TEA NEWS: Finally, pot boils on ‘Father of Assam Tea’ – historical fact or fiction ?!! or just a vain attempt to drum the Bengal ego by Bengal journos by ignoring the indigenous traditions of the people of the land long before the colonialists ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY WASIM RAHMAN
Jorhat, Oct. 18: When you sip your morning cuppa, do raise a silent cheer in tribute to Maniram Dewan.
Not just because the businessman, perhaps Assam’s most prominent citizen during the early days of the Raj, guided the discovery of tea in the state but also because he, in a way, fell martyr to his pioneering effort.
“He became the first Indian commercial tea planter and opened two tea gardens, giving the British companies stiff competition. So the Raj framed him in the 1857 revolt and hanged him,” said Arup Dutta, author of the book Cha Garam, which has details of Dewan’s life.
Dewan’s achievements may now be officially acknowledged with a memorial and the tag of “Father of Assam Tea”. Armed with documentary evidence, the Maniram Dewan Memorial Trust has approached both Dispur and New Delhi to honour Dewan, whose real name was Maniram Dutta.
Dewan, born near Jorhat in April 1806, was in his teens when, one day in Calcutta, he heard a group of British merchants discuss the profitability of the tea business in China. He told them the same bushes were grown by the Singphoo tribe in a region that now falls on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border.
One of his listeners was Scotsman Robert Bruce, who went on to be known as the man who discovered tea in Assam in 1823. It was a momentous event in the economy of the state which, to large parts of the outside world, is almost synonymous with tea.
Retired professor Ajit Dutta, who has written two books on Dewan’s life, said there was “sufficient (historical) material” to prove that Maniram was the first Indian commercial tea planter. He said the 19th-century British writer, Samuel Baildon, too had credited Dewan with guiding Bruce to the discovery of tea in the state.
“We want the government to accord the title ‘Father of Assam Tea’ to Maniram,” said Aroon Chandra Barooah, Maniram’s great-grandson and working president of the trust, which is headed by journalist Dhirendra Nath Chakravartty.
The trust wants a memorial built to Dewan at Cinnamara tea estate and has demanded that the garden, located on the southern outskirts of Jorhat town, be promoted as a “tea tourism” destination.
According to historical records, Dewan set up the garden in 1845 after resigning his post of dewan (chief executive) with the British-instituted Assam Tea Company, the first tea firm in Assam.
Barooah said the Tea Board had responded positively to the memorial plan, and the trust had sent it a project report that estimated the cost at Rs 35 lakh.
Dewan had played a leading role in Assam politics during early British rule, initially helping the Raj establish peace with various tribes and chieftains after two Burmese invasions.
He was an aide to the last Ahom king, Purandhar Singha, who appointed him Borbhandar Borua (head of royal treasury) after being restored as a tributary king in 1833 by the Raj.
Dewan, who ran many other businesses such as coal supply, elephant-rearing, iron-smelting and salt-manufacturing, later fell out with the British after receiving unequal treatment. His flourishing tea estates, Cinnamara and Singlo (near Sivasagar), too were giving British planters a headache, said author Arup Dutta.
Dewan was arrested in Calcutta when he went there to hand the British a memorandum from the king. He was just 51 when he was hanged in public in Jorhat along with aide Piyali Baruah on February 26, 1858, on the banks of the Tocklai stream.
Barooah said Singlo, now part of Suffry tea estate, had an area called Mani Ting where Dewan had himself planted bushes, and so this garden too deserved to be turned into a tea tourism site.
The trust sent its memorandum to the chief minister’s office last month, with copies to the Tea Board, the Union tourism ministry and all major tea planters’ bodies.
Barooah hoped the November 26-28 tea tourism festival at Jorhat Court Field would highlight his ancestor’s role. The secretary of the organising committee, additional deputy commissioner D.K. Nath, said the festival brochure did mention Dewan but no special function had been planned so far. He said that if the trust came up with a proposal, the committee would consider it.
Trust member Kirpal Goswami said Jorhat MLA Rana Goswami had promised to take the matter up at the highest level of the government.