Peter Robb
[Please note: Draft paper for the conference in honour of Walter Hauser. Charlottesville (May 1997). Not for quotation or reference without permission. © Peter Robb 1997]

Borders, languages, peasants, nations: colonial concepts in India
Peter Robb

University of London
School of Oriental and African Studies
Peasant Symposium
Draft copy, May 1997

Part [I.] [II.] [III.] [IV.] [V.] [VI.] [VII.] [VIII.] [IX.] [X.]

Walter Hauser's work has been profoundly concerned with political and protest movements from below and from within. His perspective has been that of the underdog and the protester. and over many years he has steeped himself in the society and life of Bihar (as well as its records) in order to explore its history. He has influenced generations of scholars by this approach. By contrast, I have focused my attention on the colonial state, at a time when understandable distrust of colonial and Eurocentric exaggerations of its role (a tendency inherent in official documents), combined with anti-colonial sentiment, have led to assumptions that it was of minimal importance, and also monolithic. I suggest that the state has been neglected, partly because it arouses this kind of distaste. Criticisms of 'elitism' have been levied against me, even in respect of a paper written in the 1970s in which I sought to subvert a conference and volume on 'leadership' by arguing against 'directive interpretations'_for example against the notion that 'popular agitations were brought into being by agitators', against attributing Shahabad cow-protection riots to 'positive leadership' without attending to the 'self-assertion' of so-called followers, and against Judith Brown's idea that pre-Gandhian Champaran was politically 'latent'.1 My stance has always been that questions have many aspects, that elites and underlings in the end need to be examined together because they interact, and that the proper study of the colonial Indian state is a necessary part of an overall picture.

Thus this paper will not pretend to follow Hauser's example, but instead will suggest some ways in which it may usefully be supplemented by an approach and interest which at first sight may appear antagonistic to it, but which (I argue) is its necessary adjunct. The essay restates some former perspectives which may be being lost as historical emphases change. It seeks to relate British colonial categorisations of India to the evolution of the Indian state and the emergence of Indian identities and political organization. A nation-state is formed in territory from supposedly shared characteristics and constituent classes among citizens; the nation-state also implies a national purpose moderated by the state. Hence this essay briefly discusses issues of indigenous categories, but focuses on the questions of physical and legal frontiers, then languages, and finally the historical idea of the peasant, in the context of a regulating and 'improving' government. It considers the impact of colonial officials' ideas, measurements and would-be reforms upon the emergence and character of the South Asian nations. Such a field, though already well traversed, is so huge that the treatment must be partial and tentative. Appropriate attention is paid to peasants in Bihar. But the peasant is treated as one among other parallel identities of a kind necessary to the construction of the 'nation'.

A very fine example of the approach encouraged by Hauser is a recent book by William Pinch, which examines the peasant assertiveness which, he tells us, arose out of religious and social attitudes and changed. 2 For example, he describes peasants thinking of themselves as kshatriya rather than shudra, or sadhus articulating Vaishnava and hence relatively egalitarian ambitions as an underpinning for agrarian radicalism. Pinch does not deny that there were external influences in promoting changes, noting for example Ashis Nandy's and others' insistence that an emphasis on 'masculinity' was an anti-colonial response or, as Pinch puts it, 'a coming to terms' with colonially-reconstructed hierarchy and terminology. But his emphasis is on the indigenous forces of change. On the other hand, he does not support the extreme versions of a concept of 'subaltern' autonomy. Rather, he sets himself against the colonial stereotyping which criticised sadhus as 'men in disguise' (Sleeman's phrase) because they could be drawn from any caste or community, or as dangerous frauds because they were 'political' rather than 'religious' in their aims. Thus Pinch seeks to re-assert the religious element of peasant sensibility and politics, on a broad definition of what is religious.

Implicit in his account is a recognition that debates about the degrees of colonial or 'external 'influence on 'indigenous' processes of change are less interesting than examinations of the logic of the processes themselves. Because social forms evolve continually in conjunction with historical and [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 2] rhetorical forces, so the distinction between internal and external features continually dissolves. The key questions concern how the actors in each drama fashion events and identities out of the variety of components available to them. This makes it unsatisfactory to privilege the 'external', as in versions of modernization theory. By the same argument one also should not privilege the 'internal' as if it were immutable, essential and wholly autochthonous. In less cautious hands than those of Pinch, and in current Indian debates, this principle has been readily overturned. It is certainly violated in current notions about distinct and antagonistic religious civilizations', notions which are essentialist or primordialist but ahistorical.3

One therefore is entitled to ask once again what was the role in peasant mobilization of the old stalwarts of the growth of the state and its standardizations; of the emergence of new institutions, professions and expectations; of the growth, increased speed and reduced cost of communications ,through transport, language and print: of an increasingly shared economic and political experience; of the awareness of Western ideas and examples in regard to the nation and to class, to individual or equitable 'rights'. It cannot be that such influences played no part, for example in peasant mobilization or consciousness. Nor did indigenous or religious forces operate in some kind of pristine arena. As others have noticed, to assume that they did is merely to produce a new Orientalism. 4 How then did the religious and inherited elements emphasised by Pinch combine and react with selective borrowings from other traditions and reactions to new circumstance, such as I have tried to examine?


I begin with rural society. The predominant forms of socio-political organization in pre-colonial times seem to have been the household, the local community, the caste and the kingdom. But the household alone is the focus of Krsi-parasara, 5 one of the few early works devoted to agriculture and hence informative on the status and role of cultivators. By its account the society is by no means unstratified, but the kingdom is only just mentioned. caste barely referred to (though purity is required of those performing rites), 6 and the community visible only on a few occasions involving agricultural and seasonal rituals.7 Cultivating households are implied to be the norm. Within them the householder's father is to be put in charge of the zenana, his mother to be placed in the kitchen, the householder personally to manage the cultivation. and a person 'like himself' to be set to supervise the cattle. The only people of different kind directly mentioned are cowherds and kings.

On the other hand a strong emphasis on supervision (well-supervised agriculture producing gold and poorly-supervised poverty) implies that the household contained or employed other workers. That workers were employed is reinforced by comments relating degrees of comfort to the numbers of ploughs for each household -- five to ten implying wealth, two or three a bare sufficiency, and one indebtedness. There are hints too in the observation that the good husbandman cares not only for rituals and for cattle. but also for the welfare of other people. Sumit Guha has provided a portrait of a peasant household's labouring dependents which might well serve as a model for the relations implied here's.8

An undifferentiated picture, amidst hints of stratification, implies a lack of self-consciousness about the status of the peasant. On the other hand, Krsi-parasara also embodies an image of the cultivator and a eulogy on his status and importance. In addition to having the attributes already mentioned, [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 3] the ideal cultivator is energetic, regular in attendance in the fields, and knowledgeable about seasons, rainfall, signs and portents, and seeds. He is the linchpin of society, on whom others, however wealthy, must depend; to whom they come as supplicants. Do these attributes and distinctions after all imply a self-consciousness and a practical solidarity on the part of cultivators as a class?

One may take up the same question towards the end of the early modern era by an interpretation of the early colonial reports, such as those of Buchanan-Hamilton. We might expect, in Marxian terms and following the work of C.A. Bayly in particular, that the colonial state's successful drive for settled agriculture was a necessary pre-requisite for the evolution of a range of agricultural classes, at least beyond the gentry and merchants for whom Bayly ascribes an earlier existence.9 However, in Purnea, for example, one finds Buchanan reporting a fairly clear range of socio-economic categories in the early nineteenth century.10 First came the dominant and independent rural elite, the zamindars, augmented by area intermediaries: the zamindari dewan and other agents, and revenue-farmers (mostajirs). Next came village elites, people outside the mostajirs' authority (those occupying unassessed land, paying low rents in perpetuity, or paying directly to the zamindars; and all high castes, Hindu and Muslim, 'exempted from rent for their houses and gardens'). Such elites, and perhaps some other landholders, expressed their dominance by employing and controlling labour, including one specialist ploughman for every six cattle. In another category were village officers, the watchmen and messengers. Then came other cultivators (adhiyars) who held land through mostajirs or other agents .Finally were the slaves and poor labourers who at least 'procured room for their houses from those for whom they work'. Within this broad pattern, types of tenure also certainly existed, their names and character briefly recorded by Buchanan -- various kinds and degrees of fixed-rent tenants, tenants in perpetuity, short-leaseholders and so on.11

Such categories (not being wholly invented by Buchanan) must imply that some solidarities were perceived by the people themselves. A social consensus was at work for example when, as Buchanan noted, the people showed a propensity to conceal information of which they were perfectly aware. (The East India Company was gullible enough to accept such partial and improbable reports.) But many other indications suggest a limit upon common identities. First, there were large numbers of servants and hired workers in Purnea, but outsiders found it very difficult to obtain labour: workers could not escape the vertical control provided by debt bondage. Secondly, broader identities were expressed, but possibly, like caste and community, cut across the economic strata: 'more than half the Hindus',reported Buchanan, 'consider themselves as belonging to foreign nations, either from the west of India or Bengal, although many of them have no tradition concerning the time of their emigration and may have no knowledge of the particular part of the country from whence they came'. Thirdly, among such broad categories, caste was plainly fluid. For example, as 'Hindu law' was strongly enforced, the numerous high-caste families found 'great difficulty in procuring proper marriages for their daughters'. Should they fail before the onset of puberty, as often they did, daughter and parents risked disgrace. Some then would convert to Islam, according to Buchanan, and some be 'lowered to an inferior degree' of society. 12 Fourthly, castes were also ambiguous as occupational categories. Buchanan records many which were not confined to their 'proper profession'. Only ten per cent of Maithila Brahmans 'studied] more or less, and reject[ed] service', some 'carr[ied] arms', and more than two-thirds 'occup[ied] lands...and attend[ed] chiefly to their cultivation'. Lavana Brahmans lived 'entirely by commerce'. Rajputs would not 'condescend to such drudgery' as to hold the plough, except that one in eight did so, while others were traders or went for service in other districts. Mithila Kayasthas still adhered 'to the proper duties of their caste, being writers and accountants, but many rent[ed] land 'without cultivating it themselves. Many Telis (oilmen) worked as traders. Finally, nonetheless, considerations of 'purity' did matter. Buchanan refers to the many castes of 'pure cultivators' and others apparently confined in practice to their ritual occupation. Small sections, such as Malis who worked as garland-makers, were 'admitted to be a very pure order of Sudras', and similar positions of relative prestige seemed to adhere to potters, blacksmiths, and barbers, all of whom 'generally [©Peter Robb, 1997 ++Page 4] confine[d] their labours to their profession . Similarly, impure and vile' castes identified by Buchanan reflected their actual occupations. though also, apparently, 'aboriginal origin'. 13

All these distinctions affected the rights and perceptions, and hence divided the body, of tenants and cultivators. Above all, a class identity for 'cultivators' was unlikely because avoidance of physical labour was important for the higher castes, who also paid lower rents, and held their household plots free. Generally, social categories were of mixed basis - caste, tenure and occupation all being important but not consistently determinant. And they derived from hierarchical and dependent relations more than from horizontal commonalities.


Into this setting came the colonial state. To assess its influence, we need first to move from the particular to the general. British administration has been blamed tor creating or codifying social divisions in India, especially between castes and religious communities. Its influence was always malign; the divisions it constructed ever artificial. Behind this interpretation lie unspoken assumptions of a golden noncommunal age, a pre-colonial era of social harmony. 14 A possible qualification of this approach therefore reasserts the existence of primordialism in some sense, or at least of inheritances and continuities, of already-established categories which were embellished and politicised by the state. Pinch's account comes close to that correction, for example when he shows how sadhus were constructed as 'religious' by British observers. A different qualification would reassess the positive contribution of the colonial era to the appearance or 'indigenisation' of other kinds of identity. That possibility is considered shortly, but first we need to reflect on the nature of the colonial codifications.

Establishing definite borders and jurisdictions was part of the transformation in government in India. The borders allowed certain rules to be applied, on principle, by the British officials. That administrative revolution can be linked to new roles perceived for the state, and those roles to the rise of nations and in some cases the democratic or contractual arguments which came to justify the state's existence. At one level this produces the usual Foucauldian points. Such developments in Europe resulted from a kind of colonial process, and were given impetus by the acquisition of empire. France and England (not least in Tudor times) contained metropolitan cores which colonised and subjugated their peripheries: this work needed a bureaucracy and standardization as well as force. Liberty and democracy sought to legitimise the change. These nations, inspired by exploration, science, and industrialisation (all part of their own mobilization), then turned their attention to external colonization, building empires, and justifying them on the excuse of trade, law, good government, improvement and so on -- claims which once again demanded the development of new administrative and political structures. Similar processes occurred, in different ways, with the unification of Germany or Italy, and the imperial, continental expansions of Russia or the United States. Stronger military and economic powers sustained and justified these expansions. The difference and distance between core and periphery, as perforce between alien coloniser and subject people, required intervention and control organised according to new principles -- by bureaucracy and codified law, by centralized states, and, as has become increasingly important, by communications and information technology, starting with secure highways and with print.

It may thus be obvious why a colonial power should seek to expand the state. Many immediate practical explanations are usually put forward -- not least fear and self-interest. These were acutely felt by an alien power but were not peculiar to the colonial context. The French revolution hastened political concession in England, just as cholera epidemics concentrated minds on the need for measures to improve public health and sanitation. The 'benign' efforts of the elites and the state were never disinterested. In Britain state expansions of the later nineteenth-century paralleled those fostered in India by local government and taxation, railways and irrigation, military recruitment, or contract and property laws. In Britain as in India there were clearly attempts to legitimise and preserve the political, social and economic system by encouraging all citizens to value it -- for example by investing the lower orders with an appreciation or even the enjoyment of property, or of high culture through education, both of these being repeated ploys from (at least) Gladstone to Thatcher. In India too there were concerns over public order, worries about poverty, and threats to property and interests; there was embarrassment at the moral drawn, by nationalist critics, from the incidence of famines and other apparent failures of policy. One of Dadabhai Naoroji's shrewdest thrusts was in the title of his famous polemic, the jibe of 'un-British rule', which both accepted and attacked the pretensions of colonial [©Peter Robb,1997 ++Page 5] power.

