Landholding, Peasant Production and Rainfall

  • David Hall-Matthews


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


Local Officer Cultivable Land Forestry Department Local Fund Bombay City 
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© David Hall-Matthews 2005

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  • David Hall-Matthews

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