Aspects of Rural History in Western India

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveNA4

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon 2013

Course Coordinator and Team: Tanuja Kothiyal

Email of course coordinator: Tanuja[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Objectives: This course will examine the historical construction of rural society in Western India from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. This course brings together wide-ranging perspectives on the study of rural history, and shifts the focus from studying rural as merely agrarian to rural as set of coexisting and conflicting livelihood practices, that are shaped by multiple historical contexts.

Course Outcomes:

At the end of the course the student will be able to

  1. Understand how the ‘rural’ is constructed through a set of ideas shaped by multiple historical contexts from 16th to the 19th centuries, that is from pre-colonial to colonial contexts.
  2. Understand different aspects of the rural in western Indian between 16th and 19th centuries , such as agrarianism, pastoralism, artisanal production, rural marketing and circulation of commodities
  3. Understand making and functioning of rural community based systems and institutions and communitarian frames of control, access and justice.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Course Structure:

  • Historiography of the Rural in Western India
  • Rural Settlements: Patterns, Technologies and Structures
  • Rural Social Structures: Peasants, Pastoralists, Traders and Carriers, Artisanal Groups, Bardic Communities, Mobile tribal groups
  • Pre-Colonial State and Revenue fiscal Structures
  • Colonial Revenue Settlements and Redefining of Rural Structures: The Questions of Land Ownership
  • Non Agrarian Rural Taxation
  • Rural Markets, Commodity Production and Circulation
  • Rural Social Institutions
  • Memory and the Production of Identity

Aspects of Rural Society in Western India ( Course Description and Lectures) Credits 4

Module 1: Conceptualising the Rural:

This module would introduce students to the idea of spaces as social constructs. In this module, we would look explore certain key ideas that have been used to categorise geographical and social spaces as “forest”, “rural” and “urban”. We would also see how these usages attained varying dimensions over historical periods.

Week 1: What is rural, how is it distinguished with forms like urban and forest? Are spaces real or are they social constructs that have attributed variable meanings through history? In doing so how does ‘geographical imagination’ contribute to emergence of lived spaces?

Week 2: Components of rural settlements. Land types and variable understandings of land types over time and space. Conceptualising and understanding arid zones.

Suggested Readings:

  • Michael Woods: ‘Imagining the Rural’ and ‘Approaching the Rural’ in Rural, Routledge, NY, 2011.
  • Romila Thapar, ‘Perceiving the Forest: Early India’ in Studies in History,2001, 17,
  • B D Chattopadhyaya, ‘Introduction: Rural Society in Early Medieval India’ in Aspects of Rural Settlements and Rural Society in Early Medieval India, K P Baghchi and Company, Calcutta, 1990.
  • David Ludden, ‘Introduction: A Peasant Millennium’ in Early Capitalism and Local History in South India, OUP, 1989, 2005.
  • Brara, R. ‘Are grazing Lands “wastelands? Some Evidence from Rajasthan, Economic and Political Weekly, February 22, 411-418, 1992.

Module 2: Rural Society and Stratification

This module will attempt to understand the multiple levels of stratifications in the rural society that generated varying hierarchies and hegemonies. This module will begin by questioning the idea of a stagnant, unchanging rural society and bring forth the tensions within the highly segmented peasant populations of the villages. The focus would then shift to the non-peasant components of the rural society like pastoralists, artisanal communities, trading communities, bardic communities and explore the networks of ritual and commercial exchanges that made rural society an extremely dynamic system.

Week 3: Defining peasant. Peasant stratification in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Deccan

Week 4: Non-Agrarian components of Rural Society: Pastoralists, Artisanal Communities, Bardic Communities

Suggested Readings

  1. David Hardiman, ‘The Politics of Peasantry’ in Peasant Nationalists of Gujarat: Kheda District1917-1934, OUP, 1981.
  2. Irfan Habib, ‘Classifying pre-colonial India’in Harbans Mukhia Ed. Feudalism Debate
  3. Nandita Prasad Sahai, ‘Village Artisans, Landed Elites and the State’ in Politics of Patronage and Protest: The State Society and Artisans in Early Modern Rajasthan, OUP, Delhi, 2006.
  4. Purnendu Kavoori, ‘Evolution and Structure: The Historical and Social Significance of Pastoralism’ in Pastoralism in Expansion: The Transhuming Herders of Western Rajasthan, OUP, Delhi, 1999.

