The “House Tax Hartal” of 1810–11

I haven’t been able to find much else about the “House Tax Hartal” of .

One J.R. Erskine gives the following description (I found the quote second-hand, but it was referenced to volume two of Selections of Papers from the Records of the East India House Relative to Revenue, Police and Civil and Criminal Justice, page 88):

Between twenty and thirty thousand of the inhabitants of that city (Banaras) consisting of all ranks and descriptions relinquished their occupations, abandoned their dwellings, and assembled in the open fields. Instead of appearing like a tumultuous and disorderly mob, the vast multitude came forth in a state of perfect organization; each caste, trade and profession occupied a distinct spot of ground, and was regulated in all its acts by the orders of its own punchayet, who invariably punished all instances of misconduct and disobedience on the part of any of its members. This state of things continued for more than a month; and whilst the authority of the British Government was, in a manner, suspended, the influence of the punchayet was sufficient to maintain the greatest order and tranquility.

Eugene F. Irschick, in an overview of some of the predecessors to Gandhi’s satyagraha movement that was published in the Economic and Political Weekly in , quotes some additional sources, including the Acting Magistrate in Benares, who wrote to Calcutta, complaining that:

The people [here] are extremely clamorous; they had shut up their shops, abandoned their usual occupations, and assemble in multitudes with a view to extort from me an immediate compliance with their demands…

And the Collector of Benares wrote:

At present open violence does not seem their aim, they seem rather to vaunt their security in being unarmed in that a military force would not use deadly weapons against such inoffensive foes. And in this confidence they collect and increase, knowing that the civil power cannot disperse them, and thinking that the military will not.

He also quotes a British tax collector from an earlier tax strike near Madras in , in which the inhabitants deserted the area, leaving the authorities to try to collect the tax by confiscating what little property and livestock as were left behind:

The common practice with the Inhabitants on these occasions was to resist both [the government and the collector] by collecting and using their servants, traversing the country in large bodies, and putting an entire stop to the cultivation and the harvest, until such control was withdrawn, and their demands arising out of it, however unreasonable they might be, are satisfied.