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Birbhum’s Gunutia on Mayurakshi was India’s first sericulture hub more than a century ago

20 May, 2020 19:13:58
Birbhum’s Gunutia on Mayurakshi was India’s first sericulture hub more than a century ago

In the south-west part of Birbhum district, on the banks of the now-arid Mayurakshi River, lies a non-descript ancient village, Gunutia. On the opposite bank, inhabitants of Malancha, Amra or Chandrahat continue their daily struggle for existence, bereft of the glory and riches that could have been theirs. The country’s first silk factory was set up in Amra village. But that is a closed chapter now and the skeletal structure of the dilapidated factory stands there, a mockery of its past grandeur. As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day, similarly it took years of dedicated effort by a number of dreamers and entrepreneurs to build the gigantic structure from scratch. 

In the past, this region of Birbhum was fallow and unsuitable for cultivation. Vast tracts of land lay there without vegetation or human settlement. When the East India Company was granted permission to carry out business in the country, the officials discovered zeroed in on this area and gauged the prospects to develop the region as a profitable business hub.  Before the advent of the British traders and merchants to this area, local weavers used to spin and manufacture ‘Gora kapor,’ a thick canvas-like cloth that was used as sail in both ships and boats. This sail cloth was in great demand and had a lucrative market in the West. 

Once the British merchants were given permission to carry on trade here, hordes of prospective businessmen and adventurers from Scotland, France, Holland and other European countries trouped in here. They all seized the opportunity and made a beeline for the south-west part of Birbhum. Gunutia presented a host of facilities which were conducive for business ventures. In 1873, the East India Company appointed Edward Hay to initiate and develop sericulture in the region. Later, the company dispatched Mr Frusard to oversee the entire operation. Frusard landed at Gunutia as business representative and paid Rs 20,000 to purchase the business rights from Hay. Frusard built a kuthi (house) at Gunutia and settled there as Resident of the land. 

But despite his utmost efforts, he failed in his endeavour and one major impediment in his project was the volatile and unpredictable nature of Mayurakshi River that often flooded vast tracts of land during monsoons. To counter this, Frusard spent a fortune to erect very high walls to surround the factory like a fort. He set up 200 iron containers to increase production. This led to his bankruptcy. Finally, as a last resort, Frusard wrote a letter to Lord Cornwallis, appealing him to waive off the tax due from him and he never ever invested in sericulture again. He devoted the rest of his life in the rural belt, encouraging the masses to invest in infrastructure and uplift their financial status. Frusard is still considered as a pioneer in setting up and developing sericulture in Birbhum district. 

After him, John Chip acquired the business of producing silk and manufacturing silk textile in lieu of paying Rs 3,415 as annual revenue to the East India Company. Before arriving in Gunutia, Chip was posted in Surul. He is considered a pioneer in the spearheading indigo and lac dye business in Birbhum. John Chip succeeded in his venture and sericulture flourished in Gunutia. Dur

Story Tag:
  • Silk from Bengal

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