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Romesh Chunder Dutt, CIE ( ) was a Bengali civil servant, economic historian, writer, and translator of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Formative years

Dutt was born into a distinguished Bengali Kayasth family well known for its members' literary and academic achievements. His parents were Thakamani and Isam Chunder Dutt. His father, Isam Dutt, was a Deputy Collectormarker of Bengal, whom Romesh often accompanied on official duties. Romesh was educated in various Bengali District schools, then at Hare School, Calcutta, founded by the philanthropist, David Hare. After his father's untimely death in a boat accident in eastern Bengal, Romesh's uncle, Shoshee Chunder Dutt, an accomplished writer, became his guardian in 1861. Romesh wrote about his uncle, "He used to sit at night with us and our favorite study used to be pieces from the works of the English poets." He was a relative of Toru Dutt, one of nineteenth century Bengal's most prominent poets.

He entered the University of Calcutta, Presidency College in 1864, then passed the First Arts examination in 1866, second in order of merit, and won a scholarship. While still a student in the B.A. class, without his family's permission, he and two friends, Beharilal Gupta and Surendranath Banerjee, left for England in 1868. Only one other Indian, Satyendra Nath Tagore, had ever before qualified for the Indian Civil Service. Romesh aimed to emulate Satyendranath Tagore's feat. For a long time, before and after 1853, the year the ICS examination was introduced in England, only British officers were appointed to covenanted posts. The 1860s saw the first attempts, largely successful, on the part of the Indians, and especially members of the Bengali intelligentsia, to occupy the superior official posts in India, until then completely dominated by the British.

At University College Londonmarker, Dutt continued to study British writers. He studied law at Middle Templemarker, London, was called to the bar, and qualified for the Indian Civil Service in the open examination in 1869.

Civil Service

Dutt entered the Indian Civil Service, or ICS, as an Assistant Magistrate of Alipur in 1871. His official career was a test and a proof of the liberal promise of equality to all her Majesty's subjects "irrespective of color and creed" in Queen Victoria's Proclamation of November 1, 1858, which often contrasted with an implicit distrust of Indians, especially from those in positions of authority within the elite colonial administrative system.

A famine in Meherpur, District of Nadiamarker in 1874 and another in Dakhin Shahbazpur (Bhola Districtmarker) in 1876, followed by a disastrous cyclone, required emergency relief and economic recovery operations, which Dutt managed successfully. By December, 1882, Dutt achieved his appointment to the executive branch of the Service, the first Indian to achieve executive rank. He served as administrator for Backerganjmarker, Mymensinghmarker, Burdwanmarker, Donapur, and Midnaporemarker. He became Burdwan's District Officer in 1893, Commissioner (offtg.) of Burdwan Division in 1894, and Divisional Commissioner for Orissamarker in 1895.

As Dutt's biographer commented, "In the absence of even the rudiments of representative institutions entry into the higher Civil Services presented the only opportunity to an Indian to influence the government of his own country." He sat for a time in the Bengal Legislative Council. Although he won high praise for his administrative work, and the Companionship of the Indian Empire was awarded him in 1892, Dutt did not always agree with official views on the causes of poverty in India or on the problems of administration.

As his official recommendations and reports reflected, Dutt was especially troubled by the lack of assured tenants' rights or rights of transfer for those who tilled the land. He considered the land taxes to be ruinous, a block to savings, and the source of famines. He also felt the effectiveness of administrators was limited by the absence of representative channels for the concerns of the population being governed. He retired from the ICS as the Commissioner of Orissa in 1897 while only 49 years of age. Retirement freed him to enter public life and pursue writing.

After retirement in 1898 he returned to England as a Lecturer in Indian History at University College, London where he completed his famous thesis on economic nationalism. He spent the next six years in London before returning once again to India as Dewan of Barodamarker state, a post he had been offered before he left for Britain. He was extremely popular in Baroda where the Maharaja, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III and his family members and all other staff used to call him the Babu Dewan, as a mark of personal respect. He also became a member of the Royal Commission on Indian Decentralisation in 1907.