One question still to be fully explored is how far the administrative revolution in India involved direct borrowings from Europe, or when Britain was the imitator of India (contrary to what is usually supposed). The use of India as a 'laboratory' by the radicals of the early nineteenth century has often been noted, since Eric Stokes pointed it out, 15 and the later contacts between leading British reformers and India were also very great. On the other hand, several influential thinkers had personal experience of Indian administration and in most cases of India (the Mills, Macaulay, Maine, Fitzjames Stephen and so on), and the Indian example, as constructed by them, was prominent in many debates. Certainly, new ideas of the purpose of government had intervened. But had they not done so. in part, because larger state systems were paid for by empire, and it was empire which needed them'? This was equally true of technology, professionalization and cheaper, faster communications, which provided the means, and of ideologies, or indeed public conscience and morality, which provided the rationalizations. The use of strategic groups -- the educated, the collaborators -- helped the process, as did symbols, ceremonies and rituals. 16 Surely empire set the agenda.

A related question is why the British wanted not only an empire but a 'virtuous' colonization, whether as envisaged by E.G. Wakefield for colonies of settlement or for the raj in India? Here too the exigencies of ruling India may have been significant. Just as it was no accident that doctrines of the state's responsibility and necessary benevolence gained momentum in England when the Tudors were seeking legitimacy, as a new dynasty of dubious lineage; so too it is interesting that similar ideas came to the fore among some who, two hundred years later, were establishing the even less plausible rule of the English East India Company in India. In neither case was 'benignity' the only aspect of the campaign, but certainly in both cases it was admitted that 'Public Advantage' (meaning the security of the regime) could be served by ensuring the public good. One Company servant wrote in 1809 (in phrase soften to be echoed) of the desirability of encouraging any 'Natives who...distinguished themselves [by]...inculcating just ideas of the justice and beneficence of our Nation and Government in the remote parts of our...recent acquisitions'. 17 This search for legitimacy, through at least a seeming benevolence, gained another fillip in the later nineteenth century when British rulers were once again re-thinking their role; the accompaniment was yet further expansion of the state. Thus arise what might be called environments of change -- forces of ideas and action that move societies in a certain direction.

If self-interest provided a fundamental motivation, another element, the intellectual, set the channels along which policy was most likely to flow. It was likewise poised between the common experience of states and the peculiar circumstances of colonial India. Christianity was important, particularly that strand which can be traced to St. Augustine, his distinction between the city of God and that of fallen Man or the Devil, and his exhortations to perfectability, for an earthly 'progress'. Many British officials regarded it as their task to advance a godly improvement in India. The great imperial federationist, Lionel Curtis -- writing during the decline of the modern empires and after the rise of new international bodies; and in the Augustinian tradition of world history -- traced political progress through self-governing nations to an international commonwealth which would reflect the common nature of all mankind. 18 Of course private, kingly and religious charity existed in India as or more than in Europe; the point here is merely that Christian preaching endorsed developing forms of public altruism. Generally, one should not underestimate the potency in a mainly Christian ICS of the imagery of the Fall and the Redemption, and the tradition of alms, especially when mixed with Enlightenment views of progress, an imperialist 'mission', and a Smithian belief in trade. To the Western mind, imperial history demonstrated the natural imposition of a superior, Christian culture, and thereby imposed a responsibility.

Where religious fervour waned, it was replaced by belief in the inevitable march of rational science, of Western knowledge. The universalist and evangelical tendencies of both 'religions' led tithe assumption that societies evolve in one direction, and hence that social laws could be discovered and exploited: the idea that all of humankind is essentially the same was probably more important and indeed more imperialist, than the equally ancient notion that there are tribes or races which differ fundamentally. (The seesaw between these two poles constituted a basic debate of social theory; and in [©Peter Robb, 1997 ++ Page 6] the nineteenth century it was concentrated. in no small part, upon India.)

British officials in India had also been subjected to a more secular moral education as to the proper goals of life and work, especially after the introduction of the competition system and the reforms of the public schools and universities in Britain, but also by training and example within India. They were deliberately inculcated with the kind of reasoning inserted or reinforced in the English national consciousness by Shakespeare's notion of the worthy steward (in Measure for Measure, Richard III and soon), which had flowered over the centuries in any number of other political and philosophical ideas. Doctrines both follow and prescribe practice: the state's role extended as more people were found to be part of the nation. and, as the nation evolved. so too did the theories to explain it and make it seem foreordained. We can see this readily enough in the East India Company's attempts to co-opt private virtue to the cause of public government in late eighteenth-century Bengal; or in the evoked heroes of state and empire, renowned for their probity and civic virtue, starting in the Indian case with Clive. This tradition was quarrelsome, but adhered to agreed qualities of character and achievement. Macaulay, along with innumerable biographers a major exponent of the tendency, criticised Clive for his personal ostentation and pecuniary rapacity, but praised his 'strong will' and 'firmness', his' constitutional intrepidity', his 'hearty' capacity for friendship, his freedom from 'cunning' in dealings with his own countrymen, his 'creditable use of his riches', his espousal of necessary reforms, his distinction as a soldier and statesman in the service of his country, his rescue of Bengal from a 'whole crew of [European] pilferers and oppressors', and in general his 'truth and merit'. 19

We also see the creation of national interests and responsibilities more generally with the development of the modern learned and regulated professions (in Europe and India), from the late eighteenth century. We see it too in the political thinking developing in Britain. Even in Hobbes, for example, there is a clear acceptance that the state derives from some kind of contract between ruler and ruled: though a monarch was sovereign, his title depended on a covenant with his subjects. 20 Hume's principles of morality supposed not only that different nations had different customs and values (as also in race theory), but also that civilization advanced when beneficence and justice -- public virtues -- reduced the central importance, in more barbarous nations, of courage, an individual quality. 21 Thus the English debates of the seventeenth. eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were not really about the existence of a contract between state and subject, nor whether history was a progress from individual to public virtue. They concerned the proper roles of government and the means of achieving progress and of defining the public.

Comparable indigenous notions of state and indeed private responsibility were undoubtedly important in India. But that is not to say that the form in which these concepts now exist in India, and the manner in which they are effected, have not been profoundly influenced by the experience of British rule. In the creation of present forms and effects, it probably mattered that an exaggerated idea of the importance of rulers, easy enough for the landed gentry and the members of a sovereign parliament, was even more appropriate and satisfying, indeed self-serving, for the administrators of a subject empire. Self-importance went with the job. But additionally there was consensus about the economic and social goods that could or should be forged by state power and law. If the Western scientific and technological revolution encouraged a belief that everything was knowable and hence improveable, then in India the state and its law were expected to be instruments of this knowledge and improvements, as were communications, trade, education, Christianity, or medicine. Improved connections, bureaucratic structures and the establishment of firm boundaries implied that notions of responsibility would keep pace with these determinants of what was possible, resulting in the 'rational' and instrumentalist concepts of a national government and people, a national economy and income, and national interests. The 'altruistic' public state allowed or required nationalism as its counterpart.

Originally, in colonial India, an intellectual and universalist confidence was inherited from the Enlightenment. But the state's interventions had been limited by practical ignorance, fears of corruption or rejection, and doctrines of sectional interests, of minimalism, or of laissez-faire. In the earlier phases of Company rule the state rather tended to withdraw from localities and from aspects of responsibility. But this had generated continual debates between the local officers or enthusiasts, who [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 7] were close to problems or opportunities and willing to take responsibility, and the central authorities in Calcutta or, especially. London. who were more influenced by principles of political economy and non-intervention. Two consequences flowed even then. Firstly, there was commonly a considerable degree of intervention at lower or semi-detached levels of the administration, half-concealed from higher authority. Many 'experts' pursued their private obsessions. Secondly, major cataclysms provided the occasions to draw central government into new spheres of activity. Famine in the 1830s led directly to attempts to improve the infrastructure (public works, canals, communications), 22 and famines from the 1860s to 1880s encouraged such social engineering as the 1885 Bengal Tenancy Act. Gradually therefore the sense of effective responsibility widened. Laissez-faire allowed the building of infrastructure and the removal of supposed immorality, inefficiency and impediments to trade. Before too long wider socio-economic interference was contemplated. Expectations were created among Indians. The moral of both colonial and nationalist rhetoric was that the state's role was to ensure public good, and that private interests should be made public, reconciled, and organised.


One of the large questions to be considered in assessing European influence is the extent to which Western categorizations distorted India. The distortion too is usually assumed from the exercise of power, even though the power was never absolute. More interesting perhaps is to consider the relationship between categonsation -- the ideas behind policies -- and the state's impact. An initial problem was(and is) a misuse of history and the application of pseudo-science. As a study, history deals largely with the immeasurable and with human and not mechanical agency; it must be inexact; it does not produce general laws which explain or predict the answers to particular questions. Its method implies a conceptual (if hardly a practical) distinction between observation and identification -- that is, an ideal, an attempt, of moving from the one to the other, of 'discovering' structure as far as possible on the basis of information rather than pre-classification. This means a habitual suspicion of preconceptions, whether workaday concepts or grand theories. The administrator-historians of India, like subsequent polemicists, too often broke these rules. Their transgression was the more serious because the myth of rationality and objectivity was used to conceal a multitude of pernicious assumptions. It is now a cliche to note that subjectivity is unavoidable. contributing to choices of subject and model-building, and that objective reality (assuming it exists) cannot even be approached except through our own concerns and language. But this does not mean that European observers of India (or anyone else) cannot be judged for different degrees of bias. Considerations of data may be either more or less ideological. A recognisable line is crossed, when concepts and a priori notions no longer merely stimulate inquiries, or order and help communicate knowledge, but replace and prevent the specific interpretation of information. Nineteenth-century officials certainly produced much that did not transgress by these criteria, but at key points they were limited by preconceptions and prejudice.

Specific contributions were made by thinkers such as Adam Smith, relating technological improvement to a rational man's desire to save labour and improve wealth, or Marx, concerned with the political context of different roles in production and exchange, or Darwin, extending the notion of evolution and the methods of science to cover the entire natural order. But, given the prominent of legal and agrarian questions, perhaps the single most important influence on British Indian officials in the later nineteenth century was Henry Maine, who erected a theory around the social factor as expressed in law. For a generation, his work crystallized a gamut of intellectual change into a single compelling explanation of Indian society and of history, the well-known distinction between status, whereby people were subjected to custom and collective will, and contract, which regulated behaviour only as a general body of civil legislation based on the integrity of the individual decision. In nineteenth-century India the British sought settled agricultural populations for reasons of power and trade; Maine added to this pragmatism a belief that earlier social forms survived in India, but that they were universal or at least Indo-European and hence capable of evolution towards 'modernity', towards a single 'rational' law, if suitably encouraged. This both explained and justified foreign rule. It did so better, or with a more optimistic and liberal gloss, than the alternative notion of Asia's essential difference and inferiority. Such general presumptions demanded new categories, or at least forged new understandings of existing ones. Emphases were changed; social ideas reformulated.

On the other hand, Maine's influence was most potent when combined with fears and doubts (to which he also contributed) about the pace and cost -- if not the direction and inevitability -- of change.

Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 8]

The supposedly indigenous was also privileged. The late nineteenth-century accounts believed in science and evolution and modernity, but shared in the alternative romanticism which privileged the past and the comminutes -- as much. ironically, in the minds of conservative administrators as in the claims of nationalists. The origins of this thinking lay not only in the classifications of rationality but in far earlier notions of 'Nature, hierarchy, and pastoralism (the very ones challenged by the scientific and technological revolution). British officials. alongside other historicists, regretted some of the consequences in Europe from industrialization, market-forces and urbanization, and feared the social and political impact of the division of labour which these changes forced upon peasant communities in India, as defined by Maine. These views were both nostalgic and teleological. The idealised peasant was a foil for the wage-labourer of the 'dark Satanic mills', and even the despotism under which peasants lived could be regretted in the face of ever more bureaucratic systems of power. In autocracy could be found a role for heroes and gentlemen, and for chivalry, and noblesse oblige, all of which were smuggled into the British conception of their role in India. To add the Christian gloss upon this, one might note John Bunyan's portrayal, as both origin and goal, of a purer, isolated, equitable society, once again in a City of God -- exactly contrary to Hobbes' Leviathan. Punjab officials, for example, sometimes sounded as if they thought they found the remnants or prospect of this godly society in the region under their rule, in the form of the village community, the martial castes or the sturdy peasant proprietor -- and not least when trying to export these social models to Bengal and other parts of India.

