Historical knowledge

Danish civil servants and Indian elites

This is a study of the internal politics of the Danish colony Tranquebar in the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth century (1777-1808). The main actor is the governor, Peter Anker, who stayed in India from 1788 to 1806. In this thesis I have shown how interaction between Danish civil servants and Indian elites led to conflicts that marked colonial life through most of the period. Not only prominent Indians took part, also institutions like the caste assembly was involved. The ultimate consequence of the strife had an impact on the entire population through mass actions where parts of the population on several occasions deserted the settlement. Among the Danes, it was first and foremost members of the council in Tranquebar who were involved, but also lower civil servants took part. For the Indian elite in Tranquebar, the conflicts were mainly a result of a struggle for access to economic resources through tenures and positions as dubashes and royal servants. The strife, however, also had social and ritual connotations. The fight stood between two groups or parties. When members of the council could not agree on how to resolve the conflicts and the strife became endemic, the reasons seem to have been complex. In an early phase there were different opinions on how to resolve the strife. However, later on, the conflicts became part of a power struggle within the council. This struggle for power can probably be attributed to Anker’s policies during his first years in the colony. Anker had tried to purge the administration. One of the clearest breaches to a clean administration was the interaction between Danish civil servants and Indian elites with the aim of utilizing the colony’s resources to their own advantage.

Hodne, Kjell. (2008). ”Danske embetsmenn og indiske eliter i kolonien Trankebar”, in Esther Fihl (ed.), Tranquebar Initiativets Skriftserie, no. 5. Nationalmuseet.

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