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Land of Five Rivers, Canal Colonies and Oceanic Flows to Southeast Asia - page 6 / 11





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as the colonial official congratulates himself for accomplishing the task in record time with amazing efficiency, the collector of native customs displays painful recognition of “without, by any direct action of my own, extinguishing a custom endeared to the people by many generations of observance, and which, notwithstanding the general objections to any tenure which does not secure permanency of occupancy to each landholder, has, nevertheless, many special recommendations not to be found under any other system”.[italics mine](1976) He illustrates this by conceding that customary law such as khula vesh could be scientifically verified. Finally, in his ascription of the rise in mortgage to “the inflexibility  of our revenue system, long series of bad years, and in some cases over-assessment” is a telling admission of colonial responsibility for the events that followed.(1876) The Chapter ends with a statement that comes as a surprise from one in charge of destruction of the old system. “Indian agriculturists at large is that, considering the disadvantages under which they labour, poverty, climate, heavy taxation, and ignorance, their systems of tillage deserve our admiration rather than condemnation…”.(1876)

In “The Punjab Under Colonialism: Order and Transformation in British India”, Ian Talbot has summed up “the contradictions between order and transformation that lay at the heart of the imperialist enterprise in Punjab with respect firstly to ownership and transfer of land, secondly to agricultural development and social engineering, and thirdly to customary law”.(2007)  He unpacks the role of the “hidden hand” of market forces that imperiled order brought by British administrators such as Thorburn.  He also calls attention to the socio-economic transformation arising from the commercialization of the region’s agriculture that ironically threatened rural order though its being accompanied by indebtedness. The threat to the revolution in holdings through urban moneylenders’ use of the British legal system to foreclose debts of mortgaged lands had earlier led Thorburn, then posted to Dera Ghazi Khan, to sound a note of warning in Musalmans and Moneylenders of Punjab on the possibilities of unrest as land passed into the hands of absentee moneylenders.(1974) The twin faces of British as nightwatchmen and interventionists in Punjab examined by Talbot are unmasked in the series of reforms concluding in the paternalist support they gave to the ancestral landlord and substantial yeoman against the rapacious moneylender.(2007) The grand rhetoric of the reports notwithstanding, duty, through securing  the contentment of the masses, is directly connected to safety of the rulers, the keywords in Ibbetson’s 1895 enquiry being “the safe foundation” upon which British rule can rest through “the loyalty and contentment of the sturdy yeomanry from whose ranks we draw our native soldiers”.(1895)  According to Talbot, the Land Alienation Act of 1900, projected as the grand revolutionary step that prevented the urban commercial castes from permanently acquiring land held by “the statutory agriculturist tribes”, “structured political developments in the province for the reminder of the colonial era”.(2007) But one must turn to Talbot’s section on Punjab’s social engineering to understand how the strong attachment to land in Punjab, or ‘landedness’ as I would like to call it, stems from its “agrarian development at the expense of industrial growth” whose ‘legacy’ continued to impact the region for more than a century. (2007) The harnessing of the waters of the rivers in an ambitious irrigation project that fructified in the canal colonies of West Punjab with the neatly laid out squares not only epitomized the ideals of the modern rational state but also created a new kind of model ‘cultivator’, a “manly peasantry capable of self support and of loyal and law abiding disposition”.(2007) The introduction of The Colonies Act of 1912 by Dwyer that reinstated the landed gentry to provide natural leadership to marginalize the influence of urban agitators like Laja Lajpat Rai witnessed in the 1907 disturbances in the Canal colonies leads Talbot to conclude that “British policies of encouraging capitalist farming thus uneasily coexisted with the desire to retain a feudal presence in the colonies”.(2007) He reveals the Janus face of the legal system whose public face endorsed modern transactions and private reinforced primordial ‘traditional’ status by pointing out that from the 1872 Punjab Laws Act onwards, personal law was not rooted in Hindu or Muslim religious framework but in

Third Critical Studies Conference, CRG, Kolkata

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