Hostname: page-component-5db6c4db9b-wnbrb Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-26T01:06:46.115Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Economic Depression and the Making of ‘Traditional’ Society in Colonial India 1820–1855

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009


Over recent years, questions concerning the character and direction of social change in colonial India have become increasingly complex. Until the 1960s, it remained possible to conceive the coming of British rule as representing ‘the beginnings of modernisation’ and to write Indian history in terms of an ‘heroic’ struggle to fulfil the civilising mission: ‘heroic’, in the British sense, because it largely failed. Except among a narrow stratum of elites, Indian society obviously refused the West's invitation to ‘usher it into history’ and India's culture moved very little towards convergence with the West's.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal Historical Society 1993

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 I am grateful to Burton Stein for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

2 As in Indian Society and the Beginnings of Modernisation, c.1830–1850, eds. Philips, C. and Wainwright, M. (1976)Google Scholar.

3 The phrase, of course, is that of Karl Marx. See Marx, K., Surveys from Exile [ed. Fernbach, D.]. (1973), 306Google Scholar.

4 See Stokes, E., ‘The First Century of British Rule in India, 1757–1857’ in The Peasant and the Raj, ed. Stokes, E. (Cambridge, 1979)Google Scholar; Frykenberg, R., ‘The Silent Settlement in South India, 1793–1836’ in Land Tenure and Peasant in South Asia, ed. Frykenberg, R. (New Delhi, 1977)Google Scholar; Cohn, B., ‘Structural Change in Indian Rural Society, 1596–1885’ in Land Control and Social Structure in Indian History, ed. Frykenberg, R. (Madison, 1969)Google Scholar.

5 See Appadurai, A., Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule (Cambridge, 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dirks, N., The Hollow Crown (Cambridge, 1987)Google Scholar.

6 Stein, B., Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India (New Delhi, 1980)Google Scholar.

7 Stein, B., Peasant State, esp. 173215Google Scholar; Stein, B., ‘Social Mobility and Medieval South India Hindu Sects’ in Social Mobility in the Caste System in India, ed. Silverberg, J. (The Hague, 1969)Google Scholar; A. Appadurai, Worship and Conflict, ch. 1.

8 Dewey, C., ‘Images of the Village CommunityModern Asian Studies, VI:3, (1972)Google Scholar.

9 See Kessinger, T., Vilyatpur 1848–1868 (Berkeley, 1974)Google Scholar; Fox, R., Kin, Clan, Raja and Rule (Berkeley, 1971)Google Scholar.

10 Fuller, C., ‘British India or traditional India?Ethnos, 3–4 (1977)Google Scholar.

11 , W. H. and Wiser, C. V., Behind Mud Walls (Berkeley, 1969)Google Scholar.

12 Chaudhuri, K. N., ‘Markets and Traders in India during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’ in Economy and Society, eds Chaudhuri, K. and Dewey, C. (New Delhi, 1979)Google Scholar; Mizushima, T., Nattar and Socio-Economic Changes in South India in the 18th–19th Centuries (Tokyo, 1986)Google Scholar; Chicherov, A. I., India: Economic Development in the 16th–18th Centuries (Moscow, 1971)Google Scholar; Perlin, F., ‘Proto-industrialisation and Pre-Colonial South AsiaPast and Present, XCVIII, 1983Google Scholar; Commander, S., ‘The Jajmani System in North IndiaModern Asian Studies, XVIL:2 (1983)Google Scholar.

13 Inden, R., Imagining India (Oxford, 1989)Google Scholar.

14 Cohn, B., ‘The census, social structure and objectification in South Asia’ in Cohn, B., An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays (New Delhi, 1987)Google Scholar.

15 Said, E., Orientalism (New York, 1978)Google Scholar.

16 The classic exposition of the (new) discourse of caste rank and village dominance, albeit on the understanding that it represented a ‘traditional’ discourse, is to be found in Srinivas, M. N., Caste in India and Other Essays (Bombay, 1962)Google Scholar and Social Change in Modern India (Berkeley, 1966)Google Scholar.

17 For Gandhi's, ‘affirmative orientalism’ see Fox, R., Gandhi's Utopia (Durham, 1990)Google Scholar.

18 See Washbrook, D. A., ‘The Development of Caste Organisation in South India’ in South India: Political Institutions and Political Change, eds Baker, C. and Washbrook, D. (New Delhi, 1975)Google Scholar; Carroll, L., ‘Colonial Perceptions of Indian Society and the Emergence of Caste(s) Associations,’ Journal of Asian Studies, XXXVII:2 (1978)Google Scholar.

