होम Modern Asian Studies The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt. By Sir Malcolm Darling. Delhi, Manohar: 1977 (reprint of...

The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt. By Sir Malcolm Darling. Delhi, Manohar: 1977 (reprint of the 4th ed., 1947, with a new introduction by C. J. Dewey). Pp. xvii, xxvii, 277.

यह पुस्तक आपको कितनी अच्छी लगी?
फ़ाइल की गुणवत्ता क्या है?
पुस्तक की गुणवत्ता का मूल्यांकन करने के लिए यह पुस्तक डाउनलोड करें
डाउनलोड की गई फ़ाइलों की गुणवत्ता क्या है?
खंड:
15
भाषा:
english
पत्रिका:
Modern Asian Studies
DOI:
10.1017/s0026749x00007149
Date:
April, 1981
फ़ाइल:
PDF, 363 KB
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आप पुस्तक समीक्षा लिख सकते हैं और अपना अनुभव साझा कर सकते हैं. पढ़ूी हुई पुस्तकों के बारे में आपकी राय जानने में अन्य पाठकों को दिलचस्पी होगी. भले ही आपको किताब पसंद हो या न हो, अगर आप इसके बारे में ईमानदारी से और विस्तार से बताएँगे, तो लोग अपने लिए नई रुचिकर पुस्तकें खोज पाएँगे.
1

A Phase of Meiji Japan's Attitude toward China: The Case of Komura Jutarō

साल:
1979
भाषा:
english
फ़ाइल:
PDF, 1.66 MB
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The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt. By
Sir Malcolm Darling. Delhi, Manohar: 1977
(reprint of the 4th ed., 1947, with a new
introduction by C. J. Dewey). Pp. xvii, xxvii,
277.
Peter Robb
Modern Asian Studies / Volume 15 / Issue 02 / April 1981, pp 351 - 353
DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X00007149, Published online: 28 November 2008

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abstract_S0026749X00007149
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Peter Robb (1981). Modern Asian Studies, 15, pp 351-353 doi:10.1017/
S0026749X00007149
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REVIEWS

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1

The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt. By S I R M A L C O L M D A R L I N G . Delhi,
M a n o h a r : 1977 (reprint of the 4th ed., 1947, with a new introduction by
C . J . D e w e y ) . Pp. xvii, xxvii, 277.
This is 'simply the best book on peasant indebtedness ever written'; it is
moreover 'one of the best books on any aspect of peasant society'. T h u s C . J.
Dewey justifies this reprint of Darling's classic: not that the work is unknown or
unavailable, but that he wants us to look again and look properly at the work, to
accord it what he argues is its place in the literature, and of course that he wants
a new generation of scholars to have it on their own shelves. A n d it is not of
interest only to students of the Punjab or to specialists in debt, for comparative
purposes; it is important for scholars of any aspect of peasant societies. It is an
ambitious claim, but Darling is a match for it. O f course Darling has never been
forgotten. D e w e y is perhaps overstating his case when he seems to equate the
popular and even the academic indifference to Darling (and India) with the
attitude of people working in his field; and it can har; dly be hoped that this
re-issue will do much to redress more general neglect. But even specialists have
not turned to Darling as readily as they might outside his immediate sphere and
period; even they may need reminding how broadly relevant The Punjab Peasant
is. M o r e than that, interpreted as D e w e y would have them, Darling's writings
seem peculiarly useful at present. South Asian social and economic history has
embarked on a distinctly radical phase, consisting, I believe, in a rethinking of
basic assumptions. Its researchers carry with them parcels of conventional
wisdom, generalizations and assumptions handed on from British adminis­
trators. T h e r e are not, perhaps, any unchallenged orthodoxies, but there are
strong impulses imposed by the records. Some of these fitted well with the first
flush of nationalist revisionism or post-imperialist embarrassment, and became
axioms in appropriate camps: the pernicious effect of British legal prescriptions
upon rural society is one example. A n d , as the British themselves indulged in
constant open or implicit debates, there are always opposing strands of thought
and evidence to appeal to different tastes, to the pessimists or the optimists. It
has been possible to see some recent disagreements merely as echoes of those in
the past. Y e t in the last fifteen years or so there has been a steady dribble of
heterodox opinion, non-believers working from first principles, adherent of no
camp, and this stream has more recently been gathering strength. It has
expressed itself in doubts about general statistics, in seeking new sources, in
paying critical attention to the ideas of those w h o created the records, and in
proposing ways of using them without subversion. Becoming familiar are theses
which reverse accepted wisdom, such as the idea that expansion of cultivation
led population growth (when British observers tended to assume the opposite)
or that the fragmentation of agricultural holdings was a product of buoyancy
(and not of a decline through excessive pressure on the l a n d ) . Darling's Punjab
Peasant was undoubtedly a harbinger of this trend: it is famous for the then
startling paradox that debt might be exacerbated by prosperity.
1

O n e of the ideas the British had had was of an exclusively agricultural isolate,
1

The example is from Neil Charlesworth, 'Trends in the Performance of an Indian
Province: The Bombay Presidency, 1900-1920' in K. N. Chaudhuri and C . J . Dewey,
Economy and Society. Essays in Indian Economic and Social History (Delhi 1979).

