If System is Designed to Support an Individual – The Case of Henry Inglis

As one goes through a British report on Khasi and Jaintia Hills titled Report On The Administration Of The Cossyah And Jynteah Hill Territory, he will be surprised at the omnipresence of Henry Inglis in the area. This single episode gives a clear picture on why Robert Mugabe necked out all the Europeans from Zimbabwe.

It looks like Henry Inglis entered Khasi and Jaintia hills as the son in law of the then Political Agent of that area, FG Lister. The British tried to whitewash his legacy, but the reality is that everyone had problems with him. He has taken control of every business legally or illegally, and spread his tentacles everywhere. Note that this information is only till 1857 and he seemed to have had a happening life much further than that.

By the time the report was written, he controlled 88% of limestone trade and almost 100% of orange trade (only the orange groves of Ootma, Oomwa and Abrah were out of his control and they were not of any major market value). He seems to have controlled both the coal mines of Cherra and Lakadong but relinquished control once they stopped yielding making him a complete master of all organized exports out of Khasi and Jaintia hills with 50% of the revenue and 62% of profits going to his pockets. Does this include any cuts which go to the government, I don’t know. For 1857, the numbers show the below.

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Coming to exports. It’s alleged that all the British traders left the hills because of the influence Inglis held and the open support he got from the Political Agent, his father-in-law and then his successor, Hudson using which he ensured absolute control of trade in the area. Also, it is alleged there was never justice involving him in Cherra court. After one such coercion exercise, an order was passed on 17 Oct 1856 prohibiting outsiders with large retinue into the Hills. There was a follow up order on 31 Oct 1856. In all, 57 cases were filed against him in Cherra(21 cases) and Sylhet(36 cases) courts and he was declared innocent in all of them.

A few of the details are below.

  1. There was an attempted personal assault at Kuppreya Bazaar and Oomkhaboo on Mr. Coleman by the local Dolois. Coleman filed the case in Sylhet even though the incident happened in Cherra because they didn’t have confidence in Cherra Court and that they decided not to enter the hill territory till they are provided personal protection from Inglis. Verdict: There is nothing to link Inglis to the attacks.
  2. Haddan and Brownlow were going to Cheyla to inspect a petroleum well when they were roughed up by some locals near Katta Ghat on 17 Oct 1856. Enquiries proved that a tent and some elephants belonging to Inglis were located at the same place at that time. Verdict: There is nothing to link Inglis to the attacks.
  3. Oseep Sing, Dholah Raja of Mahram complained Inglis took control of Mahram lime quarries. Verdict: Not guilty. Inglis claimed he leased them. Raja Ramsye, Kalah Raja of Mahram claimed that the lease was signed under duress. Verdict: Not guilty – there is nothing to prove duress. Ramsye’s brother was possibly bribed to take Inglis’s stand.
  4. Inglis had a dispute over Byrang Poonjee mine with the Raja of Cherra.
  5. Sweetland, agent to Sylhet coal company complained Inglis forcibly removed limestone belonging to Moran and Co, Calcutta from Choon Cherra Lamasain and Burr Ghaut and couldn’t get redress from the Principal Asst Commissioner. Verdict: Sweetland was given a cut off to remove the lime quarried. Only after the expiry, Inglis’s men took control of the lime since it’s legally theirs.
  6. Besides this, by ensuring there is no opposition, all import trade is under his control. Verdict: Those who filed complaints are deceived by the representations of their local agents.
  7. Raja Hazar Sing of Moleem(Khyrim) clamed that he was evicted out of the Elaka of Paunch Poonjee in 1849 by Lister on the instigation of his son-in-law. Verdict: The lands were surrendered to British in 1835 as a part of Jaintia Hills settlement. They were handed over to Moleem under the condition that a bridge is to be built on Lingteah between 1837 and 1840. No explanation why there was a delay of 9 years.
  8. 74 inhabitants of Cheyla Poonjee district in writing and 74 verbally complained that they are not permitted to sell oranges in open market and are forced to sell it to Inglis for less than market price on the instigation of Wahadadars and Zamindars of the area. Verdict: The groves were leased to Inglis in 1845 and it is his legal right to get the oranges from his farms. It is important to note that the first lease with Inglis was made on Feb 15 1830 for 15 years against a loan of Rs 3000. Well, the story looks like someone leasing someone else’s property without the owner knowing about it. The table below clearly shows the dependency of Cheyla Wahaddars on Inglis with heavy debts at 24% interest per annum, with the orange groves given as surety in 1857.

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