While still in office, he died in Baroda at the relatively young age of 64 in early 1909.


He was active in moderate nationalist politics and was an active Congressman in that party's initial phase. He was twice the president of the Indian National Congress. He was president of the Indian National Congress in 1899.


Dutt served as the first president of Bangiya Sahitya Parishad ( ) in 1894, while Rabindranath Tagore and Navinchandra Sen were the vice-presidents of the society. This was the society founded by L. Leotard and Kshetrapal Chakraborty in 1893 to cultivate Bengali literature. Enriched by contributions from Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Romesh Chunder Dutt, Satyendranath Dutt, Binoy Krishna Deb, Ritendranath Tagore, Premsundar Bose and Jatindranath Pal, its collections include over 150,000 books and important Bengali and Sanskrit manuscripts and cultural artifacts, including the only manuscript of Shrikrsnakirtana.


Poverty and low wages were among the indirect products of colonial rule. Romesh Dutt traced a decline in standards of living to the nineteenth-century deindustrialization of the subcontinent and the narrowing of sources of wealth which followed:
India in the eighteenth century was a great manufacturing as well as great agricultural country, and the products of the Indian loom supplied the markets of Asia and of Europe.
It is, unfortunately, true that the East Indian Company and the British Parliament ...
discouraged Indian manufactures in the early years of British rule in order to encourage the rising manufactures of England .
. millions of Indian artisans lost their earnings; the population of India lost one great source of their wealth.

Radhakamal Mukerjee and Romesh Dutt directed attention to the deepening internal differentiation of Indian society appearing in the abrupt articulation of local economies with the world market, accelerated urban-rural polarization, the division between intellectual and manual labor, and the toll of recurrent devastating famines.

See also


  • ; ed. Narahari Kaviraj, Calcutta, Manisha (1980)
  • ; 3rd ed., Cultural Heritage of Bengal Calcutta, Punthi Pustak (1962).
  • Mādhabī kaṅkaṇa in Bengali (1879)
  • Rajput jivan sandhya (1879); Pratap Singh: The Last of the Rajputs, A Tale of Rajput Courage and Chivalry, tr. Ajoy Chandra Dutt. Calcutta: Elm Press (1943); Allahabad, Kitabistan, (1963)]].
  • Rig Veda translation into Bengali (1885): R̥gveda saṃhitā / Rameśacandra Dattera anubāda abalambane ; bhūmikā, Hiraṇmaẏa Bandyopādhyāẏa, Kalakātā , Harapha (1976).
  • Hinduśāstra : naẏa khaṇḍa ekatre eka khaṇḍe / Rameśacandra Datta sampādita, Kalikātā, Satyayantre Mudrita, 1300; Niu Lāiṭa, 1401 [1994].
  • A History of Civilization in Ancient India, Based on Sanscrit Literature. 3 vols. Thacker, Spink and Co.; Trübner and Co., Calcutta-London (1890) Reprinted, Elibron Classics (2001).
  • A Brief History of Bengal, S.K. Lahiri (1893).
  • Lays of Ancient India: Selections from Indian Poetry Rendered into English Verse. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner (1894); Rupa (2002). ISBN 8171678882
  • Reminiscences of a Workman's Life: verses Calcutta, Elen Press, for private circulation only (1896); Calcutta: n.p. (1956).
  • England and India: a record of progress during a hundred years, 1785-1885 (1897); New Delhi, India : Mudgal Publications, 1985.
  • Mahabharata: the epic of India rendered into English verse, London: J. M. Dent and Co., 1898. Maha-bharata, The Epic of Ancient India Condensed into English Verse Project Gutenberg, on line.
  • The Ramayana: the epic of Rama rendered into English verse, London: J.M. Dent and Co., 1899.
  • The Ramayana and the Mahabharata: the great epics of ancient India condensed into English verse, London: J.M. Dent and Co., 1900. Reprint 1910. xii, 335p. Also, Everyman’s Library, New York, Dutton (1929). Internet Sacred Texts Archive.
  • Shivaji; or the morning of Maratha life, tr. by Krishnalal Mohanlal Jhaveri. Ahmedabad, M. N. Banavatty (1899). Also: tr. by Ajoy C. Dutt. Allahabad, Kitabistan (1944).
  • Open Letters to Lord Curzon on Famines and Land Assessments in India, London, Trübner (1900) 2005 ed. Adamant Media Corporation, Elibron Classics Series, ISBN 1-4021-5115-2.
  • The lake of palms. A story of Indian domestic life, translated by the author. London, T.F. Unwin (1902); abridged by P.V. Kulkarni, Bombay, n.p. (1931).
  • The Economic History of India Under Early British Rule. From the Rise of the British Power in 1757 to the Accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. Vol. I. London, Kegan Paul, Trench Trübner (1902) 2001 edition by Routledge, ISBN 0415244935. On line, McMaster ISBN 8185418012
  • The Economic History of India in the Victorian Age. From the Accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 to the Commencement of the Twentieth Century, Vol. II. London, Kegan Paul, Trench Trübner (1904) On line. McMaster ISBN 8185418012
  • Indian poetry. Selected and Rendered into English by R.C. Dutt London: J. M. Dent (1905).
  • The Slave Girl of Agra: An Indian Historical Romance, Based on Madhavikankan. London: T.F. Unwin (1909); Calcutta, Dasgupta (1922).
  • Vanga Vijeta; in translation, Todar Mull: The Conqueror of Bengal, trans. by Ajoy Dutt. Allahabad: Kitabitan, 1947.
  • Sachitra Guljarnagar, tr. by Satyabrata Dutta, Calcutta, Firma KLM (1990)


