In the nineteenth century, industrial empire brought new force into the transformation of agrarian regions. Britain controlled the corridors of mobility in southern Eurasia. English became the imperial language. A new rupee homogenised the money supply. In 1800, cowry shells from the Andamans were the currency in Sylhet, and dozens of different silver, gold, and copper coins filled markets from Surat to Chittagong. Money changers worked every corner. But in the 1820s, the Companys silver rupee set the monetary standard and market prices began a tumble that lasted thirty years. In these hard decades, markets contracted along routes of imperial expansion, real taxation increased, seasons of scarcity were common, and overseas cloth exports died. The Act of 1793 had established a permanent settlement with no survey, no records of rights, and no definite method of assessment, but after 1820, zamindari settlements required the recording of rights, annual assessments of cultivated land, and periodic reassessments. Almost everywhere, routine revenue collections provoked struggles and dislocations. When indigo stocks crashed on the London exchange, Bihari peasants lost their income and tenants lost their land. The Torture Commission in Madras reported routine beatings by revenue officers. Company critics multiplied in London but could not quite topple the old regime before rebellions killed the Company in 1857. Crown rule ended an imperial crisis. Prices had begun moving upward again by 1855, and decades of inflation then steadily lowered the real cash burden of revenue and rent. Land became more attractive for investors as a veneer of modernity covered British India. An imperial system of weights and measures, administration, and law spread along with commodity production in every region, as open land for new farms disappeared. Horrible famines marked the decades from 1860 to 1900, but a long upward price trend stimulated commercial agriculture until the crash in 1929. Then, the great depression introduced two decades of disruption and radicalisation; and it also made the elimination of village poverty and the protection of internal markets a central concern for nationalists. After independence, national governments embraced all regions with projects of national development. Today, we look back over a long modern century in which farming communities have engaged a world of states, capitalism, and nationality.
"The provinces," -- the country stations and districts, as contra-distinguished from the Presidency; or, relatively, the rural localities of a district as contra-distinguished from the sudder or chief station, which is the residence of the district authorities.
The British imperial state defined the agrarian economy for rational, centralised management. In the 1790s, surveyors like Hamilton Buchanan had begun to assess potentials for agricultural exports. The first British missions to the interior of Ceylon went to assess potential for British investment in exports. From the early 1800s, imperial policies deliberately depressed Indian cloth exports, encouraged British cloth imports into India, and promoted Indian exports of opium, cotton, and indigo, and later tea, coffee, leather, rice, wheat, jute, and rubber. By 1840, the Parliamentary Papers published detailed accounts of economic matters in many regions of Asia and the Americas. Of all the national economies of the western world, the British economy depended most on agricultural and food imports, and least on the buying power (thus the income) of its own farmers. Agrarian regions in South Asia acquired export identities. Opium from Bengal and Bihar became the linchpin of the China trade. The City bankers who raised capital for railways in India worked with Parliament to boost cotton exports from Bombay, Madras and Egypt, to address cotton supply problems at Manchester caused first by boll weevils and then by impending civil war in Alabama and Georgia. Berar became cotton country, alongside Egypt. Assam, Darjeeling, and Sri Lanka became tea country, as British planters took mountain land away from hill farmers by buying it from government and acquired labour supplies from Bihar and Madras to build their new plantations. Mysore coffee was first a peasant crop, but British plantations took over the hills to produce coffee exports. As the Malnad became coffee country, warrior races manned the imperial army. Nepal and Punjab exported Gurkha and Sikh fighters, as Bihar exported landless workers. Bhojpuris came to Calcutta to board ships for Trinidad, as Caribbean sugar planters lobbied in London against loud critics of indentured labour. Workers imported from India came to many sites of British export production in Africa, Fiji, and Malaysia. Agrarian South Asia exported labour, raw materials, and processed goods for world markets, and the list grew longer as time went by to include rice, wheat, jute, hides and skins, pulses, and many other products, as well as workers from virtually every agrarian region.
In this context, a shift occurred in the character of the states interaction with farming communities and also in the character of social power in agriculture. In 1840, an old kind of territoriality still prevailed, composed of transactions among key people on the land. The Company collected taxes from its local allies and subordinates, and gave entitlements in return. Transactional territories were formed among patriarchs whose names and social identities are prominent in the local records of early British rule, when the internal and external boundaries of empire remained in flux. By 1880, modern, administrative territories had emerged in the pacified lands of British India. Farm land was surveyed and demarcated. Maps recorded the boundaries of plots, estates, villages, roads, forests, and public property. State bureaucracy and law defined entitlements to land, labour, and capital. Industry defined a new kind of territory: railways formed scaffolding for new military, urban, and commercial structures, and the Indian Civil Service was dubbed "the iron frame" of empire. World markets for Indian commodities expanded and commodity production became much more visibly part of everyday agricultural life, especially along the railway. Urbanism accelerated most rapidly along these same tracks, because all the people and institutions that connected the world economy to farming villages clustered in cities and towns, most of all at terminal points by the sea. In colonial cities that were among the biggest in the world, British and Indian elites defined modernity, each in their own terms.
Village folk also played key roles in making modern institutions. Moving out like the Mughals from their fortress towns, the Company had called suitable men to settle the revenue, and everywhere, patriarchs had come forward. For these men, settling with the British never meant voting in favour of colonialism, much less giving up independence; rather, it meant dealing with the sarkar to bolster entitlements. Settling with the Company did not diminish the old potency of ritual, dharma, kinship, credit, coercion, and social status; and the sarkar actually needed powerful local allies to collect its revenue and maintain law and order locally. Many armed rulers and peasants did fight against subordination to the British as they battled for local and regional power in agrarian territories, and these struggles continued throughout British rule and beyond. Company settlements and assessments typically met resistance. Yet in the accumulation of negotiations and struggles, imperial needs for revenue and stability eventually met local needs for entitlements and protection; and little by little, enough key people in the country aligned their ambition with the Company to establish a new regime.
The new state came to be quite different from its predecessors. The white elite with its peculiar language and dress detached itself from agrarian society. Its laws were foreign, penned in English, and purported to adapt, even to perfect, ancient principles. The sarkar demanded taxes in cash and set tax rates without reference to seasonal variation in the harvest. Government refused to see the local complexity and variability of entitlements; instead, it enforced crude codes of property ownership that separated individual rights from group claims to the shifting sets of elements that formed bundles of agrarian patrimony. Legally, it even detached land ownership and taxation from family status and community rights, obligations, and membership. This state also claimed to have a supreme right of ownership over all land, so that failure to pay its cash revenue on time justified the official auction of land deeds to other tax payers. The British were parsimonious rulers, apparently ignorant of the ancient power of royal generosity. They did not like to give out advances to finance farm operations at the start of the season. Sarkar taccavi loans did continue and could be substantial, as we see below but they became rare and lost the quality of personal honour. British rulers withdrew from patronising temples, mosques, and rituals, and from entertaining local nobles at court. Christian rulers did not respect or patronise darbari patriarchy. Religious patronage boomed, but it now assumed a new kind of "private" status, detached from the official operations of the state. Tax collectors did not respect the social rank of tax payers or give indefinite extensions or special dispensations in recognition of social status. Government eventually even eliminated tax-free land grants, old symbols of rank and sources of respectable income. Invisible legislators in mythical London dictated rules and procedures that local authorities seemed helpless to change. District Collectors who had autocratic powers of enforcement seemed impotent to change the rules to suit local interests. To change government policy, influential men had to present their case in district towns and in provincial capitals, where making personal connections with officials became more complex and costly than ever. Specialists for this purpose became more numerous. Representing landed interests in town became a speciality for the sons and retainers of the gentry and zamindars. Already in 1784, when Sylhet zamindars were still waging wars for land on the battle field, they retained vakils in Calcutta to argue court cases against the English Collector. The 1881 census counted 357 vakils in the tiny district town of Tanjore in Madras Presidency. Landowners in all districts made regular representations to Boards of Revenue and pleading for landowners and publicising their difficulties became good professions. By the 1840s, landowners associations were hard at work in the provincial capitals, and in the 1880s, landowners and their representatives filled Local and District Boards in every province. In 1892, the Tax Payers Association became the District Association in the Kistna District of Madras, reorganised along the lines of the Indian National Congress. By 1900, landowner demands for lower taxation had become a permanent agrarian plank for the Congress.
Land ownership became a qualification for a peculiar kind of imperial citizenship whose character derived from political position of property rights in each region. Property owners participated actively in state institutions. They had official standing -- status -- in the state. Their disputes filled Company courts, as the cost, conditions, definition, expansion, and protection of landed property rights became the central issue in agrarian politics. English education expanded opportunities for landed families. Family status now depended upon property, wealth, and profession, in addition to other symbolic assets; and though family connections remained critical assets, they declined as criteria for status in the state. Fathers passed the village offices of headman and magistrate down to their sons; and in zamindari estates, relatives of the owner and his minions formed the local elite; but a broader based agrarian citizenry formed politically as the state acquired more power to adjudicate and appoint without reference to heredity. Lawyers and politicians emerged as actors in agrarian politics. Even tenants became people endowed with rights, in legal theory and practice, so that zamindari became one kind of property right among others, sandwiched between the state and peasants. Bureaucracy displaced family ties and old modes of social ranking. Unlike previous rulers, the Anglo sarkar would not marry their sons to the daughters of subaltern allies. State transactions were also now shorn of their family and their commercial elements. State offices ceased to be hereditary property and marketable commodities. Buying offices or state favours became illegal. Old, respected practices for pressing personal influence continued, but their official status changed with the invention of "corruption." The portfolio capitalist -- part banker, entrepreneur, warrior, tax collector, and nobleman -- disappeared. Transactions between the state and landowners shrivelled in their cultural content along with substance of entitlements; as locally dominant families became less involved in the overall construction of agrarian authority, now monopolised by a bureaucratic state. Agrarian patriarchs were reduced to dealing with the state on a narrow set of issues concerning taxes, rights, and the value of land. Land had been but one feature of agrarian territory; now it was everything. It became a domineering commodity that defined the nature of social relations in farming communities and power relations between farmers and the state. The power of money increased as entitlements to land came to rest solely on the ability to pay taxes and rents. No exceptions. The best a Collector would do in response to personal pleas for tax relief was to grant a remission for reasons of general distress. The power of professional money men increased further because the higher cost of growing commodity crops had to be met before the harvest, which entailed debts, mortgages, and accumulating interest. It became more common for people to lose their land for failure to pay cash on time either to the sarkar or the sowkar (banker or moneylender). Finance became more critical as a moving element in agriculture because now it could buy entitlements protected by the state independently of the will of communities or dominant families. Money could buy power independently of family rank.
This new institutional environment evolved and expanded slowly. Each decade, it encompassed more territory, and on its frontiers, the old rules still applied, as old rajas, zamindars, and farming communities brought new land under the plough. Old entitlements were smuggled into new properties and many old modes of power were codified, surveyed, and legalised. The British respected rights of first possession and many grants by previous rulers. Mirasidar rights to tenant land became ryot property in Madras, and in Maharashtra, khot rentier claims were included within ryotwari pattahs. B.H.Baden Powell reported that in 1880, twenty percent of all ryotwari land in Bombay Presidency included landlord and rent-free elements. "The multilayered complexity of hereditary revenue rights was only partially transformed by colonial administration during the 19th century," and many jagirdars, sardars, inamdars, deshmukhs, and deshpandes kept revenue estates inherited from Maratha days. Old rates of assessment also entered the new tax regime. Favourable rates and concessions continued which had been granted to local elites and officials. Religious institutions of all sorts retained their land, not because the Company was generous, but because local power was most often decisive in shaping the details of revenue practice. Initially, locals even set the rates of assessment and procedures for collection. Company officials did not understand all the factors that impinged upon farm yields, and greedy for revenue, they often assumed high, stable productivity and ignored seasonal fluctuations when assessing the value of land. This produced steep, regressive tax schedules, which assessed poor dry lands and poor peasants at proportionately higher rates than the best irrigated land and rich land owners. The Company thus followed the same logic that pertained within zamindari estates in the northern basins: high status tenants with better land exerted more influence and paid lower taxes. But the Company never knew exactly what land was being taxed, where it was, and how it was being used; this was not ascertained before the plot-by-plot surveys, after 1870.
Under the Company, the "revenue village" became the elemental unit of administration, and it became so everywhere in South Asia. But villages were also territories of social power outside the state, and even today, there is a persistent discrepancy between what the state calls "a village" and what villagers think. Initially, powerful locals determined where one revenue village ended and another began, and until the 1870s, many struggles for land occurred outside official view. Because official status accompanied land rights, people with rights to land had various degrees of power to define those rights in practice, and boundaries remained fuzzy between local politics, society, law, police, and administration,. The making of modern institutions that delimit precisely the content of property rights took a long time and entailed a long set of shifts in power relations between localities and the imperial state, which altered modes of power in agrarian territories across the nineteenth century. Like the Mughals, the British initially provided military muscle for prominent local families in competition for resources, and these families in turn stabilised the sarkar at its base by forming local proprietary institutions through which the state could realise tax revenues and codify its regime. The property system that emerged has long outlived British rule and it is the foundation of agrarian politics in modern South Asia. It includes many simmering conflicts that periodically boil up violently during bad seasons, even today. But records of local conflicts over land indicate that during the settlement process itself, there was a formal regime of proprietary politics at work in each agrarian region. Some rules and rights came from the old regime into British rule, but with the arrival of the British and disappearance of open land for new colonisation, the rules changed. Money and litigation gave local contenders new leverage. As a result, during revenue settlements, surveys, tax collections, petitions, demonstrations, riots, battles, and policy revisions, claimants to land formed agrarian polities within British India. Lawyers and bureaucrats formed a class of mediators and representives for conflicting agrarian interests. Little by little, warfare on the land faded away and struggles inside agriculture assumed their modern civility.
