SOAS University of London

Department of History

Land-Use in Theory and History: Agri-Pastoral Ecology in the Doabs of Greater Punjab, 1803-2013

Prof Minoti Chakravarty-Kaul (Sussex)

Date: 21 January 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 21 January 2014Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B104

Type of Event: Seminar

Land-use pattern of settled cultivation and transhuming pastoral communities in North India reflected strategies to minimise transaction cost arising from uncertainty (both natural and political) by sharing risk. This was possible first: because of complementarity in the conditions of their production viz (a) in differential scale-economies of production; (b) in rotation of use of land and other resource over seasons and over locational space. Second: because of joint adherence to rules or institutions to support mutual trust and reciprocity and which were recorded in the village administration paper to prevent shirking and cheating in rights of access, use and sanction against misuse that is, policing of resources.
In 1978, there was a violent protest by peasants of Kanjhawala, the head village of a cluster of twenty villages in northwest Delhi against the fragmentation of their village common lands by the Delhi Administration and its distribution of plots from off their grazing lands to the landless of the village Kanjhawala. This incident aroused my incredulity about the existence of common lands in India, more so because to my knowledge and that of eminent economic historians like Dharma Kumar such a category of property belonged to feudal times in Europe and had disappeared with the enclosures of the 16th and subsequent centuries.
The Kanjhawala incident coming as it did ten years after Garrett Hardin's essay on "The Tragedy of the Commons" of 1968 revealed the enormous gaps in both theory and history of land-use patterns and institutions of collective action. While research has re-instated the importance of 'the Waste' in theory but the resurrection of self-governing collective action by village communities and livestock transhumants is still in abeyance.
We intend to use the tremendous technique of comparative historical analysis which was used by Sir Henry Sumner Maine in the nineteenth century (Village Communities in the East and West) and Ester Boserup in 1965 (The Conditions of Agricultural Growth) to fill in the gaps in history and to theorize. In addition I have the privilege of access to an enormous legacy of observations recorded in village documents known as Wajib-ul-arz, settlement reports and from official and private correspondence of British officials in the Punjab like Sir John Lawrence, Denzil J. Ibbetson, G.C. Barnes and J.B Lyall. Then there is the tremendous contribution of eminent legal historians who were associated with governing India like Sir Henry Sumner Maine and B.H. Baden Powell. In addition we have studies in European history of land-use from E.H. Carrier, Carl Dahlman, D.McCloskey and Joan Thirsk. We will try to address both the history of land-use and the accompanying theory of institutions in the land of seven rivers from the Indus to the Jumna with the mountain arc of the Hindu Kush -
Himalayan ranges which had been under British colonial rule informally first in 1803 and formally since 1858. The history of the peopling of villages and their relationship with transhuming pastoral people in North India bears striking resemblance to those of medieval Europe in the matter of customary usages which governed both their common lands and the three-field and four-field cultivation patterns.
Thus in rural North India the village waste were a category of ‘communal property’ of the village community complementing and appendant to private property in land; further, it was also a type of land-use – ‘the long fallow’ – which was integral to a pattern of land fallow use in settled cultivation. These features pre-existed at the time of British entry into Delhi in 1803. The pattern was then replicated elsewhere in the Punjab as a part of the colonial revenue system in the course of the nineteenth century. These village community "implants" along with the original land-use pattern started to change with demographic, institutional changes and canals. One very visible change was the extension of cultivation and that meant declining area of banjar kadim or long fallow in the region which started by the end of the nineteenth century, and continued to do so in the next. Accompanying this transition, there was a growing trend towards fragmented and privatised ownership in the commons. Both trends signified transformation of the use and rights of property in the commons. Such change diffused risk arising from uncertainty.

Organiser: Dr Roy Fischel and Dr Shabnum Tejani