," Selections from the Records of the Madras Government. New (Revenue) Series, No. VI (Madras, 1909), 9.  Back.

Note 117: "Reports Submitted by Mr. E. B. Havell," 4.  Back.

Note 118: Venkataraman, The Hand-loom Industry in South India, 29. Of course, this is the same observation that East India Company officials had made 150 years earlier.  Back.

Note 119: "Reports Submitted by Mr. E. B. Havell," 18.  Back.

Note 120: "Reports Submitted by Mr. E. B. Havell," 19.  Back.

Note 121: "Reports Submitted by Mr. E. B. Havell," 19.  Back.

Note 122: "Reports Submitted by Mr. E. B. Havell," 20.  Back.

Note 123: Venkataraman, The Hand-Loom Industry in South India, 59.  Back.

Note 124: Venkataraman, The Hand-Loom Industry in South India, 178.  Back.

Note 125: Venkataraman, The Hand-Loom Industry in South India, 179.  Back.

Note 1265: This is comparable to the manufacturing of villages through boundary disputes discussed earlier. There, village identity politics became less heated as certain definitions became more widely accepted.  Back.

Note 127: But we should also note that, had the category been capable of igniting passions during Havell's travels, we must assume that weavers would have found an outlet for expressing those passions, as they had found and used many earlier. Again, I propose that the absence of contests over the use of the term weaver for Havell was a result more of weaver actions in the preceding century than a change in government policies. Identity politics among weavers had, by Havell's time, shifted to other realms, játi issues, for instance.  Back.

Note 128: Selections from the Records, 29.  Back.

Note 129: Selections from the Records, 30.  Back.

Note 130: Report on the Administration of the Madras Presidency, 1869-70 (Madras, 1870), Appendix II, lxiv. See this data also as reprinted in Arnold, Police Power and Colonial Rule, 43.  Back.

Note 131: "Stagnation and Decay," 243.  Back.

Note 132: "Stagnation and Decay," 243.  Back.

Note 133: "Weavers, Merchants, and Company," 281. Back.


Colonial Lists/Indian Power