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Arup R. Banerji

LAND CONTROL AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE IN INDIAN HISTORY
Edited by R.E. Frykenberg
Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 1979, pp. xii 277, Rs. 85.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 2 September/October 1980

The collection of papers under review was first published in 1969, five years after they first felt the heat of discussion at a seminar, at the University of Wisconsin. The continuing demand for them and the response aroused by them are the reasons offered by the editor for the second edi­tion. Unfortunately, their usefulness as in-depth studies of three areas of India in the nineteenth-century remain con­fined to the state of research on them at the time of the first publication. Design­ed to include the proceedings of a semi­nal', their value as a re-publication could have been enormously enhanced with the addition of research effort concluded through the 1970s on Bengal, Oudh as well South India. The only additional essay is the one by Frykenberg that seems to have missed inclusion in the first edition. Of the eleven essays, two are concerned with 'land' and the influence of ideas on the formation of institutions related to it. Nurul Hasan's paper is the only one devoted exclusively to the pre-colo­nial period. Of the rest, Cohn and Metc­alfe look at the fate of aristocracies in Benaras and Oudh on both sides of the mid-nineteenth century divide, Ray­Chaudhuri tackles the intricate skein of zamindari rights in Bengal while Stein, Frykenberg and Mukherjee subject differ­ent aspects of South Indian agrarian structures to analysis. It should be point­ed out that the title is somewhat misleading for the grand canvas of expectations it suggests is eluding. 'Land Control’ is viewed by almost all the contributors as control over land by the assertion of intermediary claims on its produce and over its cultivators, rather than produc­tion activities on land or the social arrangements of the direct producers. Land Control is related to Social Struc­ture in terms of the jockeying for power and the means deployed by the rural power and land holders to bolster their position at the expense of the peasants and the state. As a result, the rural uni­verse, a pyramidal structure, is studied with primary attention concentrated on its over-cumbrous middle. This is a methodology that can be faulted on several grounds, but particularly in the light of the fact that it seems to ignore the bases of wealth and status-power of the middle layers, that emanated dually from the peasantry, that created the out­put and the state that endorsed or endowed ...


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