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Zamindars, Jotedars and Peasants in Bengal

Amalendu Guha

By Ratnalekha Ray
Manohar Publication, New Delhi, 1979, pp. 339, Rs. 80.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 4 January-February 1981

Colonial land management forms as such did not usher in a new mode of production or fundamental changes in India's Socio-economic structures. Nor was our differentiated peasant society solely a colonial phenomenon. People of untouchable and servile castes, who were denied by custom the right to hold land, constituted a body of landless labour throughout the pre-colonial times. The monetization of rent collection on a wide scale in Mughal India in a period of ex­panding commodity exports against bul­lion imports surely led to a growing role of money and credit in the agrarian eco­nomy. This resulted in a degree of com­mercialization of agriculture and peasant differentiation even in the 17th century, by way of resource transfers from the indebted ryots to their creditors. The exis­tence of a privileged tenatry all over Bengal during 1760-1793 is also a noted phenomenon. Besides, it has been recently shown by M.S. Islam that it was people traditionally connected with land—and not the urban capitalists (as was once widely believed) —who were predomi­nant amongst the purchasers of auctioned zamindari rights during the year 1793­-1819. It goes to the credit of Ratnalekha Ray to pick up these threads, weave them together and extend their logic to a study of the impact of the Permanent Settlement (PS) on Bengal's agrarian society of 1760-1850. Her supporting data are apparently collated from a wide range of original source materials, her methodology is inter-disciplinary and her presentation is neat. The resultant work therefore reflects a perspective as well as an awareness of the regional and caste­-oriented variations in the emerging revenue-managing/landholding patterns. But her interpretation and major conclu­sions somewhat suffer from overtones and her data on the social background of certain peasant castes like the Rajbangs is far from adequate. In Part One of the book, Ray sets the problem and defines her conceptual frame and related terminology. She traces the evolution of the zamindars and jotedards as two distinctly separate social catego­ries with pre-colonial roots; shows that the working of the PS owed for its origins more to the immediate realities of the East India Company's need to maximize the tribute on a secure and long-term basis, than to the radical western ideo­logy of the times. She argues that the polity in course of the changes was affected more—and this fundamentally—than its underlying socio-economic ...

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