Thus the habit of justifying policy on an historical basis also was engrained by the later nineteenth century, and indeed characteristic of British and European thought. To devise present-day remedies it was believed necessary to appreciate the development of institutions. The tendency found expression in the analyses of Philip Francis and his followers in the 1770s, and thus also in the permanent settlement; there are ways in which it can be seen in Munro's descriptions of society. Historicist ideas, along with criticisms of classical political economy, played a particularly crucial part in administrative strategies from the 1870s. 23 They became the current orthodoxy, and were embodied in an outpouring of official histories, in settlement reports, studies of castes and tribes, and treatises upon rural and agrarian history. However, though some of these were more polemical than others, all contributed tithe definition and hence control of India. Their function was partly to contribute to intellectual debates centred upon Europe -- notably with Henry Maine, for example. It was also to regulate the opinions and actions of British officials, by defining the people over whom they ruled, as was the motivation of such works as Baden-Powell's or W.W. Hunter's. In this respect the studies were not conservative but the most complete expression of a continual process of colonial rule, a stage with its own features and preoccupations. The process built upon descriptions of the Mughal zamindar and his accretions of hereditary rights in the eighteenth century, of the village community as in James Mill's History, and the Fifth Report, and of religion and caste, including studies which sought to define the settled cultivator as the model subject and citizen, as Sleeman did in relation to thagi. 24

Elsewhere I have shown how the historical appreciation of agrarian conditions in Bihar and Bengal depended on ideological assumptions of mixed ancestry. 25 These appeared repeatedly in the official and popular writings of the period. In the standard legal commentary on the Bengal Tenancy Act of1885 the introduction began by referring to the Code of Manu and its ambiguity about the ownership of the soil. 26 Some authorities concluded from the fact that revenue was due to the king, that the king owned the land; others believed that there was a property residing in the portion of the agrarian surplus not owed to the state, and that this descended from the rights of original settlement, as surmised in Field's Digest of tenancy law. 27 But such conclusions were deductive in origin, deriving from theoretical notions of property-formation.

For our present purposes it matters that the distortions meant that colonial rule never merely perpetuated or replicated pre-existing Indian institutions. Rather it re-invented them. Colonial officials, like some latter-day social scientists, tended to apply to India taxonomies derived from Europe. There are good arguments against doing this. Many arguments were available from heterodox officials at the [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 9] time. But the prevailing theories nonetheless took Europe as their reference point. By the nineteenth century, with the extension of European empires and the improvements in communications, it seemed obvious that many parts of the world were experiencing similar changes, especially in trade, in relations of production, and in subjection to centralized, bureaucratic states and international trends. Certainly some such 'modernization' occurred in India too. The dominance of Western ideas and influence did mean that some of the story, even in India, began with the legacy of the Enlightenment, and with new notions of categorization, of history and of social science. But all change did not occur on that straightforward basis.

Two main points may be drawn from this initial discussion. First, there were both conservative and radical, Western and Oriental approaches to India. Second, these new visions were powerful and persistent, and they changed perceptions. Both, for example, contributed to Indian nationalist discourse -- from Gandhi's sentimentality about village India, equitable caste-society and bread labour or spinning, to Nehru's insistence on industrialization and the salience of modern economic class over 'feudal' ties. The confusions of the officials were repeated in the different voices of the nationalists. Perhaps this was because both British and Indians drew on both Western and Indian experience and concepts.


The new role of the state rested on new categorizations and enumerations of society. How might processes of definition have affected the ways Indians saw themselves? One obvious aspect. and a model for other ones, was the establishment of administrative borders, to which relatively little attention has been paid, except in the case of the partitions of Bengal in 1905 and of India in 1947. Colonial units were codified whether or not they reflected existing divisions of land and culture. Imperialism, it seems, was always expanding to the limit (by definition perhaps, power is never really held in reserve),the initial stage in India having been a consolidation of political units directly, through ruling overthrew, and the second having occurred when suzerains were ground into monarchs, regions into states, between the mills of rival empires. 28 A small but interesting example is the state of Bhutan. In the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth, the British rulers of Bengal were confused by this country in which spiritual and secular authority (neither aspect clearly supreme) was exercised over people rather than territory; they were infuriated when the people made seasonal migrations into what they considered Bengali territory. Yet this same Bhutan, apparently so isolated, is today concerned about the integrity of its people in their own national land and quarrelling on these grounds with Nepali settlers -- Nepal of course being another modern construction. 29 The places or regions named in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century conquests changed their nature, their meaning as territories, once they were measured and demarcated. The boundaries were reinforced by their representations in laws, policies, gazetteers and maps. Such modern units, or nations, were significantly different from other cultural or geographical divisions.

Maps, like the census, are now seen as defining the modern world, and as being, in the hands of states, expressions of power, even invitations to conquest. The modern map has a single form (in its exact measurements and conventions of representation), though it may have different meanings and functions. Like landscape painting, it links time and space particularly through measures of human significance. Because the map gives a primacy to place -- to soil and location mixed with and created by people then, in the end, once its subjects are able to read it, it empowers nations and communities rather than conquerors and colonialists. In such a way the concept of a single national land, and therefore a continuous national history and culture, derived from Western modes of understanding boundaries. By itself, however, the map could not achieve such a transformation.

Change was not suddenly achieved, for example, in any of the categorizations inspired by the colonial state. To take the case of state frontiers, the British themselves applied older definitions when they suited them -- for example in the so-called buffer state of Awadh, where the British Resident exercised extra-territorial jurisdiction from 1801 to 1856, especially for and over the Awadhi employees of the Company's army. 30 At the edges there were, and generally there long remained, [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 10] frontier zones rather than boundaries. In l 891 Sir Alfred Lyall, writing in Nineteenth Century, talked of the need to keep 'adjoining' 'foreign territory' free from the 'occupation' of 'powerful neighbours': the implication was that outside India proper there was another zone which was 'foreign' but also transitional, a liminal area over which a 'protectorate' might be established -- to adopt Curzon's terminology, from his essay on Frontiers (1907). 31 Out of this ambiguity arose most of British frontier policy: it tended to draw one or more inner lines (not always formally demarcated, even at the end of the colonial period), and then to suppose a range of other lines, marking kinds of influence or claim, progressing outwards until they met and overlapped with similar lines extending from the next supposedly fixed border: it might be of China or Russia or Burma or Iran or Afghanistan. Inhabitants of border regions, especially Pathan tribes in the north-west, tended to dispute or ignore the hard frontiers, just as Pindaris had done at an earlier period within what was later firmly the arena of British suzerainty. Periodic military expeditions had to be mounted to ensure that such Unsettled' peoples stayed away from so-called British territory, or accepted British terms and influence. Several Afghan wars probed the north-west border, as elsewhere did the Younghusband expedition to Tibet early this century and the Trade Agents there in the following decades. 32

British policy undoubtedly helped export a European understanding of states and jurisdictions, but it did not create only what were termed 'scientific' frontiers. Pragmatism and Realpolitik were added to readily-defensible points to define the borders; the lines were always fiercely defended by protocol or force of arms but, as already implied, were often mapped only after the event, so as to outline some more or less vague and unknown territory, hitherto merely named in a treaty or annexed after the conquest of a central point. Though geographical features were adduced, even at the early stages, these boundaries were not all 'inevitable' or 'natural' barriers, waiting to be discovered by a rational analysis of existing strategic considerations, let alone existing language, culture, history, or institutions. Such strategic or unitary characteristics often had to be created or invented. Curzon recognised, in his Romanes lecture of 1907, this distinction between natural and artificial frontiers. 3333

Moreover such external markers. however firm, did not wholly remove the internal frontiers which indicated areas of life with which the state did not directly interfere. Analysing the policies just referred to, Curzon identified three borders even on the exterior, to the north-west of British India: the border of direct administration, the frontier of 'active protection' (the Durand line), and the outer or strategic frontier, meaning the far, northern and western borders of Afghanistan -- which therefore was not a 'buffer state' but a region within British influence, representing an outer frontier zone. (Curzon's analysis may or may not have been wholly true in practice -- if true, then Britain never intended to create a strong and viable, if dependent, Afghanistan, and bears a responsibility for the present state of that country.) More important, within India proper there were certainly similar varieties and degrees of sovereignty and control; these exclusions too have had their legacy. The princely states offer a different lesson from this perspective, in that they limited central jurisdiction; many other confusions and exclusions existed within the heart of British India. There was great intrusion by the state, but British reservations about security and about Indian culture and propensities meant that colonial rule did not simply repeat what Habermas called, in regard to Europe, the infiltration of the private by the public sphere. 34

On the other hand, as is the argument of this paper, we should not underestimate the impact on South Asian peoples, to this day, of the outer limits, the larger units and the claims for control, established during the colonial period. Most of all, it mattered that effective central authority was consistently extended within territories. British colonial notions of the state contained within them impulses for evolution. Thus by small steps in a continual process even local Indian governments edged towards the independent sovereignty which they were to be partially granted in 1919. For example, they had long bought and sold land for various purposes (subject to sanction), using such powers very extensively [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 11] in the interest of railway construction and other public works. We come back to 'altruism'. Governments, even the supposedly feeble one in Bengal, were ready and indeed often felt constrained to use their 'property' (powers, land and income) as an instrument for broader changes -- that is, not merely to follow rules and consult the legal niceties, but to construct a view of the ultimate public good. This meant that, just as land and classes were arranged in rank, so too were priorities and benefits, which it was the job of the state to decide. There were rules and responsibilities, though there could be trade-offs. For example, in 1910 the Bengal government wanted to sell to the Port Commissioners in Calcutta a valuable site occupied by the Sibpur Engineering College, intending to use the money to re-establish the college in Ranchi; but it thought the two interests about equal so that the transfer should be on easy terms. The central government disagreed and hence invoked different principles of governance; though the transaction was approved, a 'market' price had to be paid. 35 Such technicalities expressed a special need to bend India to the colonial Will, by regulation even of the minutiae, but also (and by the same means) a general need to adhere to 'proper' forms and goals of 'civilized' government under the rule of law. By the 1930s, such exercise of local sovereignty was very largely in local hands (Indian, or British colonial) and imperial authority was reserved only in such areas as monetary and constitutional policy or military security.

Thus at each level there was represented a united, hegemonic and potentially benevolent state. Partly for that reason the colonial administrative units often took on popular significance. Borders were significant and contested. Especially among educated contemporaries, they generated loyalties. 36 It was the new roles and expectations of the state that consolidated popular and rhetorical identifications with defined lands and jurisdictions. Of course it helped that, in colonial indict, deliberate efforts were made for most estates and districts to stick with 'natural' and 'historical' borders, on principle and for convenience. Even during British rule boundaries tended increasingly to be legitimised according to cultural rather than administrative traditions -- a discourse more appropriate for nationalist than colonial ideology. But, on the other hand, many divisions, provinces and presidencies were too coloured by accident and political expediency for their boundaries to be altogether consistently drawn. Here the actions of the state assumed greater importance, but still generated identifications. By the later nineteenth century, even the limits of Commissioners' divisions (intermediate groupings of districts introduced in 1829 as part of important bureaucratic reforms) were recognised to be sensitive. On a proposal to change divisional boundaries, splitting Patna Division, H.H. Risley wrote in 1906: 'The question is not merely one of administrative efficiency and convenience. We have also, especially at the present time [during the anti-partition agitation in Bengal], to reckon with popular feeling...'. 37 Patna Division was certainly over-large: its population was thought to be 15,514,987, whereas that of Bombay Presidency, excluding Sind. was 15,304,677. In itself Patna division reflected no particular regional or cultural identity of long standing. The suggestion that it might be cut in two at the Ganges was sensible in physical and cultural terms. Then, a little less plausibly, it was thought that districts might also be reallocated westwards (Monghyr to Patna division, and Birbhum or Murshidabad to Bhagalpur division), thus relieving pressure on Presidency and Burdwan divisions. Support for the changes was given in the Government of India on the assurance of the Bengal government that there would be no local opposition -- this was the 'only argument' that appealed. Later the Secretary of State for India refused extensive boundary changes because of the political climate. 38 Why should administrative divisions have had such significance? They still present major problems in India as elsewhere in the world. 39 Risley underestimated the 'reality' of sentiment (as also in the 1905 partition of Bengal), but he was right when he went on to notice that it was bolstered by self-interest, in this case of those likely to be affected by consequential changes in the jurisdictions of the courts. 40

An Indian or national perspective upon boundaries and jurisdictions was being forced upon the British. It was inherent in the current concept of the state. People valued administrative units because of the rhetoric and institutions which grew up within them; because they were presented as cultural and [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 12] historical units; because they became familiar and could be used as arenas for those seeking reputation and privilege. They were far from the only such arenas in India. nor even the most important to most people; but clearly they did matter to some. Neither wholly primordial nor wholly artificial, such boundaries mattered as labels because of the services and interests they engendered.

If we consider the physical boundaries alone we can see that, with some arguments and battles, the colonial rulers were fairly successful in drawing definite lines dividing up different jurisdictions -- presidencies, princely states, provinces, divisions, districts. landed estates. Rivers kept shifting their courses inconveniently, but otherwise most of the internal borders were not especially problematic -- though time-consuming at the lowest levels, for example in surveying and partition. The British thus reinforced the idea of India as a 'natural' geographical entity with obvious physical frontiers, which they regarded not as sacred topography, but merely as defining the sphere in which they and their state were paramount. In the 1920s legal arguments with the state of Hyderabad, effectively sparked off by the possibility of a closer integration of princely states with British India, made it plain that British suzerainty extended throughout the sub-continent. 41 This definition of the state was clearly functional(like those of languages, or landlord and tenant, also considered here); because it was also 'public' and state-centred, it set out conditions for the growth of the Indian state during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to its present predominant position. The British even gave this territory clear international status and recognition well before Independence, reflected for example in India's founder-membership of the League of Nations; 42 in 1947 they defined external boundaries that have mainly stood the test of war and further partition.

Perhaps the result of continuing ambiguities, whereby even major borders were not really fixed and not after all that dissimilar to those in traditional Indian views of territory, was ultimately not that frontiers remained vague but that they could be progressively extended and hardened. The British regarded indeterminate zones as survivals from less civilised days, and attempted to do away with them. Only occasionally did they confront them with the forces of the army or the law. But a gradual process, in many senses, had led to the expansion of British territories across the subcontinent in the first place; and, though in the later nineteenth century the further extensions of territory were only slight, much the same process continued to be apparent in the deepening and thickening of once imprecise controls, borders and categorizations within British India.

