Landholding, Peasant Production and Rainfall

  • David Hall-Matthews

Abstract

Ahmednagar district is situated in the Bombay Deccan, due east of Bombay city, bordering Poona district to its southwest, and, in the British colonial period, the Nizam of Hyderabad’s Dominions, in an untidy and often renegotiated border to the east. Its total area was 6666 square miles, with a population according to the 1881 census of 751,228, at an average density of 112.69 people per square mile.1 As the average household comprised as many as nine people, the impression was of an underpopulated region with few houses, which was attributed to poor land, water supply including rainfall and other agricultural resources.2 How did Ahmednagar peasants live and manage their land in such difficult circumstances? The Deccan Riots Commission believed that the Kunbis, who formed the great majority of the ryots, bore with ‘a stubborn endurance the unkindly caprices of his climate and the hereditary burden of his debts, which would drive a more imaginative race to despair or stimulate one more intelligent to new resources’.3 While the commission thus recognised that not all peasants’ problems were naturally ordained, this interpretation, with its implication of blaming the cultivators for their stasis — and perhaps their poverty itself — reveals much about colonial attitudes to Ahmednagar district. For example, shortly after the 1876–78 famine, Survey Commissioner Colonel W. C. Anderson attacked ‘pauper cultivators, without stock or means, who have in fact no business to hold land at all, but should be earning a livelihood by working for others for hire’.4

Keywords

Sugar Migration Depression Income Expense 

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Notes

  1. 5.
    Christine Kinealy, A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland (London, 1997), pp. 16–17.Google Scholar
  2. 16.
    Ibid., p. 299. See also David Hardiman, Feeding the Baniya: Peasants and Usurers in Western India (Delhi, 1996).Google Scholar
  3. 27.
    See Hardiman, Feeding the Baniya, p. 198 and Sumit Guha, ‘The Land Market in Upland Maharashtra’, IESHR, 24 (2) (1987), 121.Google Scholar
  4. 47.
    Ester Boserup, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth (London, 1965).Google Scholar
  5. 49.
    See Srinivasa Ambirajan, ‘Malthusian Population Theory and Indian Famine Policy in the Nineteenth Century’, Population Studies, 30 (1) (1976), 5–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 51.
    Neil Charlesworth, Peasants and Imperial Rule: Agriculture and Agrarian Society in the Bombay Presidency 1850–1935 (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 44–5f.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 53.
    Michelle McAlpin, ‘Railroads, Cultivation Patterns and Foodgrains Availability: India 1860–1900’, IESHR, 12 (1) (1975), 43–60;Google Scholar
  8. Peter Harnetty, ‘Cotton Exports and Indian Agriculture, 1861–1870’, Economic History Review, 24 (3) (1971), 414–29; Sumit Guha, Agrarian Economy, pp. 54–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 79.
    See Bombay Director of Agriculture Harold Mann, Rainfall and Famine: A Study of Rainfall in the Bombay Deccan, 1865–1938 (Bombay, 1955), p. 4Google Scholar
  10. and also Ian Catanach, Rural Credit in Western India, 1875–1930: Rural Credit and the Co-operation Movement in the Bombay Presidency (Berkeley, 1970), p. 6.Google Scholar
  11. 139.
    See Mahesh Rangarajan, Fencing the Forest: Conservation and Ecological Change in India’s Central Provinces 1860–1914 (Delhi, 1996), p. 94.Google Scholar
  12. 158.
    Secretary of State Lord Salisbury first proposed the Famine Commission to Strachey, ‘in order to save ourselves from the irrigation quacks’. Lance Brennan, ‘The Development of the Indian Famine Code’ in Bruce Currey and Graeme Hugo (eds), Famine as a Geographical Phenomenon (Dordrecht 1984), p. 98.Google Scholar

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© David Hall-Matthews 2005

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  • David Hall-Matthews

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