Changing Scenario of Chanchal

Gautam Kumar Das

Stopping by Chanchal Rajbari at the outskirts of the Chanchal town, I remember the book of ‘Bari Theke Paliye’ by Shibram Chakrabarty, a popular Bengali writer, best known for his humorous stories as he once ran away from this Chanchal Rajbari in his boyhood days. Chanchal Rajbari does not resemble to that of a royal palace, it is simply a two-storied building without a trace of any signature of a so-called royal architecture. Shibaprasad Chakrabarty, father of Shibram and a member of this zamindar family, used to lead his life as an ordinary man and that characteristic is inherited by his son, Shibram who speaks and writes about these men in the street. The wanderlust nature of both father and son is reflected in their work for human welfare like excavation of a large tank adjacent to the rajbari for the uses of the common people of the villages and the establishment of a Durga temple and Chandi Mandap where entry is unrestricted to the people irrespective of castes and communities. Chanchal, one of the tiny estates formed in the British India, keeps such traditional features since then. Inhabitants of both the Hindus and Muslims communities, co-existed with communal harmony living side by side, in majority, are cultivators by their occupation. Crop production through farming system is the main source of their family income. Of late the farmers of the well-to-do family make experiments on inter-cropping system where mango saplings are planted in the paddy field of relatively highland areas. When mango saplings are grown up as young trees, the paddy field has gradually been converted to a mango orchard. The mango orchard, a new initiative by the locals in the highland areas of Chanchal, is proved to be now feasible and the produce of mango is a major source of income to the cultivators of this area. It is needless to mention that the Chanchal subdivision of the Malda District had rare mango orchard even fifty years back though Malda is a district known for its huge mango supply to the other parts of Bengal.

Co-existence of the communities maintaining Communal harmony is a traditional practice at Chanchal where Muslims preserve black-stone built rare idols of ancient times like Bishnu, Ganesh, Chandi etc in a mud-built temple thatched with tiles. They watch round the clock patrolling around the temple where the idols of antique values are preserved. These rare idols have been collected during excavation of a pond adjacent to the hamlet of the Muslims community. As a whole, the inhabitants of Chanchal keep their traditional flag flying inherited from their ancestors since its formation as an estate.

Being upgraded to a subdivision at present, Chanchal estate was mere a tiny estate during its formation. It is an aggregation of villages and locality when this is fixed as an estate. Chanchal, previously a part of the Purniah District, is segmented and united thereafter to form Chanchal estates in the revenue jurisdiction of Malda District as noted in the Statistical Account of Maldah by W.W. Hunter (1876) – ‘Since the date of the Revenue Survey (1852), the area included within this pargana has been augmented by the transfer of another pargana, of the same name, from the district of Purniah to the revenue jurisdiction of Maldah. The reunited pargana forms part of the Chanchal estates.’

Chanchal, with an area demarcated during its formation, seems to be a comparatively smaller estate in terms of its area of land and population. Out of total land areas in the estates computed during the period of the British India, about 40% turns out as barren; and among entire population, Hindus and Muslims representing about 50% of each community occupy the entire areas of the estates accounting almost equally. W.W. Hunter describes such Chanchal estates statistically in his Statistical Account of Maldah (1876) – ‘the Chanchal estates, which are at present under the Court of Wards, and managed by Mr. Reily. The report by this gentleman on the land tenures of the Chanchal estates in 1873 gives the following statistics concerning this tract. The total area is now 80, 471 acres, or 125.73 square miles, of which 31,145 acres are barren, 5226 are lakhiraj or rent-free, 2912 have been assigned away as service lands, and 41,188 are occupied by ordinary rent-paying cultivators. The number of cultivating tenants is 9202, of which total 4803 are Hindus, and 4399 are Muhammadans. There is only one permanent tenure in pargana, the remainder being held under what is known as the hal hasila system, which has already been fully described under the title of Land Tenures. The average size of the cultivators’ holdings is 11 bighas and 2 kathas, or somewhat under 4 acres, and the average rent per holding is 17s. 3d.’

Newly formed Chanchal estate is neither a place for profit in terms of rent or revenue collection, nor a well cultivated area during the British era. The peasants are very poor because of the relatively less fertile agricultural land and poor farming system as recorded in the several write up in the British period. The weather and climate of this place is not suitable to the European people as described by W.W. Hunter (1876) – ‘The climate is excessively damp and unhealthy. It is positively fatal to strangers immediately after the rains, and between the months of April and June. This pargana now forms part of the Chanchal estates, having been purchased by the late Raja in 1850, in the name of his wife, when put up at public auction for arrears of revenue. For this first five years the purchaser appears to have failed to collect even the Government revenue. He then attempted to raise the rents of the cultivators, which involved him in greater difficulties; and he was ultimately obliges to resort to the alternatives of letting the whole pargana out to farm. The farmer has ever since continued in possession; and consequently Mr. Reily, the manager of the Chanchal estates under the Court of Wards, from whose report the above facts are drawn, was unable to furnish any accurate statistics concerning the present condition of this pargana.’

The author ends up this article after telling a tale of another outstanding palace where he visits with a local youthful boy who possesses the post of the General Secretary of the Student’s Union of Chanchal College. The young chap accompanies the author to the centrally located palace where Victor Banerjee, a noted actor was born and spent his childhood days. Victor Banerjee is a descendant of the Raja Bahadur of Chanchal of Malda, the owner of the palace. The large royal palace is at present undertaken by the Government. The ancestral palace of Victor Banerjee is so large that it accommodates Government-aided Chanchal College, Land and Land Revenue Department and Subdivisional Judicial Court as a whole. Thus, educational, judicial, health care and agricultural practices have been improving side by side. At present, there are 608 Primary School, 69 Middle School, 54 High School, 65 Higher Secondary School and 3 Degree Colleges in the Chanchal Subdivision. Medical facilities are available in 1 Hospital, 3 Rural Hospitals, 3 Block Primary Health Centres and 13 Primary Health Centres. Moreover, Chanchal gets a Super Specialty Hospital with all modern facilities of health care systems where more than 50 doctors serve day-night to their best. Indeed, in the field of socio-economic aspects, Chanchal of Malda District has gradually been changing for a better tomorrow. 

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Oct 24, 2019

Gautam Kumar Das [email protected]

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