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In search of India’s forgotten Dutch history

| | Updated on: Nov 12, 2014
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Scholarly project examines the legacy of the Dutch East Indian Company

It had a strong business presence in India. Historians call it is the richest joint stock company the world has ever seen and arguably the first MNC. It’s not the English East India Company, but Vereenigde Oostindische or VOC or the Dutch East India Company.

Around one-and-a-half century before the Battle of Plassey, the Dutch company had established its trading settlements in coastal India. A new book, The Dutch East India Company in India : A heritage tour through Gujarat, Malabar, Coromandel and Bengal , has brought alive an almost forgotten chapter of Indian history in the twilight of the medieval and the modern.

According to the author, Bauke van der Pol, the other East India Company’s best quality silk came from then Bengal’s capital Murshidabad. At Cossimbazar, now Kasimbazar, an area of Murshidabad’s district headquarters on the bank of river Hooghly, VOC had a weaving factory in early 18th century employing 4000 local artisans.

Long association On the Coromandel, it had monopoly in the pepper trade. Its trading posts were located at Pulicat and later at Negapatnam (Nagapattinam). The Dutch virtually ruled Malabar for over 130 years, and had extracted monopoly over pepper and cinnamon trade from the rulers of Malabar. The author of the coffee table book, published by Parragon Publishing India, is a cultural anthropologist. He has written three more books on the historical relations between India and the Netherlands.

Sadly, Dutch relics are not well preserved in this country; as many of the VOC era relics have simply vanished. Van der Pol while conducting research in coastal Kerala among Pulayas in early 1983 had learnt that a village Cheruvathur had a VOC past. There he found the foundations of sentry posts of one of the VOC settlements at then Mangalore and Barselore.

He writes that near Cheruvathur there is still a sign referring to a Dutch Fort. Mention of a Dutch fort is also made on a website providing tourist information about the Kasaragod district in which Cheruvathur lies. However, in his recent visit to the place he did not find the ruins of a Dutch fort built in the 18{+t}{+h} century, at the Veeramala Hills near Cheruvathur. Other than the foundations, nothing remains of historic importance there.

Published on November 12, 2014

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