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Romesh Chander Dutt biography

Romesh Chander Dutt

(1848-1909)

biography

      Romesh Chander was born on 13 August 1848. His father, Ishan Chander Dutt, was a deputy collector in the revenue department of the government. His early education was in district schools, wherever his father got posted. Unfortunately, his father died due to drowning in 1861.
His mother had died two years earlier. The four brothers and two sisters came under the guardianship of their uncle, Soshee Chunder. Romesh was admitted to Hare School, from where he passed the Entrance Examination in 1864. The same year he was married to Matangini (Mohini) Bose, daughter of Nabagopal Bose of Calcutta, at the age of sixteen. However, the marriage does not seem to have affected his studies. He joined Presidency College and passed the First Arts Examination in 1866, and obtained a scholarship. In March 1868, he left for England to compete for the ICS. He passed and stood third in the order of merit. During this period, he also undertook legal studies and was called to the Bar. He returned to India in 1871 and his career in the Indian Civil Service began.
Romesh Chander Dutt
         From 1871 to 1897, he served the Indian Civil Service in various capacities in districts of Bengal and Orissa, beginning as probationer assistant magistrate of Alipur and rose to the position of divisional commissioner of Burdwan and officiating commissioner of Orissa (1895). Realising that he had no scope of further promotion as permanent commissioner, he took premature retirement in 1897, at a relatively early age of forty-nine. His work as a civil servant earned him praise from official quarters as well as from the public. He was one of the early administrators who showed that Indians could administer as well as any British officer.
As a free man, he started on a very fruitful and exciting career as a public person and as a writer. Before retirement, he took leave preparatory to retirement and for months he visited several countries in Europe. Soon after, he was appointed a lecturer in Indian history at the University College, London, where he stayed till 1904. Those seven years in England was his most productive period as a writer. In 1898, appeared the English translation of the Ramayana and next year (1899) that of Mahabharata, which helped the west to appreciate and understand the great Indian epics better. Max Muller wrote the introduction to the Ramayana while Mahabharata was dedicated to him. In 1899, another book of his titled England and India: A Record of Progress During 100 Years, appeared. Next came his Famines in India, which included his five open letters to Lord Curzon. His classical work and perhaps the most important one, The Economic History of India, in two volumes, were published in 1902 and 1904 respectively. Apart from other aspects of Indian economic history, he highlighted the causes of famines in India and their remedy. He graphically traced the decline of Indian industries during the early British rule, under a deliberate policy of harming and discouraging Indian industries so that India might not offer competition to British products. He also highlighted the drain on the Indian economy in the form of Home Charges Another great Indian, Dadabhai Naoroji, was also writing on the same subject at the time and his well-known book Poverty and Un-British Rule in India was published in 1901. They were contemporaries and as nationalists, were concerned with the pathetic situation into which the British rule, with its colonial economic policies, was pushing the Indian masses.
However, Romesh Dutt’s Economic History is more detailed and he wrote with the background of his administrative experience in the Indian Civil Service. But, in spite of his criticism of the British administration, Romesh Dutt was a ‘loyal’ Indian and did not believe that the British rule was wrong by itself. It must be remembered that during the second ball` of the nineteenth century, British rule was accepted as a necessity. Even the Indian National Congress used to pass a resolution of ‘loyalty` in every session from its inception in 1885. Romesh Dutt believed that the British connection was basically good and that the future of India lay in advancing within the framework of the British Empire. Because of his ‘moderate’ attitude towards the British, he was invited to preside over the 1899 session of the Congress at Lucknow. In his address, he concentrated on the economic problems faced by the Indians, and did not touch the political aspirations of the people. The idea of swadeshi was still another six years away, when Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal.
Even before his retirement, while sewing in the Indian Civil Service` he had written books on various topics. His first book was Bengal Peasantry (1875), in which he pleaded the cause of the peasants against the government and landlords. In 1889-90, he had published History of Civilization in Ancient India, in which he tried to place before the inquisitive student of Indian culture a book in a handy form, the aspects of~ Indian culture which until then were known only to scholars and Orientalist. In 1894, he had published Lays of Ancient India in verse form in English. This was the translation of some of the best known passages from the Upanishads, from the edicts of Ashoka and from the short epic, Bhairavi.
In the field of social reform, except for his two Bengali novels Samar and Samaj, Dutt made no active contribution, unlike Ranade, who was also a government servant like Romesh Dutt, though in the judicial service.
Romesh Dutt made substantial contribution to Bengali literature, which at that stage was passing through a phase of revolutionary innovation, both in form and content. Romesh Chander’s first homage to Bengali literature was a book Literature Bengal (1877), which was in English. This was perhaps the first scientific attempt to write a history of Bengali literature, from the twelfth century down to his time the nineteenth century. He tried to join the galaxy of Bengali fiction Writers led by Bankim Chandra. He wrote four historical and two social novels, all of which were well-received by the reading public. Banga Bijeta: (or the Conqueror of Bengal) and Madhabi Kankan (or bracelet of flowers) depicted the conquest of Bengal by Akbar. The other two historical novels were Maharashtra jiban Prabhat and Rajput jiban Sandhya. All four were published in 1879 -an amazing output by any standard, especially by a high official in government service. His two other novels, Samaj (1885) and Samar (1893), were written with a social purpose in mind: the first one advocating Widow re-marriage and the second one, inter-caste marriage. Another contribution of Romesh Dutt to Bengali was his translation of the Rig-Veda (1885).
He left London in 1904, carne to India and in August of the same year joined as revenue minister of the state of Baroda, a state which was ruled by a very progressive and enlightened Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad, who gave him a free hand to handle the reforms in the state. Romesh Dutt did his job diligently and earned the praise of everyone. In an article published in India magazine, London, Sir William Wedderburn praised his work on several fronts: lessening the burden of revenue on the royals by rationalizing the revenue structure; for giving great fillip to education in the state, by spending 6.5% of the state revenue on education as compared to one per cent in British India. He also revived panchayat system in the state.'
His departure from London saw the end of his career as a writer. After 1904, he did not write any books though he continued to deliver Speeches and write articles in papers and journals.
In 1903, during the annual session of the Congress, an exhibition of Indian products was held for the first time as an adjunct to the Congress session. Romesh Dutt was requested to preside over the Industrial Conference. In his presidential address, he made a masterly analysis, in simple language, of the current economic and industrial situation in the country and the role which swadeshi could play in helping Indian industries, both small scale and large scale, to develop.

He was appointed a member of the Royal Commission on decentralization which visited India in 1907, and had to leave Baroda service. The commission was set up to formulate ways and means to involve an increasing number of Indians in the administration. He was the only Indian member of the commission and signed its report with dissent notes on several points.
Romesh Dutt spent another year in London from April 1908 to March 1909, where he freely placed his counsel and criticism at the disposal of John Morley, Secretary of State, for India, on the impending scheme of constitutional reforms.
In June 1909, Dutt returned again to Baroda service as Diwan. However, this time he could not do much as his health started deteriorating. He died on 30 November 1909 in Baroda.
Romesh Dutt was one of the early Indians who as administrator showed that Indians could administer as well as any British or European official. He was perhaps no pioneer, but his interests were spread over many areas and his contribution in many of these is significant. If a comparative assessment has to be made, however, his work in the economic field would probably stand out as his most outstanding contribution to the future of the country. His contribution to Bengali literature and his researches in ancient Indian history were substantial, but his two volumes of Economic History and his Famines in India undoubtedly influenced more than any of his other works the future course of the national movement in the country."

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