ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Classic of Agrarian History

The Great Agrarian Conquest: The Colonial Reshaping of a Rural World by Neeladri Bhattacharya, Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2018; pp 542, ₹1,040 (hardcover).

It is a rare but exhilarating experience to realise—some way through reading a book—that you are holding what is destined to become a classic. This book by Neeladri Bhattacharya is nothing less than a tour de force of the historian’s craft: making a profound point with analysis that is at once sweeping yet detailed, comprehensive and careful; filled with novel approaches and entertaining stories; and beautifully written throughout. But this brilliant book provides much more than only historical insights. It opens up various terms, categories and analytical constructs that are regularly deployed in various social sciences, including in economics, politics and sociology, to generate a much more thoughtful and nuanced understanding of their origins and meanings.

The central argument of this book is that the colonial agrarian conquest of North India was a deep conquest in many ways, going well beyond the explicit dramatic (and often violent) assertion of control from above that could be easily observed. It operated equally and possibly more fundamentally—if more silently and over a long period—from below, “by developing a new and enabling imaginary whereby the rural universe could be made afresh: revisualised, reordered, reworked, and altogether transformed” (p 1). This involved the introduction of new categories—property rights and tenures, habitations and villages—that were then coded through laws and established through customs. By refiguring the terms used for social relations and the ties that bound communities together, it actually altered notions of space and time, of what was legal and what was permissible. Since it posited settled peasant agriculture as the norm, over time it devalued and denied the possibility of other forms of rural livelihood and landscape.

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Updated On : 30th Dec, 2019
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