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Land of Five Rivers, Canal Colonies and Oceanic Flows to Southeast Asia - page 7 / 11

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traditional customary law, which was an important element in “the paternalist system of imperial rule in Punjab”. As “progress and paternalism marched hand in hand”, Talbot concludes, “both tradition and transformation served the purpose of the colonial state by justifying the exercise of colonial power”.(2007)

By addressing one of the questions related to the first wave of Sikh migration overseas in his essay “Rural Roots of the Sikh Diaspora”, Darshan Singh Tatla shows the direction to further investigations, which  may draw upon the rationale provided by Tatla.(2004)  Tatla expresses his surprise that the largely rural character of early migration from Punjab, largely of the cultivator caste of Jats, joined by a smaller group of Ramgarhias and Chamars hailing from a cluster of villages in Central Punjab, is a disjuncture in the diasporas of trade such as those of Gujaratis and Bohra Muslims or of skilled diasporas of the present. While chain migration from a cluster of migrant, sending villages might explain the strong Punjabi presence overseas, Tatla argues, it fails to account for its initiating impulses.(2004) He proposes that the cultural norms of the population of these villages may be used to understand “whether these especially predisposed the inhabitants to the unsettling process of overseas migration”.(2004 46-47). Tatla’s essay is particularly interesting for its connecting of the oceanic circulations to land reforms instituted by the British after the annexation of Punjab in 1848 through which the Punjabi village was integrated into a New World economy as a producer of wheat, rice and cotton.  His pointing to the connections between the two imperial constructions of Punjab as India’s granary and Sikhs as ‘sturdy cultivators’ and ‘the martial race’ leading to the alteration of the rural peasantry’s social outlook and to the Sikh migration within and outside India is equally significant.(2004 47) His account of the land granted to Sikh cultivators and retired soldiers from Amritsar, Jullundur, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur, and Ludhiana in the Canal Colonies of Lahore, Lyallpur, Multan, Montgomery, Jhang and Shahpur  throws light on the links between flows from the rivers and canals to oceanic flows.  Tatla argues that the responsiveness of Punjabi villagers to opportunities lying in far lying countries ’Tel-a’(Australia), ‘Mirkin’(America) and later ‘vilayat’(England) was “facilitated by rural Punjab economy’s integration into the international economy” as the increased productivity of canal colonies enabled families to raise the fare for passage from Kolkata to Hongkong and beyond.(2004 47)

Arunajeet Kaur’s  comprehensive Master’s thesis on “The Role of Sikhs in the Policing of British Malaya and the Straits Settlements(1874-1957)” relates the Sikh migration to British Malaya and the Straits Settlements as Sepoys to their construction as ‘the martial races’ after the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857.  Kaur points out that the promixity of Malaya and Singapore, the tropical climate, and the positive tales by returning Sikhs made Cheen(including Malaya, Singapore and Hongkong) favoured destinations as compared to vilayat or Britain.  Her location of the militarization of Sikhs to imperial economic imperatives in the Malayan Peninsula corroborates the integration of both Punjabi soldiers and cultivators in the international economy mentioned by Tatla.  Her point about the recruitment of loyal strangers to contain indigenous factions in Malaya conflicting with British economic interests provides a telling example of the British integration of the colonial economy through an effective management of different kind of colonials into the world system.

Tatla’s thesis about the intergration of rural Punjabi economy’s is corroborated by an aborted plan about the construction of a transnational trade network through the resignification of Aroras and Khatris as petty shopkeepers.(2004) Both the construction of Sikhs as ‘the martial race’ and khatri and arora Hindus as shopkeepers revealed by Tatla and others are a classic illustration of Wallerstein’s world system theory about the emergence of global capitalism in the fourteenth century in which the labour of the periphery was put in the service of the creation of core capital with the semi-peripheries

Third Critical Studies Conference, CRG, Kolkata

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