By 1900, proprietary institutions enjoyed a substantial hegemony. Since then, agrarian struggles have worked within the framework of individual private property rights, though some tribal movements have claimed collective rights and legal protection for tribal territories. Even communists have fought to expand the scope of private property. The village has also remained the accepted micro-territory of public authority and agrarian politics. Civility in agrarian polities does break down, as we can see today in Kashmir, Bihar, Telengana, Nagaland, and Sri Lanka. Violent struggles continue in village life. State violence always lurks inside civil institutions. But for a century now, property conflicts have had a remarkably civil demeanour in most regions and localities, and the institution of private property has never been the object of sustained political assault. Modern agrarian struggles focus rather on the redistribution of rights and the normative trend is toward wider, more equitable distribution, toward the creation of more individual holdings and more private rights. A consensus would seem to hold across a wide political spectrum that the ideal agrarian condition is one in which farm families in village societies privately own and work their own land, endowed with all the financing, implements, and inputs necessary to increase productivity, under state protection. This model guides land reform, economic planning, the green revolution, and party politics. On the Left, "land to the tiller" encodes a struggle to end feudalism and to fulfil Jawaharlal Nehrus promise to "remove gross inequalities" from Indian society. On the Right, private property is a bedrock of tradition. Public protection for private property is certainly one major pillar of the legitimacy of the modern state in South Asia, including the colonial state; and because of this, legitimate political activity inside state institutions has dominated politics rather than struggles to overthrow existing institutions of law and governance. True, state institutions provide a framework for repression and privilege; but they also support striving, patronage, collective mobilisation, and conflict resolution. Peasant struggles have primarily had private property in view. The architect of zamindari abolition in Uttar Pradesh, Charan Singh, understood this well, when he said this in 1957:
The political consequences of the land reforms are ... far reaching. Much thought was given to this matter since the drafters of the legislation were cognisant of the need to ensure political stability in the countryside. By strengthening the principle of private property where it was weakest, i.e. at the base of the social pyramid, the reformers have created a huge class of strong opponents of the class war ideology. By multiplying the number of independent land-owning peasants there came into being a middle of the road stable rural society and a barrier against political extremism.
There is still much to learn about the history of this hegemony. Until now, scholars have relied upon theories of colonial encounter, and we can see in the literature two sets of imagery, whose elements can be combined. One depicts a juggernaut of Western modernity rolling over traditional Eastern communities that were mauled, transformed, modernised, or shocked into rebellion and resistance, though some of their cultural features did manage to survive -- and among these survivals, caste, patriarchy, and religious identity are most conspicuous. Another set of images depicts colonial alliances being made between British and Indian elites, which combined old and new forms of power to create a new kind of agrarian environment. The first set of images resonates with cultural ideas like those of Radhakamal Mukerjee and more broadly with theories that render societies in terms of structures and ideal-types. Historians have used it to explain social disruption and peasant upheavals under colonialism. The latter set of images, by contrast, reiterates Nehrus argument that "the great poverty and misery of the Indian People are due, not only to foreign exploitation in India but also to the economic structure of society, which the alien rulers support so that their exploitation may continue." This imagery of class alliance and exploitation spawned the idea of a semi-feudal mode of production which cannot move into full-fledged capitalism because it depends on feudal forms of power (caste, patriarchy, and direct coercion) but also cannot remain fully feudal because it needs and feeds the capitalist economy and modern state. Scholars have used this class imagery to explain the rise of political parties, persistent underdevelopment and inequality, and the general condition of subaltern domination. Both kinds of imagery of colonial encounter render the mofussil as an abstraction, as a place without history, a set of structures and forms of power without internal conflicts and dynamics that interacted with the moving force of colonialism. But evidence from a century of disparate colonial encounters indicates that agrarian societies were all in flux at time of their incorporation, quite independently of British intervention. From the beginning of British rule, local struggles to establish entitlements, expand cultivation, increase commodity production, and intensify land use shaped the form of the colonial state and influenced its operation in the countryside. At first, property entitlement and revenue collections were the main connection between the empire and its villages, and we have seen how pre-modern territoriality was embedded in ranking and ritual activity that crossed the line between village and state. Local entitlements continued to depend on the conversion of material resources into symbolic forms such as patriarchal rank, money, and temple honours, and this produced many kinds of entitlement to the elements of landed property, which remained as the modern state drew legal and bureaucratic lines between village society and the state. Legally, the state separated property in land from social powers over labour, ritual, water, and forest. It homogenised territory by propagating an abstract appearance of modernity. But country folk brought official abstractions down to the ground, and countless local histories of the emergence of the modern institutions still hide in the archives, out of public view. District records maintained in Collectors offices contain the most detailed information on struggles over land, labour, and capital before 1880; and the court, police, and administrative records that form provincial archives are supplemented after 1920 by local academic studies.
Historically, neither imperialism nor agrarian society was a unitary structure, and many features of modernity which appear to be impositions of colonialism or inventions of British India were a much longer time in the making. Certainly, the British did codify private property and induce commodity production, but they did not need to invent either one, because both have longer histories going back to medieval times. Theorists of tradition have long claimed that a lack of private property in South Asia derived from a monopoly of land ownership by the state and from collective social controls in village communities; and that caste, sect, and other forms of cultural collectivity in village society thwarted capitalist individualism and the privatisation of property. A stark theoretical opposition has thus emerged between Europes competitive, individualist rationalism and Asias collective, traditional, peasant community consciousness. But early medieval inscriptions document strong communal, village institutions and also individually owned family property in farming communities. Early modern records show many kinds of community arrangements for sharing, dividing, and reallocating land among fiercely independent, possessive families. Such arrangements still remain today. In Andhra Pradesh, villagers distribute risk by sharing costs and responsibilities in agriculture. In the Paxtunistan, land redistribution among clans (wesh) continued until 1960. Such local institutions entail conflictual negotiations, agreements, and diplomacy among families who have individual entitlements to land, whose self-interested family members depend upon and constitute their familys power and position in the community. Kinship involves constant inter-family negotiations that facilitate competitive enterprise. In Gujarat, village women chat regularly in circles of kin to maintain co-operative alliances among their families. In coastal Andhra, village elders typically attest to and adjudicate rental agreements between private parties, and caste and kinship form bonds of trust in oral contracts that are pegged to market prices. Village community institutions like the panchayat, shalish, and shomaj resolve conflicts among families amidst cross-cutting solidarities and in the face of competing, private interests. We thus see in contemporary and historical evidence that agrarian communities are typically held together as their internal diversity and conflict are combined with co-operation and accommodation in social networks of agrarian activity; and that few agrarian communities form solid collective identities with closed, unitary moral economies.
Farming communities did participate in rebellions that erupted from the everyday stresses and strains of oppression, social change, and resource competition. At moments of mass mobilisation, peasants may appear as a collective or a communal mass rising up against their rulers, and self-absorbed British observers certainly thought that peasant upheavals were Indian assaults on the existence of their government. But in South Asia, agriculture is not a collective peasant enterprise, except in some tribal societies, and peasants are a not a unitary mass, even during upheavals. Rebellions before 1857 were primarily wars for territory of a sort which had been waged for centuries, and after 1857, they became political struggles inside the framework of the state. It is only in tribal societies that old collective identities have been organised routinely as collective political opposition to the modern state itself. Forest, jhum and other modes of tribal cultivation were accomplished by multi-family collectives and tribal communities were not typically integrated in the ranks of entitlements and revenue transactions that defined the older agrarian states. After 1800, tribal groups retained distinctive farming communities even as they mingled with non-tribal societies and were pushed into the hills. Forest tribes and farmers had always flourished in the mountains, where they came under attack by the state and its associated agrarian interests. To manage conflict in tribal territories, states recognised tribal enclaves like the Daman-i-Koh around the Rajmahal Hills in Jharkhand; and thus modern tribal enclaves, created by the state, became territories for the evolution of modern tribal identities. Battles over tribal land arose typically from the aggressive extension of property claims by the state, zamindars, farmers, and money lenders in tribal territories that were defined as such both by tribal communities and the state. Conflict increased with the rapid expansion of cultivation, and in the nineteenth century, tribal warriors sometimes fought to the death for collective independence.
What we see in all the records of agrarian turmoil is not so much broad popular resistance to the colonial imposition of western-style private property rights and commodity production as a gradual, conflictual invention of new state institutions to enforce private property amidst ongoing local struggles for entitlement. The new state now invested rights legally in individuals rather than in families. It defined land as a commodity. This particular form of entitlement was indeed a nineteenth century invention. It became hegemonic as it was applied in practice at the intersection of empire and farming communities and as state institutions were embedded within agriculture. Across the nineteenth century, rebellions that demonstrate a radically communitarian opposition to private property rights did break out during the subjugation of tribal communities, as the expansion of lowland farming and state power turned tribal land into private property. But after 1857, agrarian struggles in general ceased to be struggles for political autonomy or territorial supremacy. Instead, they sought private benefits for individuals, families, and kin groups within the framework of state institutions. They focused on everyday issues, above all, secure possession of land, labour, and capital. Ever since, members of farming communities have mobilised publicly thousands of times to advance their claims to the many specific elements that comprised legal entitlements, such as fair rates of taxation and rent, better prices for inputs and outputs, occupancy rights; access to roads, forests and temples; and freedom from violence at the hands of landlords, state officials, and village patriarchs,.
Modern institutions took shaped at the higher levels of Company authority, in major cities and towns, and gradually worked their way down the hierarchy into small towns and villages, where they met their local fate. Their personnel concentrated in urban centres on routes of trade and administration, and though historical maps depict blocks of territory being added to British India at each phase of military expansion, this is misleading, because historically, empire had a more linear quality. It spread along routes into the interior, out from imperial centres into remote locations. This had important consequences locally, because earlier sites of Company authority became bases for later expansion and remained higher-order centres in hierarchies of power. Company revenues and profits first concentrated in old centres near the coast. Then the railways connected ports to interior centres along lines of commercial investment and commodity production, so that sites on the railway became nodes for the expansion of modern institutions, including law, bureaucracy, police, schools, the military, science, industrial technologies, and nationalism. The older, bigger colonial centres contained more English people and things and they had closer connections with Britain; this enhanced their prestige and provided privileges for residents of larger centres. A central place hierarchy was built permanently into the geography of modernity. The main corridors of empire ran up and down the coast from Bombay and Madras, and inland along the railway into Berar, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and the Deccan; they ran up from Calcutta across the northern river basins into Punjab and Assam; and they also ran up from Karachi and Surat along the Indus basin into Punjab. Other interior and upland regions became distant hinterlands. The urban corridor from Calcutta to Peshawar held a preponderance of imperial personnel and assets; this became the imperial heartland and the central zone for state-sponsored agricultural development. The imperial scaffold is still visible today in the routes of the main trunk lines, in the location of national capitals, and in the central place hierarchy; as well as in the geographical distribution of wealth and political power. Localities far from the railways are still disadvantaged in the flow of goods and services. Lesser towns and villages still occupy the hinterland, and the high mountain interior regions still remain cultural and political frontiers for the expansion of lowland states. By 1900, modern institutions were established throughout the agrarian lowlands and were moving into the uplands of the central mountains; but their expansion into the higher uplands was slow and spotty, and much of high mountains away from Kashmir, Darjeeling, Simla, and Kathmandu remain remote even today. Every locality has its own position of rank in modernitys spatial arrangement of inequality, and most importantly, urban-rural divisions are marked constituents of modern social identity.
An appropriate date for the arrival of modernity among farmers, pastoralists, and forest dwellers might be the day when the land was surveyed, plot-by-plot, drawn into survey maps, and printed in books to regulate the allocation of property rights. This activity began in the 1850s and spread rapidly between 1870 and 1920. The resulting records still exist and in addition to property rights they record agreements between officers and villagers for the maintenance of irrigation works and the protection of local forests. In Punjab, they also record the membership of land owning lineages, and thus vestiges of old transactional territories. Everywhere, they record the names of land owners and village officers. As these records were being produced, the state was also building a vast new network of new canals in Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh and a massive bureaucracy for census-taking, agricultural surveillance, and other purposes, including the regulation of forests. Though forests were not measured internally until later, their boundaries had been surveyed by 1920, by which time the state had demarcated all the land that it claimed as its own property, all the woods, seashores and river beds, drainage runs for irrigation tanks, other uncultivated land not included in pattahs, transport rights-of-way, and public space in cities, towns, and villages. State regulation of public space had begun long before -- by 1800, the Company regulated access to land and roads in Madras and Calcutta, and in 1850, it could enforce laws that allowed Untouchables to walk the streets in district towns like Tirunelveli -- but in the 1870s, government had just begun to enforce its claim to forest land outside the reach of lowland farmers. By 1920, public lands had been demarcated; and every bit of private property had been surveyed, demarcated, and recorded within British India. The state could now register (and tax) all legal transfers of real estate.
After 1870, agrarian citizenship came into being within the agrarian polities of British India, and it entailed much more than holding a pattah and haggling over land rights and revenue. The orderly representation of rural interests became a distinctively modern political power as the state became a managerial institution within agriculture, a source of authority in allocations of labour, technologies, water, and finance. In the 1880s, District and Local Boards institutionalised the role of local notables in the administration and funding of state projects that became public activities with a high social profile. By this time, many rural men of means were already involved in privately funding education, publishing, and public works; and the public sphere in the mofussil developed largely with financial support from landed families. Government embraced landed interests instinctively. When agriculture departments invented and propagated new seeds, animal breeds, and farming techniques, they concentrated their efforts on the most profitable commercial crops, especially sugarcane and cotton; and when government built irrigation and promoted co-operative societies, the benefits went primarily to commercial producers. Ideologically, all these efforts served the public good. Then in the 1870s, murderous cyclones in Bengal (1874) and horrible famines in all the semi-arid regions (1876-8) raised the issue of the states liability for civilian calamity, and British responsibility for public health and welfare became a hot topic of public discussion, as Indian organisations began to press for representation in government. The scope of state responsibility expanded very quickly, and in 1888, the Report on the Conditions of the Lower Classes of the Population in Bengal (the Dufferin Report) used the first detailed empirical studies of 100 sample villages "to ascertain whether there is any foundation for the assertion frequently repeated that the greater part of the population of India suffers from a daily insufficiency of food." This was a critical moment for the emergence of modern development discourse: modern institutions began to mobilise public opinion around agrarian issues and urban leaders began to stake their legitimacy on service to a public that was predominantly rural. At this point in history, a new question arises: who are those folks, out there in the country, who shape political discourse and mobilise the public?
