David Scott in North-East India

A study in British Paternalism

It is often forgotten that the early years of the 19th Century was also the golden age of the East India Company’s rule in India when the humble ‚writer‘, a mere boy who could have been at school in England or Scotland, could attain the highest rank and distinction in service and earn the love and respect of the people he governed due to his intelligence and singular qualities  innate in him. David Scott (1786-1831) was one such person. 

Scott served the East India Company on the northern and eastern frontier of Bengal Presidency from 1802 to 1831. First coming into prominence by the handling of relations with Bhutan, Sikkim and Tibet during the Nepal War 1814, Scott was successively concerned about the Garos, the Assamese and the Khasis. 

Till the time of his death at Cherrapunji in 1831, this enormously  trusted officer held multiple situation of power and authority over an extensive area : he was the Civil Commissioner of the North-East parts of Rangpur, Commissioner of Cooch Behar, Agent to the Governor-General on the North-East Frontier of Bengal, and Commisioner of Revenue and Circuit of Assam, North-East Rangpur, Sherpur and Sylhet, all these carrying a total salary of 52,000 rupees per annum.

Scott favoured British territorial expansion and played an important role by his advocacy of a forward policy in Assam. His imperial vision also extended to the creation of European cantonments and even military colonies in the healthy Khasi hills, the basis for a Fourth Presidency centred upon Assam.He encouraged Christian missionary effort, and was a pioneer in advocating its application to the tribal areas of the frontier. 

His uncle, Director David Scott, had been deeply involved in the question of Indian trade and commercial relations. Scott likewise actively pursued the possibilities of trade with Burma and China, and showed great practical enthusiasm in developing the resource and commerce of the areas in his charge. 

But he was basically a Paternalist and this philosophy of governance  played a dominant role while he dealt with diverse matters such as  the question of slavery in Assam or the matter of restoring a native regime or the issue of Christianising the Garos.

The book traces the career of this fascinating personality , from a variety of approaches and in the process succeeds in contributing much fresh material not only to our understanding of paternalism as a philosophy of government but also to our knowledge of political, economic and social history of the north-eastern region of India in the early years of the 19th century.

Cover of the book David Scott in North-East India