The fate of the slaves "rescued" by Thomas Baber
Caste system in Kerala - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Caste system in Kerala - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Modern Dalit Slave [1]

For most of history we have absolutely no idea how those at the bottom of Society lived, and it is also very hard to understand what they went through.

Just very occasionally their voice comes through the years and with startling power.

For nearly decade I have been aware that Thomas Baber in the early 1800's had been one of the first of a number of idealistic East India officials in India who had tried to try to put a stop to slavery. He had felt so strongly about slavery that he was prepared to take on his fellow officials and existing Indian custom and practise. See

I had assumed that the story had a happy ending, however as the following evidence provided by F.C. Brown, son of Murdoch Brown in 1833 to the House of Commons proves every story has two sides, and the fate of these released slaves was less than a happy ending.

It appears that on their return to their former homes in the south of Kerala they had been unable to resettle into their villages, and in many cases their former owners had not wanted them back.

They in many cases drifted back to Anjarakandy to work for Murdoch Brown.

No. 5.
Narrative of Teepadee Ayapen a Betwan[VETTUVAN], taken at Anjarakandy.—
"30 Chingom 1008. 13 September 1833.

Question. When Mr. Baber's people carried away from here all the slaves, were you carried away ?—Answer Yes, I was.

Q. Where were you taken? What were you asked? And what did you say?—A. From here we were taken to Irrivery Cutcherry; after remaining two days I was asked, “Who is your master?" I said, “My present master is Mr. Brown." "Who brought you here? Who sent you from your country? Who sold you to Mr. Brown?" I said, “It was the Karwakar Moopen." We were then all sent to Tellicherry and kept one, or one and a half months. The same questions that were asked at Irrivery were asked at Tellicherry and we were made to take an oath. After that two menons, with armed peons, took us all to our own country. At Kootangel Cutcherry (Chaughaut), from whence orders were issued to the owners to come and take away their respective slaves, some of the slaves were sent with the peons to Kakat Fort. From thence they were again brought to Kootangel. The Vellatichees and the Cochin Pooliars were embarked in a boat and sent south. After that I alone remained I said, “My owner is not come, what am I to do; my country is Tokye." When I said this to the menons, they desired me to go where my family was. I went to my country and staid with my family.

Q. Do you know the menons and kolkars who came here to take away the slaves?—A After we were taken to Tellicherry I knew them by sight; I did not know them before; I know the name of one of the peons, it is Cheknoo; his country is Ellatoor, so I heard him say.

Q. Who questioned you at Irrivery Cutcherry and at Tellicherry?—A. At Irrivery Cutcherry the menon who took us away from here; his name is Chatoo Menon; and at Tellicherry Mr. Baber himself.

Q. Do you know Mr. Baber?—A. At that time I saw him at Tellicherry.

Q. When did you lose your sight?—A. It is now, I think, about five or eight years.

Q. Do you know the menons and kolkars who took you away from Tellicherry?—A. I do not know them.

Q. After Mr. Baber's people took you to your country, how did you come here? and why did you come ?—A. Bappen Cooty Mapilla (in Mr. Brown's employ) came in a boat to load paddy from Jegnee Mapilla; he (Bappen Cooty) told me that Valia Saib (Mr. Brown) desired me, if I wished, to come back; I then came by land.

Q. When you were coming by land, how did you pay the ferries and subsist?—A. I took it from my own hand (what I had).

Q. When in your country, what employment had you?—A. I worked for any one who would hire me, when they would give me something; I remained in this way for one year.

Q. When you returned here, did any of your relatives come?—A. No one; I came alone.

Q. Who is your owner in your country?—A I have no owner, but my mother had, Karrakat Moideen Mapilla; they are all dead and gone; none of his family now remain.

Q Altogether how many slaves from here were sent to the south?—A. Of the Betwan caste alone there were 28, big and little.

Q. Of that number how many are there to return?—A. Five Betwan females and three children remain to come.

Q When you were at Irrivery Cutcherry and Tellicherry did the persons who examined you put questions to make you say what they liked, or only to learn truth?—A. We were told not to be afraid. "Tell the truth, it is for your good." Then they said loud for us to hear, "These slaves have all been got for nothing."

Q. At what time did Mr. Baber's people come here? When did they find you? And where were you kept?—A. Mr. Baber's people took us away twice; I do not recollect the time they first came; the second time they came in the morning at six o'clock, when we were all sent into the karembala (a walled enclosure). When the southern slaves were being separated, the menon here, Kanarachen, came and said something; in consequence of which words passed between him and Mr. Baber's menon; and Kanarachen went away about 10 o'clock without allowing us to take food or our clothes. We were marched to Irrivery Cutcherry and kept there. At six o'clock in the evening all the northern Dooliars were returned, and the southern Pooliars and Betwans were kept there. To us of the Betwan caste was allotted a shop on the border of a paddy field west of the Cutcherry; rice was given us, which we cooked and ate, and slept outside. To the Pooliars rice was given, which they cooked and ate, and slept round the Cutcherry in the paddy field. In this manner we were kept there for three days.