Developmentalism attained instant cultural hegemony as local demands for state investment in agriculture became morally and politically compelling in imperial circles. State-sponsored development may perhaps be intrinsic for all modern states, even colonial empires, because modernity demands progress and makes the state the ultimate guarantor of public well-being. Modern political struggles revolve around who will be served by the state, what sectors of society are most important, and which claims on the exchequer are most urgent. By 1880, the spectre of class war had been let loose in Europe and the idea was already established that state investments in public welfare would stabilise national enterprise; and this idea would become increasingly prominent in the twentieth century. The critique of the negative impact of British policy on Indian well-being thus became an elementary aspect of Indian nationalism, and the inadequacy of imperial development efforts has received considerable academic attention. Nationalist critics were surely correct to say that overall, the British drained wealth from India, depressed Indias industrial growth, and restricted opportunities for Indian employment and investment outside agriculture. Nationalist critics also chided British rulers for excessive taxation and inadequate attention to agricultural improvement. Since 1970, scholars have expanded this critique to include the negative ecological impact of railways (which blocked drainage to provoke malaria epidemics), canals (which waterlogged the soil to produce poisonous salinity), and deforestation (which induced erosion and displaced forest people). But many continuities are striking from the 1870s to the present day in state efforts to increase aggregate agricultural output, expand commodity crop production, and secure the profitability of agriculture for investors. State development expenditure increased after 1870, declined after 1920, and rose to new heights after 1947, but all modern states have faced public critics who say the state are not doing enough, and all states have publicised and praised their own development efforts. From the first famine commission report, in 1878, to the latest five-year plan, in 1997, states have sought to improve their own public image as developers and they have conducted regular inquiries on the cause and extent of development problems.
An assessment of the impact of state development activities is well beyond the scope of this book. But some points are relevant. Famine was the first policy issue that separated modern development from the long history of state-supported agricultural expansion. Prominent years of famine mortality clustered in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s; then again in 1918-19, and again in 1943-4, 1966-7, and 1973-5. All these famines (like droughts and cyclones) affected some regions more than others and can be considered in the context of other regional disparities (about which more below). Until 1920, famine mortality clustered in dry regions, especially in the Deccan, western plains, and south-east. As we will see, these famines must have been aggravated by ecological stress and decay in community financed irrigation, some of which was mitigated in later decades. After 1870, government invested heavily in irrigation and instituted famine prevention measures, but government irrigation mostly benefited commercial farmers and the impact of government activity on reducing mortality is unclear. Most new irrigation was built by farmers who invested in wells for commercial farming, and though state famine policies may have helped to reduce peaks in mortality, very high levels of everyday hunger, mortality, and morbidity continue to plague the old famine zone in the Deccan, even today. In the 1940s, 1960s, and 1970s, famine and near-famine scarcities hit Bengal, Bihar, and Bangladesh, regions which have also been seriously deprived relative to others by modern development regimes; and here, too, famine struck regions most heavily that were most precariously sustained against the vagaries of the monsoon, depending on unirrigated winter rice. Before 1950, the largest government investments in irrigation came to western Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where dividends to the state and to commercial interests were high, but their is still an academic debate today as to whether the UP canals were, on the whole, counter productive, because in addition to spreading cultivation, they also spread malaria and water logging. After 1950, disproportionate government irrigation benefits also accrued to western regions. Since 1975, there have been no major famines anywhere, and monsoons have been better than average. This does not diminish the continued importance of public investment, however, which has still not eliminated hunger or the threat of mass starvation; and development expenditures have still not benefited poor people and poor lands in proportion to their share of the total population.
Development constitutes a more complex historical subject than any list of costs and benefits could ever indicate, because the discourse and practice of development encode a modern states relationship with its people, and the Dufferin Report suggests imperial anxiety at the height of empire over state responsibility for malnutrition. Though famines can be called natural calamities and poverty can be explained away, everyday starvation threatens the legitimacy of a modern state. Development anxiety suffuses modernity. Tools have been honed to measure the nutritional status, health, wealth, and well-being of every individual and the media have broadcast scathing attacks on the reputation of rulers based on the implications of their policies. As British rule weakened politically, after 1920, it became less capable of improving local conditions, which weakened it further, and nationalists increased their own credibility by attacking government. Congress won the loyalty of locally prominent men by convincing them that they had much to gain from a Congress regime, beginning with lower taxes and rents. The Krishak Praja Party stood for lower rents and more secure land tenures in Bengal. No-tax and no-rent agitations attracted agrarian support and sketched a blueprint for the nations relationship with farmers after independence. In the 1940s, the Congress and Muslim league formulated plans for national development which evolved during depression and war and envisioned an even stronger role for the state, and since 1947, development projects have expanded the political base for governments.
After 1947, populist discourse and far-reaching government activities to increase agricultural productivity made development increasingly egalitarian and democratic. The colonial government had nothing like the power of national states today to bring tailor-made packages of technology and inputs to farmers in the village. In addition, of course, farmers could not vote before 1947. But continuities since 1870 are impressive and are not confined to the proclivity of states to build large-scale irrigation dams to bring water to vast agricultural tracts from one central source under state control. Development has a firm agrarian base. Under the British, as today, state projects to improve agriculture were designed to benefit land owners on whom their success depended. William Moreland reflected an official agrarian mentality in the British empire when he said that non-productive landlords exploited peasants and undermined agriculture. This sentiment has been reiterated many times, and in 1940, even the Tenancy Committee in Hyderabad argued that giving more land and finance to peasants would serve economic as well as political ends. Thomas Munro and Henry Lawrence had also argued that to improve agriculture, the state must invest in its farmers -- and their arguments pertained not only to India but also to Britain.
The discourse and institutions of agricultural development made a place for farmers (also called agriculturists) -- as distinct from land owners -- in the modern state. Because states need to mobilise social power to increase production, they need farmers who can use their own private means to supplement state expenditure effectively. For Munro, mobilising the peasantry simply meant keeping taxes low, eliminating speculative middlemen, and securing private property, all of which, he argued, would encourage investment. By the 1850s, more ambitious arguments for state-sponsored irrigation had taken hold. To increase its revenue, proponents argued, government should build new irrigation to open new, more valuable, secure cultivation. Early state projects in the Kaveri and Krishna-Godavari deltas showed that investments could bring the promised revenues; and later famines gave the state other reasons to invest in irrigation. Huge irrigation works were installed in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab, as ancient morals took modern form. The Tamil poet advised the Pandya king to expand irrigation, and the modern state also needs to spread water upon the land. To repay its investments, the state needs revenues; and families who most directly profit from state investments, who combine land, labour, and capital to increase production, are best able to repay the state. These same people are the leaders of their communities. Agrarian patriarchs have authority and political connections. In the nineteenth century, old political imperatives which had long compelled rulers to grant wealth and authority to powerful local men were thus joined with development ideas within a framework of private property to form a new kind of agrarian citizen, the farmer who invests in the land. This new citizen would displace his predecessors, the village land owner and landlord, when the old gentry drifted away from agriculture into urban occupations during the twentieth century.
Local power influenced development policy and its impact. Local resistance made it costly to raise tax rates on old farm land, and even nominal increases were minimal after 1870, as inflation reduced the real value of taxes and new state revenues came primarily from sources other than land, such as stamps, fees, and duties. After the early settlements, new land taxes had come primarily from new cultivation, from formerly "concealed cultivation," and from increasing assessments on land pegged to its increasing value. Local resistance to any kind of tax increase became more and more public, until by 1920, taxes were the central issue in Congress agitations in prosperous farm regions, most famously, in Gujarat. Demonstrators shouted that the state must hear the farmers complaints and redress grievances, a demand with a long pedigree, not so much in Delhi and London as in provincial and district headquarters. Provincial regulations concerning inheritance, land alienation, debt recovery, and tenancy multiplied after 1870 to strengthen people who invested directly in farming, which benefited the well-endowed farmers in ryotwari tracts and many tenants in zamindari regions. The impact of state policy on landlordism became more and more ambiguous. The British government remained committed to landlord property to the end, but zamindari estates also obstructed the increase of modern state power and revenue, and peasants became the best investment for government on political and economic grounds. On permanently settled land, state revenue increases were out of the question, and new cultivation was hard to locate and tax on zamindari estates. Legally and politically, therefore, though government supported zamindars, talukdars, and malguzars; tenancy legislation and the expansion of police jurisdictions, forest controls, and other official interventions into zamindari estates undermined zamindari autonomy. Zamindars were among the greatest beneficiaries of irrigation works in the Krishna-Godavari basin, and Ganga canals enriched talukdars in Awadh. Government had no qualms about investing in zamindari areas to expand new cultivation, even though this had the effect of increasing landlord power, to the chagrin of people like William Moreland, who pointed out that zamindars did not invest very much in farming. Overall, government also did not invest much in any of the permanently settled regions. The majority of zamindars raised most of their income from rent and money lending, keeping their distance from farming; and by the twentieth century, we see a general movement of landlord income away from farming. Land owners children moved to the city to pursue education, employment, and professional careers. This trend was most important for Calcutta, where zamindari descendants, heirs, employees, and representatives -- many impoverished as the generations passed --filled the ranks of the bhadralok. Some of the early nationalists who came from this milieu, like R.C.Dutt, criticised the British for undermining zamindari property rights, while other nationalists pushed for tenant rights. Conflicting interests in the political culture of zamindari thus entered modern politics, and the ambiguity of British policy toward zamindars echoed among nationalists who sought political support from zamindars and tenants at the same time.
State investments nurtured localities of expanding commercial cultivation along routes of imperial expansion. Development became synonymous with empire. Big cities along the railway grew faster than smaller cities and towns, and areas well-endowed with huge state irrigation works advanced rapidly over others. These two factors combined to increase regional wealth in Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh compared to old imperial territories in Bihar and Bengal. Towns boomed in the cotton-growing and sugar-farming irrigated tracts in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and along Tamil coast, in contrast to regions of declining tank irrigation in the driest parts of the Deccan, Rayalaseema, Bihar, and Bengal. Ecological distress became most visible in the driest Deccan districts, as lush new irrigated colonies were opening up in Punjab and western UP. In 1911, the shift of the imperial capital from Calcutta to Delhi symbolised a long movement of imperial investment. Modernitys most politically and economically powerful agrarian macro-region in South Asia expanded across Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, and western UP; it has been consistently favoured by state investments relative to other regions since 1870.
As agrarian regions acquired economic identities, the mobilisation of power on farms became more intricately entangled with the urban public sphere. Local conflicts involving landlords, tenants, rural financiers, farmers, and government officials moved from village to town as fast as rumour. Debates in London and decisions in capitals travelled to distant villages with a telegram. Regions of agrarian politics centred on district headquarters and provincial capitals. After the Deccan Riots Commission published its report in 1878, laws were passed to protect land owners against foreclosure and governments used the registration bureaucracy to prevent the transfer of land to non-farming moneylenders. Tenancy laws were passed to regulate the rights of farmers in zamindari estates. State officials sought to protect the property of plantation owners, ryots, tenants, and zamindars, and these property rights often conflicted with one another as well as with the rights of tribal groups and the state itself.
There was no single imperial intelligence to guide government activity in all these conflicts, and agrarian polities emerged during the formulation of provincial solutions to local problems. The state drew lines around tribal forests to facilitate direct administration, creating separate political territories, while regional polities developed around the administrative centres in which the middle classes settled and land owners invested. In 1883, for instance, Krishna-Godavari irrigation effectively irrigated 24,592 double cropped acres, and by 1897, double cropping covered 163,481 acres, enriching zamindars, ryots, and bankers and business families, who invested in towns. Territories that benefited most from state investments saw the fastest growth of middle class activity, and 241 vakils worked in Godavari district, in 1881, many more than in Madras, the provincial capital. As agricultural labourers became urban workers, they often moved back and forth from city to village from season to season; and it seems that smaller towns had an edge in the expansion of non-farm employment, especially along the railway, where towns became entrepots for the agrarian hinterlands. The circulation of capital between town and villages produced a critical and often conflictual power relationship between finance and farming, which preoccupied the modern state because of its importance for economic development and political stability.
Politically, only the biggest cities were important at the imperial level, but regionally, every major town had a middle class that performed mediating roles between farmers, the state, and commodity markets, as teachers, lawyers, bankers, brokers, investors, merchants, technical experts, and officers in state agencies dealing with roads, railways, forests, medicine, construction, irrigation, plantations, mining, and eventually hydro-electric power and other projects. The size and influence of the middle class grew with state penetration into agriculture; and locally, every state activity generated political feedback into urban centres. The reservation of forests, for instance, produced countless law suits by zamindars who claimed forest lands on the borders of their estates: middle class bureaucrats, lawyers, and zamindar sons and retainers were involved in these conflicts on all sides in towns and cities. Resistance to the plot-by-plot measurement of village lands was localised but widespread, and politically most visible in zamindari estates, where tenant land rights undermined zamindari power. In Bengal, the boundaries of villages had been matters of local custom until the surveys of the 1860s. In Bihar, zamindars blocked state surveys of tenant lands, and in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, surveys moved along slowly and unevenly, encouraged and stymied according to the relative influence of zamindars and tenants. Every agrarian dispute rippled into town. In the 1840s, the Calcutta intelligentsia debated what to do about distress in the indigo fields. Tax payers associations multiplied. In the 1870s, the government created District and Local Boards to advise Collectors on local policies. Regional agrarian polities thus developed as territories of political interaction around agricultural communities, mediating their entanglement with the imperial state.