19 See Subaltern Studies, ed. Guha, R., I–VI (New Delhi, 19821990)Google Scholar: esp., R. Guha ‘Dominance without Hegemony and its Historiography’ VI; also Guha, R., Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (New Delhi, 1982)Google Scholar.

20 Compare, for example, Chatterjee's treatment of Gandhi as a ‘traditional’ Indian intellectual, outside the framework of western thought, with Fox's treatment of him as an ‘affirmative orientalist’. Chatterjee, P., ‘Gandhi and the Critique of Civil Society’ in Subaltern Studies, III, (New Delhi, 1984)Google Scholar; R. Fox, Gandhi's Utopia. And compare Chakrabarty's conception of hierarchical Indian ‘tradition’ with the orientalist conceptions of the same exposed by Chakrabarty, Inden. D., ‘Trade Unions in a Hierarchical Culture: the Jute Workers of Calcutta 1920–50’ in Subaltern Studies, IIIGoogle Scholar; R. Inden, Imagining India.

21 Frykenberg, R., Guntur District 1788–1848 (Oxford, 1965)Google Scholar.

22 Yang, A., The Limited Raj (Berkeley, 1989)Google Scholar.

23 Dirks, N., ‘Castes of Mind’ paper read at California Institute of Technology, 05, 1987Google Scholar; Bayly, C., Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire (Cambridge, 1989), ch. 5Google Scholar.

24 Ludden, D., ‘The Terms of Ryotwari Praxis: Changing Property Relations among Mirasidars in the Tinnevelly District, 1801–1855’ in Studies of South India, eds Kolenda, P. and Frykenberg, R. (New Delhi, 1985)Google Scholar.

25 See C. Bayly, Indian Society, esp., ch. 4.

26 See my ‘Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamilnadu’ in State Power and Dominance in Modern India, eds Frankel, F. and Rao, M. (New Delhi, 1989)Google Scholar.

27 Ibid.

28 C. Bayly, Indian Society, esp., ch. 4.

29 Ibid., ch. 5.

30 Raju, A. Sarada, Economic Conditions in the Madras Presidency 1800–1850 (Madras, 1941)Google Scholar.

31 Bandopadhyay, A., The Agrarian Economy of Tamilnadu (Calcutta, 1991), ch. 6Google Scholar.

32 C. Bayly, Indian Society, ch. 4.

33 Ibid., ch. 5.

34 It was the consequent tendency of previously ‘non-landed’ pastoralist and service groups to take up petty cultivation, which may be seen to have increased cultivated acreages well ahead of population. See my The Commercialisation of Agriculture in Colonial India: Production, Subsistence and Reproduction in the “Dry” South, c1870–1930Modern Asian Studies, XXVII:3 (1993)Google Scholar.

35 Idem.

36 Thomas, H. S., Report on Tanjore Remissions in Fasli 1294. (A.D. 1884–85) (Madras, 1885)Google Scholar. Tamilnadu Archives.

37 This was the ‘Pundi’ family of Udaiyans from Vandiyar. During the disturbances of the 1780s, they had become pattucdars (revenue contractors) for an extensive tract of depopulated land. Somewhat mysteriously, these contractual rights were converted into ‘mirasi’ [proprietary] rights during the early years of British rule.

38 Irschick, E., ‘Order and Disorder in Colonial South IndiaModern Asian Studies, XXIII:3 (1989)Google Scholar.

39 See my ‘The Golden Age of the Pariah’ in Labour and Dalit Movements in India (New Delhi, forthcoming).

40 Appadurai, Worship and Conflict, ch. 3.

41 On the ‘communitarian’ logic of southern society, see Stein, B., ‘Politics, Peasants and the Deconstruction of Feudalism in Medieval IndiaJournal of Peasant Studies, XII:2, 3, (1985)Google Scholar.

42 See Mukherjee, N., The Ryotwari System in Madras (Calcutta, 1962), chs. 5, 10Google Scholar.

43 Bose, S., Agrarian Bengal (Cambridge, 1986), ch. 2Google Scholar; E. Stokes, ‘Agrarian society and the Pax Britannica in northern India in the early nineteenth century’ in E. Stokes, Peasant.

44 See my Law, State and Agrarian Society in Colonial IndiaModern Asian Studies, XV:3 (1981)Google Scholar.

45 B. Stein, ‘Politics, Peasants’.

46 N. Dirks, Hollow Crown, pt. 2.

47 R. Frykenberg, ‘The Silent Settlement’.

48 See Dirks, N., ‘From little king to landlordComparative Studies in Society and History, XXVIII:2 (1986)Google Scholar; E. Irschick, ‘Order and Disorder’.

