When the Zamorin family repeatedly petitioned the British to reinstate their annual pension

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)

The State Government’s recent decision to grant all members of the Zamorin family a monthly pension had whipped up a debate, particularly on the relevance of such an allowance in the 21st century. History shows that the Zamorin family’s fight for allowances has been a long-drawn one. Ever since the Zamorin ceded his land to the East India Company, pension has been a constant subject of discussion. Pension is again the talking point in two letters written on the same day by the ‘Kovilagam Rajah’ to the Government. These letters rest in the archival files of 1847. Here, the anguished successor of the once-powerful dynasty submits his petition for the reinstatement of his pension. The Zamorin is a consistent point of reference in the archival material. The title comes into play particularly in documents of land transfer. Quite a few of the landmarks in the city rest on what was originally the Zamorin’s land and which had been given away for public purpose. But, it is a very different Kovilagam Rajah that one comes across in these two letters.

In the two letters, one written to the Governor in Council at Fort St. George and another to the Governor General of Indian Council at Fort William, he pleads his case for an allowance. The letters, dated March 22, 1847, though clubbed together, slightly varies in content. In a “humble petition” submitted to the Governor General of Indian Council, the “Padinjar Kovilagam Rajah of the Zamorin family residing at Calicut in the Province of Malabar”, spends more time explaining the dynamics of the agreement between the family and the Company. According to him, “While this Province was under the Bombay Government, the Commissioner who settled the affairs of Malabar had granted an allowance of ten thousand rupees per annum to your Petitioner’s amamanmars/maternal uncles/ the Rajahs succeeding to Padinjar Kovilagom…”

The Kovilagom Rajah says though the status quo was maintained for a while even after the province was transferred to the Madras Presidency, precisely till 1806, there has been a change ever since. In this letter, he claims that the “aforesaid allowance having been, without any cause whatever, discontinued…” His numerous petitions to the Madras Government largely met with silence. He received just one letter from the British dated May 13, 1837, but its contents are not specified in the letter. This letter had prompted another 10 petitions from the Kovilagam Rajah to the Government. He also mentions the date on which these petitions were sent on the margin.

Umpteen petitions

The writer says despite these letters, which at this he point calls a “grievance”, no reply had come his way. The writer wonders if the “protracted silence” on the part of the government is because he deviated from the norm of appealing to an order through The Madras Government. He assures that he has complied with the norm this time. “He accordingly now submits this petition through the said channel with a firm hope that due consideration will be given to this and the documents submitted therewith…”, so that the petitioner and the present heir and family can avail a decent allowance. He concludes saying that he will be bound by gratitude for a kind gesture.

In the letter to the Governor in Council too, the Kovilagam Rajah mentions that the allowance of Rs.10,000 per annum has been stopped without reason. From this letter one understands that the petitioners repeated letters to the Revenue Board and Government was met with an unfavourable order on May 13, 1836. The Kovilagam Rajah had mentioned the year as 1837 in his letter to the Governor General of Indian Council. As he subsequently says, “he sent ten petitions from 9 April 1837 to 10 June 1845” we can safely assume that he mentioned the year wrong in this one. The latter part of the two letters are rather similar where the Kovilagam Rajah hopes that since he is appealing through the Madras Government he will get to hear some good news. The tone of the letter reflects the Rajah’s desperation for the words used in them ranges from “begs” to “kindness” to “gratitude bound.”

But one understands from the note on the flap of the letter to the Governor in Council that even this passionate letter did not meet with an encouraging reply. It was received on March 29 and solicited “the transmission to the Government of India of a petition relative to his claim to an allowance of Rs.10,000 per annum.”

The simultaneous note from Fort St. George signed by the Secretary to the Government on May 6, 1847, is bound to break the Kovilagam Rajah’s heart. It cryptically says “this request cannot be complied with.”

(Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode)

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