By 1900, agrarian polities had emerged from the combination of modern state institutions and local struggles over land, labour, and finance. These territories of social power and mobilisation have been submerged in historical writing by imperial and national trends, but they form the basic geography of agrarian political economy and culture in the twentieth century. Constituted legally in land settlements and politically by administrative boundaries, they took shape during the long closure of agricultural frontiers, as locally dominant landed groups and their opponents and competitors acquired professional and political support in the public sphere. Expanding urban economies provided new frontiers for rural ambition and for labour mobility as the world economy and the imperial state extended their powers over agrarian resources through urban centres. Social power and strife in the villages travelled to town as urban influence radiated into the countryside, creating distinctive political cultures overlaid by imperial and national politics. National politicians needed regional allies who needed local bases of support, and local movements worked their way up the political system. As Charan Singh knew very well, local agitations could become mass movements that challenge national elites, and after 1920, loud calls for radical change were very frequent and insistent. They came from all levels of society. The British had incorporated influential landowners into their early settlements, but the rapid expansion of agriculture and commodity production had changed power equations dramatically in every locality. By 1920, Congress leaders faced many conflicting interest groups in every region and they sought to incorporate them all into a single national project. Each agrarian polity imbued "the nation" and "independence" with its own distinctive meanings.
Punjab is the best known as an agrarian polity because particularly tight connections developed there between the state and farmers. A Punjab school of colonial policy took hold after annexation in 1849, and during settlements, officials codified local powers vested in the community of village landowners. Officially, the Punjab village became a proprietary body composed of land owning lineages. Administrators endeavoured to reach agreements about the limits of villages to ascertain the frontiers of agricultural expansion at the time of the settlement, because here as elsewhere, the state claimed all the land on which taxes were not paid and villagers also claimed the woods, grazing land, and cleared land surrounding their fields, which they gleaned for fuel, fodder, water, and food. By paying taxes on farm land, farmers could avoid state expropriation and use the state to support their own claims to land. By clearing new land for farming, they could establish new rights and perhaps avoid taxes until a new official survey was undertaken. The incentives for expanding cultivation onto new ground produced many local conflicts as the claims of farmers clashed with one another, as farm communities claimed the land of pastoralists and forest cultivators, and as the state, zamindars, tenants, and ryots asserted rights to newly cultivated land. The cultural character of villages in Punjab changed as collective arrangements for local defence became unnecessary and as the joint interests of lineages came to focus instead on privatising family control over land and labour. Weaker families could secure their rights against stronger neighbours by acquiring private property rights, even though collective village resource sharing did benefit weaker community members by spreading the cost of crop failures and protecting the village commons. Stronger landowners also benefited from community resource sharing, but they also had the most to gain by establishing exclusive rights to the most valuable village land. Village headmen and zamindars could use their local authority and official position to increase their private land holdings by hiring labour to bring more land under their personal cultivation. There were thus good reasons for rich and poor landed families alike to value both community solidarity and individual property, and in Punjab and elsewhere, solidarities among dominant families enforced their individual privatisation of landed property.
As Jat lineages expanded family control over agricultural territory, their sons became prime recruits for the imperial army. This made Punjab even more politically important and brought more public investment and military salaries and pensions into the country. Starting in 1887, irrigation along the Chenab River opened new lands to intensive cultivation in state-run canal colonies, and Punjab became the most prolific regional exporter of agricultural produce, which it remains today. Jat farm enterprise supported the power of lineages, and vice versa, in agrarian territories that received more state attention, finance, and intervention than any other. The combination of Jat family farming, lineage political organisation, and state intervention in agriculture produced a booming regional economy and an agrarian polity characterised by militant collective action by land owning lineages.
Initially, in each village, settlement officers had parcelled out rights to individual farms, collective "common lands," and external lands used by pastoral peoples; and in doing so, Punjab administrators produced new village proprietary groups by lumping together lineages even when they had no previous relations to one another. Early land administration thus encouraged local alliances across lineages, based on village entitlements; and despite the official collectivity of the Punjab village, Punjab land owners had privatised all the commons by 1900. Government canal colonies became the first modern plan for agricultural expansion that involved the large-scale relocation of farmers and creation of new farm communities. This kind of state-planned agrarian colonisation has been accomplished many times since, in different parts of the world, and it always creates communities that live and work in unusually close quarters with state bureaucracies. In Punjab, canal colony farmers were also beneficiaries of state policies to support dominant caste groups who were critical in the military. Moving loyal, productive families into new frontiers of farming was intended not only to increase agricultural production but to expand the Punjab political system, as the state pushed more deeply into Punjab community life. Individual farm plots granted in the colonies were very large and provided ample scope for investment and family expansion, in return for relatively low rents. By 1897, along the Rakh and Mian branches of the Chenab Canal, the Punjab government had granted 341,998 acres to officially defined "peasant" families who owned one square of about 27 acres each; 30,473 acres to "capitalist" farmers holding from five to one hundred squares; 36,630 acres to "yeomen" farmers with up to three squares; and 6,313 acres to "military" grantees holding up to three squares. These grants echoed the political logic of old land grants to temples and mosques. They also subsidised a rapid growth in the area of farm land planted with food and fodder crops, which further hasten the disappearance of common lands for grazing. In the Fazilka canal tract, cultivation expanded 48% between 1886 and 1897 and the number of cattle almost doubled. Everywhere in Punjab, commons land (shamilat) had gone into private hands even before legal privatisation because powerful families would take possession of valuable portions as the village paid the revenue. As irrigation, cotton and sugarcane spread over the land, "the traditional pattern of land-use and institutional order inevitably changed under the impact of increased cultivation."
By 1900, Punjab agriculture had become a serious state concern. More state investments justified more state control, and the Punjab Land Alienation Act prohibited the sale of land or its transfer in foreclosure to anyone who did not belong to an "agricultural tribe." The state defined ethnic divisions by religion and caste with its census operations and ethnographic surveys; and now it used these divisions to regulate credit markets. The purpose of this legislation was to keep land in the hands of families who had a racially coded capacity for farming, but it also institutionalised ethnic identities and solidarities among dominant caste lineages. Families passed land from one generation to another, and likewise, military honour ran in families. Rituals and genealogies recorded at temples, shrines, and gurudwaras defined lineages. Now descent and ethnicity also became the basis for participation in land and credit markets. Urban groups protested their exclusion and this opened a political split between farming and commercial interests defined officially by caste, tribe, and religion. During the nationalist movement, these divisions were mapped onto political oppositions between Muslim farmers and Hindu merchants in the western districts, as financial wealth accumulated within the Muslim "agricultural tribes." Tight connections between farming and state administration, especially in the canal colonies, also made everyday farming more inherently political in Punjab than anywhere else. As the Chenab colonies were filling up, bureaucrats tightened their control over access to land, and in 1907, protesters confronted the state in demonstrations that attracted the attention of Lajpat Rai, the head of the Arya Samaj. His participation at a Lyallpur meeting punctuated a long modern history of entanglements between urban nationalists, religious reformers, and agrarian interests, which runs down through the rise of the Akali Dal and the Muslim League, the Partition of British India in 1947, and the subsequent demands for a separate Haryana and independent Khalistan. In Punjab, the meaning of the nation was suffused with solidarities among dominant farming castes, above all, Jats, and the cry for independence has been repeatedly raised to carve out territories within which state power and Jat family power might be more effectively combined. Since 1906, the mobilisation of religious identities has endeavoured to harmonise the disparate interests of rustic farmers, urban financiers, and professionals within communal solidarities; as Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh political movements have produced separate state territories in the Indian Punjab, Pakistani Punjab, and Indian state of Haryana.
Farmers in the old Punjab now live in separate polities, carved by state and national boundaries. In each, the politics of lineage power produced an ethnically and religiously defined agrarian citizenry. Title to land is legal but also genealogical, enforced by states but also by the lineages. The green revolution and national planning have accentuated state interests in agriculture and provoked political movements whose strength is augmented by the fact that Punjab produces critical food supplies for India and Pakistan. In 1992, Punjab and Haryana together held nine percent of Indias population, eight percent of its cultivated acreage, and seventeen percent of its food grain. In India, only Punjab and Haryana have large food crop surpluses to export to other states: Punjab has proportionately six times as much food as it has people, and Haryana, three times. Their food stores sustain Indias food security. Since 1960, Punjab and Haryana have also had the highest growth rate in the value of their overall agricultural produce (at 4.89% and 4.14%, respectively), though their primacy flagged a bit in the 1980s. In addition, very substantial farmers own this prime farm land. In India as a whole, 73% of all farmers work holdings of less than one hectare. In Punjab, this figure is 45%, and in Haryana, 61%. Here we also find an agrarian culture dominated by aggressively capitalist owner-cultivators, the backbone of the green revolution in India and Pakistan, and some of the most successful farmers are now mobilised for globalisation. Gurpeet Khehra is one of these agro-tycoons. Thirty-three years old, with a PhD in tissue culture from Britain, he invested Rs.4 lakh in Israeli drip irrigation and received Rs.20 lakhs in 1997 from crop sales and research fees. He grows strawberries on 50 acres, raises vegetables for export and plans to buy a fast-food franchise and build a Rs.75 lakh research laboratory. Other tycoons have bigger farms: J.B.S. Sangha, for instance, has 6,000 acres under potatoes; and A.S.Dhinda, has 700 acres of flowers, which yield 70 tonnes of seed and half a million dollars in export earnings to the US.
Poor Biharis work on rich Punjabi farms. As Punjab exports food, Bihar exports hunger. In Ludhiana and Hoshiarpur districts, in 1981, researchers counted over four lakh farm workers who had come from northern Bihar districts, almost all members of low castes. Workers also came from tribal Chhotanagpur, where recruiters had gone to bring them for the employers who bid for them at auction. Though this illegal trade had ceased by 1991, rich Punjabi farmers were still advancing huge sums to bring Biharis to work in their fields; and when official investigations found some workers being held in bondage, they were released to local authorities.
In all other regions, too, agrarian ethnicities have been attached to the land, and symbols of class and social status have formed vocabularies of agrarian politics. State-defined property rights are culturally charged, and entitlements to resources adorn individuals and families like regalia. Legal and administrative codes enhanced and institutionalised the social value of symbols of respect and honour by inscribing local ranks of status into the everyday operation of the state. Individuals and families have long gained access to the means of production by social alliances celebrated in rituals above all, marriage that reproduce social power in dialects of ethnicity, jati, varna, and sect. Combining land, labour, and finance in agriculture still depends on the accumulation of symbolic assets. The modern state intervened by legalising customs in civil law; by codifying castes and tribes; by enumerating population according to ethnic categories of race, tribe, caste, and religion; by measuring social conditions and stereotyping groups by ethnic category, so that Jats, for instance, officially became the best farmers in India, and Muslims and Hindus are always opposed to one another in government discourse; and by creating ethnic entitlements within the state itself, sometimes officially, as in the case of Sikh regiments in the army, and sometimes tacitly, as in the case of the Brahman corps of bureaucrats and state intellectuals. As employer, patron, and supreme arbiter of social status and entitlement, the state became the master institution for the production, regulation, and accumulation of cultural capital as it increased its material power over economic and social mobility. Brahmans became prominent everywhere in higher education, administration, law, engineering, medicine, sciences, journalism, and also in the Indian National Congress, along with a few other high caste groups, including Kayasths and Baniyas. In effect, the British became an imperial caste, marrying among themselves, living in their own settlements, dressing alike, and eating together. Brahmans became the national caste in British India.
Every region developed its own particular set of politically important groups; its own cultural profile of social rank, dominance, and conflict; its own ethnic flavour, reflected in its cuisine, crafts, dialects, and voting patterns. Medieval core territories in the northern basins in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had the highest percentage of Brahmans at every level in agrarian society. Today, Uttar Pradesh contains forty percent of all the Brahmans in India. Before 1950, Brahmans, Muslims, and Rajputs were the great zamindars and talukdars of central and eastern UP. Rajputs, Brahmans, and Bhumihars ruled zamindaris in Bihar. Beneath their dominance, Goala (Ahir), Kurmi, and Lodhis were prominent tenants and farmers all along the Ganga basin. In western UP, Rajasthan, Malwa, and the Central Provinces of British India, the Brahman, Jat, Rajput, Brahman, Maratha, and Muslim rajas and zamindars each had their own tracts. The Bengali bhadralok came from the respectable classes of high caste zamindars and their retainers, from estates where tenants were Muslims and middle caste farmers, who in turn had lower status landless workers under them in the villages. Three major tenant castes dominated localities in nineteenth century West Bengal: Sadgop, Kaibartta, and Aguri. They had colonised their territories before Permanent Settlement, and in the twentieth century, their power was challenged by upwardly mobile caste groups (Mayra, Chasadhoba, Jogi, Namasudra, and Pod). The urban homes of the bhadralok and the factories in Calcutta obtained low caste Bihari workers from the countryside. In Assam, the Ahom, Koch, Kalita, and Rajbangshi had their territories and faced waves of immigrant Bengalis. Meanwhile, Gujarati Kunbis, Maratha Kunbis, Malayali Nayars, Telugu Kammas, Kapus, and Reddys; Kannadiga Vokkaligas, Lingayats, and Boyas; and Tamil Vanniyas, Vellalas, Kallars, and Maravars -- and all the other dominant farming castes -- had their own local territories in regions over which a tiny population of Brahmans held the highest positions in native society under British rule. In native states, ruling families and allies formed ethnic elites, some very small, like the Muslim dynasty in Hyderabad and Hindu rulers in Kashmir.