49 A. Appadurai, Worship and Conflict, chs. 3, 4.

50 Cohn, B., ‘The Command of Language and the Language of Command’ in Subaltern Studies, IV (New Delhi, 1986)Google Scholar.

51 See my ‘Law, State and Agrarian Society’.

52 For example, the courts refused to recognise the claims of labourers to share-rights in the crops that they cultivated. See Ludden, D., Peasant History in South India (Princeton, 1985), ch. 6Google Scholar; also my ‘Law, State and Agrarian Society’ and ‘The Golden Age of the Pariah’.

53 N. Mukherjee, Ryotwari System, ch. 10; A. Bandopadhyay, Agrarian Economy, chs. 6, 7.

54 See Government of Madras, Report of the Commissioners for the Investigation of Alleged Cases of Torture in the Madras Presidency (Madras, 1855)Google Scholar.

55 This is a major theme of B. Stein, Peasant State.

56 R. Frykenberg, ‘Village Strength in South India’ in R. Frykenberg, Land Control.

57 See my ‘Commercialisation of Agriculture’.

58 See D. Ludden, Peasant History, ch. 4; E. Irschick, ‘Order and Disorder’.

59 A. Appadurai, Worship and Conflict, ch. 3; Presler, F., Religion Under Bureaucracy (Cambridge, 1987), chs. 2, 3Google Scholar.

60 Government of Madras, A Collection of Papers Relating to the Inam Settlement of Madras Presidency (Madras, 1906), 1214Google Scholar.

61 Idem.

62 See, for example, D. Ludden, Peasant History, chs. 4, 6; E. Irschick, ‘Order and Disorder.

63 See my ‘Law, State and Agrarian Society’; D. Ludden, Peasant History, ch. 6; E. Irschick, ‘Order and Disorder’.

64 See Norton, J. B., The Administration of Justice in South India (Madras, 1853)Google Scholar; and Reply to a Madras Civilian's Defence of Mofussil Courts in India (London, 1853)Google Scholar.

65 See my ‘Law, State and Agrarian Society’.

66 See A Collection of Papers … Inam Settlement.

67 A. Appadurai, Worship and Conflict, chs 4, 5.

68 Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, Madras city was riven by repeated outbreaks of right-hand/left-hand rioting. But, from the 1840s, the rioting simply ceased. See Love, H. D., Vestiges of Old Madras (Madras, 1913)Google Scholar.

69 Dirks, N., Hollow Crown, 335–36Google Scholar; also his ‘From little king to landlord’.

70 See Dirks, N., Hollow Crown, 335–36Google Scholar; also, R. Frykenberg, ‘Village Strength’.

71 See Government of Madras, A Collection … Inam Settlement.

72 The first attempts at ‘popular’ nationalist mobilisation, particularly those of B. G. Tilak in Maharashtra in the 1890s, strongly emphasised the defence of ‘traditional’ social relations. See Cashman, R., The Myth of the Lokmanya (Berkeley, 1975)Google Scholar; also O'Hanlon, R., ‘Issues of Widowhood’ in Contesting Power, eds Haynes, D. and Prakash, G. (New Delhi, 1991)Google Scholar.

73 Pace R. Guha, ‘Dominance without Hegemony’.

74 R. Frykenberg, ‘Silent Settlement’.

75 As in D. Ludden, Peasant History, ch. 6.

76 See A. Bandopadhyay, Agrarian Economy; D. Ludden, Peasant History, chs 4, 5; N. Mukherjee, Ryotwari System, ch. 10.

77 See my ‘Commercialisation of Agriculture’; also, Stein, B., ‘Does Culture make Practice Perfect?’ in All the Kings' Mana, ed. Stein, B. (Madras, 1984)Google Scholar; also Mukherjee, N., Ryotwari System, 214Google Scholar.

78 See my ‘Commercialisation of Agriculture’; also my ‘Economic Stratification in Rural Madras’ in The Imperial Impact, eds Hopkins, A. and Dewey, C. (1978)Google Scholar.

79 Baker, C., An Indian Rural Economy 1880–1955 (Oxford, 1984), 168200Google Scholar.

80 See my Country Politics: Madras 1870–1930Modern Asian Studies, VII:3 (1973)Google Scholar.

81 C. Baker, Rural Economy, ch. 6.

82 See my ‘Caste, Class and Dominance’.

83 Beck, B., Peasant Society in Konku (Vancouver, 1972)Google Scholar; Baker, C., Rural Economy, 267–74Google Scholar.

84 See my ‘Caste, Class and Dominance’.

85 Idem.