These unremarkable points are not made only in order to say something about land frontiers. The intention is also to suggest a correspondence between categories in general, and particularly an analogy between political and social or economic typologies. In the latter spheres too colonial government was by no means wholly successful in imposing its own borders, laws and institutions on Indian practice. There remained many zones beyond state regulation in Indian society. But, on the other hand, as scholars are now extremely, perhaps excessively, aware, there were major consequences from the problematic classifications of Indian society by the colonial rulers; 43 end many examples of the broader impact of apparently trivial administrative changes could also be adduced.

Peter Robb


Another paradigm of borders and categorization could be the standardization of language. Knowledge of the English language by Indians from different regions of course played a part in generating and creating the sense of a nation in India. The use of English in administration was advocated for efficiency and to reduce fraud. A typical example of this impulse is the request by the Collector of Champaran district in 1893 to be permitted to keep the estates ledger account in English, making use of an English-knowing treasury clerk: this would, the Collector argued, 'check many evils, facilitate inspection and not cause any inconvenience'. The change was approved. 44 However, the direct influence of [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 13] English was small on the population at large. 45 Far more important was the role of the state in promoting developments in Indian languages. 46 In the early stages state translations of official documents promoted orthography and influenced vocabulary; state printing presses, when used for non-official purposes, played a major part in developing public literary culture. Later the government was influential in further defining linguistic boundaries. which, as remarked by G.A. (Pierson, the great linguistic expert and earlier a Bihar officer, was 'not always an easy matter' because Indian languages tended gradually to 'merge into each other'. For example. Grierson's 'mostly uneducated' enumerators could not distinguish Bihari and Hindi. 47

Definable languages had undoubtedly existed. in several senses, yet they had not been exclusive or standardized, even in formal versions and for 'high' purposes. The British helped decide which were languages and which dialects, as in the case of Oriya and Bengali. There was a dispute in the mid and late nineteenth century about the status of Oriya, and pressure for it to be replaced by the superior and mutually intelligible Sanskritised Bengali; the pressure was resisted, on practical and political grounds, by officials who wanted to recognise an equally standardised and Sanskritised, printed Oriya. 48 Colonial rule linked each language to a distinct written form, to a region, and in some cases to 'race' or religion. In Bihar, for example, in the 1870s, Hindi written in Kaithi script had been proposed as the standard. Persian script was also proposed, in the interests of consistency, in 1876. 49 According to Grierson, Kaithi was used from Bihar to Gujarat 'alongside the more complete and elegant Devanagari'; 'Practically speaking, the former may be looked upon as the current hand of the latter, though epigraphically it is not a corruption of it as some think'. 50 Sir Steuart Bayley, then Commissioner in Patna, declared Kaithi to be 'more suitable to the wants of the people' (a significant choice of criterion), though he agreed that the Nagri script was sometimes used by zamindars. 51 However, in the same year, 1872, Sir George Campbell, Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, had required that all notifications and processes be in Nagri, and that amla and police officers learn the script within six months. This practice was followed after 1875 for all printed materials and returns, though hand-written entries were commonly made in Kaithi. The alternative use of Persian script was abolished in 1880. Hindi written in Kaithi script continued to be used for court proceedings, but in the 1890s Sir Charles Elliott's government ordered that, though plaints might be presented in any language, all summons, reports and other official documents should now also be written in Nagri (when not in English). It was further proposed that Nagri should be introduced in all primary schools.

Thus standardization proceeded, under government sponsorship, though it remained controversial in Bihar: many local officials favoured Kaithi even in the 1890s. In 1892 Antony MacDonnell, temporarily inheriting the issue, proposed to withdraw Elliott's order (to some extent foreshadowing his own policy later in the North-Western Provinces). 52 MacDonnell had been convinced by a quick survey of signatures and documents in the Patna Registration Office, and in Muzaffarpur, that Kaithi was used [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 14] overwhelmingly by the few Biharis who could write. 53 Again it was Indian usage that was supposedly to prevail. But in 1896, Grierson advised that Nagri had been systematically taught for some years past in all but the lowest classes of the schools'. The Government of India, convinced that MacDonnell was exaggerating, instructed that Elliott's order should be enforced as far as possible. The local interests of the people had vanished, or been reinterpreted by an 'expert'; the change had all the hallmarks of linguistic imperialism of the kind experienced in Britain or France. Value and political judgments abounded. Elliott thought Kaithi 'rough and savage'. so that Nagri could be seen as part of a civilising force. Muslims opposed Kaithi, it was said, in the hope of an advance for the Persian script. Hindus supported Kaithi for the opposite reason Nagri was presumably 'superior' to Kaithi partly by virtue of its association with the Sanskrit past. It was also 'Hindu', and widely intelligible as 'Hind)'.These were pregnant combinations. Unities. once enunciated in one sphere, might be assumed for others. 54 Stereotypes were not only necessary to definitions and understanding. but contagious, as when Islam came, in India between 1917 and 1947, to be equated with Muslim politics through a range of political issues.

Today there are recognised languages of Bihar -- Maithili, Bhojpuri and so on -- all regarded, more or less, as variants of Hindi and written in Nagri. Over two or three generations, old revenue and other records, in Kaithi, have become increasingly inaccessible. Such language controversies, which were repeated in every part of British India, reflected the standardization that was inherent in the empire's 'civilizing' mission. The arguments mainly concerned the units which were to be consolidated. The spread of 'civilization', economic and political linkages, and administrative convenience all required the units to be large: in this spirit, many officials wanted to remove barriers, and imagined hierarchies of languages and dialects. of localities, regions and overarching, national identities. the greater in each case subsuming the lesser. One may compare the Punjab more recently. In the words of the 1961 Census of India, marking another transition: 'there was a move to return the two main mother tongues on the basis of religion' (Hind) by Hindus, and Punjabi by Sikhs), though 'the population returning Punjabi as mother tongue was more than the population returning themselves as Sikhs'. 55

Some of the colonial standardization was beyond doubt shallow or imposed. Accordingly, in Bihar in recent years there have been some attempts by regional or linguistic 'nationalists' to replace Nagri by Kaithi or other distinctive scripts. 56 The re-emergence of the local languages at the expense of Hindi was noticed in the 1961 Census; and, in the 1921 Report for Bihar and Orissa, P.C. Tallents had remarked that 'the smaller dialects are taking an unconscionable time over dying'. On the other hand, more recent and popular linguistic claims depend upon the same criteria of defined historical languages and associated peoples and cultures, as assumed by Grierson. In his categorization the Bhojpuri. Magadhi and Maithili 'languages' were grouped as 'Bihar)', and regarded with Bengali and Oriya as belonging to an eastern Indo-Aryan group derived from Magadha Apabhramsa. 57 Hence 'Bihar)' was a rather artificial term, influenced by political nomenclature; by itself it was a language claimed by very small numbers of speakers. Though Grierson held that Bihari languages were originally of the same family as Bengali, he admitted the connection had been severed, since Bihar had been 'for centuries much more closely connected politically with the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh than with Bengal'. One might regard this last point as placing a limit on the influence of colonial rule, given Bihar's inclusion in British Bengal from 1765 to 1912; on the other hand, Bihar was always considered distinct, culturally and administratively. More popularly the languages of Bihar were affiliated to Eastern Hindi, and debates continued into whether, for example, Bhojpuri in particular was not really very close to Awadhi. In the language schedule to the Indian Constitution the Bihari languages were included under Hindi (or Urdu). The post-colonial state also had a vested interest in large and consistent categories. They were sometimes the same as and sometimes different from those employed under colonial rule; they were not necessarily differently constructed or more 'legitimate' or 'indigenous'. Moreover, like administrative structures, the linguistic boundaries plainly generated interests. They did so because they were categories with intent: they existed to allow control and interference; and they too permitted a rhetoric of rights and well-being.

Even before and without Marx's conceptualization, hard categories or classes were defined according to their proper traits. The elements were often misrepresented or particular to dominant [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 15] observable fact that they need not be coterminous. Then, as has been widely understood, standardizations occurred through socio-economic activity, scientific description, literature and print; such linguistic orthodoxies helped create nations. Though each language was always plural in actuality, each could be used to unite as well as to divide. Ranade described the Maratha confederacy as a 'process of nation-making', whereby people Strongly bound together by the common affinities of language, race, religion and literature' were enabled to seek 'further solidarity by a common independent political existence'. 58 The choice of 'affinities' was not accidental, but rather was axiomatic in the later nineteenth century. They were the elements of colonial analysis. As Surendranath Banerjea also illustrated in his autobiography, nations were built from such connections, or from the icons, metaphors and histories in which they were embedded.

Moreover, contests between different categories and ideologies reinforced the linked identifications (of language, race, culture, and community), and gave a legitimizing role to original forms. It is difficult to imagine any story of origins -- even unadorned genealogy -- which contains no element of explanation. But the authority of the 'earliest' form became ever greater, despite the model of dispersal and difference, because of each categories' need to define 'proper' characteristics and to defend possession and privilege. In such ways languages were delineated and ranked, and castes or religious communities treated as primordial races. Histories were devised on the basis of such assumptions, for example about the Aryan 'invasions' or the Dravidian 'subjugation'. Communities acquired and we redefined by their institutional 'memories', which languages in part expressed.


Let us now return to the idea of the peasant. First, it must be stressed that in its modern form it encapsulated the distortions of colonial categorization. Was it safe to assess the fortunes of Indian peasants on the assumption that there existed at some time a peasantry more or less as required by evolutionary theories? Where did this concept come from? It swept into fashion along various routes. It has been pointed out that third-world nationalists, like Russian Marxists and (we might add) British Indian officials, were a small intelligentsia facing large rural populations. 59 Theories of the uniformity, distinctiveness and transformation of peasantries were thus to be expected. The old peasant of Europe became(as in Maine) the contemporary peasant of Asia -- debates about 'feudalism' and the 'Asiatic mode of production' still have a peculiarly prominent and vigorous life among Indian intellectuals -- and thus the European model of economic and political development could be used as a stick to beat the imperialists and to measure the failures of foreign rule. Marx had equated the fate of the working classes under capitalism with that of the subject peoples of contemporary empires; Lenin's oft-quoted picture of an emerging rural proletariat in Russia was inevitably a model for the fate of the poor outside Europe as well as within it. Thus the Indian peasant also had been subjugated by feudalism, oppressed and exploited by imperialism, and eventually 'depeasantised' by international capital. In these contexts the concept of a 'peasant' society was regarded as a liberating insight, preferred, as in Daniel Thorner's essay, to 'feudal' or 'primitive', and in order to distinguish a peasant mode from those based on slavery, capitalism or socialism. 60 The evolutionary assumptions of modernism thus virtually carried the day. Most schools of development, whether pro-capitalist or anti-imperial, as well as the advocates and the historians of revolutions, harked back to some notion of a qualitatively different pre-modern [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 16] order. The scholarly explanations associated peasant revolts with the spread of capitalism and commerce, of land and labour as saleable commodities, and of increasing differentiation among peasants.

A result of the predominant conceptualizing of the problem was that debates have tended to be about when the pre-capitalist age flourished, and how it was brought to an end, rather than about fundamental assumptions on the nature of institutions and the direction of change. Even when challenged, these assumptions may reassert themselves at the last. Discoveries of a stratified peasantry might merely transfer the supposed level of stagnation and passivity down the social scale; the dark. unchanging world of the exploited. once associated with all peasants. would come to be inhabited only by an underclass. What now has happened to the idea of the stagnant, isolated East'? Most writing about the eighteenth century in India has rejected the old notions of isolation and anarchy. But it still relies ultimately on the European model of modernization.

The Indian peasantry has been essentialised in accordance with what is admitted to be an ideal type. 61 Almost inadvertently. we picture a scale with hunters and gatherers at one end, and capitalist factory-based production at the other: the one has little or no agriculture, clothing, artefacts, or money, while the other is dependent upon agricultural surplus, exchange, technology and mass consumption. The peasants occupy a distinct but arguably anomalous position on this scale, not so much in the middle between the two extremes, but more or less at one end, included as a specific, cultivating version along with other so-called primitive or traditional societies. The peasants were compartmentalized, having little involvement with the outside world, and even then through their own collective institutions. This is one implication of the use of the word 'republic' to describe Indian villages, as in Charles Metcalfe's minutes on the Delhi area and in the Fifth Report (1812) on the East India Company. As early as James Mill's History it had become a commonplace -- 'These villages', he wrote, 'appear to have been not only a sort of small republic, but to have enjoyed to a great degree the community of goods'. 62 Today we can perhaps no longer savour in full what was understood by this usage, in all its newness and audacity, by the classically-educated and in the aftermath of the French revolution.

But what did it amount to even then? Though some kind of absolute village autonomy was sometimes understood or assumed (as more recently in the idea of a 'moral economy' of the peasant), yet by Mughal times, whatever the original situation, all sorts of external and generalizing forces had impinged; the varna system was supposed to regulate status and occupation, and the state to own the land. One explanation stressed the impact of power and saw the peasantry as levelled down by a uniform oppression. This is at root an argument from value: any land whose surplus was wholly taxed had to be worthless as a commodity -- or so it seemed to nineteenth-century economists and officials -- and by the same token any peasantry taxed to the limit would have no room for classes amongst itself. But in practice such absolute oppression, without local agents or intermediaries, could not have existed. Above all, according to Marx and his sources, the village harboured a system of government (including allies and agents of the state) and various specialists, notably a 'chief inhabitant'. What kept him from fording it over his fellows? Allegedly it was the fact that he worked side by side with them, and was occupied with one and the same work as they were. But he was not: the chief inhabitant (he may also stand for a dominant clan) acted as judge, policeman and tax-gatherer.