The public pronouncement of the name, population, and status of each group became a feature of its social identity within the territory of the modern state, particularly during census operations. From the first imperial census, in 1871, social movements emerged in which culturally subordinate groups made claims to higher social status and at the same time to superior entitlements under the protection of the state. Directed particularly against the supremacy of the British, Brahmans, and Rajputs, social movements sought to raise the status of lower-ranked groups and to eliminate disabilities that came with their lower status, such as exclusion from temples, universities, and public office. These movements had much in common with the group pursuit of social mobility in earlier centuries. But commercialisation and urbanisation fuelled many new kinds of mobility and the modern state opened new institutional possibilities. An early example comes from 1850, when low caste workers moved into Tirunelveli more frequently and their mobility challenged high caste control over urban space. When battles broke out over Pariah funeral processions, the military stepped in to enforce public access to the streets. The modern state acquired powers to regulate access to land, roads, temples, water, electricity, sanitation, education, and a great many other resources; and to coerce and protect people almost everywhere in society. Modern social movements were thus directed at the state, seeking official recognition, protection, and the improvement of group status and entitlements. They reflect changing social relations and also the changing character of the state, whose elites can use public force in various ways. These movements have often involved serious social conflict, and in British India, regional systems of order and conflict created political environments within which various versions of nationalism developed. Some of these local conflicts have received wide attention for example, the breast cloth controversy in Kerala, cow protection movement in Uttar Pradesh, Kshatriya movements in Gujarat and Bihar, and temple entry movements in Tamil Nadu but they all have local idioms and specific ethnic contexts, attached to the land. Many revolve around religious institutions and include theology, sectarianism, and mass devotion, which give agrarian polities like Punjab an air of exalted passion. Among low castes and especially Untouchables, conversions to Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism expressed social movements against upper caste dharma. In 1900, a prominent Brahman official in Madras, S.Srivinasa Raghava Aiyangar, reported officially that Pariahs could make no progress without leaving Hinduism, and at the end of his life, B.R. Ambedkar came to the same conclusion, launching a Buddhist movement which has remained among Dalits in Maharashtra. In Punjab, Mangoo Ram led the Ad Dharm movement to liberate Untouchables within a Hindu sectarian framework.
As in Punjab, elsewhere too, environments and ecologies also changed dramatically as farmers pushed agriculture to the limit. In the Maratha Deccan, registered cultivation increased 67% from the 1840s to the 1870s, with many taluks showing rates of increase over 100% and a few, over 200%. Population growth also accelerated after 1820 but registered farm land grew at annual rates running from 2% to 9%, indicating a drive to bring land under the plough and to pay for its ownership. Prices for cotton soared in 1860, which further encouraged ploughing, planting, and property acquisition; and this resulted in a substantial increase in loan activity, farm debt, and conflicts over land, both among farmers and between farmers and financiers. Many precarious dry farms came into being as poor farming families ploughed up marginal land with bad soil in areas of low rainfall. In the Deccan, water for new well irrigation lay deep in rock and could be tapped only with a considerable investment. Without irrigation, on the old margins of cultivation, land was rapidly desiccated by exhaustive cotton crops and hungry herds, especially goats. As a result, the cotton boom ended abruptly in Khandesh and proved temporary in much of the Deccan. Already in the 1830s, officials had warned that high taxes on poor lands were forcing farmers to assume debts that they would not be able to repay during inevitable bad years of drought and/or depression. After 1850, debt caused many conflicts. In two districts in western Khandesh (Poona and Ahmadnagar) between 1851 and 1865, the annual number court disputes over land rose from 98 to 689 and from 75 to 632, respectively. In 1875, when a combination of a price slump and drought hit these districts, Maratha farmers attacked Marwari moneylenders, tearing up their debt agreements. (Perhaps they had heard about the Mahadev Kolis who cut off Marwari noses and burned account books along with money lender houses, in 1872). After the 1875 riots, the rains failed, and in 1876-7, famine struck. Virtually every Deccan district suffered massive mortality, but the Famine Commission found that landless labourers, artisans, and poor tenant farmers died in the highest proportion. The victims of starvation were thus not the militant Maratha farmers who had attacked Marwari bankers during the Deccan riots, but rather poor people who had been deprived of entitlements during the privatisation of village land as the sorely indebted Maratha farmers expanded their holdings. Similar crop failures had occurred in 1824-5 and 1832-3, when government had provided no relief, but famine came in 1877 because the local safety net had disappeared which had previously been provided by village common lands, by hereditary family rights in villages, and by open lands outside village control. The animal population dropped as open land was lost to grazing. Herders went to the hills and drought killed animals in large numbers. The 1877 famine emerged from a combination of price slump, crop failure, and animal death that killed local demand for labourers and artisans, cutting exchange entitlements to food for people without land to feed their families.
Between 1876 and 1878, one quarter of the population also died in Bellary District. The semi-arid peninsula -- from Gujarat across Berar and Khandesh and throughout Telengana, Karnataka, Andhra, and the Tamil coast -- had begun to feel the ecological and social costs of the race to privatise land and to expand cash cropping. Farmers continued to cut down trees and scrub, pushing tribal farmers and herders into the hills, privatising control over food, fodder, fuel, and raw materials, as competition for land and struggles for income confronted the limits of the land. In this agrarian landscape, a prosperous farm locality required ample supplies of water to compensate for the meagre, fickle monsoon, and farmers needed financing to bring land, labour, and water together. Stable irrigation represented solid investments, and in Gujarat, private wells and government dams multiplied along routes of drainage and across the extensive water table, producing a substantial class of Gujarati Kunbi farmers who became the heart of the Congress agitation in the region. But even where water was not available, farms multiplied and landed property increased in social value beyond what might seem rational on economic grounds. In 1926, Harold Mann described "land hunger" in the Deccan to the Royal Commission on Agriculture by saying, "The man would rather get Rs. 10/- a month by cultivating his own plot, rather than getting Rs.15/- a month and work for somebody else." Farming was a matter of honour and power for peasant patriarchs, and even a small bit of land that paid low economic returns could provide more subsistence stability than agricultural labour. Owning some land maintains family status for marriage alliances within the landed castes. Even small amounts of poor land can provide some subsistence and collateral, so that poor peasant families would logically work marginal lands very hard to sustain themselves and to pay off their loans by selling cash crops. In the dry peninsula, the overall expansion of cultivation was driven substantially by such poor peasant families; they provided a huge aggregate demand for rural credit and they produced a large proportion of the cash crops that went to market, particularly cotton, ground nuts, oil seeds, castor, linseed, and sesame.
Today, in the dry peninsula interior -- from eastern Maharashtra, Berar, and old Vidarbha in the north, to Rayalaseema in the south -- the limitation of the green revolution to irrigated land is most profoundly apparent, the contrast with prosperous Punjab could not be greater, and the pride of the peasant patriarch can turn tragic. In 1997-8, two hundred poor farmers, burdened with huge debts to plant cash crops (mostly cotton, but also tur dal and other pulses), committed suicide when faced with crop failure, foreclosure, and destitution. In the first three months of 1998, twenty farmers killed themselves in the northern Karnataka districts of Bidar, Raichur, Gulbarga, and Dharwad, where tur dal prices had been booming since 1990. Prices crashed in 1997, sending many farmers to the moneylenders, and then heavy commitments of new debt and of leasing in new land for expanded cultivation met drought, floods, and pests, which killed the crop. These farmers and fathers of small children usually kill themselves by drinking pesticide, a potent symbol of the green revolution that left them behind.
Juxtapositions of growth and decline, wealth and poverty, vigor and sickness, became typical of modern agrarian landscapes. Central sites of agrarian power developed around places of capital accumulation, commercial expansion, and new irrigation. Taking a broad, aggregate perspective, we can see a steady growth of urban sites along railways and at ports; these became the expansive core of agrarian polities and their prominence increased steadily in the twentieth century. Among regions, Punjab is a growth region above all others, from the later decades of the nineteenth century to the present, followed by western Uttar Pradesh, adjacent Rajasthan, and Gujarat, which have caught up with Punjab since the 1970s. Already in the 1920s, observers had noted the contrast of this regions growth with relative decline in Bengal and Bihar; it became a subject of sustained discussion again in the 1970s, when its relevance for development policy added weight to explanatory arguments. Some early analysts thought that population growth and density dragged the eastern regions down and favoured the west as a place for new investments. Some explained disparities by citing the natural proclivities of the farmers, which seemed to raise productivity wherever Jats were more numerous. Such factors have now been discounted in favour of two others, landlordism and irrigation. In the east, social structures and land tenures were more prominent that took funds away from farming and diverted them into urban investments and thus did not benefit agricultural productivity. Eastern regions provided the empirical basis for theories about the causal role of semi-feudalism in economic backwardness. Government expenditure on irrigation was also much more prominent in the west, adding massive new stores of capital assets to farm lands from which landlord classes took a relatively small share of the proceeds for unproductive urban expenditure. The western parts of the northern basins became the land of agrarian capitalism despite the fact that landlordism and Brahman and Rajput feudal power remained within its zamindari and talukdari domains.
Regional contrasts are less stark in the peninsula, but the mobilisation of agrarian capital still focused on urban centres and around irrigation, and government investments were always an important variable. In nineteenth century Khandesh, Berar, and other black soil tracts, substantial land owners went deep into debt but sold enough cotton to finance their own independent operations, as they accumulated cattle, dug wells, hired labour, and expanded invested in agricultural finance and local politics. By contrast, in many places across the dry south of the Maratha Deccan, Karnataka, Rayalaseema, and Telengana, and along the Tamil coast, irrigation tanks declined along with community and state investments in tank repair, and other sources of irrigation did not take their place. Good soil might sustain subsistence during a time of low prices but a good well would be needed even to keep the bulls at work in dry years. In southern Andhra, the gap between the rental value of irrigated and dry land steadily increased from 1850 to 1990, and dry land got progressively poorer by comparison. Everywhere, government investments made a critical impact on patterns of capital accumulation. The Bombay government made taccavi advances to enable property owners to dig wells, and in 1877-8, most of the Rs.300,000 in taccavi was for digging wells. During famine years in 1899-1902 and 1918-19, about a quarter of the taccavi loans which totalled Rs.35 million were specifically for digging and repairing wells. In the 1860s, government also began to build canals, and famine rapidly increased their economic and political value. The first big, modern irrigation project in Bombay Presidency began as a work of famine relief in 1876 and went into operation in 1885, with a capacity of 113,000 acres. Much smaller than the Chenab colonies, this and later projects disappointed Bombay government because farmers did not use (or pay for) all the water that canals made available. But those who did use the water became agrarian entrepreneurs in the regional sugar economy, backed up with urban finance capital, which combined private and government funds. By the 1930s, co-operative credit and sugar factories enhanced the position of sugar growers in river-irrigated Maharashtra, where political struggles in the twentieth century have centred squarely on the project of bringing sugar financing, sugar refineries, and cane farming into harmony; and where rich farmers have formed the heart of the agrarian polity.
As in Punjab and Maharashtra, also many other regions, agricultural capital accumulated locally among substantial landed families in areas of expansive cash cropping and new irrigation. Urban financiers and foreigners like the Marwaris faced village land owners who had close allies in town and who had ancestors among medieval gentry and conquering warrior clans. The Yusufzai, Gujjars, Lodhis, Jats, Rajputs, Yadavs, Thakurs, Maratha Kunbis, Maravas, and Nayakas shared a warrior heritage; while the Gujarati Kunbis, Gounders, Vellalas, Brahmans, Kammas and Reddys shared a gentry past. Families invested in agriculture within circuits of cultural capital. Religious rituals, temple, mosque, and shrine were sites for alliance building and symbolic capital formation. As the sons of landowners became middle class educators and political figures, they projected their identities into regional polities. Regional language and cultural identity movements which have been so prominent in the twentieth century owe much of their original strength to the ability of prominent landed families to project their own values and heritage out from farming localities into regions of public representation and state administration. In Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, this involved a radical displacement of Brahmans from their position of cultural authority in British administration. Literary erudition in vernacular languages became the mark of a true native, a son of the country, and universities became not only vehicles for upward mobility but also key sites for cultural production. Struggles to elevate the non-Brahman castes produced new cultural capital for landed castes who thus improved their stature in agrarian politics. Among Marathas, Yadavs, Lodhis, and others, becoming Kshatriya improved their social standing, while other groups adopted more Brahmanical modes of ritual, eating, dress, and exclusion. Social mobility and capital accumulation sustained and rewarded movements for caste uplift. In Madras Presidency, non-Brahman land owners held most official positions in all the districts and a study in 1901 showed that among the parents of students in colleges and secondary schools, landowners accounted for about 36%, and government officials for another 40%, most of whom would have been from landed families. Large zamindars like R.V.K.M.Rao, the Raja of Pithapuram, with 400 square miles of land, much of it under the Godavari anicut, were prominent financiers of the Telugu movement for non-Brahman caste uplift, education, and cultural revival, whose main supporters, like B.Pattabhi Sitaramayya, came "from rural rather than urban backgrounds. Many possessed vast lands in the villages, even though they were residing in town ..." where they took up professions in law, education, and medicine. Landed magnates were equally prominent in the non-Brahman movements in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, as they were in the cultural politics of all the provinces of British India.
Popular movements to promote regional linguistic and cultural identity naturalised the social power of landed families over all the moving elements in agriculture. Political efforts to improve the condition of the poorest, lowliest, landless workers, tribals, and women were subsumed within regional efforts by landed groups to project their own patriarchal values and identity onto regional polities. Agrarian Punjab became synonymous with the cultural identity of landed Jats. Similarly, Rajputs defined Rajasthan and Marathas gave birth to Maharashtra. Vellalas, Vanniyas, Gounders, Kammas, Velamas, Kapus, Lingayats, and Vokkaligas played similar roles in Tamil Nadu, Andhra, and Karnataka. Cultural movements spearheaded by landed families from higher non-Brahman castes, lauding traditional culture, and fighting against the dominance of the British and the Brahmans, consolidated dominant landed caste control over local communities, where modernity posed a distinctive set of problems and possibilities. Most basically, the terms of labour control were in tumult as farmers needed to bring more labour into production, more regularly, with each passing year. From medieval times, superior status had distinguished the families that combined labour, land, and finance on the farm; and for these families, the internal bonds of family ranking and solidarity were supplemented with paternalistic powers over low status landless labourers, artisans, and service workers. This created various types of bonded and client labour, which were virtually universal in areas of intense cultivation in 1800. The subsequent rapid expansion of farm land and commodity production increased labour demand; government withdrew from the enforcement of bondage; urbanisation dispersed the sites and jobs demanding workers; land privatisation stripped hereditary entitlements from all landless families; and the state bureaucracy invaded the local domain of land owner authority. Clientage and bonded servitude did not disappear. A poor family might actually prefer it to the freedom to starve, and employers might enforce clientage to guarantee labour at peak seasons. At the same time, however, workers might be forced to look for wages by the disappearance of gleaning rights to village land, or they might run away to find better jobs. The impulses that altered labour relations therefore pushed and pulled in different directions, as dharma and coercive power continued to structure labour markets. Dominant caste supremacy in cultural and political movements might help to solve local problems of authority in the social relations of labour control, especially when combined with powers of patronage and agrarian finance.
