Kutchi And Bania Capital Built Oman. They Were The Lifelines Of Its Slave Economy

Kutchis were subjects of the Rao of Kutch, an independent princely state in India. Kutchi and Bania communities played a vital role in building Oman, serving as the capital builders. They were the lifelines of Oman’s slave economy.

View of Muscat | Wikimedia commons

Sayyid Majid had no coinage of his own. He was dependent upon all the powers who had jurisdiction in Zanzibar for the money that circulated in his dominions. His polity depended also on Indian capital invested by the Kutchis and Banias. He welcomed Kutchis, as they were critical to his slave-driven economy. The Kutchis, unlike the British Indian subjects, were exempt from the ban on slave trade as they technically came from the protected territory of Kutch ruled by their Rao. This was of huge benefit to Majid. He was compelled to emancipate slaves held by British Indian subjects when pressured by the Consul. But he was under no such compulsion with regard to the Kutchis. In fact, he justified the Kutchi involvement in slave trade as legitimate and legal because of their legal exemption from the prohibition.

The Kutchis were subjects of the Rao of Kutch—an independent princely state in India. They were exempt from the provisions of anti-slave trade treaties that covered only British Indian subjects. This was good news for them, as their involvement with this trade went back to the 1830s. From this early period, a considerable amount of slave traffic was carried on between the dominions of the Sultan of Muscat, the Arab ports of the Persian Gulf and the ports of Kutch and Kathiawar. Most of this trade was of children slaves, both boys and girls. Measures adopted by the British agent failed to put a stop to this traffic.

However, not being British subjects did not mean that they hesitated in leaning on British help when required. They borrowed money from each other to carry on their business in Zanzibar and, in case of any delay or backtracking of promises, they sought help from the Consulate office. For instance, in 1863, a Kutchi petitioner named Khakar Damodaran Devji, who traded in elephant ivory and European piece goods since 1851, had to close his business on the island as his credit was badly affected. He returned to Bombay, suffering a loss of $1000. One important reason for his return was that a fellow Kutchi, Mamula Mulji, pursued his claim for a certain sum of money that Devji owed him. Mulji applied to Pelly, the British Consul, for help in getting his money back. Not receiving too much help from Pelly, Mulji renewed his application to Mr Witt, a Dutch gentleman, who was placed at the embassy in the absence of Pelly. Witt came to Devji’s warehouse and shop and, on not getting the payment, he threw his things on the street, saying he would auction them for the satisfaction of the debt.

Adam Smith, in his book “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” published in March 1776, discussed India and the East India Company.

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