Hence one problem with this definition of a peasant society was that it imposed a sameness on India over time. In the 'little republic', originally, the inhabitants had no individual shares, but joint liability for dues owed to outsiders; and the shares and responsibilities were moreover divided according to principles of equity. The potency of this belief was seen for example in the arguments leading up to the 1885 Tenancy Act. Yet even its protagonists admitted that there had been a long decay from egalitarianism, a decay explained according to other theoretical principles which varied from case to case. In the instance of the legal commentary on the Act, the change was explained by the inheritance of shares, and special roles, such as that of headman. The ideal type of village community therefore depended in logic upon an absolute isolation which had never existed in practice: payment of private and public dues implied some functionary to mediate between the community and the outside world, and this status would always have had the potential of creating difference between the members of the community. (The theory also of course had a peculiarly European ring, in that it entirely ignored caste.)In any case, it was abundantly clear, as we saw in Buchanan's descriptions, that the original state of village no longer existed in Bengal and Bihar, so that legal provisions which depended upon reasoning that derived from theories of origin, were inappropriate to nineteenth-century enactment.

Another problem with the notion of the peasantry was the similarity it supposed in conditions [© Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 17] throughout India. Accounts based on the observation of areas of fairly marginal agriculture under very close political control. as in the Punjab after Sikh rule, described bodies of peasant proprietors which were thought to be relatively egalitarian; agricultural castes dominated, and communities seemed less sharply differentiated. at least across a broad middle range, than those found elsewhere. The colonial observers approved of this sturdy yeomanry, contrasting it with the oppressive hierarchy which scholars had believed from Brahman texts and informers to be typical of India, and with a supposedly rapacious and unproductive landlord class which had been set up in Bengal. But specific conditions of political economy had produced the Punjabi model, if it existed, and it could hardly be applied to the whole of India and beyond, where different conditions prevailed. It would not do at all. for example, for Bengal and Bihar; this argument. alongside different theoretical principles, was a stock-in-trade of the adherents of the 'aristocratic' social philosophy which rivalled the Punjab school. The argument could work two ways, as could the idea that 'innovation' was the 'ruling vice' of British government in India. 63

In any case, the egalitarian peasantries that were observed -- for example in northwest India as in pre-revolutionary Russia -- in every particular instance lacked key characteristics of the ideal. The brotherhoods and smallholders of the Delhi region were described as fairly egalitarian but also as semi-militarised and property-owning. In western India (the Deccan and southern Maratha country), where the peasant proprietary ideal was assiduously cultivated by British policy, there had been and remained 'considerable differentiation' and hidden but 'acute' divisions of power over land and people. 64 It is only relative distinctions which have been made between north Bengal dominated by jotedars, west Bengal under great zamindars, and east Bengal with more 'egalitarian' structures. 65 Indeed, as suggested earlier, in south Asia the characteristic form of social and economic organization, even on the margins of the highly cultivated, populous regions of the Gangetic plain, was of local communities containing principal (but 'peasant') inhabitants who mediated between cultivators or labourers and the external overlords to whom rent, cesses and labour services were commonly due. 66

Terminology matters because colonial policy rigorously and consistently promulgated a relatively undifferentiated concept of the peasant, one closer to more recent stereotypes. The British based much Indian tenancy law and many of their political and development policies on an assumption that there was a more or less homogeneous and ahistorical Indian peasantry. These misapprehensions had many consequences, including greater rural stratification. But was one result self-fulfilling -- the creation of peasants as a class, a process different from the regionalisation of jati that was also occurring?


Our earlier assessment of pre-colonial rural society implied that notions of 'peasant' characteristics, rights or solidarities, insofar as they have appeared in India, did require to be constructed -- just like all the other modern identities which have been analysed by scholars. Even in late nineteenth-century Bihar, Indians were reported typically still to emphasise their caste or ritual status before their occupation when identifying themselves to enumerators. Stevenson-Moore remarked of Champaran district: 'No person will state his chief means of livelihood to be other than the recognised occupation of his caste. Thus a very large number of Brahmins, who live entirely by cultivation, assert their main occupation to be that of a priest. Again, a barber, who lives mainly by cultivating his land, asserts his hereditary profession to be his chief means of livelihood. Conversely a Koiri, who has been mulcted of his land and lives by labouring for others, still claims to be a cultivator...'. 67 Stevenson-Moore's evidence was of identities apparently being asserted irrespective of status and of caste as immutable. But we also know that very many attempts at upward mobility were already being made, including ones which involved a change in 'hereditary occupation' as well as in varna standing. However, for this discussion the real issue was raised when, to Stevenson-Moore, the Koiris, the 'backbone of the Bihar peasantry', were determined to assert their status as peasants. Would they do so, in common with non-Koiris, even in contradistinction from Koiris who were not cultivators, and thus accept modern definitions of 'peasants' and 'peasant rights'?

Stevenson-Moore was writing of a region where agrarian interests were to be hotly contested, [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 18] because of indigo disputes. As yet, he suggested. the raiyats did not like indigo but their attitude remained one of 'passive acquiescence'. He attributed the apathy to a want of competition where villages were held entirely by one influential zamindar. There also may have been less need of contestation in a district described as having relatively sparse population, low rents. abundantcultivable waste, uncertain measurement, and few petty proprietors, and where survey disclosed 'large excess areas in the holdings of the tenants for which no rents were paid'. 68 But more to the point. the circumstance was that raiyats were 'ignorant of the value of their rights' and that 'Assistant Settlement Officers often had great trouble in inducing them to understand a question sufficiently to give an intelligent answer', 69 In short. it may be deduced that such 'apathy' as existed was no necessary reflection of lack of intelligence or self-assertion; the problem was that the raiyats did not recognise the(Western, external) frame in which the questions were asked or the rights conceived.

That was to change quickly enough, not least through the settlement operations. These too certainly were not undisputed. Even in the Champaran of the 1890s there were some tenants thought less ignorant and less 'apathetic' than others. In two places raiyats already 'united to assert their rights'. On the estates of the Madhubani Babu (tappa Duho Suho, thana Alapur) the landlord claimed a rent of between 8 and 9 rupees per bigha, and the raiyats denied that it was more than 3 to 6. In tappa Bahas in the same thana, where the raiyats were more independent and better off than elsewhere in the district owing to the great richness of the soil, they were also on bad terms with their effective landlord, the Murla indigo factory. Together they denied holding excess area when the factory sued for increased rents. These protests were not futile. Most of the Duho Suho raiyats won their case before the settlement officers. The Murla raiyats also won, as no prior measurement could be proved. 70 Was this class action, or one orchestrated by local leaders? It is unclear, but such collective claims. successfully prosecuted, may be assumed to have encouraged an awareness of the possibilities people now enjoyed as 'tenants', say, rather than as Koiris or Rajputs -- even in a situation in which high castes might still enjoy favourable rents.

On average about one third of all holdings in the district were subject to fair-rent suits during the settlement operations of the 1890s. Mostly the outcomes disadvantaged tenants, but as a process the record was expected to stabilise rents somewhat and to 'retard the advancement of rent-rates enormously, and so secure to the tillers of the soil a larger share of the unearned increment'. 71 The status of land too was contested, and rights of possession: for the latter there were 122 cases between landlords,1,298 by landlords against tenants, 217 by raiyats against landlords, and 572 between raiyats. In all only about 3 per cent of holdings were subject to dispute, but these totalled 12,432 in number (there were 364,659 raiyati holdings). Such statistics indicate a substantial, even a 'modern' involvement, of subjects with the state. This has significance, in a region where, for example, investigations revealed that there was no general custom of measuring land even at transfer: a new tenant accepted the jama, irrespective of the actual area of the land. 72 It means that the state was promoting particular views of people's interests: not only introducing ways of resolving disputes but also, before that, defining their nature.

Peasant consciousness is notoriously difficult to gauge, but it may be assumed from peasant actions. If so, then J.A. Sweeney's revision report on Champaran, prepared between 1913 and 1919,reveals a change in attitude. 73 The munsif's court at Motihari (covering Champaran) entertained considerable civil litigation between 1907 and 1917: except for 1907 with 4,763, the total number of cases instituted ranged between about 3,000 and 4,000 a year, but rose to 6,033 in 1916 and 7,690 in1917, 'swollen' by settlement and indigo disputes. 74 In preparing his revision, Sweeney found disagreements far more numerous than expected, on average 19 per square mile; and suits for the enhancement of rents affected nearly 40 per cent of all tenancies in the district. 75 This was partly because landlords and their agents were using the system even more vigorously than before in order to extend their power. But, Sweeney concluded, it was also attributable to the bad relations between landlords and tenants, especially in regard to indigo, dating from at least 1907/8. He commented on this at length. The murder of one factory manager arose out of an 'isolated' dispute, but also 'there was [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 19] a general feeling of uneasiness.... Continual meetings of the Muhammadan raiyats were held in the Sathi area under the guidance of one Shaikh Gulab. Acts of violence were committed on factory servants by raiyats who refused to labour for the factory after they had received advances [obliging them to do so].... Arson followed and, most significant of all, the sowing down of the raiyat's own crops in the...fields set aside for indigo....' The dispute was prosecuted through the courts, and with government: 'A common fund was raised for contesting cases and petitions were put in against the factory'. Arenas for resolving the argument were also provided by an official investigation and report, involving the Planters' Association. The remedies were equally generalized: they included an agreed increase in the price paid to the raiyats and a local bye-law reducing the area to be set aside for indigo cultivation. The terms of the raiyats' complaints themselves anticipated these procedures and bases fora solution: they referred to the failure of due process (damages taken for not growing indigo although no sattas or agreements had been executed); they alleged illegal cesses; and they claimed that payment was not made for labour and services. 76

One 'remarkable effect of our operations', observed P.N. Gupta in his revision report for Saran district, was 'the large increase in the number of suits for arrears of every district in North Bihar'; the average more than doubled in Saran and Champaran, and 'in many villages where serious rent disputes existed, the raiyats combined during the process of the settlement operations and withheld payments of rent altogether'. 'The raiyats', Gupta went on, 'or the more intelligent of them, now understand that the [earlier1 enhancements and the methods of realising them, were illegal.' He regarded this as a revolution from a system...where the landlord kept no proper rent accounts, and issued no receipts, but collected as much as he could from raiyats who paid as little as they could, to a system where every man's rent is accurately known'. 77 Friction was inevitable during such a change, but so too, surely, was combination, based on an appreciation of common experience and collective force.

In such a context there would seem to be an inevitability about peasant agitations, such as those led by Gandhi or Swami Vidyananda. With such experience and concepts, how unremarkable it is, even leaving aside economic change, that there emerged peasant associations or kisan sabha, complete with a partly-imported anti-landlord rhetoric and an armoury of tenant rights conceived as a proper' property' -- for peasants, and also defining them. 78 In the twentieth century a different vocabulary clearly became widely available to Indians agitating for agrarian rights. It can be traced to official categorisations and policies (as well of course as to political theorists and leaders). It represented an available identity, though not of course an exclusive one, or one necessarily chosen. 79 No doubt there were many means in the past whereby rural people tried to resist or avoid oppressors. But it is uncertain that these also constituted a frame for a class identity or formal organization, as 'peasants' or 'tenants'.


Colonial laws in India were devised according to theories of social category in which nuances and contradictions had no part. In their search for identities, the rulers drew on devices that their own history had led them to expect -- though India helped cast the European examples into sharper relief, as it was seen as a test for universal principles. Similarly the British made economic policy according to theories of economic development based on a false model of economic practice. They attempted to progress towards social equity by means that were not only inadequate but inappropriate to the task. Such errors continue in South Asia, as in Britain; indeed they are usually at one point or another deliberate and self-serving on the part of the rulers and the privileged, as they were in colonial India. The consequences for India were gradual (for laws and policies are not immediately effectual) but ultimately serious for those unable to work the new system as it emerged. Systems help decide the social and economic winners and losers, encourage the formation of appropriate political interests and representation, and delimit what it is possible for people to think and the extent to which they can protest. Put another way, they help channel people's ideas about rights, and the identifications they may have around shared interests.

For this last reason -- and it is more explanation than paradox -- the colonial distortions were also elements in the development of a national consciousness and the independence movements. The emergence of the 'nation' was an aspect of changes in the nature of the state. What happened in many areas [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 20] of policy formed a part of a construction of 'India', albeit unwittingly, by the British through their expansion of government. The state's intervention rested upon concomitant definitions of its realm and all the constituents within it, and thereby could be regarded as having nationalistic character. First came the need to fix places and then people in space, and then to determine their relations one with another. Part of the colonial project in India took this form, insisting on settlement (the units being the village, estate, district and region) and then on social category (linguistic family, caste. religion). Management and improvement came together in the comprehensive surveys on which this account has already drawn. In eastern India they were instituted systematically from about the turn of the nineteenth century. They measured place astronomically and by triangulation, but also sought to identify, describe and explain it. Most of this definition took place in the agrarian sphere. though otherwise Western influence was obviously weaker there than in the towns.

This does not render the categorizations neutral or unproblematic. One problem was that encountered in any nation: the need to unite the classes while dividing the nationalities -- that is, combining all regions and sections within the putative nation. and separating them from others, by means of supposedly common or civilisational experiences and attributes. As the British government was quick to recognise, and as we see almost everywhere today, unitary typologies raise severe problems, whether applied to the nation or to smaller categories, such as peasants: how to accommodate those who, for some reason, are perceived to be different. Historically this problem was encountered by landlords,patnidars (under-proprietors), kulaks, under-raiyats, bargadars (share-croppers), and by Indian Muslims, 'tribals', 'untouchables' and so on.