  1. R. C. Dutt, Romesh Chunder Dutt, (1968) Internet Archive, Million Books Project, p. 10.
  2. Jnanendranath Gupta, Life and Works of Romesh Chandra Dutt, CIE, (London: J.M.Dent and Sons Ltd., 1911); while young Romesh came out unnoticed, Beharilal, possibly his closest friend ever, was chased all the way down to the Calcutta docks by his "poor" father, who could not, however, successfully persuade his son to return to the safety of his parental home. Later, in England, both the friends took the civil service examination successfully, becoming the 2nd and 3rd Indians to join the ICS. The third person in the group, Surendranath Banerjee, also cleared the test, but was incorrectly disqualified, as being over-age.
  3. Nitish Sengupta, History of the Bengali-speaking People, UBS Publishers’ Distributors Pvt. Ltd. (2002), p. 275. ISBN 8174763554.
  4. "Selected Poetry of Romesh Chunder Dutt (1848-1909)", University of Toronto (2002) On line.
  5. Queen Victoria's Proclamation, November 1, 1858
  6. R. C. Dutt, Romesh Chunder Dutt, (1968) Internet Archive, Million Books Project, p. 51.
  7. J. K. Ratcliffe "A Note on the Late Romesh C. Dutt", The Ramayana and the Mahabharata condensed into English Verse (1899) at Internet Sacred Texts Archive
  8. Hansard, HC Deb 26 August 1907 vol 182 c149
  9. "Selected Poetry of Romesh Chunder Dutt (1848-1909), Notes on Life and Works," Representative Poetry Online, University of Toronto (2002) On line.
  10. "Vangiya Sahitya Parishad", Banglapedia
  11. Economic History of India, vol. pp. vi–vii, quoted by Prasannan Parthasarathi, "The Transition to a Colonial Economy: Weavers, Merchants and Kings in South India 1720–1800", Cambridge U. Press. On line, excerpt.
  12. Manu Goswami, "Autonomy and Comparability: Notes on the Anticolonial and the Postcolonial", Boundary 2, Summer 2005; 32: 201 - 225 Duke University Journals.

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