Q. At that time was there only Kanaren here as menon, or were there any others?— A Whether the Tambooran (Brahmin), who died in Cotiate, was here at that time I do not perfectly recollect; I think he was.

Q. How many years before the rebels burnt this house did you come here?—A. I was here before the burning, but how many years before I do not recollect; I was then a child.

Q. You have said there are eight individuals of the Betwa caste who have not come back; is your country and theirs far or near? what is the reason that they have not come back ?— A Their country and mine may be as far as from here to Mamakoon; that country is the Cochin country; it is under the orders of another gentleman. They have not come, because their masters will not let them.

Q. You have said that in your country you hired yourself to any one who called you, and so lived; was there constant employment?—A. There are many people that have constant work, but there is not the same comfort as here.

Q. You were detained at Tellicherry one or two months; were you kept under restraint or free ?—A. We were kept on the west side of the tank, where, during the day, one kolkar, and during the night two kolkars, stood guard always.

Q. At Tellicherry where were you all lodged?—A. At the tank, in a hut about the size of the kitchen here." [2]

The strength of F. C. Brown's feelings against Thomas Baber come out in the following paragraphs in his letters to the House of Commons.

Francis Brown had previously served a term in prison for having challenged Thomas Baber to a duel, and he evidently greatly resented Baber's attitude towards his father Murdoch Brown, as is shown in the following passages.

"It would be easy for me to proceed with the refutation of every other of Mr. Baber's assertions and references, by the evidence of the facts and authorities furnished, or referred to by himself, did it become me, on so grave a subject, to come before the Government armed with no better defence; but I cannot forget that the gist and gravamen of his accusation against the late Mr. Brown, an accusation which he signed as a magistrate, attested with his seal of office as a judge, and reported officially to the Government, which he has since sworn to before the House of Lords, deliberately repeated, in writing, to the Indian Board, and finally published to the world, is, that " 76 persons, found" by him "in the possession of Mr. Brown, made affidavit before him that they had been stolen, banished from their country, and transported, against their will, to Anjarakandy," and that he had "liberated," he had restored to " liberty and to their country," these aforesaid persons. Words of more dreadful import, against the character of any human being, were never uttered, and never, I believe, more deliberately, more reiterated, more perseveringly, or with more solemn invocations to their truth. Read, then, Sir, I beseech you, the following testimony of one of those very persons, now delivered without dread of violence, delivered to a native writer, himself wholly ignorant of the transaction, whom I directed to question the witness apart relative to what she now remembers of it, on my seeing Mr. Baber pointing out himself to the public of India as the protector of slaves (Bombay Gazette, 17th August 1833). This pamphlet I have seen only within these few days." [3]

"Such, Sir, is the simple affecting narrative given at this distance of time, by this poor woman, of the real manner in which she, her husband, her child, and all the other slaves were barbarously driven from their homes. No man acquainted with the condition of the caste can read it, I believe, and doubt its truth.

Mark, I beseech you, the ultimate design stamped upon the cruel deed from its commencement to its close. The native officers, deputed by Mr. Baber to Anjarakandy, immediately they appear, rush up stairs, followed by the armed peons, to where Mr. Brown was sitting, in order that the slaves may see, from the insulting treatment received before their eyes by their master, a European gentleman, well known, advanced in years, and never approached by the highest natives without respect, the treatment which was reserved for them. The circumstances make an indelible impression, as terror does upon an uninformed mind. All the slaves, male and female, are next collected from where they are at work, by strange armed men, driven, with their children of all ages, into a walled enclosure, like cattle into a pen ; their master's people are forcibly ejected, the gates shut, and the whole, upon their answering truly and simply to the questions put to them, are kept, the women with their infants at their breasts, without food for that night. The day following they are taken under custody, to a public cutcherry, four or five miles off, turned into a paddy field, and there kept three days and three nights, so that one child dies on the spot. They are here again called up, one by one, and authoritatively questioned by Mr. Baber's deputy.

Those who still tell the the truth are grossly abused by him, called liars, and threatened with instant mutilation; a E. I. Company and violence admitted by Mr. Baber to be practised upon persons of their caste (p. 25). Being Board of Control, now thoroughly intimidated, separated from all succour, and dreading what is to befal them, (Documents.) they are next taken under continued custody to Tellicherry, where a man dies; they are brought up before Mr. Baber, and separately examined, having gone through a form of being sworn. This poor woman has the courage to repeat to him what she had said twice before to his deputy, that she had been regularly sold by her former master, mentioning his name. The magistrate exclaims "that she is telling a falsehood," bids her "tell the truth; that she has been stolen;" which declaration, the very reverse of what she has all along said, and then desired to say, is written down as her voluntary deposition upon oath before Mr. Baber, and is by him quoted and appealed to, from that hour to this, in proof of the truth of his charge against Mr. Brown. She and all the other slaves are detained in custody day and night for many weeks; at the expiration of this imprisonment, disregarding her entreaties to be suffered with her child to return to her home, she is made to accompany the others; rejoiced to escape anywhere and on any terms. Part of them are taken to Chowghaut, a distance of 110 miles; part double the distance, to Cochin and Travancore. Instead of being "liberated" she and her child are delivered with her husband to the latter's former master, with written injunctions from Mr. Baber to report their deaths in writing, that is, in other words, to detain them while alive. In a state of actual starvation, she, her husband, and child, set out on their return, begging and working their way by such field work as they can get (the only work slaves are employed in), and in about two months succeed in reaching Calicut, 60 miles distant, where they find Mr. Brown.