Assessment 1: (Book Review)

Weightage : 25%

Module 3: Rural Society and the State

This module will explore changing relationships between the categories of “land” and “rule” in pre-colonial and colonial India. It would explore the interactions between the rural society and the state by studying revenue fiscal structures as they developed in pre-colonial and colonial India. The incorporation of existing structures of control in the rural society into evolving revenue fiscal structures by the Sultanate and Mughal states led to the perpetuation of caste hierarchies. “Zamindari” as an institution, as it was encountered by the British Administrators in the nineteenth century, survived several other categories that had been instituted by the Mughal state and became a primary consideration in the process of developing and negotiating various revenue settlements in Colonial India.

Week 5: Agrarian Relations in Pre-Colonial India

Week 6: Agrarian Relations in Colonial India

Suggested Readings:

  1. Irfan Habib, Agrarian Systems of Mughal India ( Selected Parts)
  2. Irfan Habib, ‘North India under the Sultanate’ in Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol 1, pp 45-101.
  3. S Nurul Hasan, ‘Thoughts on Agrarian Relations in Mughal India’ in Meena Bhargava Ed. Exploring Medieval India: Politics Economy and Society, OUP, 2010.
  4. Dilbagh Singh, ‘Contesting Hegemony: State and Peasant in Late Medieval Rajasthan’ in Rajat Datta Ed. Rethinking a Millenneum: Essays for Harbans Mukhia
  5. Cambridge Economic History of India Vol II, Chap 2
  6. Ranajit Guha, A Rule of Property for Bengal
  7. Neeladri Bhattacharya, ‘Colonial State in Agrarian Society’ in Situating Indian History, Ed. S. Bhattacharya
  8. Walter C Neale, ‘Land is to rule’, in Robert Frykenberg Ed. Land Control and Social Structure in Indian History, Madison, 1969, pp 1-15.

Module 4: Rural Resources

This Module would look into rural resources like water, grazing lands and forests and issues of access and control that these entail. The module would attempt to comprehend how rural communities historically approached these resources and the complexities involved when shifts in control mechanisms occurred.

Week 5: Resources

Week 6: Common Property Resources and Communitarian Control

Suggested Readings:

  1. B D Chattopadhyaya, ‘ Irrigation in Early Medieval Rajasthan’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 16, No. 2/3 (Dec.,1973), pp. 298-316.
  2. David Hardiman, ‘Well Irrigation in Gujarat: Systems of Use, Hierarchies of Control’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 33, No. 25 (Jun. 20-26, 1998), pp. 1533-1544.
  3. N S Jodha ‘Common Property Resources and Rural Poor in Dry Regions of India’ Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 21, No. 27 (Jul. 5), 1169-1181,1986.
  4. Mayank Kumar, ‘Situating the Environment: Settlement, Irrigation and Agriculture in Pre-colonial Rajasthan’, Studies in History; 24; 211-233, 2008.
  5. Thomas R Rosin, ‘The Tradition of Ground Water Irrigation in North-Western India’, Human Ecology, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 51-86.
  6. Anupam Mishra, The Radiant Raindrops of Rajasthan, NBT.

Module 5: Rural Markets, Commodity Production and Circulation

This Module would explore the commercial circulatory regime in rural India. The production of agrarian and non-agrarian commodities and their circulation involved complex marketing structures and practices. Rural circulatory regimes were composed of small permanent grain markets, temporary cattle fairs and itinerant peddlars and carriers. Commodities like grain, cattle and livestock, milk products like ghee, leather, wool, salt, opium were produced and marketed through complex networks.

