Maniram Dewan who pioneered tea plantations in India
Tea is the most popular beverage in the world, not because it’s a culture but because it’s affordable even to the poorest. Tea is the second most-consumed drink after water in the world and is spread across all the cultures that manifest it in their way. It is especially popular in Asia including Japan, India, China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore as well as Sri Lanka, Europe, Canada, and the United States. It is also known as black pearl tea or tapioca tea. In India, the fascination with tea is on the next level. People here love tea more than anything, from street corners to lavish hotels; tea is an integral beverage of any restaurant.
With 1,400 kilos of tea leaves grown every year, India is the undisputed nation of chai lovers. Though we know that tea was first grown in China, in India the credit goes to Maniram Dewan, the first Indian who pioneered tea plantation in India.
First Tea Plantation in India
Maniram Dewan was born in 1806 and was an Assamese nobleman in British India. Dewan was the first man in India to establish tea farms in Assam. Though initially, he was a loyal associate of the British East India Company administration but later during the first war of Independence, Dewan was hanged by the British for conspiring against them.
It was the time when the British were tired of smuggling tea from China due to the mid-19th century Opium Wars and Maniram saw it as an opportunity to break their tea monopoly. Being loyal to the British East India Company, Maniram first informed the officials of Singpho people who grew traditional Assam tea unknown to the world.
He took cultivators Major Robert Bruce and his brother to the tea farms from where they collected the tea samples and took them back to the Company’s office. Later they found that these tea samples were not the ones grown in China. In 1833, when the Chinese tea trade ended, the EIC decided to establish tea farms in India. The first tea committee was formed on 1 February 1834 by Lord William Bentinck.
The committee after a thorough investigation suggested Assam be the most suitable place for tea cultivation. The tea samples prior collected by Bruce were concluded as genuine tea on which Maniram Dutta highlighted the prospects of tea cultivation.
In 1839, Maniram became the Dewan of Assam tea company in Nazira. But somewhere between 1840, in the mid of the Indian rebellion, Maniram quit his post due to the differences of opinions with the company’s officers. He opposed exploitative methods of tea production including unfair taxes and land grabbing.
Following his resignation, Maniram opened his own tea farms, Cinnamara tea garden at Cinnamara in Jorhat and Selung in Sibsagar, thus becoming the first Indian to pioneer tea cultivation in India.
Apart from tea cultivation, Dewan also had an interest in handloom, boat making, brick making, bell-metal, dyeing, ivory work, ceramic, coal supply, and elephant trade.
Maniram Dewan In Indian Rebellion of 1857
Being a major farm owner and a competitor to European tea farms, Maniram possessed a huge threat to the Raj and thus became hostile to the British. Following a tea garden dispute, in 1851, captain Charles Holroyd, the chief officer of Sibsagar seized all the facilities provided to him. During the time, he faced economical hardship but still managed to file a petition to Sadar Court, Calcutta. But as expected, his petition was dismissed.
In 1957 when the first Indian revolt began, he saw it as an opportunity to restore the Ahom rule and thus started conspiring against the British. He sent coded messages to Piyali Baruah, the acting chief advisor of Kandarpeswar. In his messages, he urged to start a rebellion against the Raj.
On 29 August 1857, Dewan with his associates including Assam Light Infantry sepoys planned to march to Jorhat, where Kandarpeswar will be installed as king, however, the plot was discovered and Dewan along his associated was captured.
He was arrested and detained in Alipur for the first few weeks. Later, he was hanged on 26 February 1858 at the Jorhat Central Jail. Dewan’s execution came as a huge shock for the people of Assam who widely mourned his death. Many tea workers stopped working to express their grief. His death also led to an open rebellion against the Raj adding more light to India’s First War of Independence.
In 2012, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman, announced tea as the national beverage in memory of Maniram Dewan’s 212th birth anniversary. The legacy of Maniram Dewan has gone unnoticed in the pages of history. Today though the country enjoys its hot cups of tea, many fail to recognize the true hero behind the national beverage.