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Colonial State And The Military Labour Market

Kamlesh Mohan

By Tan Tai Yong
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2005, pp. 333, Rs. 640.00


D.H.Kolff’s pioneering study Naukar, Rajput and Sepoy : The Ethno-History of the Military Labour Market in Hindustan, 1450-1850 (1990) has dealt with an unexplored aspect of medieval Indian economy. His aim is to investigate the contribution of manpower as a factor in the formation and upholding of the state. In order to understand the nature of medieval Indian economy, specifically its redistributive aspect, he has identified Rajputs as one of the major social groups in Eastern Hindustan or Purab who offered their soldiering services in the military labour market in North India. The soldiering tradition in this region (also known as Bhojpur) of North India yielded fighting men to Shershah Suri, the Mughal emperors and the British East India Company as well as to numerous minor rulers, warlords and zamindars. While discussing the growth of military labour market from mid-fifteenth to mid-nineteenth century, Kolff has analysed the historial role and political culture of these peasant-soldiers. One interesting aspect of his work is the use of folklore, which gives tantalizing glimpses of the images of Rajputs through the eyes of their women.   Tan Tai Yong’s book under review also deals with the dynamics of the military labour market in the Punjab from 1849-1947 but from a different perspective and context.Unlike Kolff his object is to study the relationship of the colonial state with the army with an eye on the changing threat perceptions of the British rulers first from the virile and martial Punjabis and after the 1857 revolt from the Purbiyas as well as their security concerns, long term goals and policies. For him, the central concern is to explore and map out the extent and process of the militarization of bureaucracy, society and economy of the Punjab which was burdened with the responsibility of supplying man power and money without interruption.   The author begins with an examination of considerations, circumstances and compulsions which obliged the British to reverse the policy of demilitarization of the Punjabis after their unnerving experience of the 1857 upheaval and opening of certain districts of the Punjab as a recruiting ground for the Indian Army. It may be pointed out that the process of militarization of state and society in this region, though intensified by the demands of the colonial state, was built on the existing traditions of armed fighting (if need be) against injustice, tyranny and religious persecution as well as against foreign ...

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