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Land of Five Rivers, Canal Colonies and Oceanic Flows to Southeast Asia - page 5 / 11





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informal development of tenures or soil-relationships according to local traditions and custom by various cultivating communities and a customary convention of revenue collection was seen to be in sharp contrast to the capitalist economy introduced by the British.  Turning to Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s system specifically, Thorburn concedes that the simple Sikh revenue system as one fourth of the harvest based on standing crops was good in principle but villainous in its administration as corrupt collectors appointed by the Sikhs extorted unreasonable sums from cultivators.  This was the system that was replaced by the British after the annexation of Punjab in 1848 the first four years of which, by Thorburn’s own admission, were the era of misrule until the ‘incorruptible’ Nicholson was summoned to introduce Summary Settlement in 1852-53.  With Summary Settlement, the imposition of a lump sum based on a rough measurement of the cultivatable settlement leaving the villagers to split it between themselves, an intermediary system of joint proprietorship entered Punjab that Thorburn regards as a “great advance on the Sikh practice” despite the old system being superior to the new in theory. (1876) The dispassionate British officer grants that the Sikhs could take one fourth of the produce without “impoverishing the landlords” as “the demand fluctuated with the yield”.(1876)  In a rare admission of the failure of the colonial system, Thorburn accepts that the fixed annual demand of the British calculated on the basis of the previous four years average simply “meant ruin to the cultivators, who sooner or later fell into the toils of the money-lender” but is more concerned about the loss of revenue for the British state than for the hardships to cultivators.(1876) Differentiating the second Summary Settlement of 1858-59 and Regular Settlement as one of increasing taxes, Thornburn gives himself a larger role by stressing the importance of “the preparation of a record of rights, a judicial and statistical process of a very laborious nature”.(1876)  It is in this laborious process of measuring, knowing, and assessing the land that the “imperial cunning” of Western reason may be seen at work that legimitizes the dispossession of the colonized of their place.  Thorburn displays a true sense of British fair play by engaging sincerely with survey, mapping and measuring of land as a prelude to determining the revenue to be paid that implicates him in the colonial superscription of colonized places through the disciplinary tools of geography.   

By following the Pashto proverb in its spirit, "Take up a clod for a Hindkai, but quietly coax a Pathan," village boundaries were demarcated, and boundary and field maps with indices were prepared. The ordinary scale to which the maps were drawn was one hundred and ten yards to the inch; but in tracts where the sub-division of land was very minute, fifty-five yards to the inch; and in the indices every conceivable detail about every rood of land, marsh, and water in the District was recorded.(Thorburn 1876)

The relationship between colonial knowledge and power is evident in the way objective mapping of territory, measurement of space, marking of boundaries, and recording of genealogies destroyed the colonized relationship to spaces and places. Colonialism’s assumption of scientific objectivity that conceals its hegemonizing intentions is displayed in the verification of facts by comparison of data collected and the collision of divergent state apparatuses in imposing the colonial agenda.

Whilst this was going on, a scientific survey with the theodolite and chain, on a fixed scale of four inches to the mile, was being separately carried on by Officers of the Survey Department, by which my measurements were put to a final test.(Thorburn 1876)

It is quite clear that Thorburn views himself as the “incorruptible gora sahib” attempting to bring order into a state of confusion having prevailed over centuries due to absence of records and unfamiliarlity with the notion of private property among a feudal people bound in relations of obligation. He displays acute awareness of the fact that a concept of “right or obligation, the distinction between which and a privilege enjoyed, or service rendered of grace and terminable at any moment, was, and is, to many incomprehensible”.(1876) Even

Third Critical Studies Conference, CRG, Kolkata

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