There were two main ways of building larger categories, and combining elements into the nation: the unity of hegemony and that of plurality. In one there were dominant forms and others less articulated; in the other were various recognised classes and types which combined to make a whole. In India both possibilities were affected by colonial rule and its categorizations. First, there were civilisational norms depending on notions of science or high culture -- which later seemed to owe something to the anti-materialism advocated by Matthew Arnold, 80 but which in India initially took the form of an acceptance of high Brahman or Islamic orthodoxy and of the past. The model for such a category (or any unit large or small) was the vertical chain of command over dissimilar components; it could be applied to social or political systems including agrarian structure. Its categories owed their internal unity to external dominance; they compare with other examples, for example those discussed by Foucault. 81 It was a whole-society, organic model. At first this was merely another way of defining the 'traditional', the elite culture. It masqueraded, as with concepts of tenancy, as a careful continuation of past forms, legitimised by precedent, either Mughal or Hindu. It reduced the need to worry if recognition and privileges for one class helped it to lord over others. But. though supposedly 'traditional', arguably this kind of categorization found its most powerful vehicle in India in the colonial state itself, and hence led to innovation according to Western norms. Thus mutated it influenced concepts of regional or national culture and, in India as elsewhere, the definition and privileging of the 'native', the coining of the vernacular in language, tradition and mores. Nations, races and cultures are not homogeneous or internally consistent, they are contingent and syncretic in origin, and none is defined precisely by ideology in the way that, say, 'Buddhist', 'Islamic' or 'Christian' might be. At the same time the essentialisms -- 'black', 'white', 'Indian', 'Chinese', 'English', even 'British'_do have practical meaning.

There remains a tension between supposedly unitary ethnicities and cultures, and the plurality of categories and nations. Thus were advanced, secondly, ideas of a unity that was achieved through the enhanced similarity or cohesion of constituent sets. The assertions of common ground within social classes contradicted the whole-society model. The preferred image of the nation could then be a layered pyramid of classes. The sets too were often presented as perpetual or given categories; but standardisations and improved communications -- truly shared experiences -- made assertions of their similarities gradually easier and more convincing. This was the project, supposedly more appropriate to India, as Munro's raiyatwari scheme had been before it, that was undertaken on behalf of 'tenants' in the Bengal Tenancy Act of l88S or for 'agricultural castes' in the Punjab Alienation of Land Act of1900. At this point too the colonial state made a contribution, through actual and perceived standardisations, as discussed in this essay.

Colonial or 'modern' conceptualizations, though not supposed to permit such complexities, paralleled these patterns. If we apply the models to agrarian structure, we see that the British conceived of two modes of legitimacy. One concentrated on distinct if replicated hierarchical units (the village [© Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 21] community, the zamindari estate, and the land revenue structure), and the other on generic classes(landlords. tenants. bankers). On the whole the first was thought to be traditional (though in fact much fostered by government), and the second more progressive. with classes as instruments for development. Both however could be regarded either as historically-given or as needing to be constructed in the interests of future well-being. This curious ambiguity was perhaps the result of wider imperfections in the evolution of state and society in nineteenth-century India. For the state may evolve in parallel with the creation of its people, but in India it developed ahead of the nation. and by hegemony rather than consensus. Ultimately the end was expected to be a unified people constituted in classes, indicating parallel processes of standardization and differentiation. But it would be a long time coming because India was dominated by categories and relations of the 'traditional' type, which were also gaining in strength. They would provide a powerful alibi for an imperialism presented as the ringmaster conserving and protecting irreconcilable blocs of people. This too could be regarded as a modern task for the state. But a deeper change was also expected eventually, through such measures as tenancy reform, labour law, and social regulation. In India (as in Britain) the move was towards a more wide-ranging sense of the state's role in moulding the future, a role mediated through classes and interests.

Acts of state, in defining the quality and borders of classes and types, gave definite rights to, and encouraged the political representation of, sections of society which the law itself had defined. In Europe, unlike India, there was a significant element of recognition in these definitions; some large elements did exist from which categories were constructed. In some respects the changes marked an internalized standardization, an existing consciousness of operative classes and communities. The revolution in government was intended to reduce plurality even further. It generated neatness in procedures and conceptions. In Britain, France, and Japan, for example, it seemed to produce centralised governments and homogeneous people. Britain remains fairly homogeneous even while becoming avowedly 'plural', because of the unifying force of law, government, education, and the media. Even in the United States homogeneity was powerfully encouraged though (or possibly because) state power was relatively localised. This was more difficult in colonial India, with 'society stronger and the 'state' weaker. The British rulers were imperfect unifiers and centralizers, and hence flawed as state-builders. Their categories were imposed upon far less standardised originals. Where the categories were enforced, the results included social and economic distortions, as with landlords, proprietary tenants, and creditors.

The alternative model was centralised government with a plural or multi-national state, as in the Soviet Union or (at least until the Maoist revolution) China and possibly in a future United States. This too was an option in India. While they created a state, with 'modern' boundaries, goals and administration, the British also deliberately preserved and extended pluralities of region, language, religion and class (albeit mostly in larger and firmer units). Post- 1857, their favoured units were more refined, with a growing recognition of differences within India, of their resilience, and of political advantages they might offer to the rulers. The colonial legal and political system, like that of India today, was on the whole exceptionally protective of these differences; even within the state apparatus itself there was(and is) a kind of institutionalized respect for difference. We tend to consider this a virtue, just as we regret the loss of Amazonian peoples under the onslaught of the prospector and the axe. But it is virtue with a price in terms of the effectiveness of the state and the mobilising of national effort.

Within British India, processes of standardization continued' while efforts were made to restrict certain exchanges across category. But, first, this does not mean that there were no 'modern' types of identity. Just as large units and connections are formed and mobilised to constitute nations, so supposed local units were soon endorsed by organised local interests, once they had been defined in the colonial law and political system, and in colonial representations of culture. Importance was accorded to difference, as between 'Muslims' and 'Hindus', and deference shown to supposedly indigenous ways and norms. Second, another colonial legacy, the dominant kind of unit was of a 'people' (culture, language) within a 'territory' and subject to a state and to public forms of order. The centralising impulses of economy, bureaucracy and law could be subverted but not entirely avoided. Thus new harder categories competed under, within and against the state, and over the territory.


According to this argument, the distinctiveness of popular culture, as argued by Ginzburg, 82 was set [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 22] against objective forces -- especially those discerned by many students of nationalism -- which were helping create the overarching solidarities of modern nations. 83 But the general and the local (elite and popular. British and Indian. legal and customary. and so on) are not simple, exclusive opposites. Each level influenced and partially interpenetrated the other. In practice it was possible for mixed social criteria and a consciousness of class to co-exist, just as did the hegemonic and plural concepts of the nation. This is an argument against labelling any one model as 'Indian' or 'colonial', 'traditional' or 'modern' .

The ambiguity parallels the one raised by the editors of Krsi-parasara in respect of the agricultural knowledge presented in that text. They contrasted the 'accuracy of the proper scientific manner' with the superstitious ideas' and emphasis on rites and ceremonies', a contrast which might (they said) 'brand the work as a priestly manual'. They admitted, as Pinch would agree, that 'religious practices were closely interwoven into the texture of life', even in 'such practical things as agriculture'. But, they went on. the text also contains 'valuable instructions' regarding agriculture. Accordingly they posed the question: 'in this modern age, when the world is proud of various scientific achievements, what material advance has been made...[upon] rules...laid down in remote antiquity...?' Their text, they claimed, should be an eye-opener to those who decry the study of Sanskrit as having no practical utility'. However, the point was not really that it provided a sufficient manual for agriculture. Rather it showed (they claimed) that it was 'time that we dived deep into this literature and rescued the indigenous materials of national importance from unmerited oblivion and saw the India of our own in the proper perspective'. 84 The implication was that there is an indigenous knowledge which is somehow more useful or relevant or satisfying in India than the knowledge of 'science'.Like its recent echoes, in India (or France), this was defensive, anti-colonial.

On the other hand, one force for change in colonial India was a desire for the modern. and some equation if it with the Western or the technological -- with, say, secularism or class. Indians making such assumptions were faced in any number of fields by an apparent discontinuity, encouraged by colonial denigrations and self justification.. Indians had to decide between asserting or denying continuities with the past: many were ambivalent between two extremes. one which claimed a kind of universalism, a chronology of modern features from an ancient (often 'Hindu') past as well as or in preference to a Western one, and another which asserted an eternal national distinctiveness and superiority, institutions appropriate for India. Often Indians defining their identities emphasised particular histories and supposedly special virtues of Indian civilization. Of course too they built upon existing local frameworks of region, caste and religion.

These choices are obviously relevant to current discussions of technology transfer and re-assessments of the scientific revolution. The arguments of, say, Jack Goody take us in one of the possible directions, towards an original equivalence of Western and Eastern forms. 85 Perhaps science and technology developed in India according to local patterns but basically in ways similar to those elsewhere -- that is, as an adjunct to practical technology, religious practice and so on. If so, it is plain that in India this knowledge did not become officially 'scientific' (abstracted from practical needs, governed by professional 'rules', taught through common syllabi, and so on) in the way that some knowledge was organised in the West from the seventeenth century. Even in Europe many discoveries were still made outside that orbit, because practical science and technology continued to advance in parallel with 'official science'. Some now argue indeed that the scientific as opposed to the technological revolution had relatively little to do with the rapid economic and industrial development of the West until the present century, and therefore, even if official science did not emerge in India, that fact would not satisfactorily explain the different patterns of economic development in India and in Europe. But why then did India not experience a scientific revolution. especially given the similarity of its knowledge to that of Western science (the way it was organised in categories, its experiential basis, and so on)? An answer may be extrapolated from that offered in regard to military technology -- namely that India developed its own sophisticated forms and technologies, focused on cavalry, but these were ousted in the late eighteenth century by Western models based on disciplined infantry. In other words India was moving towards its own 'official science' but, because of colonialism, that [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 23] science was largely replaced by the version exported from Europe. (I say 'largely' because obviously the Indian knowledge has not been completely ousted -- witness the persistence of ayurvedic medicine -- and may in some such spheres mount a counter-challenge to Western science even yet.)The reason for the 'lack' of an Eastern scientific revolution is thereby a circular one: because the dominant revolution was Western, and it obscured or ignored developments of different kind and origin.

Can one not say the same of class (or indeed 'national') awareness? It existed in India in forms often quite comparable to those which were emerging in the West, but forms with their own character at all times, and especially in regard to what Pinch calls religion (not communalism). Of course it did not develop in the ways such identities developed elsewhere: the sadhus are one reason. During the colonial era some of the influences -- technological and economic change, industrialization. 'modern 'rhetoric and law -- which had produced classes and nations in Europe were also felt in India. Indian versions of such identities appeared in response. But forms of identity -- or knowledge -- that appear to be the same may in fact differ markedly in their means, ideology and function. 86 This allows space for an argument, compatible with that of Pinch, to the effect that the weight of Western categorisation and enumeration, and the institutional and economic change ushered in during colonial rule, suborned some but merely modified or complemented other 'indigenous' forms. From the nineteenth century, Indian social and political identities then became another complex amalgam of different influences.

The pace of change was not uniform. New boundaries and institutions framed the alternatives indifferent ways. But they also shifted the balance between the three modes of deciding identities as expressed in ideas and behaviour: the legitimacies of origin, of practice, and of rationality or morality. In Europe, origins were authentic because of the influence of revealed religion, of laws of right, precedent and statute, of a humanist emphasis on authorship. But everywhere, as noted already, their appeal arose out of conflict -- why refer to an ancient authority except by way of argument? The outcome implied an inherited social as well as historical hierarchy. This was the way of the text, whereby the word prescribed and tested conduct. (Many sacred texts, including Indian ones, contain explicit awareness of the evolution of texts, and accord greatest authority to the earliest version and hence to a golden age in the past.) Custom, the second case, gave primacy to action over text, and thus to agency and contingency. Conduct depended upon current authority and upon pragmatism, and was more loosely related to memory and to texts. It represented a continually negotiated present. But either of these first two ways allowed for an eternal essentialised nation.

The third case provided means for the interpretation of both text and praxis: through faith and morality or through evidence and reason, on the basis of either ethical or scientific rationality. This was the tradition of the critical textual commentary, and ultimately the popular mandate. It made texts and conduct multiple and conditional, by judging both according to independent principles, and thereby relying on the human rather than the divine. It implied civilisational rather than local or national norms. In the West this method arose alongside notions of progress, as in St Augustine. It assumed an improveable future. But the modern era did not result from a movement from one of these modes to another. It came from changes in the means whereby each was expressed and perpetuated. Neither faith nor rationality ousted ancient law or pragmatic custom. The 'corrections' of print capitalism did not drive out an ever-repeated but active orality; there was no steady movement from multiple to singular texts, not least because texts remained imperfectly standardized, while custom always had limits to its diversity. In India part of the success of Western innovations may well have been their fit with Brahmanical views of knowledge.

All identities are historical in the sense of being cumulative and of belonging to one period and place. Stories of the past and of identity always contain elements of explanation and empiricism. The mechanisms for an ancient proof of, say, the existence of God and a modern one in physics are not wholly different, though there are other modes of explanation which may be peculiar to times or languages, as conventional expressions bearing little or no evidential or intellectual weight. At all times too some analyses show a preference for human agency and some do not; and all reflect cultural peculiarities. For that reason the 'modern' is partly a matter of scale and certainty. But also it may rest upon specificities of genre (though all its elements certainly did occur in the past): namely, self-conscious or self-referential forms of cumulative analysis; comparative assessment of the validity of sources, origins or forms; distinct and consistent measurements, categories, signs or representations -- at one level the familiar reliance on processes of evidence and observation rather than authority.

Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 24]

Two points follow. First, any transition to such modern forms cannot be divorced from wider changes, such as the advent of centralised states, colonial rule, commoditisation or capitalism. Over recent centuries the 'modern' genre has dominated. and been imitated even where its rules are broken, because backed up by institutions -- scholarly disciplines, education, professions. technologies. It is this reinforcement which has meant that modern identities. or modern history. may be distinguished from earlier forms, despite the pre-existence of many elements of the modern and the lack of a complete break with the past. 87 Second, a mere change of genre will not substitute real for artificial perceptions of history or identity. Non-rational or anti-historical explanations are those which ignore such rules. by suppressing or misreading data. They are not those with a particular intention or agenda, for all understandings are to some degree functional.