Week 6: Rural Circulatory Regimes: Issues of petty trade

Week 7: Exploring Rural commodities

Suggested Readings:

  1. Bromely, R J, Richard Symanski, Charles Good, ‘The Rationale of Periodic Markets’, in Annals of Association of American Geographers, Vol. 65, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp.530-537.
  2. Hodges, Richard, Primitive and Peasant Markets, Oxford, 1988.
  3. Datta, Rajat, ‘From Medieval to Colonial Markets: Markets, Territoriality and Transition in Eighteenth Century Bengal’, The Medieval History Journal, 1999, 2, 143.
  4. Mehta, Sanat, ‘Need the Salt but not its Maker,’ Divya Bhaskar (Gujarat), August 20th, 2008.
  5. Richards, J F, ‘The Indain Empire and the Peasant Production of Opium in the nineteenth Century’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1 (1981), pp. 59-82.
  6. Sahai, Nandita Prasad, ‘Crafts in Eighteenth Century Jodhpur: Questions of Class, Caste and Community Identities.’ Journal of Economic and Social History of Orient, 48, no 4, 524-51, 2005.
  7. Bajekal, Madhavi, ‘The State and the Rural Grain Market in Eighteenth Century Eastern Rajasthan’ in Sanjay Subrahmanyam Ed. Merchants, Markets and State’
  8. B R Grover, ‘ An integrated Pattern of Commercial Life in the Rural Society of North India during the Seventeenth and the Eighteenth Centuries’ in Sanjay Subrahmanyam Ed. Money and Markets
  9. Kumkum Bannerjee, ‘Grain Traders and the East India Company in Patna and its Hinterlands in the late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries’ in Merchants, Markets and State
  10. Shahid Amin, ‘Small Peasant Commodity Production and Rural Indebtedness: The Culture of Sugarcane in Eastern Uttar Pradesh c. 1880-1920.

Assessment 2: Take Home Assignment

Weightage : 25%

Module 6: Droughts, Famines and Rural Indebtedness

This module would examine the frequently recurring phenomenon of droughts that made famines an inseparable part of rural life. Famines led to large scale migrations and displacements in rural areas as well as distress alienation of land as well as surmounting of rural debt.

Week 8: Droughts and Village Society and State

Week 9: Understanding Rural Indebtedness

Suggested Readings:

  1. David Hardiman, ‘Usury, Dearth and Famine’
  2. Carol Henderson, ‘Famines and Droughts in Western Rajasthan: Desert Cultivators and Periodic Resoursce Stress’
  3. Sanjay Sharma, ‘Elusive Rains and parched Lands: Situtating Drought in Colonial India’,
  4. Sugata Bose, ‘Introduction’ and ‘The Peasantry in Debt: The Working and Rupture of Systems of Rural Credit Relations’ in Credit, Markets and the Agraraian Economy of Colonial India, OUP, 1994.
  5. Neeladri Bhattacharya, ‘Lenders and Debtors: Punjab Countryside’ in Credit, Markets and the Agraraian Economy of Colonial India, OUP, 1994.
  6. GSL Devra, ‘Rural Indebtedness in the Bikaner State AD 1700-1800
  7. Module 7: Rural Social and Communitarian Institutions:
  8. This module would examine the functioning of rural communitarian institutions and explore the process of decision making as carried out by these institutions.

Suggested Readings:

  • Nandita Prasad Sahai, Collaboration and Conflict: Artisanal Jati panchayats and the Eighteenth Century Jodhpur State’, The Medieval History Journal, 2002, 5, 77.
  • Anand Chakravarti Contradiction and Change: Emerging Patterns of Change in a Rajasthani Village, OUP, 1975.

Week 10

Module 8: Rural Society, Memory and the Construction of Identities

This Module would explore the processes of construction of community identities through perpetuation of traditions.(Weeks 11 and 12)

Suggested Readings

  • Bernard Cohn, ‘The Changing Status of Depressed Caste’ in McKim Marriott Ed. Village India University of Chicago Press, 1955.
  • Nicholas Dirks, Castes of Mind, Princeton University Press, 2001.
  • Ann Grodzins Gold, In Times of Trees and Sorrow, Duke University Press, 2002.
  • Rustam Bharucha, An Oral History of Rajasthan, Penguin, New Delhi, 2003.
  • Malvika Kasturi, Embattled Identities, OUP, New Delhi, 2002.
  • Harlan, Lindsay, 2002. ‘On Headless Heroes: Pabuji from the Inside out’ in Multiple Histories: Culture and Society in the Study of Rajasthan, (Eds.)Lawrence Babb etal Rawat Publishers,


  • Book Review ; 25%
  • Take Home Assignment: 25%
  • End Semester Assignment : 40%
  • Class participation and Attendance 10%