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(21) Baniayn and Darogha [[98-100]]

[[98]] The baniayns being, without doubt, the first in fortune, as well as in rank, claim priority of description. These are, invariably, Hindoos, possessing in general very large property, with most extensive credit and influence.

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((188)) So much is this the case, that Calcutta was, some twenty years ago, absolutely under the control of about twenty or thirty banians, who managed every concern in which they could find means to make a profit. It is inconceivable what property was in their hands; they were the ostensible agents in every line of business, placing their dependants in the several departments over which [they] themselves had obtained dominion. Was a contract to be made with government, by any gentleman not in the Company's service, these became the securities, under the condition of receiving a percentage, and of appointing their friends to such duties as might control the principal, and save themselves from loss. 

When a person in the service of the Company was desirous of deriving benefit from some contract, in the disposal of which he had a vote, and which consequently he could not obtain in his own name, then the banian became the principal, and the donor either received a share, or derived advantage from ((189))  loans, &c., answering his purpose equally well. The same person frequently was banian to several European gentlemen; all of whose concerns were, of course, accurately known to him, and thus became the subject of conversation at those meetings the banians of Calcutta invariably held, and do yet hold, after the active business of the day has been adjusted.

It cannot, however, be denied, that many speculations have been carried on by the aid of banians, which but for the strength of their resources could never have been attempted. We owe our present extended trade in the fabrics of Dacca, &c., in the sugar of the western and northern districts, in indigo throughout the country, and numerous other branches of commerce, to the support given by this class to such gentlemen as appeared to them likely to succeed. It has ever been a maxim among them, never to back an unfortunate man; their opinion being that misfortunes in trade ordinarily arise from want of management: if their own prosperity may be adduced in support of that sentiment, it will be found strongly to exhibit their policy of combining with those who have not, on any occasion, embarked on a rotten bottom.

A baniayn invariably rides in his palkee, attended by several underling sirkars, hurkarus, &c. He to a certain degree rules the office, entering it generally with little ceremony, making a slight obeisance, and never putting off his slippers: a privilege which, in the eyes of the natives, [[99]] at once places him on a footing of equality with his employer. Under such a system, it was easy for the baniayns to effect the ruin of any individual; while it was impossible for any man in distress to conceal his circumstances, so as to obtain a loan, or to extend his credit. Hence the courts of law were full of cases in which baniayns were plaintiffs.

Of late years, the case has greatly altered; for if we except a few large concerns, such as banking-houses and the principal merchants who, having valuable cargoes on hand, are each under the necessity of retaining one of this gang, for the purpose of obtaining cash to make up payments, or to advance for investments, baniayns are become obsolete.

There was formerly little opportunity for securing money, except on mortgage, or in the Company's treasury. Few, however, now think of lending money at less than twelve percent, which is the legal interest; and as the Company never receive loans at that rate, except when pressed by exigency; and the great agency-houses continue to make such an immense profit as enables them to pay so high for money accommodation, the floating property belonging to individuals, with little exception, falls into their hands. Thus there is little occasion for baniayns; whose former extensive influence is now confined to the above concerns, and to the management of elephant, bullock, or other contracts. Those animals they often buy of the contractor, either for a specific sum, or an annual contingent; so as entirely to exempt him from the responsibility and the management.

This description of persons may be classed with the superior debashes of the Carnatic; and though there certainly have been found some individuals who might fairly claim exemption from the accusation, yet generally speaking, the present baniayns, who attach themselves to the [[100]] captains of European ships, may, without the least hazard of controversion, be considered as nothing more or less than Rum-Johnnies of a larger growth. Some usurp the designation of dewan, which implies an extensive delegated power; that office, under the emperors of Hindostan, and even now in the courts of Lucknow, Hydrabad, &c., being confidential, and never bestowed but on persons in high favour.

The darogah or gomashtu (factor, or superintendant) is an office rarely held under Europeans, though extremely common in the services of native princes, and of men of opulence. Some of our merchants appoint persons to attend to their concerns in remote parts; such as the timber-dealers in the Morungs, and the iron-smelters in various parts. The contractors for elephants, camels, bullocks, horses, &c. have also their agents at the various stations. In general, these are common sirkars, who assume the title of darogah by way of pre-eminence, without any authority from their employers, and often without their knowledge. They, however, are rarely averse to such an assumption; which, while it gratifies their vanity, costs nothing. The darogahs, or, more properly, the sirkars, frequently call themselves naibs, or deputies. This seems a more modest term; but among the natives it is considered as equally consequential; especially when the principal never eclipses the self-created deputy, by personal attendance to his own affairs. Many of this class are considered as approaching to menials.


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