This book examines how, over colonial times, the diverse practices and customs of an existing rural universe—with its many forms of livelihood—were reshaped to create a new agrarian world of settled farming. While focusing on Punjab, India, this pathbreaking analysis offers a broad argument about the workings of colonial power: the fantasy of imperialism, it says, is to make the universe afresh.
Such radical change, Neeladri Bhattacharya shows, is as much conceptual as material. Agrarian colonization was a process of creating spaces that conformed to the demands of colonial rule. It entailed establishing a regime of categories—tenancies, tenures, properties, habitations—and a framework of laws that made the change possible. Agrarian colonization was in this sense a deep conquest.
Colonialism, the book suggests, has the power to revisualize and reorder social relations and bonds of community. It alters the world radically, even when it seeks to preserve elements of the old. The changes it brings about are simultaneously cultural, discursive, legal, linguistic, spatial, social, and economic. Moving from intent to action, concepts to practices, legal enactments to court battles, official discourses to folklore, this book explores the conflicted and dialogic nature of a transformative process.
By analyzing this great conquest, and the often silent ways in which it unfolds, the book asks every historian to rethink the practice of writing agrarian history and reflect on the larger issues of doing history.
“The Great Agrarian Conquest is a subtle and substantial work of scholarship. If there is one book Indians need to read to understand how colonialism actually worked (or did not work), this is it.” — Ramachandra Guha, in The Wire, in praise of the Indian edition
Neeladri Bhattacharya taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi for forty-one years, from which he retired in 2017 as Professor of History. He has been a Fellow of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and has held visiting professorships in Europe, South Africa, and the United States.
One of the first books to systematically reconstruct the early history of the region, this book presents a history of the economy, polity, law, and social order of early medieval Bengal through a comprehensive study of land and society. It traces the changing power relations among constituents of rural society and political institutions, and unravels the contradictions growing among them. The author describes the changing forms of agrarian development which were deeply associated with these overarching structures and offers an in-depth analysis of a wide range of textual sources in Sanskrit and other languages, especially contemporary inscriptions pertaining to Bengal.
The volume will be an essential resource for researchers and academics interested in the history of Bengal, and the social and economic history of early South Asia.
In vivid, inventive, and engaging prose, Pandian weaves together ethnographic encounters, archival investigations, and elements drawn from Tamil poetry, prose, and popular cinema. Tacking deftly between ploughed soils and plundered orchards, schoolroom lessons and stationhouse registers, household hearths and riverine dams, he reveals moral life in the postcolonial present as a palimpsest of traces inherited from multiple pasts. Pursuing these legacies through the fragmentary play of desire, dream, slander, and counsel, Pandian calls attention not only to the moral potential of ordinary existence, but also to the inescapable force of accident, chance, and failure in the making of ethical lives. Rarely are the moral coordinates of modern power sketched with such intimacy and delicacy.