Debt proved to be a powerful, flexible mechanism for lowering the cost of getting workers to the point of production, not only landless wage workers but also men, women, and children from farming families that lacked enough land to support themselves. Landowners were typically the major employers and sources for subsistence and farm loans in a village; and there is evidence that in some commercial farming areas, land was moving out of the hands of old gentry into the portfolios of investors for whom farming became more of a business, and for whom local credit markets would have been profitable. Current figures on institutional debt (as a proportion of the gross value of farm output) indicate that even today, rolling over short-term credit remains a good source of power in agrarian localities. Financial powers over workers were also stretched to cover great distances, as we have already noticed in the case of migrant labour from Bihar. Indentured workers travelled to British territories in the Africa, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Fiji, and the Caribbean, and many families came to depend for subsistence on circuits of migration that moved among plantations, urban centres, factories, or commercial farms.
Capitalist farming thus developed a strong attachment to family subsistence farming, in which women and children bear the burden of production when the men are gone. Seasonal and circular migration for work in the plains has long provided staple income for many families in the high mountains, most prominently, the Gurkhas. In 1876, famine drove workers from the plains to the coffee plantations in the Malnad of Karnataka, and this became a seasonal trek. In Berar, the Jabalpur settlement officer reported in 1894 that Gonds "flock with their families at the spring harvest to the wheat fields ... to eke out their subsistence by working as labourers" and farmers often grew a special crop of low-cost grain to feed them, because the wheat they were growing to sell in the market was too valuable for the workers to eat. Market crops sugarcane, cotton, jute, rice, wheat, tobacco, plantains, tea, and indigo are much more labour intensive than subsistence crops, especially millet, which they steadily displaced during the expansion of commercial farming. Digging wells and building irrigation, railways, and towns added new demands for mobile labour. Privatisation of villages land cut off artisans, servants, tribal farmers, and pastoralists from old subsistence resources. By 1900, over half the rural population depended for their living on work for others and/or on farming small plots that did not yield enough for subsistence. A broad division grew between those families who were net buyers and net sellers of labour, respectively. This did not amount to an increasing differentiation of classes because the overall percentage of landless families may have been much the same in 1900 as it was in 1800, and the overall distribution of farm land does not seem to have become very much more unequal. The trend is rather toward an increasing number of tiny holdings, too small to support a family for the whole year, and toward a vast increase in the number of people who had to work for others for a wage even though their families might own some land.
In the middle sections of the peasant population, families lost land and bought land, subdivided and rebuilt joint holdings, and rented in and rented out land, losing here, and gaining there -- which makes any strong empirical trend in land ownership hard to find before 1950. But commodity production and privatisation did change the nature of relationships among the families needing workers and families needing work. Small farmers, artisans, and petty traders moved back and forth between these two groups, and kinship groups and castes included families of both types, but a serious division of agrarian society developed which separated families with firm entitlements to food (secured by landed property) from insecure families (who depended on employment to survive). This division helps to explain the social distribution of famine mortality in the Deccan in the 1870s and in Bengal and Bihar in the 1940s and 1970s. Regional cultural and political movements that promoted ethnic, linguistic, and religious identities emerged as locally successful landed employers made their powers of patronage emblematic of solidarity among land owners, employees, and clients. Local leaders of agrarian society thus came to speak for the poor as they became the leaders of movements for social uplift, representing their own identity as that of the all the people whose well-being they promoted with their patronage and political activism.
Similar social trends and political movements emerged in regions of peasant property and in regions of landlordism, where ranked rights to land were codified in law. Zamindari and native state regimes produced more radical, polarised conflicts over entitlement, however, as tenants fought hard for rights to land against entrenched landlord power. In the politics of landlordism, zamindars (and their legal peers) stood between tenants and the state. The extreme case of state protection for landlords was Hyderabad, which gave tenants the least legal protection, provided no institutions for conflict resolution or reform, and eventually spawned a revolutionary war by peasants against landlords and the state. Suppressing this revolution was a major military challenge for the new Republic of India, and class war remains the status quo in Telengana today. In British India, state power was more flexible and ambiguous in its support of zamindars. Tenants controlled labour, capital, and farming operations during the expansion of cultivation and commodity production; and significant legal powers accumulated in the hands of prominent tenant families in locally high status social groups, very much along the lines of change in ryotwari tracts. Ranks beneath zamindars became many-layered and hotly contested. Though activists and scholars have used the word "peasant" to designate tenants who led struggles against landlordism and for property rights, local inequalities were at least as complex here as in ryotwari territories. In Bengal, for instance, the Dufferin Report indicated that in 1880, 39% of the total population depended significantly for its subsistence on labour alone, and the proportion of landless families appears to have remained fairly stable until 1947. Even depression and famine in the 1930s and 1940s did not dramatically raise the percentage of landless families above roughly one-third of the total. But relations among claimants to land changed dramatically with the expansion of cultivation and commodity production.
In 1800, observers guessed that only about 30% of the cultivable acreage in Bengal was being farmed, and by 1900, farms had filled all the lowlands of Bengal, moving into Assam and into the hills on all sides of the deltaic tract, from Chhotanagpur and Orissa to Sylhet and Chittagong. In Bihar, Bengal, and Assam, the local struggles to expand cultivation which defined agrarian polities first pitted settled farming against tribals and jhum. From Mughal times, and increasingly after 1750, conflict had occurred between states, farmers, and forest people in the lowlands, foothills, and even the high mountains. Violence occurred in the central mountains from Gujarat to Bastar, but the major sites of persistent agrarian war involving tribal peoples clustered around Bengal -- some continue even today. Conflicts with the largest group, Santhals, mark the historical frontier of permanent cultivation. Santhals cultivated the forest on the fringe of settled villages in the eastern Ganga basin and in adjacent regions. They numbered among those groups which have a claim to be indigenous though they also have complex histories of migration and resettlement. Santhals interacted regularly with farming communities in the lowlands. They cleared land in the jungle with fire and axe, making the extension of perennial farm cultivation much easier for lowland farmers. But before the nineteenth century, it appears that Santhals did not participate as groups in rituals of rank in agrarian states; so they did not obtain official entitlements to land based upon ranked subordination in official hierarchies. Like other tribal groups, they maintained their own separate social structures and hierarchies, their own rituals of rank. As revenue-paying farmers and zamindars moved into jhum lands to expand agricultural territories, Santhals were steadily pushed into the forest. By 1850, they had moved out of districts in Orissa, Chotanagpur, Bihar, and Bengal, following skirmishes in 1811, 1820, and 1830. In 1823, under official protection, large Santhal settlements ringed the Rajmahal Hills, in the Daman-i-Koh, "the skirt of the hills," where by the 1840s, 83,000 Santhals lived in government territory, legally free of zamindar control. Here, Santhal leaders sought to establish a permanent homeland free of constant meddling by foreign money lenders and Company officials. Under the full moon on June 30, 1855, ten thousand Santhals are said to have heard a young leader named Siddhu declare his vision from god that Daman must be "cleared of all outsiders, that moneylenders and policemen be immediately slaughtered, and that Superintendent Pontet be also slain." In the ensuing war, Company troops and zamindars massacred Santhals and low-caste peasant allies. Mundas around Ranchi and many other smaller groups also waged similar wars to create independent territories in the nineteenth century. None succeeded, but their legacies live in todays regional political movement for regional autonomy in Jharkhand, "the land of jungles." As Santhals were driven back from the moving borders of zamindari land, the state instituted tribal territories to segregate forest peoples in Bastar, other parts of the central mountains, and regions of the high mountains. This officially segregated the regional histories of the high mountains of the north-east and created the basis for separate national identities in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and the Chittagong hill tracts. As farmers pushed from Bengal into Assam, conflicts among farmers and plains tribals also occurred, and today, conflict is raging in Assam which pits Ahoms against Bengalis and Bodo warriors fighting for a homeland.
Inside zamindar territory, expanding cultivation was primarily the work of peasant farmers and superior tenants who combined labour and finance to create new farms and produced rights of first possession. A zamindar had many ways to exert power over tenants -- legally and otherwise -- and these remained until Zamindari Abolition in the 1950s. But expanding cultivation always entailed two distinct moments of power: the physical extension of farming and the political extension of zamindari property rights. By extending cultivation, tenants made claims to property that zamindars had to subordinate to their own claims, both within the territories of their accepted authority and also outside older zones of cultivation. Collecting rent from tenants was always a political activity that reinscribed ranks into rural society, season after season. Struggles over rights to old farm land might allow tenants to entrench their legal position, as they increased the value of their own land, resisted zamindar claims to rent, or bought tenures. Legal activity formed a basic feature of zamindari polities from the 1760s onward; and Acts of Bengal Government revised the terms of zamindari property law in 1819, 1822, 1859, 1865, 1869, 1876, 1884, 1885, 1886, and 1894. In 1925, the 1819 Patni Regulation Act was still being interpreted by the High Court in legal disputes concerning transfers and encumbrances. After 1859, the state insisted that tenant rights be recorded, which gave tenants new leverage. The comparative strength of tenants in different zamindari territories is indicated by their relative success in getting rights recorded and payments acknowledge in receipts. In Bihar, their position was poor; but in Bengal, the relatively open frontier strained zamindar power, except in old kingdoms like Burdwan. Zamindars always met resistance when they endeavoured to extend their rights over new cultivation, and where open land for peasant colonisation was most abundant, zamindars faced the most difficult challenge. In such areas, a rent-seeking zamindar might most profitably acquire new revenues by allowing effective ownership to devolve into stratified farming communities in which money lenders and larger tenants established superior rights over farming families. This was typical in Bengal, particularly in the east, north, and south.
The Mughal revenue lexicon entered Company land law and encoded the micro-politics of zamindari property until the 1950s. Broadly speaking, the terms in disputes were as follows. The land outside zamindari territory, khas land, belonged to government, which could lease it to farmers or zamindars at will. Extending cultivation onto khas might enable a peasant to establish a private right directly with the state; and this was not uncommon -- it became increasingly so in the malguzari regions of the Central Provinces. The sir land belonged to the zamindar as personal property, for his own cultivation (often with hired labour or under lease to tenants) and here the owner did not need to grant any subordinate entitlements to farmers. The British called this "the home farm" and it remained zamindar private property even after Zamindari Abolition in 1950s. Tenant entitlements were of two broad classes: khudkasht tenants farmed land inside their own village territory, in which they had rights of first possession or permanent occupancy rights, which derived from the (genealogical) claim that they had brought the land under cultivation themselves; and pahikasht tenants cultivated land outside their own villages on temporary leases. In everyday agriculture, the distinction between khudkasht and pahikasht was like that between ulkudi and parakkudi (intra-village and extra-village) rights in the Tamil country; and some version of this distinction seems to have pertained in most regions. It specifies a domain of ambiguous authority exercised by farmers inside village territories over land not cultivated by villagers themselves. These areas on frontiers of village cultivation -- lands held by various groups under various local tenures -- were open for the most serious proprietary contestation everywhere. Villages retained legitimate authority over this land and outsiders farmed land which belonged to the village under the authority of the zamindar. This power within villages indicates that zamindari entitlements represented a three-way relationship between the state, zamindars, and villagers who were composed in turn of powerful tenants, farmers, elders, money lenders, and other important local patriarchs. In the Companys terminology, a khudkasht tenant had "occupancy rights," while a pahikhast tenant did not. A zamindar had much more discretionary power over pahikasht tenants, whose rights to land were not under village protection. Zamindari recognition of khudkasht rights was not always voluntary. Some khudkasht farmers had received farmans from the Mughals or from Nawabs in Awadh and Dhaka, which were confirmed by the Company.
Struggles over occupancy rights marked zamindar efforts to extend their power over villages on the moving frontiers of cultivation. European indigo planters entered the fray early in the nineteenth century when they purchased zamindar and tenant rights for indigo cultivation in northern Bihar and Bengal. With local powers over land, marketing, and finance, European planters effectively robbed peasant farmers of occupancy rights and combined debt servitude with coercion. Slumping indigo prices from 1839 onward increased pressure on tenants, and finally in 1860, a tenant strike drove the indigo planters out of Bengal. This event revealed that zamindars had much more power in Bihar, where indigo planting continued until 1930. Sugar cane farmers in Gorakhpur District, in eastern Uttar Pradesh, suffered much the same combination of powers that oppressed indigo farmers. But on open frontiers of cultivation, zamindar and tenant rights were subject to constant local modification and political renegotiation. Whoever controlled the means of production locally had a political advantage in the formulation of property rights. Though custom and coercion played their role, so did law; and legal disputes reveal that all the conflicting interests that pertained in ryotwari regions also embroiled zamindari land, including conflicts between farmers and financiers and between competing village claimants to family property. Only here, zamindars perched above the tenants. In Bengal, Bihar, and eastern UP, it seems that symbolically, a zamindars power to take fruit from bearing trees on tenant land symbolised his superior land rights, even if he could not enforce claims to rent.
