Learning Indian economic history from EPIC TV channel – case of Chapparbands the coin forgers

If people have not yet seen this TV channel – EPIC, please do. It is perhaps the best thing to have come on Indian TV for a long long time. It takes you back to those olden days of Doordarshan when TV meant even some knowledge and information as well. Now most TV channels including the news ones are just plain idiotic. Most would agree our news channels are just entertainment actually.

Here is where likes of EPIC come with a breath of fresh air. Most of the shows on EPIC TV are of excellent content and quality. The centre theme here is indology. I have learnt quite a bit about Indian economic history especially on the currency and monetary matters.It has these short clippings (called epified) on different currency systems run in different kingdoms in India. Epified also has these short clippings on how various commodities came into being in India and began to be traded. Then there are shows on Indian food (which tells you quite a bit about eco too), Indian philosophy (usually good Devdutt Pattnaik atthe helm), Interpreting Indian classics like Mahabharata (in a show called Dharmakshetra) and so on.

In a recent show called Lootere (robbers), one got to know about this community called Chapparbands which were expert coin forgers. They gave the British a run for money literally and figuratively. The seem to have learnt these coin making tricks with their ancestors serving the Mughal empire Treasury.  This knowhow was transmitted through generations before they got into forging British coins. It was thrilling to learn about this bit of Indian monetary history which is not covered anywhere.

I found this bit on Chapparbands on one of the sites:

The Chapparbands are manufacturers of spurious coin, who hail from the Bombay Presidency, and are watched for by the police. It is noted, in the Police Report, 1904, that good work was done in Ganjam in tracing certain gangs of these coiners, and bringing them to conviction. For the following note I am indebted to a report by Mr. H. N. Alexander of the Bombay Police Department. The name Chapparband refers to their calling, chapa meaning an impression or stamp. “Among themselves they are known as Bhadoos, but in Hindustan, and among Thugs and cheats generally, they are known as Khoolsurrya, i.e., false coiners. While in their villages, they cultivate the fields, rear poultry and breed sheep, while the women make quilts, which the men sell while on their tours. But the real business of this class is to make and pass off false coin. Laying aside their ordinary Muhammadan dress, they assume the dress and appearance of fakirs of the Muddar section, Muddar being their Pir, and, unaccompanied by their women, wander from village to village. Marathi is their language, and, in addition, they have a peculiar slang of their own. Like all people of this class, they are superstitious, and will not proceed on an expedition unless a favourable omen is obtained. The following account is given, showing how the false coin is manufactured. A mould serves only once, a new one being required for every rupee or other coin.

It is made of unslaked lime and a kind of yellow earth called shedoo, finely powdered and sifted, and patiently kneaded with water to about the consistency of putty. One of the coins to be imitated is then pressed with some of the preparation, and covered over, and, being cut all round, is placed in some embers. After becoming hardened, it is carefully laid open with a knife, and, the coin being taken out, its impression remains. The upper and lower pieces are then joined together with a kind of gum, and, a small hole being made on one side, molten tin is poured in, and thus an imitation of the coin is obtained, and it only remains to rub it over with dirt to give it the appearance of old money. The tin is purchased in any bazaar, and the false money is prepared on the road as the gang travels along. Chapparbands adopt several ways of getting rid of their false coin. They enter shops and make purchases, showing true rupees in the first instance, and substituting false ones at the time of payment. They change false rupees for copper money, and also in exchange for good rupees of other currencies. Naturally, they look out for women and simple people, though the manner of passing off the base coin is clever, being done by sleight of hand. The false money is kept in pockets formed within the folds of their langutis (loin-cloths), and also hidden in the private parts.”

The following additional information concerning Chapparbands is contained in the Illustrated Criminal Investigation and Law Digest13:—“They travel generally in small gangs, and their women never follow them. They consult omens before leaving their villages. They [18]do not leave their villages dressed as fakirs. They generally visit some place far away from their residence, and there disguise themselves as Madari fakirs, adding Shah to their names. They also add the title Sahib, and imitate the Sawals, a sing-song begging tone of their class. Their leader, Khagda, is implicitly obeyed. He is the treasurer of the gangs, and keeps with him the instruments used in coining, and the necessary metal pieces. But the leader rarely keeps the coins with him. The duty of passing the false coins belongs to the Bhondars. A boy generally accompanies a gang. He is called Handiwal. He acts as a handy chokra (youngster), and also as a watch over the camp when the false coins are being prepared. They generally camp on high ground in close vicinity to water, which serves to receive the false coins and implements, should danger be apprehended.

Superb stuff..

There is much more on EPIC channel. Quite a bit on economic history as well. It gets all these scholars to talk on the show which just enriches the overall discussion.

Kudos to the team..

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