Describing the "Amoral" Dubash and the "Wise" British
Government to Create a New Civil SocietyIf the Poonamallee Petition had set the collector against the Mirasidar petitioners, it had also set the Board of Revenue against Place. Moreover, when the Board denied an interview to Place, it became pitted against its own superiors, the Governor in Council. In the view of the Governor in Council, if the Company did not have at its disposal rewards and punishments, it would not have any revenue and would therefore not survive. If Place were to effect any new reform, he had to have the juridical power to grant the mirasi right to whoever would accept his tax assessment. It was, in their view, essential that Place be able to dominate those Mirasidars who were seeking to subvert the state’s new tax system.
We may see, therefore, the way in which Place characterized the “artifice and cunning of the Dubashes of Madras” as “restless and insatiable,” as just another attempt to create a series of absolute, monologic, normative, and utopian values. Dubashes had “been in the constant habit of perverting the wise and human principles of the British Government to answer their own insidious ends.” In a letter of March 1796, Place said that he felt that the Palayakkars of Ponneri should be punished for the humiliations that they had imposed on him. At the same time, he sought the assistance of the government in punishing certain individuals whom he called the “artful, designing, and culpable part of the inhabitants.” He said, for instance, “To create an interest in the pretended hardships of the inhabitants of Poonamallee, they [the Dubashes] have represented them [the hardships] of that species the most abhorrent to the lenient and just character of the British Government.” On another occasion, Place argued that the Board of Revenue, “still and with superadded reason, strengthened with their voice of approbation” the “animosity which these successful endeavours [by Place had] occasioned.” In this the Board was “aided by the insidious practices and circumventive arts of the whole Dubash Influence of Madras.”
Much of the social description that both Place and local individuals produced, therefore, was an attempt not necessarily to describe what they saw but rather to state what they wanted or needed to see in order to perform historical tasks. The “amorality” of village society, like that of the “insidious Dubashi culture,” was another social space, an intellectual niche in which both British and local commentators were able to find what they hoped to find: a decayed society without morals. In all these cases, the primary goal was not only to carry out a tax assessment of the Jagir but also to monologically essentialize utopian and normative “standards” and to typify what was chaotic and what needed transformation and renewal. Here, Place momentarily sought to impose his “standards,” to speak authoritatively and monologically. The Jagir was merely an epistemological site, an intellectual laboratory at which to produce “truth” for a future civil society.