This is the declaration of one of those slaves. Shall I be credited when I state, that not one, but 21 of them returned, and that 13 of the number still survive (one died in August) to bear witness, in terms almost similar, against the inhuman outrage perpetrated upon them. I am ready to produce them at any time, at any place, before any persons who will descend to the level of their capacities, and permit them to tell their artless tale without fear. Gratefully and lowly do I bow down before that all-seeing Providence, which, in its infinite justice, has permitted this black iniquity, renewed and relevelled against the memory of a revered parent, to be exposed to the eye of day, in all its turpitude, by the mouths of the victims appealed to to attest it. Not to swell this letter to an inconvenient size, I annex only two more of the depositions (No. 4 & 5). Let them, I entreat, be compared with the letter of Mr. Brown (No. 7), penned after the slaves had all been removed, and with the See p. 733-735, of testimony of an eye-witness of the scene (No. 6.) Even some of the Pooliars returned; of the printed volume. Pooliars, interdicted the high way, who cannot approach within 40 paces of their fellow slave, the Vettoowan, without polluting him. Let the sufferings they endured in tracking back their way be pictured! But the majority of the Pooliars (they amounted to 23, the Vettoowas to 28) were transported by Mr. Baber to the Cochin and Travancore countries, and delivered back with the same written injunctions to their former masters. He therefore transported them, from the British territories, and from under the safeguard of British laws, which, he admits, make no exception as to slaves, and have repeatedly visited their murder with death (p. 2607), to countries, where he also admits (p. 19) adopting General Walker's words, that "a proprietor is accountable to no person for the life of his own chaumar, but is the legal judge of his offences, and may punish them with death; and where it is feared that the only check upon the unrestricted exercise of this power is the presence of the Resident." Gracious God! and this wholesale, forcible reduction of these poor creatures to native slavery and to death, Mr. Baber has dared to call, in the sight of God and man, "liberating them, restoring them to liberty and their country." Sir, Mr. Brown possessed, I inherit from him, 155 slaves; I have also upon my estate 105 other slaves, voluntary settlers, of 10 and 20 years' habitancy. I further employ 250 free labourers. I implore you in the strongest words, the most earnest, I will even add, the most abject, that language supplies, to examine and satisfy yourself, by any mode of inquiry you may think proper to adopt, of the treatment and condition of these slaves; as to whether the whip or the lash has ever been known among them ; as to the restraints imposed upon their personal liberty ; as to their well-being compared with slaves elsewhere; and lastly, as contrasted, whether as regards their persons, their food, their houses, their comforts, and the kinds of labour they are employed in, with those of the free persons employed with them. After this examination, I will leave you to say whether those transported to Cochin and Travancore would not try to escape; and then to think, without shuddering, of the fate which awaited their hopeless attempt at the hands of irresponsible masters, burthened in the name of the British Government with the compulsory guardianship and maintenance of refractory slaves worth each the sum of 12 rupees.

The judges of the Provincial Court residing on the spot, who had all served for many years in the province, and were thoroughly acquainted with Mr. Baber's character and motives, (for these exemplary men, like every other gentleman, civil or military, in Malabar, had long before spumed the unhappy man from society,) sought to avert the consequences which they foresaw were designed, from the wanton and forcible removal, without cause or complaint, of these helpless victims, by ordering their restitution to Mr. Brown until a claimant to them appeared. It is this humane interposition which the judges considered themselves bound to exert in favour of the most defenceless party, which Mr. Baber studiously and repeatedly calls the singular protection extended by the court to Mr. Brown! To mention only the names of the judges even now would be to confound the defamer, did such men need a defence. The judges of the Sudder Adawlut were of opinion, upon a review of the proceedings, that the interposition of the Court of Appeal could not be upheld, Mr. Baber having acted towards Mr. Brown in his capacity of justice of the peace, not of zillah E. I. Company and judge, and hence that his conduct was cognizable only by the Supreme Court at Madras."[4]

The whole report extends to many volumes and reports on slavery in many areas of India from Assam, to Dehli, the Konkan and the Malabar. The testimonies on Malabar run from approximately page 409 to 430, and are especially detailed and powerful.

The terrible thing is that even today in India many people are living in conditions of slavery much like those found by Thomas Baber, as the following article about the film Papilio Buddha dated 1st October 2012 makes clear.

[2] From Slave trade (East India) Slavery in Ceylon: Copies or abstracts of all ... Volume 16. Page 407 onwards.  Published by the House of Commons in 1838.

[3] From Slave trade (East India) Slavery page 409.
[4] [2] From Slave trade (East India) Slavery page 411 to 412.