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

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Unravelling the Bhagiya System in North Gujarat

Labour Partnership, Sharecropping and Tribal Migration

This paper discusses the distinct form of sharecropping arrangement known in Gujarat as bhagiya mazdoori involving migrant tribal households. The main purpose is to understand this institution in terms of its specific features as practised in north Gujarat positioned as it is in a changing agrarian system. The livelihood condition of the tribal sharecroppers in the source villages and their work and living conditions in the farms at the destination locations are the core themes of the discussion. The paper delineates relevant policy measures to prevent perpetuation of exploitative arrangements that bhagiya system represents.

There are ample references to sharecropping arrangements in the agrarian labour history of the world. The most discussed among these are the Italian mezzadria system and the sharecropping system that the southern planters resorted to in postbellum America (Shlomowitz 1979; Luporini and Parigi 1996). In India sharecropping is known to have existed for several centuries, though the precise trajectory of its evolution and the actual extent of its incidence is still unclear. According to Biplab Dasgupta (1984), while family farming was the norm in precolonial India, sharecropping might have been practised by a few, who were smaller peasant-proprietors trying to “augment their land resource” by renting in excess lands available with larger and better off farmers. It is, however, agreed by scholars that the institution has continued through time, interfacing with varying relationships of production, and embedded in distinct modes of production.

The 20th century chroniclers of India’s agrarian history and of land/tenancy reforms have described in detail the institution of sharecropping as it existed in the early decades after independence in West Bengal, Bihar, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, and its location within the complex and deeply hierarchical social and economic structures of these regions (Bhaduri 1973, 1983; Mencher 1974; Thorner 1976; Bardhan and Rudra 1980a; Cooper 1983; Sharma and Dréze 1996; Iyer 2002). Pranab Bardhan and Ashok Rudra (1980a) in their study of select villages in northern and eastern India (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Odisha) found that the phenomenon of sharecropping was more prevalent in “advanced” villages that used tube wells and pumps, chemical fertilisers and high-yielding variety (HYV) seeds.

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Updated On : 5th Jul, 2021

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