Agriculture: Punjab (Pakistan)

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Colonializing Agriculture: The Myth of Punjab Exceptionalism

May 28, 2006

REVIEWS: Sowing and reaping

Reviewed by Dr A.A. Quraishy


THIS book deals with the political movements of the peasants of Punjab before partition. The politics of pre-Partition Punjab has been explained in great detail. The region was a substantial part of the empirical base on which the theoretical and methodological discussion presented in this book is conducted. In fact, it has been on the centre stage in the story of Indian agricultural development as well as in the political sphere due to militancy in Khalistan.

The narrative is based on many hitherto unused sources in India and the United Kingdom, which include local, provincial and national-level official records in the shape of newspapers, pamphlets, posters, private papers and institutional records.

The author has examined the nature of the burden of peasantry and the impact of markets on produce, credit land and labour in order to analyse the degree to which peasantry has been differentiated, and whether or not the process led to the emergence of classes or groups capable of and willing to invest in agriculture. Mukherjee has also compared Punjab with other regions of colonial India, especially with its supposed opposite, Eastern India — particularly Bengal — to test the validity of the notion that Punjab deviated sharply from the typical colonial pattern. The book sets out in greater detail, the framework and context of this study on the colonial agrarian economy. The book presents one part of a larger study of the political and moral economy of the Indian peasants during the colonial rule. The historical study of other societies, states and nations and on other disciplines, especially economics, political sciences, sociology and social anthropology forms an important part of the book.

The history of peasants is simultaneously a story of rebellion and of silent suffering, of collective action and individualism, of the proverbial peasant guile and the equally proverbial peasant gullibility, of a fierce attachment to hearth and home and of trans-continental migration of adaptability and the strict observance of the hierarchy of mass conversion to new religion and sacrifices to protect the faith of their forefathers, of traditional cultural values and barbarism, of the faithful continuation of centuries-old farming practices and the ready acceptance of the new technologies, of abiding by the law and being notoriously recalcitrant.

The history of peasants is simultaneously a story of rebellion and of silent suffering, of collective action and individualism

The author has also delved into the Civil Disobedience Movement and the activity of peasants as they marched along with the rest of the nation, building new links, learning new methods, absorbing new ideas and gaining a new confidence.

Activities like Amritsar Kisan Morcha, the tenants’ in canal colonies, the Lahore Kisan Morcha as well those including everyday politics of the Jullandur peasants, who did not have a morcha of their own, but were arguably the most politically conscious of all have been included in the book. The struggle encompassing the peasants of Patiala, in which they fought a pitched battle — 1930-1953 — has not been overlooked as it also formed an important part of the peasant struggle which helped in delineating variables that influenced the different forms of protests. Other peasant and national movements, protests and methods of mobilisation, social origins of leaders and participants, peasant consciousness, etc., have also been highlighted.

An attempt has also been made to compare Bihar and Bengal in order to see the nature and extent of the similarities and differences to determine whether the direction of change was similar to, or whether it deviated from, the typical colonial pattern.

Colonializing Agriculture deals with peasants as taxpayers, debtors, classes, capital accumulation and investment in Punjab and Eastern India. Interestingly enough, they are polar opposites or treading the same path.

There are 30 tables along with a bibliography, list of books and articles with the name of the authors and sources, followed by an index. It is a useful source for any agricultural university, for historians and agrarian sociologists dealing in these subjects. However, it must be noted that the assessment of peasant practices or their status in Pakistan presented in this book does not really prove to be useful because it is concerned with the colonial past and the feudals, and not the issues faced by peasants these days.

Colonializing Agriculture: The Myth of Punjab Exceptionalism By Mridula Mukherjee Sage Publications, B-42, Panchsheel Enclave, Post Box 4109, New Delhi-110017, India. Tel: 91-11-2649 1290-7 Email: Website: ISBN 0-7619-3405-7 210pp. Indian Rs420

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