It may be argued that there were new discoveries of self among Indians in the colonial era, and that they were new inter alla because they occurred within the frame of broader, supposedly consistent identities. Travel, trade, language, government, political institutions and law all allowed Indians to encounter similar 'others', and narratives and rationalizations arose to account for these affinities. Though there was nothing new in markers of identity, or in notions of bounded, named territories, yet both were now limited and reified by the more precise measurements and more generalised categorisations of the colonial era. The distinction between this latter kind of identity and other possible kinds paralleled that between text and custom, history and myth. In practice the distinctions were blurred, but there was no going back: the ambiguous, customary, mythic, quotidian elements were harnessed to the harder delineations of fixed identities. For Indians who asked 'who am I?' there was a new range of possible answers, and some earlier contingent or ambivalent replies were increasingly excluded. On the whole the force of change was such that Indians increasingly acquired their own versions of 'modern' identities, 'modern', that is, in genre. The existence of exceptions or variations did not mean that Indians acquired identities that were 'hybrid' or incompletely modern.


The British helped in the nationalist project in India by defining boundaries and classes, and by extending the concept and effect of a sovereign state. As they did so they also distorted categories of Indian society, which they allowed or encouraged to be redefined and mobilised. They imposed their Eurocentric designs upon peoples and institutions then following a different logic. Habermas describes a process in Western Europe whereby the extension of the state (the construction of the bourgeois public sphere) helped and was helped by parallel developments in society, economy, law and culture. 88 Colonial rulers in India applied the assumptions and practices wrought in this development. which was specific to one time and place, to a country in which the ancillary changes had not occurred, could not be expected or were only just beginning. The British saw India as a social construct according to European models, even when they closely observed its particular character. They saw India historically, but in versions of a Eurocentric history. They saw India as a bounded state with (in actuality or potential)its citizens, the rule of law, and civil society; but none of these existed in the forms supposed. Not all the colonial impositions were undesirable, but their impact was inevitably different in India and In Europe. Accordingly, there were unexpected and undesirable consequences even from well-meaning interventions, let alone from colonial exploitation or arrogance. On discovering these, the rulers were often led to recoil but never to abandon their habitual assumptions and procedures.

Thus the British made it possible for Indian society to be divided in new ways, notably by consolidations, new interest groups and political organization, which followed the agenda laid down by the state. The differences between Indians were not invented, but their salience and articulation were altered. Kisan and Hindu sabhas and the Muslim League were a consequence, as well as Presidency [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 25] Associations, Chambers of Commerce and the National Congress. Colonial rule was never so powerful. nor so unified and consistent. as to be able to dictate what happened in India, except within relatively limited spheres; and of course there were very many important impulses and movements drawing on sources relatively unaffected by Western influence. But colonial rule did have some general features, and these helped to direct or limit indigenous processes, and thus to influence how India changed. The Indians were subject to a European view of their society, not just as its objects but because they accepted aspects of it themselves.

To return, finally, to the case of the peasants, the suggestion here is not, to address Partha Chatterjee's position, 89 'the domain of legal-political relations constituted by the state' had to be the ' of peasant struggle'; it is certainly not to deny that alternative senses of peasant community (in Ranajit Guha's terms) existed or can be identified, as by William Pinch. It might even be to accept for the sake of argument, though it is very difficult to make such comparisons meaningful, that the Indian peasant community was more differentiated and flexible, and hence had greater 'strategic the making of alliances and oppositions than...the "peasant community" in feudal Europe'. Nonetheless, the suggestion here is that the forms and vocabulary of the alliances and struggles which occurred in modern India were in fact strongly influenced by the legacy of colonial rule: not so much by the legal-political relations that the state purported to 'constitute' (for it was never able to achieve what it proposed), but by the consequences of the working of its categorizations upon existing and continuing relations, both in practice and in terms of ideology and understanding.

The objection expressed in this paper is to the privileging of a supposed Indian essence, and to regarding 'popular culture' in India as a 'storehouse' that, in Chatterjee's words, 'preserved an enormously rich collection.. .of forms of popular protest', instead of as a process and a negotiation between various ever-changing influences, experienced and intellectual. My hypothesis is that major socio-political tendencies or transformations in India reflected some colonial influence, though partly channeled by pre-colonial inheritance. As discussed here, colonial rhetoric tended to emphasise supposedly primordial identities, of language, tribe, caste or community, but colonial policies and economic change also helped create classes, as through agrarian legislation or settlement work, or because of urbanization.

These alternatives -- the primordial versus the colonial -- arguably still define the poles of Indian political debate. My conclusion starts from a reassertion of the impact of colonial rule, but it also tries to balance that with factors of the kind discussed by Walter Hauser or William Pinch. As said at the outset, however, the falsely binary distinction between colonial and pre-colonial legacies is a diversion from the examination of what came to exist, and of what is. In considering the creation of modern South Asian identities, as in other matters, one needs to treat each element as arising from a mixture of indigenous and extraneous influences, and also as responding to different degrees to pre-existing practices or ideas and to contemporary challenges and experience. Clearly colonial rule provided many of the new mechanisms of identity, such as print, law and communications, but it was not necessarily as responsible for the content of what they purveyed. Some ideas -- for example individual rights, professional ethics or political self-determination, arguably the sovereign territorial state itself -- clearly took Western forms, because they had parallels but no close equivalents in Indian thought or practice, or because they had to be re-stated in a thoroughly new idiom. But the most successful and popular elements were those which were palatable because they were expected and familiar while also meeting present needs or anxieties. This is perhaps an improved formulation of the proposition that Indian nationalists, in framing identities, inevitably focused less on public spheres of colonial hegemony and more on private spheres of indigenous authority. Thus a discrepancy in dominant notions of the proper development of the self necessitated Gandhi's attempt, in the concept of swaraj, to marry European notions of political freedom (an ability to act) with Indian ideas of self-control and renunciation (a withdrawal from acting). Similarly, if nationalist, conservative and reformist men regarded women as crucial markers of identity and 'civilization', it was because stipulated female roles and behaviour matched ancient exhortations, and high-caste and Mughal socio-religious sanctions, and so-called Victorian values and colonial myths of masculinity, and recent worries about legal changes and middle-class or family life.

No particular codification or definition of public and private is either necessary or fixed. India developed along its own lines from a mixture of influences. Its line of development was distinctive because some influences were always more powerful and entrenched than others, even among the 'indigenous' inheritance. For example, recent evidence that the colonial period strengthened aspects of [©Peter Robb, 1997, ++Page 26] caste hierarchy and religious orthodoxy should be taken to indicate, not only the impact of 'modern' forces and colonial misunderstandings, but also the existing potency of those indigenous elements even amid the more fluid and ambiguous practices of the past. Perhaps, by the same token, India was actually more disposed than Europe to encourage state benevolence, because of traditions of mutual gifts, duty and responsibility.

Recent demands that the Indian public should be defined so as to exclude special laws for groups such as the Muslims represent a very different approach from that favoured by the colonial administration, though one resting upon assumptions it introduced about the role and purpose of public law. Perhaps in this case too, despite strong ideas and customs of privacy, India has been able to allow public regulation to intrude into private space (by indigenous tracts and norms if not colonial laws) because of strong traditions whereby matters of food. sex. reproduction and work, though not in practice standardised exactly as in the texts. certainly had been subject to communal scrutiny and sanction, along lines which the texts encouraged. Again an appeal to the past, the authority of precedent, though quite reformulated under colonial influence. also may have been less easily avoided in India by those who needed to legitimise status and behaviour. given a prevalence of dualist notions and accommodations, and a relative lack of intellectual breaks of the kind associated with the European reformation, with the English, French, scientific and industrial revolutions, with imperial exploration and conquest, and with the neo-classical rejection of the 'dark' and 'middle' ages.

Such influences would explain distinctive features in India, but not because they were more 'Indian' than the reactions to colonial impact, as discussed in this essay. The motive force of national identity or development, and the 'modern' categories -- India or Pakistan; Hindi or Bengali: priest, peasant or worker: public or private -- were neither colonial nor indigenous, or rather they were both. The term 'India' implies an historical and geographical entity defined from outside, largely from Europe. But the adoption of this concept in India was only part of the story. In constituting themselves as 'Indians' the people of the country were not merely accepting a ready-made category. Nor were they taking on a shell which they had emptied out and refilled with contents of their own devising. The category itself was always in a state of flux, even as the Europeans were imagining it. It contained many different elements, rearranged in different orders at different times, in reaction with India as perceived by Europeans, and with Indian responses. The category 'Indian' as taken on and as it exists today was made from some of these negotiated features, of some features borrowed from Europeans, and of others made and rearranged in accordance with indigenous priorities and understandings. Further categories -- Bengali, Tamil, or for that matter Pakistani or Bangladeshi -- were not in the same sense imposed from outside. But they too were subject to similar processes in determining their meaning. In all cases too the meanings continue to change and to be advocated or contested.

Peter Robb, Professor of the History of India in the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh Street. Russell Square. London WCIH 0XG, England. Fax + 171 323 6046; e-mail:
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1. See P.G. Robb, The Evolution of British Policy towards Indian Politics, 1880-1920: Essays on colonial attitudes, imperial strategies and Bihar ( New Delhi 1992), ch. 10. [BACK]

2. William R. Pinch, Peasants and Monks in British India (Berkeley 1996). [BACK]

3. This would apply to Samuel Huntington's 'clash of civilizations'. For a good brief discussion see David Ludden, ed., Contesting the Nation. Religion, community and the politics of democracy in India (Philadephia 1996),introduction. [BACK]

4. Hauser has made a parallel point about assumptions that the 'subaltern' school alone have recovered the extent of dissent and resistance among Indian subordinate classes. He has questioned the privileging of colonial discourse but also the existence of 'official history'. For this and other relevant comments, see American Historical Review96 (February 1991), pp.241-3, and 97 (October 1992), pp.l269-70, and Journal of Asian Studies 50, 4 (November1991), pp.968-9. [BACK]

5. Krsi-parasara (ed. & trans. Girija Prasanna Majumdar and Sures Chandra Banerji, Bibliotheca Indica, no.285,issue 1579, Asiatic Society, Calcutta 1960). Supposedly this is the only work of its kind, derived from a period before for certainly not later than) the eleventh century AD. This edition compares different manuscripts and gives texts in Bengali and English. For the discussion following see especially stanzas 1-11, 30, 79-104, and 145-7.Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay kindly provided me with his own copy of this text. [BACK]

6. The text mostly appears to enjoin rituals upon the cultivators themselves, and only in the requirements for the ceremony before ploughing (hala-prasarana) is there mention of worshipping a twice-loom man. [BACK]

7. Community participation is implied in stanzas 100-3 (a village procession of a bull, cowherds and cultivators)and 221-37 (pusyayatra.,a pre-harvest festival), and possibly 178-181 (a festival and feast for the sowing of paddy). [BACK]

8. Sumit Guha, 'Time and money: the meaning and measurement of labour in Indian agriculture' in P. Robb, ed.,Meanings of Agriculture. Essays in South Asian History and Economics (Delhi 1996). [BACK]

9. C.A. Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars. North Indian society in the age of British expansion 1770-1870(Cambridge 1983); see p.30: 'It is easy for us to assume that the state was the only political organisation in precolonial Indian society, and that the peasant family farm was wholly predominant as an economic form. But in this period the state was only one of the political formations which existed, and a large part of the population subsisted through petty carrying, plunder and pastoralism'. Thus, Bayly focuses, in the ensuing period, on 'the triumph of the state, both Indian and British, over its competitors, and the settlement of the agrarian and commercial economy'. [BACK]

10. Francis Buchanan, An Account of the District of Purnea in 1819-10 (ed. V.H. Jackson; Patna 1928), pp. 117-19. [BACK]

11. Ibid., pp. 438-43. [BACK]

12. Ibid., pp. 21-3. [BACK]

13. Ibid., pp.202-57. [BACK]

14. See for example G. Pandey, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (Delhi 1990). [BACK]

15. E.T. Stokes. The English Utilitarians and India (Oxford 1959). [BACK]

16. See E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger, eds, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge 1984). [BACK]

17. Colin Mackenzie to G. Buchan, Chief Secretary to the Government at Fort St. George, 23 February 1809,Survey of India Memoir 18, NAI. [BACK]

18. Augustine, De Civitate Dei (AD413-26); Lionel Curtis, Civitas Dei (1934-7; one vol. edition, London 1950).Curtis had been influenced by such ideas earlier when visiting India and when advocating Indian self-government to the Round Table group. [BACK]

19. See Lord Macaulay, 'Lord Clive' (a review of Malcolm's Life) in Critical and Historical Essays Contributed to the Edinburgh Review (London 1870). [BACK]

20. Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan (1651; ed. C.B. Macpherson, Harmondsworth 1981), for example, pp.228-39 and 263. [BACK]

21. David Hume, An Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, s.VII, 205. and A Dialogue \ (1777; ed. L.A.Selby-Bigge, revised ed. P.H. Nidditch, Oxford 1975), pp. 255, 333, 335-6 and 337-8. For further discussion of some of these points, see P. Robb, 'Labour in India 1860-1920: topologies, change and regulation', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 3rd series, 4, 1 (1994). [BACK]

22. See Sanjay Sharma, 'Famine, State and Society in North India, c. 1800-1840', PhD dissertation, University of London (SOAS), 1996. [BACK]

23.23 See Clive Dewey, 'Images of the village community', Modern Asian Studies 6, 3 (1972). [BACK]

24.24 The example of Sleeman reflects the work of Sanjay Nigam, when preparing his London PhD. See also Thomas R. Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge 1994). Note. however, that he regards Maine chiefly as establishing 'difference', an India that was medieval and feudal; Metcalf (hence?) presents only the aristocratic model among the 'created constituencies' of the raj (pp.66-80 and 185-99). [BACK]

