Friday, 13 December 2013

Colonial Assam and Development - part 1 - TEA

The period between the signing of the Yandaboo Treaty in 1826 and Indian Independence, is referred to as the 'Colonial Period' or 'Colonial Assam'. This marked the end of the Ahom monarchy and the beginning of British sovereignty, thus making the transition from medieval age to modern age in Assam.

The British soon realised that this region possessed rich natural resources and set about in real earnest to make the best use of it. So with the technical know-how, the multifaceted resources available at their disposal, and their administrative prowess, the 'Colonial Powers' put Assam on the global map by developing the two industries that are synonymous with Assam, namely Tea and Oil!

In an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on Tea, the British launched the 'Tea - Industry' in Assam by offering land to any European who was interested in cultivating the crop, using Chinese seeds, and cultivating techniques. This was of course for the sole purpose of export, but this paved the way for the beginning of this industry!

The British East India Company started large scale tea production in Assam in the early 1820's. This was a traditional variety of tea brewed by the Singpho tribes. But it was only in 1837, that the first English tea garden was established in Chabua (originally known as 'Cha' - 'Buwa' or 'tea-plantation'), in upper Assam. The Assam Tea Company began its commercial production of tea in 1840 with the help of local inhabitants.

The early days of 1850's saw a rapid expansion of the tea industry consuming large tracts of fertile land conducive for the crop to thrive and by the turn of the century, Assam became the leading tea producing region in the world!

What started as a ploy of the British to break the monopoly the Chinese had on tea cultivation and production, ended up as a boon for the land and its inhabitants where it was cultivated! Assam now has more than eight hundred and fifty tea estates and two thousand five hundred plus tea gardens spread across the Brahmaputra and Barak valley. Besides giving meaningful employment, this industry also provides the state exchequer with much needed revenue. With more than fifty percent share in terms of contribution in total tea out put in the country, Assam stands tall today as the Tea Capital of the country!

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