Cash crops provided new opportunities for both zamindars and tenants. Jute played a role in Bengal similar to that of cotton and groundnut in the Deccan, as poor families held precariously onto subsistence by growing jute for world markets, living in debt, working family labour on tiny plots, and moving here and there to work for wages. At the same time, jute marketing, financing, and processing provided opportunities for capital accumulation. By 1901, Bengal supplied almost all the jute in world markets, and jute covered 30% of the cultivated land in Rangpur, 27% in Tippera and nearly 20% in several other districts. Zamindars were often in a good position to accumulate capital in trade and credit markets. This added to zamindar income even as real rental income declined; but the expansion of cultivation and cash cropping also enabled tenants to obtain credit, profit, and occupancy rights. Even in Gorakhpur, on the upland frontier in eastern UP, "there was an abundance of unoccupied cultivable lands" in the nineteenth century; and though most of the profits from sugar cultivation may have been captured by zamindars, money lenders, middle men, merchants, and refiners, tenants increased their occupancy holdings after 1870. Occupancy rights expanded more broadly in Bengal. Legal reforms institutionalised this trend, but its micro-politics were embedded in the dynamics of agricultural expansion. In 1779, the Collector in Sylhet had reported that land was being cleared for cultivation by extended family groups, including several generations of in-laws and distant relatives, and he opined that conflict among families had reduced the rate of land reclamation. Collectors tried to resolve conflicts that impeded the expansion of revenues, and one claimed to have heard over 2,000 boundary disputes in the early 1780s. In 1783, he gave this account of why all his work did not bring in more revenue:
cultivated lands which constituted but a very small proportion were only considered the property of the Zamindars ... as to the waste of jungle lands they were in the most profuse manner bestowed as Charity ... nor was any Register kept of such gifts [and] in consequence of this liberality there is not a person ... not even of the most inferior rank in Sylhet who is not possessed of Lackerage land of some denomination or other and the best richest lands are exempt from Revenue.
Facing the Companys claim to own all the jungle as khas, "the land hungry [zamindar] proprietors [in Bengal] began grabbing jungle land adjacent to their estates by getting them cleared and settled," so that lakhiraj or rent-free lands spread across the open frontier. By 1900, virtually the entirety of the lowlands lay under cultivation, except the Sundarbands, and the most prominent forms of entitlement were patitabad, that is, tenancies granted "for the reclamation of cultivable waste." When land came under secure cultivation, a zamindar would claim that he had made a grant of rent free land to the tenant as an investment, to facilitate reclamation, and he would seek to resume rent collections after a stipulated period of time. Conflict with cultivators and local financiers would then begin, with everyone claiming their share and their rights. Where a zamindar had strong support and control over village leaders, he could succeed. Toward this end, the Burdwan Raj invented a form of tenure, called patni, which replicated zamindari property rights locally, and he thereby produced commercially valuable rights that could generate a local fund of rent for people who financed cultivation. Many kinds of subsidiary rights multiplied beneath the umbrella of zamindari, and local financiers acquired layer upon layer of rights. In Chittagong, as many as sixteen levels of rights existed between the farmer and the zamindar. There, a tenant (called a talukdar) on noabad (newly cleared) land would take a patta from government and issue a secondary (abadkar patta) patta to a talukdar who would settle the land with peasant farmers. We have seen that such entitlements had a long pedigree.
The local powers that combined labour and finance on the farm strengthened local claims to land, and the hold of zamindars weakened whenever open lands came under peasant ploughs. Political struggles over tenant rights in Bengal led to reams of legislation. Court conflict produced major zamindari reform Acts in 1859 and 1885. In 1873, a ruling by a district judge in their favour encouraged a group of Muslim tenants in Yusufshahi to form an Agrarian League to defend tenants in Pabna District against additional rent claims, "illegal cesses" (abwabs), and threats to their occupancy rights. Led "by men of considerable means such as the petty landlords like Ishan Chandra Roy of Daultapore, the village headmen like Shambhunath Pal of Meghoolla, and jotedars like Khoodi Mollah of Jogtollah," the Leagues demonstrations to raise support for their cause and to pressure zamindars evoked critical reactions from zamindari interests in Calcutta. But Pabna landlords who fought the League impoverished themselves in the process and the number of perpetual leases jumped up from 627 to 1633 in the years between 1873 and 1877. This was an omen. In the following decades, movements for secure tenure, lower rents, and restricted zamindar powers welled up under the leadership of high caste and well-to-do tenants whose families were among those most responsible for increasing cultivation and expanding commodity production. Tenant activists and zamindar allies later moved into regional politics along lines parallel to the Marathas, Jats, Kammas, and Vellalas. The issues, leadership, and legality of the tenants struggle remained much the same even as the scale and organisation of their politics expanded. Mobilising was dangerous because tenants could lose everything if the zamindar won, and zamindars had many friends in town. In Bihar, solidarity among upper caste zamindars and local managers and a scarcity of open land left tenants little room to manoeuvre. Bihar peasants combined fight and flight to make Bihar the largest region for poor peasant out-migration and the most radical ground for peasant movements in the northern basins. Class war developed between the upper and lower castes on zamindari estates, and it continues in village Bihar even today. In Bengal, by contrast, the trajectory of tenant power moved steadily upward as political opportunities increased for the advancement of subordinate property rights. In the east of Bengal, the fact that almost all zamindars were Hindus, while tenants were Muslims, produced a symbolic repertoire for popular mobilisation by which leading local families projected their own cultural identity and authority outward into the broad struggle between landlords and tenants. As members of the upper caste Hindu bhadralok projected their own cultural identity out over all of agrarian Bengal beginning with the writings of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay; Muslim tenant leaders did the same beginning with the organisation of Agrarian League in Pabna. Zamindar and tenant supporters rejected each others claims to represent Bengal, and by 1906, their competitive mobilisation had begun to open up a conflict between political groups that was identified publicly as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims. After the death of C.R.Das, in 1926, possibilities declined for alliances between politicians on either side, and the Indian National Congress national strategy of accommodating landlords prevented it from taking up the tenant cause and winning a majority of seats in the Bengal Legislative Council. After 1937, zamindari power was effectively destroyed and Fazlul Haq, leader of the Krishak Praja Party, joined the Muslim League. In 1941, he raised the call for Pakistan, and in 1947, what they called "partition" in Calcutta was hailed in Dhaka as the arrival a peasant utopia, a land free of zamindars.
National independence partitioned South Asia in 1947 and again in 1971. It built new walls against inland mobility. National leaders in their capital cities led the new expansion of urbanism that distinguishes our contemporary agrarian age. The influence of urbanisation today goes well beyond the sprawling impact of huge cities that rank among the worlds largest and fastest growing, because regionally, urban growth is almost inverse to the urban population. Where urban centres were least prominent in 1901, their local expansion became most far-reaching, and the upward trend has accelerated. The percent of Indias population living in urban centres increased by just over one percent (from 11% to 12%) during the first three decades of this century, by six percent during the next three (1931-1961), and by eight percent during the next (1961-1991). This trend appears in all countries except Sri Lanka, which started with a relatively big urban population (12% in 1901) and now has less than twice that proportion (22% in 1991), whereas Indias 1991 figure (26%) is 2.4 times what it was in 1901 (11%). Recent acceleration is quicker in Pakistan, where the urban population increased seventy percent faster than Indias after 1961 to reach 33% of total population in 1991. Nepals small urban population (9% in 1991) has grown as fast as Pakistans since 1961. Bangladesh is the most dramatic case. In 1961, its population was only 5% urban, which was only double the 1901 figure. It grew 400% after 1961 to reaching 20% in 1991; and in the early 1980s, the urban growth rate hit ten percent per year. Some of this increase resulted from reclassification. The 1981 Bangladesh census "extended the definition of urban areas to include small administrative townships and economically significant production and marketing centres ... which had certain significant urban characteristics." The number of urban centres increased from 78 (in 1961) to 522 (in 1991), and today, more than 500 urban centres have populations less than 5,000, while the four largest cities contain almost half the urban population, nearly seven million people. As we have seen in the case of Tirunelveli, such reclassification might compensate for previous underestimates of urbanism; and the jump in urban population in the 1980s may well represent a realistic recognition of more rapid urbanisation in smaller centres than was previously recognised in earlier censuses.
Strung along rail lines and roads, pulsing with trains, busses, cars, trucks, cycles, rickshaws, animals, carts, schools and businesses, thousands of urban centres, large and small, are pushing the intensification of land and labour use in all agrarian regions, as farmland is built over, fields are pressed for more production, and families are leaving agriculture. Between 1901 and 1951, the workforce became more agricultural in South Asia (cultivators and labourers in undivided India increased from 69% to 73% of the male workforce), but the trend has moved in the opposite direction since the 1950s, and today farming accounts for only 57% of the total workforce in Bangladesh, 63% in India, 50% in Pakistan, and 43% in Sri Lanka.. During three decades after 1950, livestock, net cultivation, and built-up land increased as much they had during seven previous decades, while forest cover declined at about the same rate and population grew about fifteen percent faster. Some of todays patterns of change date back to the nineteenth century. Nearly a million people moved into Chhotanagpur from Bihar districts in twenty years after 1950, as tribal lands were being hacked into industrial sites and mines. Rapid in-migration by farmers and workers has similarly transformed other tribal regions and all of Assam. Every season of distress swells urban centres. Famines in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s brought hungry families into Calcutta, Dhaka, and Patna. Dry seasons bring landless workers and poor peasants into Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Ahmedabad, and other cities. After partition, uprooted Punjabis flooded Delhi, many Muslims from India resettled in Karachi and Lahore, and Bengali zamindars retreated to Calcutta, following the path of previous generations. Social mobility also adds to urbanism. After 1950, Dhaka bulged with the rapid self-creation of a new middle class, straight from the village, its energies focused on the university and on careers in government, business, and professions. Nellore District, north of Madras, indicates rural trends. In its villages, real rental rates for land rose by a factor of nine during seventy-seven years between 1850 and 1927, and then doubled again during the fifty-five years from 1927 to 1982. The proportion of rent to output also increased, especially after 1940, and this rental income fuelled social mobility and urban investments. For rent receivers, occupational change "was mostly a one-way process" leading "from cultivation and traditional services to business, professions, and [other urban] employment." The residential trajectory led "from the native village to a small town, [to] the district headquarters and then to cities."
The same trajectory also leads to Europe, Australia, the Persian Gulf, Malaysia, Britain, and the US. Though it is rare for the people who move out of manual labour to move back to the farm, manual workers who go to the Persian Gulf or Malaysia often do return to their village with income to invest in houses, land, and business. Overseas workers from Sylhet, Sri Lanka, and Kerala are significant actors in their local agrarian economies and young workers fill the airports on their way to and from their distant sites of home life and overseas employment. As we have seen, international agro-business has also established investment centres in profitable farm tracts like Punjab. Migration, markets, reinvestment, urbanisation, and social mobility by many groups have formed complex links between farms and the world economy. Brahmans, merchants, and other elites play an central role. Urban investors were drawn to irrigated land in the Tamil country from the start of this century, and by then, village Brahmans were already using their rental income to move to town, and selling their land to reinvest in urban careers. By 1925, in Lalgudi Taluk, Tiruchirappalli District, Brahman land was shifting into the hands of non-Brahman business, farming, and labouring castes. This slowly but steadily changed the composition of farming communities and increased the salience of distinctions between local and absentee owners, between poor peasants and rich investors. After 1950, Brahmans almost everywhere were abandoning agriculture and leaving villages where their ancestors had received land grants and rental income. Along with other high caste groups among the old agrarian gentry -- especially Kayasthas, Rajputs, and Baniyas -- Brahmans moved out of old zamindari estates into cities across the northern basins and western plains. They left rural Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and the Konkan coast for Madras, Bangalore, and Bombay. By 1980, many old agraharams were abandoned. This Brahman migration became a subject for literature and drama and for films like Pather Panchali.
After 1947, national politics, policy making, and intellectual production became the work of urban elites whose primary task became national development. State development spending soon outgrew the treasury and attracted finance from foreign states and international institutions, as capital accumulation picked up in the fifties after two hard decades of depression, war, famine, cyclones, and political disruption. Imports, exports, and overseas migration also picked up. Agrarian participation in the world economy was adjusted to the new international system to the overall disadvantage of farmers, as all primary products declined in value in comparison to the output of industry. Under national control, only tea maintained its world position. Partition disrupted the jute economy of Bengal, separating processing plants in the west from farms in the east, and it proved easier for India to grow jute than for Bangladesh to compete with India for shrinking international sales. Indias national policies turned its agricultural markets inward to meet vast urban and industrial demand. Inside the countries, overall economic trends have favoured non-agricultural sectors and dividends from growth have disproportionately favoured urban sites, educated groups, commercial classes, and government. Families have set their sights accordingly. At the same time, however, farming communities have remained the foundation of economic growth and political power, because these industrialising economies still remain overwhelmingly agricultural. So as national leaders in government, industry, and academia have detached their own existence from everyday life on the land, they have necessarily forged new kinds relations with the countryside. Politically, the work of building urban-rural alliances animated all the nationalist movements going back to the 1920s, but national development allowed for radical departures as competing urban leaders sought rural support. In every state, government funding for development has been directed toward enhancing the productive powers of the owners of land, who became the backbone of national initiatives to increase production.
Struggles over land and other resources became more intense over the decades, but their legal and political basis had been established by the mid-1960s. In Pakistan, the old landlord class maintained control and the great barons like the Bhuttos of Sindh still retain their vast estates as they lead national political factions. In Bangladesh, the old landlord class disappeared and major tenants became major landowners. In Sri Lanka and in most of India, individual villagers became the landed electorate, and the best-endowed among them became the core of the green revolution. But where the rising power of tenants met the established power of landlords -- each with their advocates in state capitals -- the legal reconstitution of agrarian polities in the 1950s and 1960s involved major political struggles. The universal franchise gave the strength of numbers to the tenants, and in this context, Charan Singh (1902-1987) became an architect of Indias national system of agrarian alliances. From a Jat family in Meerut District in western Uttar Pradesh, he rose through the Congress ranks, supporting tenant rights, and in 1939, he published his proposals to abolish zamindari. Working against the vein of early Congress policy and fighting formidable landlord influence, he mobilised support for abolition in UP, implemented reforms, and prevented tax increases on farmers. His central argument was that "cultivators in Uttar Pradesh form the largest percentage of any state in India ... and constitute 77 per cent of the rural electorate," and he worked to make farmers into an aggressive political force. Land reform in other states also followed the logic of state electoral politics.
