Longest Barrier During British Regime

Topics: British Empire, Bengal, India Pages: 9 (3482 words) Published: August 30, 2013
The text below is taken from http://thesabarmati.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/the-worlds-longest-fence/

The Great Wall of China stands till today as a historical achievement. There was another in India in the 18th century which was comparable to that. A grand hedge – starting from Maharashtra’s Barhanpur passing via Madhyapradesh, via Uttarpradesh via Punjab, via the Sindh province of Pakistan and ending almost in the Kashmir border. It was a living fence. Grown from shrubs and tied together so that nobody can cross it. It was almost 12 feet in height. It was the largest fence in the history of the world. It almost split northern India in half. It ran across 4000 kms of vacant land, agriculture land, villages, cities and deserts. At its height, in 1872, it had 14000 full time British officers guarding and maintaining it. It lasted as a symbol of British-Indian Government’s authority for almost three-fourths of a century. None of India’s historians have mentioned this great structure. It has not been mentioned in any book on India. There is no record of it in the official records of independent India. Even in India, no sociologist or economist had even heard about it – till 1995. A travel writer and record-keeper of the London Library, Mr. Roy Moxham bought Major General W.H. Sleeman’s ‘Memoirs of a British Soldier’ from an old book shop in London. It was published in 1893. Sleeman had travelled across India as a British Army officer in the 1850s. In his travel notes, there were records and descriptions of kings, chieftains, robbers, holy cities, temples and the taxation system of the then British Indian Government. In this, Sleeman speaks about the great living fence.

Roy Moxham is surprised. He wonders if this were an imagination. He examines British records. Most of them were from the post-1870′s. There was no information about the great fence. He patiently searches in the well-maintained British Library in London. The fact that he is a librarian for historical documents by profession helps him. Finally, he gets information on the survey details of the fence and about its establishment and maintenance. Initially thinking of it as insanity on the part of the British, Roy Moxham slowly identifies the horrible exploitation behind it. After extensive research, he describes it in his book ‘The Great Hedge of India’. The Great Hedge of India

It had the objective of controlling salt trade within the nation. It was even called the Customs Hedge. The customs duty on salt was the major source of income of the then British Government. Since the time they gained ground in India, 1803, the British started building this to bring salt distribution under their control to levy taxes. In stages, it was completed in 40 years. In 1843, this hedge was completed and brought under the control of the Inland Customs department. To understand this, we need to understand Indian geography and the place of salt in it. India’s northern regions are widely distributed. It has enormous plains which are distant from the sea. Northeastern states, the Himalayan regions, well-populated Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh were all dependent on southern coastal regions for salt. It was in Gujarat’s Kutch peninsula that salt was produced the most. In this region, there are no major rivers meeting the sea. Hence salt is in abundance. For most part of the year, there is abundant sun. In summer, salt lakes like the Sambar dry up naturally into salt beds. Hence traditionally, salt went from Gujarat to the northern states. There were long salt trade routes for this purpose. Maharashtra and Orissa coasts too produced salt. These too went to the northern states and the Himalayan regions through the land route. Okay, if so, then why a hedge till Kashmir? In today’s Pakistan, the Himalayan regions contain the world’s largest salt mountains. Its pristine pure and cheap as well. For the Himalayan regions including Tibet, it was this salt that was being transported....
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