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Dean Mahomet's Youth in Bihar (1759–69)

From the time of Dean Mahomet's birth onward, the English Company proved the most consistent patron for his family and many others like it. Muslim families like his comprised an important component of the Company's army and administration, particularly in the upper ranks of Indians, but always below Europeans. In the Bengal Army over the period that Dean Mahomet chronicled, Muslims consistently composed nearly half of the higher Indian officer corps, about two-fifths of the lower Indian officers, and about one-third of the sepoys, far in excess of their minority proportion of the general population (roughly one-quarter).[29] As the power of the Nawab of Bengal and the other mainly Muslim regional rulers of India declined, many members of the Muslim service elite decided to attach themselves to the rapidly expanding English East India Company's armies or administration. Additionally, Clive and others in the Company sought to retain an even balance between Hindus and Muslims in the army. The Company throughout this period devalued Bengalis as soldiers, preferring to recruit non-Bengalis for its Bengal Army: “the fighting Tribes of the Hindoos and Musselmen [Muslims], and as many of the latter as can be procured.”[30]

For the Company, as for the Mughals, strong class distinctions separated high Indian officers from lower officers and sepoys. The elite background of Dean Mahomet's father apparently led the Company to put him directly into one of the officer ranks in the Company's Bengal Army. His father reached the rank of subadar (lieutenant), the second highest that an Indian could attain at that time in the Company's army (after komidan, “commandant”).

Dean Mahomet grew up in a context where the English East India Company increasingly forced and precipitated changes in virtually all aspects of life in India. These were years when the Company began to assert increasingly broader authority over the administration of Bengal and Bihar. By installing a series of their clients as Nawabs of Bengal, the English Company had gained political supremacy over the incumbent officials in Bihar as well. From 1757 to 1765, the English Company largely attempted to use the Nawab of Bengal's existing administration to extract revenues from the Bihar countryside. Dissatisfied with the results, the Company thereafter created an ever more British-controlled administration. In particular, the Company appointed Thomas Rumbold in 1766 to head the Patna Revenue Council, supervising the Nawab of Bengal's Deputy Governor for Bihar, Raja Shitab Rai.

To remain in his position of power over Bihar, Shitab Rai had to please Rumbold and other British officials of the Company. He lavishly entertained British officers and officials. Further, he collected ever increasing land revenues for the Company from Bihar, backed up by the force of Company troops—including those under the command of Dean Mahomet's father. Both landholders and villagers frequently engaged in armed resistance to such revenue exaction. Only when hard-pressed would they negotiate payment of that year's revenue. Dean Mahomet's father died in 1769 while enforcing Shitab Rai's revenue demand during a time of famine. Nevertheless, the Rajas who killed Dean Mahomet's father subsequently negotiated an adequate revenue payment and thus soon obtained their release from prison.[31] Thus, the British and Shitab Rai may have regarded the death of Dean Mahomet's father as only an unfortunate but minor incident in their annual campaign to force landholders to pay their taxes; Dean Mahomet's family clearly regarded his sudden and premature death as a tragedy.


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