Colonizing Agriculture: The Myth of Punjab Exceptionalism
This book is the first comprehensive study of the impact of colonialism on the agriculture of this very important region which, apart from the Pakistani and Indian provinces of Punjab, included the present day Indian provinces of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
Making extensive use of data culled from government archives and private papers in India and Britain, as well as from village surveys, farm accounts and family budgets, the author argues that Punjab was by no means an idyllic land of prosperous peasant proprietors. She maintains that it was also the land of big feudal landlords, rack-rented tenants, and struggling small-holders, who were forced to enlist in the army or migrate to enable their families to pay government taxes and to repay debts. Comparing Punjab with its supposed polar-opposite, the eastern region of Bengal and Bihar, Mridula Mukherjee demonstrates that Punjab too had begun to exhibit features typical of colonial under-development, such as stagnation of productive forces, intensification of semi-feudal relations, forced commercialisation and lack of capital investment in agriculture. The green revolution therefore was not the result of a continuity but actually because of a break with the colonial past.
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In Mridula Mukherjee’s book, Colonializing Agriculture: the Myth of Punjab Exceptionalism, the author makes a study of Punjab under colonial rule and examines the economic facets of the life the Punjab peasants. The notions of Punjab as “the land of peasant’s proprietors” where indebtedness was a result of prosperity and not poverty, nor the newer theories that heralded the rise of the rich peasant, seemed to quite match the peasants’ political behaviour. The author has well attempted in her work to delineate the nature of the forces that were buffeting the peasants once they become part of the modern world of colonialism. She also looks into the nature of the burden of the peasantry, and the impact of markets in produce, credit, land and labour. She compares Punjab with other regions of colonial India, and especially with its supposed polar opposite in eastern India to test the validity of the notion that Punjab deviated sharply from the typical pattern. She presents a larger study of the political and moral economy of Indian peasants during colonial rule.
BY MANRAJ SINGH, RESEARCH SCHOLAR P.U. CHD