25. Notably in Peter Robb, Ancient Rights and Future Comfort. Bihar, the Bengal Tenancy Act of /885 and British Rule in India (Richmond. Surrey 1997). [BACK]

26. M. Finucane and B.F. Rampini, The Bengal Tenancy Act being Act VIII of 1885... (Calcutta 1886). [BACK]

27. C.D. Field, A Digest of the Law of Landlord and Tenant in the Provinces subject to the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal (Calcutta 1879). [BACK]

28. For details but not analysis in those terms, see B. Prasad, Foundations of India's Foreign Policy. Imperial Era 1882-1914 (Calcutta 1979). [BACK]

29. See Leo E. Rose, The Politics of Bhutan (London 1977), Shantiswarup Gupta, British Relations with Bhutan(Jaipur 1974), and Arabinda Deb, Bhutan and India (Calcutta 1976). Recent SOAS seminars by Michael Hutt have also reinforced this point. [BACK]

30. For a convenient summary see M.H. Fisher, Indirect Rule in India. Residents and the Residency System,1764-1858 (Delhi 1991), pp.376-86 and 425 (the references cited), and also A Clash of Cultures. Awadh, the British and the Mughals (New Delhi 1987), and Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, A Fatal Friendship: the Nawabs, the British and the City of Lucknow (Delhi 1985), J. Pemble, The Raj, the Indian Mutiny and the Kingdom of Oudh,1801-57 (Delhi 1979), P. Reeves, ed., Sleeman in Oudh (Cambridge 1971), especially the introduction, and D.P. Sinha, British Relations with Oudh, 1801-1856 (Calcutta 1983). [BACK]

31. This argument owes something to Joseph Eyre, 'The Black Mountain and the Development of the Modern State in India', MA dissertation (South Asia Area Studies), SOAS. London 1993; which quotes these passages from Curzon (see note 33 below) and from Nineteenth Century (30, p.313). The firm border -- its spread and continuing uncertainty -- is also the real subject (see ch.18) of Sir Alfred Lyall's influential The Rise and Expansion of the British Dominion in India (London 1894; 5th ed. 1910; 6th reprint 1919). [BACK]

32. See A.C. McKay. 'The establishment of the British Trade Agencies in Tibet: a survey', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 3rd series, 2, 3 (1992). I would argue that the subsequent fate of Tibet resulted in part from its reluctance. until the 1930s, to present itself as a nation-state in relation to its powerful neighbours. [BACK]

33. Lord Curzon of Kedlestone, Frontiers. The Romanes Lecture 1907 (Oxford 1907). [BACK]

34. Jurgen Habermas. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere ( 1962; tr. by Thomas Burger, Cambridge 1992); see pp.l41-59. [BACK]

35. Government of India, Revenue and Agriculture Department, Land Revenue Branch proceedings, National Archives of India (hereafter R&A Rev) A 39-40 (September 1909). On the transfer of Sibpur College to Ranchi see ibid.; for rules regarding the transfer of land, see R&A Rev A 25 (April 1910) (File 88 of 1910). The question was also discussed by the Decentralisation Commission of 1907-9. [BACK]

36. I have discussed this in Robb, Evolution pp.72-4 and 90-5. [BACK]

37. See Government of India. Home Department. Establishments Branch proceedings, National Archives of India (hereafter H Est) A 1-3 (May 1907) and 139-42 (September 1907). [BACK]

38. Notes by G. Fell, 20 June. H.A. Stuart, 20 June and 8 August, and E.N. Baker, 11 August 1907, H Est A 13942 (September 1907). [BACK]

39. Obvious examples are the 'linguistic' re-drawings of state boundaries in independent India, and continuing problems over 'Sikh' Punjab or 'non-Bengali' Assam. [BACK]

40. Risley note, I I March 1906, H Est A 113- 17 (December 1906). [BACK]

41. See R.J. Moore, The Crisis of Indian Unity 1917-40 (Oxford 1974), pp.25-33, and also Barbara Ramusack,The Princes of India in the Twilight of Empire (Columbus 1978). [BACK]

42. See P. G. Robb, The Government of India and Reform (Oxford 1976), pp.38-9, and K.J. Schmidt, 'India's role in the League of Nations. 1919-1939', PhD dissertation, Florida State University, 1994. [BACK]

43. See for example R. Inden, Imagining India (Oxford 1990), N.G. garner, ed., The Census in British India(New Delhi 1981), S. Bandyopadhyay, Caste, Politics and the Ray. Bengal 1872-1937 (Calcutta 1990), and also Richard Saumarez-Smith, 'Rule-by-records and rule-by-reports. Complementary aspects of the British imperial rule of law', Contributions to Indian Sociology new series, XIX, I (1985). On classification by caste and religion, see also Peter Robb. ed., The Concept of Race in South Asia (New Delhi 1995). [BACK]

44. See Robb, Evolution. ch.2. See Collector of Champaran to the Patna Commissioner, 16 May 1893, and reply,29 May 1893, in the Records of the Commissioner of Patna, Bihar State Archives (hereafter PCR) 359, 12/22(1893/4). [BACK]

45. But see R. Snell, 'The hidden hand: English lexis, syntax and idiom as determinants of modem Hindi usage',South Asia Research 10, 1 (1990) or in D. Amold and P. Robb, eds., Institutions and Ideologies. A SOAS South Asia Reader (London 1993), pp.74-90. [BACK]

46. This beef section is intended as a small accompaniment to B.S. Cohn's important article, 'The command of language and the language of command', in Ranajit Guha, ed., Subaltern Studies IV (Delhi 1985). As it was beyond his essay's scope to discuss the 'results of the first half-century of objectification and reordering' upon 'Indian thought and culture', Cohn was content merely to insist that Indians were not massive in their response(p.329). On one hand, he suggested, Indians 'took over' that control of 'social and material technologies' which the British had tried to exercise (and thus ousted the British); but, on the other hand. Indians' consciousness 'at all levels in society was transformed as they refused to become specimens in a European-controlled museum of an archaic stage in world history' (my emphasis). This unresolved ambivalence is central to my discussions in this paper. [BACK]

47. Census of India 1901, Vol. l, India, Pt.l, Report, ch.vii, paras.373, 535 and 537 (written by Grierson, then in charge of the linguistic survey; see the introduction, p. xvii). [BACK]

48. See Pragati Mohapatra, 'The Making of a Cultural Identity: language, literature and gender in Orissa in [the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries'. PhD dissertation, London University (SOAS), 1997. [BACK]

49. See Officiating Collector of Gaya to Patna Commissioner, 6 November 1876, PCR 335, 19/2 (1876) wrongly filed with 14/7. On this question more generally see Christopher King, Two Scripts: the Hindi movement in nineteenth-century North India (Delhi 1994), and 'Forging a new linguistic identity: the Hindi movement in Banaras. 1860-1914', in Sandria Freitag, ed., Culture and Power in Banaras. Community, performance and environment, 1800-1980 (Berkeley 1989). [BACK]

50. Census of India 1901, Vol. l. India, Pt. l, Report, ch.vii, para.543. [BACK]

5l. Unless otherwise stated this and the next paragraph draw on H Judicial Branch D 1-4 (August 1893). [BACK]

52 . See Francis Robinson, Separatism among Indian Muslims (Cambridge 1974), pp.43-4. 69-78. 83 and 135.MacDonnell first proposed joint use of Persian and Nagri scripts in NWP, and later, while approving the more general use of the latter, did not think it necessary to hurry the change in practice. even after the Nagri Resolution of 1900. [BACK]

53. In Patna the figures for documents were Persian 43, Kaithi 82, Nagri nil; and for witness statements, Persia161, Kaithi 327, English 5. Nagri nil. [BACK]

54. See King, 'Forging', on scripts and 'pure' and (socially) superior Hindi. Shahid Amin has spoken (in SOAS in April 1997) of notions of a 'Hindu' agriculture derived from a 'Hindu' past as expressed in 'Hind)' words. [BACK]

55. Census of India, 1961, vol.1. Part Il-C (ii), p. xii. [BACK]

56. Information from Subhajyoti Ray, 18 November 1993. [BACK]

57. See Census of India 1961, vol. I, Part Il-C (ii), passim. [BACK]

58. M.G. Ranade, Rise of the Maratha Power (Bombay 1900), pp.6-7.1 owe this reference to a seminar paper by Sudhir Chandra (SOAS, April 1997). [BACK]

59. The best discussion of Russian Marxists' relevance to India is Neil Charlesworth, 'The Russian stratification debate and India', Modern Asian Studies 13, 1 (1979). [BACK]

60 . Daniel Thomer, 'Peasant economy as a category of economic history', Deuxieme Conference Intemationale 'Histoire Economique (1962). reprinted in Teodor Shanin, ed., Peasants and Peasant Societies (Harmondsworth1971); like Eric Wolf, Peasants (Englewood Cliffs 1966). that essay developed upon earlier studies which play down exchange and emphasised self-sufficiency in 'peasant' production. a legacy also of the Aristotelean conception production-for-use. To trace the heritage of these ideas, see also Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation(Boston 1957); AH. Boeke, Economics and Economic Policy of Dual Societies (New York 1953); Henry Maine.Ancient Law (10th edn.; London 1885) and Village Communities in the East and West (London 1871) Karl Marx,Capital (4th German edn., 1890; tr. New York 1906). especially Part VII; J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy (ed. W.J. Ashley; London 1909); and Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations ( 1776; Harmondsworth 1979), for example p.ll4 ('workmen who...naturally turned their thoughts towards finding out easier and readier methods')and p 117 ('A certain propensity in human truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another'). [BACK]

61. Shanin, Peasants. introduction. [BACK]

62. James Mill, The History of British India (5th edn., London 1858), vol. I, pp.2 18-9. [BACK]

63. The famous remark of Metcalfe; see Stokes, Utilitarians, p. 19. [BACK]

64. Neil Charlesworth. Peasants and Imperial Rule (Cambridge 1985), pp.19-29. [BACK]

65.See Sugata Bose, Agrarian Bengal. Economy, Social Structure and Politics, 1919-1947 (Cambridge 1986). [BACK]

66. See, tor example, the diku of Ranchi and the Santhal Parganas; John MacDougall, Land or Religion? The Sardar and Kherwar Movements in Bihar, /858-95 (New Delhi 1985). [BACK]

67. C.J. Stevenson-Moore. Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the Champaran district,1892 to 1899 (Calcutta 1900), p.l6. [BACK]

68. Ibid., p. 63. [BACK]

69. Ibid., p. 58. [BACK]

70. Ibid., pp. 58 and 72-3. [BACK]

71. Ibid., p. 76. [BACK]

72. Ibid., p. 71. [BACK]

73. J.A. Sweeney, Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations (Revision) in the District of Champaran (1913-1919) (Patna 1922), [BACK]

74. Ibid., p. 12. [BACK]

75. Ibid., pp. 35 and 82. [BACK]


77. Phanindra Nath Gupta. Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations (Revision) in the District of Saran (1915-1921) (Patna 1923). p.l86. [BACK]

78. This is one of the arguments more fully developed in Robb, Ancient Rights. [BACK]

79. This argument is not intended to revive the old debates between class, caste or faction as guiding principles of Indian society and politics. [BACK]

80. See Culture and Anarchy (ed. I. Dover Wilson, Cambridge 1963). [BACK]

81. On Michel Foucault see, for example, his Power/Knowledge (ed. C. Gordon, Brighton 1980). [BACK]

82. Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms (tr. I. and A. Tedeschi, London 1981), pp. xiv-xx, xxii-xxiv and1 29-34. [BACK]

83. I have in mind such accounts as those by Ernest Gellner, Karl Deutsch or E. Kedoune: for a convenient discussion focused on India, see Malcolm Yapp. 'Language, religion and political identity' in D. Taylor and Yapp, eds. Political Identity in South Asia (London 1979), pp. 1-33. [BACK]

84. Krsi-parasara, introduction. pp. xvii-iii. [BACK]

85. Jack Goody, The East in the West (Cambridge 1996). See. for example. at p.226: '...1 am not trying to make all the world the same but simply to state that the major societies of Eurasia were fired in the same crucible and that their differences must be seen as diverging from a common base' -- sentiments appropriate enough for publication 250 years after the birth of Sir William Jones. [BACK]

86. With regard to agricultural knowledge, this is a possible reply to Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay when (in private conversation) he cites Krsi-parasara as a refutation of arguments in David Ludden's essay in Robb, Meanings of Agriculture. [BACK]

87. These arguments reconcile two opposed propositions: one, that pre-modern societies do not have 'modern' consciousness (and myth rather than history), or less tautologically that there is a category 'modem'; and two, that pre-modern societies do in fact show many modem features, or more generally that all binary oppositions are artificial. [BACK]

88. Habermas, Public Sphere. Though used. for example. by Partha Chatterjee (see the note following), thepublic/private dichotomy does not self-evidently work for India. In the West, Greek, Roman and Christian notions of the household and individual may be seen in contradistinction to the development of the state -- in law, politics, economic management (slavery, feudalism, capitalism), in humanism or romanticism, and so on. In India the divides have been notably blurred, perhaps from ideas of advaita -- as for caste, pre-eminently concerned not only with supposedly 'public' matters of work, education or socio-political role, but also with 'private' issues of family, household, marriage, birth. death. dining, menstruation -- many of these matters being themselves further divided as kocchalpakka, heating/cooling, left/night. and so on. The spread of the state, in both East and West, did involve intrusions or even extension of courtly to social regulation; but starting points and means were strikingly different. [BACK]

89. The quotations which follow come from P. Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments (Delhi 1994), pp. 170-1. [BACK]

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