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REVIEWS

the internalized village community, existing in an environment to which trade
was extrinsic. This attitude, coupled with the British political needs, led to
various enactments to preserve w h a t was seen as the existing society. Debt and
moneylenders thus tended to be seen as interlopers and trouble-makers, disrup­
tive forces which British rule had unwittingly assisted by the early, severe
revenue demands, the introduction of private property in land, and the enforce­
ment of contracts. This verdict continues to be influential today. A most recent
account sees the early nineteenth century in North India as a time when forced
sales from overassessment destroyed or reduced m a n y landed families, replac­
ing them with, among others, commercial castes. But others have sought to
turn these propositions on their head. T h e radical approach is to suggest that
moneylenders served some useful purpose, or that they did not dispossess
landholders in large numbers, or that a majority of transfers took place between
agriculturists, or that legal transfer was not readily translated into social
dominance. Outside resources, it is argued, were essential to Indian agriculture
because of the annual cycle and also because of the British demands for revenue
or the landlord's demands for rent at fixed intervals. Such differences as these
have the makings of a genuine debate. A n d here too Darling comes in, as a
genuine radical.
2

His attitude to the money-lender was one of reasoned criticism: he was
anxious to understand the role. As D e w e y reminds us, Darling was a 'roguecivilian' dissatisfied with British rule and its failure to improve the Indian's lot.
His prescriptions for development m a y have included the panacea of cooper­
ation, but they were not founded on single explanations. T h e flair and sophisti­
cation of the approach is evident in the unravelling of the argument about debt.
He remarked, for example, on the three most heavily involved districts of the
central Punjab. In Sialkot, he concluded, ' T h e main cause of debt . . . is the
pressure of population on the soil. With present methods of cultivation, hold­
ings tend to be too small for subsistence, and nine out often peasants are forced
to the moneylender'. In Ferozepore, however, the cause was 'sudden acquiextrava­
sition of wealth, due more to good fortune than to effort, stimulating
gance, dissipation and drink. . . . V a l u e s became so inflated that everyone's
credit was good, and where everyone can borrow few refrain'. In prosperous
Amritsar, too, ' L a n d revenue is lenient and the people enterprising, and many
lakhs a year are earned by emigration and military service'. W h y then should its
load of debt be fifty per cent greater than that of neighbouring Jullundur? T h e
reason was canal irrigation and the easy wealth it brought, and the ill-health:
'waterlogging, fever and debt go hand in hand'. T h u s i f ' t h e smallness of the
holdings provides the basis of debt, it is prosperity that swells the account' (pp.
7 1 - 3 ) . W h a t is important in this analysis is not the conclusions, now familiar
enough. Not all of Darling's ideas are still acceptable: D e w e y himself, though
here content merely to describe the book's verdict, reserving his own j u d g e ­
ment, suggests that Darling m a y have exaggerated both the extent of disposses­
sion of land and the role of the law, and that even Darling could not wholly
escape the influence of half a century of administrative consensus. N o , the
importance lies first in the extent to which Darling's interpretation was based
2

See Thomas R. Metcalf, Land, Landlords and the British Raj. Northern India in the
Nineteenth Century (Berkeley 1979).

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353

on exact knowledge of conditions in different areas. It is exemplary in showing
the method by which the ideological traps may mostly be avoided. There is in
this book, as also in others by Darling, a sense of actuality born of long and
concrete experience: we have the distillation of decades spent in a kind of
continual unstructured survey of peasant opinion. In one sense this is an
invaluable product but a method of research for ever denied the historian. In
another sense it is a pertinent reminder of the need, lost sight of oddly enough
even in some recent work on the Punjab, to try to reconstruct not only what the
British thought but also what actually happened.
A second lesson is the one most stressed by Dewey's admirable short exegesis:
the emphasis on values, in relation to environment, which may also be deduced
from the example already discussed. Darling was not one for unsubtle caste or
racial stereotypes, and, as we have seen, he held firmly to a general moral
precept, that hard work is beneficial and 'what is gained with difficulty is spent
with care'; but, as we have also seen, he did accept that peoples have characteristics, a tendency to be enterprising as in Amritsar, or not as in other communities he discussed. He introduced, indeed, more sophisticated and specific
stereotypes which are not so easy to dismiss out of hand as the broader
caricatures. This too today is a radical proposition, for it calls into question the
wholly economic explanations which have tended to hold the stage, helped by
an understandable tendency to resist the alternatives as racialist residues of imperialism. As Dewey remarks: 'Indian economists have oscillated between the
conviction that the world is made up of self-maximising city-men and the
suspicion that another category exists—natives, with backward-looking leisure
preferences.' Darling's analysis does not give us ready-made answers, but
reminds us that there is a real and respectable problem to be investigated.
Finally Dewey's introduction provides further hints, as we would expect of
this author, of the way in which the labyrinth of the records can be mapped. He
presents Darling to us, briefly, in the context notjust of his background, family,
experience and writing, but also of his intellectual credentials. He was, Dewey
claims, an Idealist, a follower of T. H. Green. The influence on policy of
fashionable doctrines can no doubt be over-emphasized—I would seek equally
to consider the dictates of the British position in India—but it does provide an
essential level of generalization which can inform our understanding of the
administrators' debates and bring them to life. It is a dimension too often
missing from the histories of Indian government. It is amply illustrated by
Darling's Punjab Peasant: in that sense Dewey has presented us again with a
document in the history of ideas. 11 is one, in short, with several strong claims on
our attention.
School of Oriental and

PETER ROBB

African Studies, London

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