Everywhere in South Asia, localities assumed an official, institutional form: village communities were organised around socially dominant landed families within the jurisdiction of urban centres that house government offices. All the national regimes re-constituted the village as a natural social order to be modernised by the market economy and protected by state politics. Scholars further naturalised the agrarian social order in theories of culture and modernisation. By 1972, however, when the waves of tumult that established the new regimes had passed -- when in one year, the Dalit Panthers, the first farmers organisations, Self-Employed Womens Association (SEWA), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, and All-Assam Students Union were all formed -- it became clear that official institutions faced rampant opposition from many sectors of society. Conflict, inequality, oppression, resistance, and state politics became more visible as constituents of village society. In India, after thirty years of planning and slow, steady growth in agriculture (about 2.5% annually), a Home Ministry study concluded that "the persistence of serious social and economic inequalities in the rural areas has given rise to tensions between different classes," and some tensions had produced political violence. A Maoist rebellion in Naxalbari, West Bengal, in 1967, had spawned the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), in 1969, which spread in fragments to Bihar and Telengana, becoming what Peoples War Group spokesman Var Vara Rao has called "an alternative to parliamentary politics." From the late 1960s, many locally organised movements rocked villages as the Congress Party lost control of state governments in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. In Tanjavur, Bihar, Telengana and elsewhere, village massacres became news items. The violence predominantly pitted low caste and untouchable tenants and agricultural workers and tribals against land owners and financiers supported by the police, military, and courts, so that subaltern wrath was often turned against the state. In Tanjavur District, Tamil Nadu, one village organiser reported that having surrounded the police vans, in 1968, "Several heads would have rolled on the field, blood would have flowed like the Kaveri in flood, if only we had not been restrained by higher-ups." Quiet, unorganised, conflict may have also increased in agriculture. In Nellore, the number of land owners grew after 1950 mostly in the category of marginal farmers who had less than two hectares, and the number of written rental agreements declined because conflicting parties sought to avoid the courts. At the Home Ministry, policy makers looked for ways to address the tensions that underlay the apparent loss of the modern states agrarian legitimacy, and not surprisingly, nine of their recommendations sought to protect tenants, one proposed land reforms to limit family (rather than individual) holdings, one sought to protect tribals from money lenders, and one called for a minimum wage for agricultural labourers. Echoing Charan Singh, the report concluded that a failure to tackle the problem of inequality "may lead to a situation where the discontented elements are compelled to organise themselves and the extreme tensions building up with the complex molecule that is the Indian village may end in an explosion."
Village stability remains a state project within modernity, and dating back to the early days of Company Raj, it still preoccupies governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that promote political order along with economic growth and public welfare. Grassroots movements have multiplied and exerted their influence inside and outside the electoral system since the 1970s and they have come to represent many contending forces within agrarian societies; but at the same time, the idea of traditional village society stabilises the modern state as well as the local power of landed patriarchs and protectors of dharma. Land reforms to increase the population of landed families have been a most popular mechanism to secure stability, expand equity, and stimulate production in the face of increasing demands for land. Also in a vein of modern thinking going back to the nineteenth century, states have regulated landlordism and agricultural finance, with the idea -- following Moreland and Nehru -- that gross inequalities are "substantive obstacles to an unleashing of the forces capable of generating economic development, both inside and outside agriculture."
In India, between 1960 and 1990, state policies and land competition shrank the proportion of cultivated land in operational holdings over ten hectares from 31% to 17%, as holdings less than one hectare increased by roughly the same proportion, from 19% to 32%. A huge population of small landlords and substantial farmers emerged from the ranks of former tenants and ryots. The predominance of medium-sized land owners has increased because tiny farms have multiplied as large farms have dwindled and medium-size farms (with operational holdings between two and ten hectares) have kept roughly the same proportion of total farm land (about 50%). The picture varies significantly across regions. Very much smaller farms typify wetter regions in eastern and southern India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, and larger farms cover the drier regions of canal and tube-well irrigation in Pakistan and adjacent India. In India, land holdings bigger than 2.6 hectares comprise the highest percentage of land holdings in Rajasthan and Punjab (30%), and also in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana (20%). They play the least important role in Assam (4%), Bihar (4%), Tamil Nadu (3%), West Bengal (1%), and Kerala (0.5%). Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa fall in between, averaging 10%. Uttar Pradesh resembles Bihar in that only 3% of the total holdings are bigger than 2.6 hectares, and the resemblance increases in the east, which has 49% of all the farms in Uttar Pradesh that are smaller than one hectare. In this as in other respects, Western UP more resembles Haryana and contains 40% of all Uttar Pradesh land holdings between four and ten hectares.
Substantial farmers who combine political and economic power at the local and the state level account for much of Indias agricultural growth. Between 1962-5 and 1992-5, the highest annual rates of growth in farm output came in Punjab (5%), Rajasthan (4%), and Haryana (4%). These are also regions in which dominant farmers, mostly Jats and Rajputs, make the strongest claim to represent their regional cultures. Indias north-west quadrant, with the most large farmers and highest per capita state investments in irrigation, had the highest overall growth rate, averaging three percent. Eastern states averaged two percent. Central (2.7%) and southern states (2.6%) fell in between, while Kerala (1.7%), Orissa (1.6%), and Bihar (1.0%) had the least growth. Everywhere, politically well-connected and organised farmers acquire state subsidies for capital-intensive cultivation and their local capital accumulation depends on state-managed electrical supplies; on state prices for petrol, pump sets, tractors, pipes, fertiliser, and hybrid seeds; and on state procurement prices, transport costs, bank charges, and credit conditions. They have spurred the farmer movements. Sugar growers, for instance, led the co-operative movement in Maharashtra from the 1920s and they also led farmers movements in Maharashtra and elsewhere from the 1970s. In Uttar Pradesh, under the flag of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, farmer-activists made headlines in 1988 when they "laid siege to Meerut ... in pursuit of demands for higher sugarcane prices, lower farm input prices, waiver of loans, higher rural investment and a lowering of electricity and water rates." Whereas the old-style peasant movements focused on land rights, the new farmer movements that arose in Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Gujarat in the 1970s and 1980s have used roadblocks, marches, and votes to demand better prices and assert "village interests" against "urban bias."
These and other grassroots movements articulate agrarian regions in idioms and institutions of nationality and globalism; and since the 1920s, the expansive local powers of landed groups have done the most to define agrarian regions in political, cultural, and economic terms. Agriculture is primarily a state subject in India, and agrarian politics is most visible at the state level. New farmers movement are prominent only in states where capitalist farming has provided a sizeable class of land owners with a coherent set of economic and political demands, and where poor farmers from allied castes are willing to march behind their richer neighbours. By contrast, Bihar has become a battle ground for caste armies representing landlord, peasant, and landless workers; and the limitations of land reform in the state reflect the persistent power of the landed upper castes. The consistently different pattern of electoral outcomes in eastern and western Uttar Pradesh arises primarily from the relative voting power of competing castes in the agrarian electorate. In Maharashtra, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, too, the landed upper castes invested state political cultures with their own identities. In Bangladesh, landed Muslims did the same, beginning in the 1950s, when famine conditions lingered and Pakistani efforts to procure food supplies met resistance from the large land owners (jotedars) who blamed Hindu traders and promoted communal animosity. As in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere, a native language movement announced the arrival of the landed rural elite into the Bengali urban middle class; and by 1954, the Muslim League had been permanently displaced from East Pakistan. The Awami League led a movement for regional representation based on rural votes, and when war began, urban middle class patriots looked to the peasantry for inspiration. Rustic Bengali warlords who fought for freedom became a lasting political presence in Bangladesh, and since 1980, Islamicist politicians have struggled to reproduce agrarian patriarchy in the name of the nation. Similarly, agrarian patriarchs in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra have supported Hindutva and promoted traditional values against claims of equality from women and low caste workers. Political traditionalism may indeed have its most decisive supported in the countryside among landed protectors of dharma who face the challenge of upward mobility, resistance, and political mobilisation from their inferiors. Economically, farmers decisions have also propelled regional trends, as we have seen; but to add another, very recent example, agricultural growth has now decelerated in northern Tamil Nadu with economic liberalisation, and landed families now accumulate capital in urban match factories, gem cutting, textile plants, leather tanning, metal working, and tool and dye making -- all in response to state policies geared to increase Indian exports for world markets.
For people who lack property and money power in agriculture and who must therefore work for others -- including almost all women in agrarian society -- localities are regions of power in the institutions of nationality and the world economy. Competing locally for wages from farmers -- their social superiors and patrons -- workers develop conflictual attachments that prevent the formation of broad class consciousness. Work is seasonal and working conditions depend on farming conditions in specific settings. Workers seek stable livelihoods by forming stable relations with employers, which is more difficult to do as labour is defined in purely market terms; and with the vast proliferation of tiny holdings, fewer cultivators can support non-family workers and more must send their own families out for wage work. Poverty among poor peasants and ambition among substantial farmers have thus conspired to make labour contracts increasingly short-term and job-specific, giving employers more flexibility and workers more insecurity. This same cold logic erodes loyalty among workers toward employers who need them desperately at critical times, especially to intensify commercial cultivation. As workers are more likely to flee and fight for better conditions, capitalist farmers are more tempted to use non-market means to keep workers at work. In theory, capitalism may mean open labour markets, but it also permits coercion to lower costs and to keep labour in place; and at the same time, social and political pressure can undermine these coercive powers, depending upon conditions within specific environments,. In Haryana, for instance, according to an investigation published in 1991, the monopoly of Jat farmers over state power allowed village employers to employ bonded labour, and physically to prevent workers from taking jobs elsewhere, with political backing from the state government; while in nearby Meerut District, Uttar Pradesh, competitive politics among employers allowed workers wages to rise in response to outside employment opportunities. In rural West Bengal, low caste and tribal farm workers typically live inside the boundaries of village societies where debt, rent, patronage, and social combine to hold them in check and keep their wages down. In Tamil Nadu, low caste workers get higher wages in their wide circuits of labour migration only to suffer the same social constraints when they return to live in their home village, where labour discipline involves social intimidation and upper caste control of village roads and water. In Kerala, despite high minimum wages and relatively free labour conditions, the number of days that employment is available for agricultural labourers is very low, keeping wage income at near starvation levels for many workers.
Localism anchors social power in agriculture and it is sustained by nationality in modern states that rest on foundations of village administration. This makes widespread class action and union movements uncommon. In South Asia, local labour action is the norm and no workers party has yet mobilised farm labour in distant agrarian regions. Instead, broad social and political movements seek to improve living conditions for people who live with subaltern entitlements, by forming solidarities across dispersed, local settings. These "new social movements" do not fit into the older categories of class and national politics, but they do reiterate earlier movements as they expand their political possibilities by including a greater diversity of peoples, localities, idioms, and concerns. They all mobilise collective identities in a manner that resembles nationalism. In fact, from the perspective of agrarian history, nationality appears merely to be one collective identity among countless others; and though its proponents sought to subordinate other identities during their acquisition of state power, they failed, because nationality has been defined primarily by the upwardly mobile urban middle classes and allied landed groups. As soon as national regimes were stabilised, many forms of conflict became visible which had been developing alongside struggles for national independence. The limits of national movements became more apparent. Even communist parties in South Asia had come to rest on a landed peasant base, and to the extent that they mobilised landless workers, they did so within a national idiom that failed to dislodge the dominance of landed patriarchs and to represent disenfranchised and marginal groups, including tribal peoples and women. In the context of national movements, however, many other social identities had been mobilised, and they forged various cultural relations with nationality in the idioms of caste, gender, sect, religious community, and ethnicity. These movements participate in electoral politics. In the early 1980s, for instance, one Dalit official reported that with local activism, "atrocities have increased," and he explained that, "when status changes, consciousness comes, conflict increases," but progress "starts with elections." Outside electoral politics, the new social movements have also expressed a wide spectrum of political alternatives that run the gamut from the violence of the Peoples War Group in Telengana and of Naxalites in Bihar, to the symbolism of Neo-Buddhist movement begun by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, to the poetry of Dalit Panthers, to the cultural separatism of Adivasis and the legal activism of environmentalists and the womens movement.
In the 1980s, vernacular movements in agrarian regions entered global networks of mobilisation that now surpass and challenge institutions of nationality. The movement against the Narmada Dam exemplifies a new formation of locality. Planned before independence, initiated by the Government of India, and financed significantly by the World Bank, the Narmada project was to be a network of 30 large, 136 medium-sized, and 3,000 small dams that would primarily benefit rich commercial farming tracts in Gujarat; and it would also have destroyed villages housing about 200,000 people, including tribal villages in upland Madhya Pradesh. Popular opposition to the project arose from media accounts of the dislocation and hardship that it was imposing on the landless poor and particularly on tribal villages being submerged by dam waters. Urban activists came to investigate, lead protests, file court cases, and broadcast news to rally opposition around the world. In Europe and the US, the movement against the Narmada project -- like the Chipko Movement before it -- was joined by other movements to protect the environment and indigenous peoples around the world, and in their hands the Bhils plight became linked politically to that of forest wildlife, to other tribal issues in South Asia, to the oppression of minorities in other world areas, like the Iraqi Kurds, and to environmental degradation in Indian fisheries and Chernobyl. Eventually, the Narmada movement forced the World Bank to withdraw and to reassess its funding for huge dams everywhere. Today, BBC videos about the Narmada struggle circulate on US college classrooms along with accounts of human rights abuse in China.