Labors of Division
Global Capitalism and the Emergence of the Peasant in Colonial Panjab
Navyug Gill



In Pursuit of Peasant Histories and Futures in Colonial Panjab

Farida, lorai dakh bijurian, kikar bijai jat,

handhai unn kataida, paidha lorai pat.

Farid, the cultivator plants acacia trees, but wishes for grapes,

he is spinning wool, yet wishes to wear silk.


IN THE LATE EVENING on October 20, 1893, over a hundred masked men armed with swords, hatchets, and spears gathered in the ravines outside Isa Khel in the Bannu district of Panjab. Located 260 miles west of Lahore near the Indus River, the town had a population of almost nine thousand, who were engaged mainly in cultivation and animal husbandry along with weaving and cloth trading. At around 10:30 p.m. the crowd slowly entered the main bazaar from the south and began to attack, looting and burning certain shops and homes. One of the men who was specifically targeted managed to escape only by hiding in an old well with his young son while his house was in the process of being ransacked. As the crowd moved north, they destroyed over forty buildings, killed two people, and wounded at least fifteen. Near the main intersection they were confronted by a hastily assembled police force under the command of local notables. After a brief skirmish in which thirty rounds of ammunition were fired, the authorities managed to disperse the crowd and reimpose order by midnight.

A few days later the assistant district magistrate, Herbert Casson, arrived on the scene to investigate. His report, submitted two months later, offers several curious details about the incident and its aftermath.1 According to Casson, the attack occurred on the last night of the three-day Dussehra Festival, when most residents were distracted with liturgical recitals, musical performances, and celebratory bonfires. Such timing indicates it was not a spontaneous outburst but rather a premeditated attack, possibly with some degree of local support. The damages were initially estimated at 2.5 million rupees, though a statement provided by the victims afterward amounted to 950,000 rupees in cash, ornaments, and salable goods, which was further reduced to something under 600,000 rupees. Of the seventy-eight men arrested in the following days, twenty-one were punished with sentences ranging from a 500-rupee fine to nine years of rigorous imprisonment. Thirteen were identified as “zamindars,” while the remaining eight were deemed “men of low caste.” More troubling for Casson was the lethargic response of local elites, suggesting either incompetence or collusion. Although no misconduct was proved, some of these men came under suspicion and were strongly reprimanded for not having fulfilled their duties. As both a precautionary and punitive measure, five special police posts were established in the town and surrounding villages for a period of two years. Finally, Casson mentions almost offhandedly that the perpetrators were Muslims who shouted their “Muhammadan war cry of ‘Ali,’ ‘Ali!’” as they attacked their Hindu victims.2

Despite all of these details—the organization of the attack; the extensive, if disputed, damages; the punishments; the doubts about loyalty; the police measures; and the fraught identities of those involved—Casson concludes the report, remarkably, by terming it a “riot” that was “purely local and politically unimportant.”3 Further confounding rumors, that outside agitators secretly instigated the crowd, that some Hindus might have joined in the looting, or that sexual indiscretions with women and boys were committed by men on both sides, failed to elicit sustained attention. The report itself contains no vernacular excerpts or follow-up commentaries, and the archival trail on Isa Khel has thus far largely fallen silent.4 Such a curious dismissal of a fragmentary account of what seems to be communal violence in fact prompts further questions: Why did this particular incident between Muslims and Hindus not generate greater concern from officials in British India? How was its importance determined and compared? And what might this tell us about the shifting fortunes of identity, agriculture, and capital under colonial rule?

The discrepant response to the violence in Isa Khel lies in the unusual way the colonial state pursued the question of causality. Key to explaining its status was a measure of the motivations rather than identities of the perpetrators. This meant that although it appeared that Muslims attacked Hindus, officials surprisingly did not assign blame to a difference of religion.5 “Religious ill-feeling had little, if anything, to do with the riot,” notes Richard Bruce, commissioner of the Derajat division, a point proven by the fact that “no attempt whatever was made to desecrate religious edifices or attack public buildings.”6 Instead, the causes were identified as a straightforward reaction against land alienations, the chance to loot, and a desire to burn record books. Evidence took the form of economic data: the 19,402 acres of land mortgaged in the subdistrict in 1878 had more than tripled to 61,607 acres by 1893. With the landowners all Muslims and the moneylenders all Hindus, the conflict was nonetheless cast as one between debtors and creditors rather than communal in nature. “The hatred of the Hindu as a grasping banniah,” rationalized Casson, “has much more to do with the riot than the hatred of him as a Hindu and an infidel.”7 The narrow lesson for the colonial state thus revolved around the need to protect peasants from indebtedness and to compel elites to be more diligent in their surveillance of the local population.

Beyond imperial stratagems or oscillations from religious to financial discord, what became of the riot of Isa Khel exemplifies profound issues reverberating across Panjab and the subcontinent to much of the colonized world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Denying its importance underscores important historical and historiographical possibilities for reinterpreting the politics of the past. This riot captures the changing conceptual as well as material tensions between economic logic and cultural difference under colonialism in the shadow of global capital. It also provides an opening to interrogate repetitious colonialist framings of discipline, reason, and progress from a variety of directions. In pursuit of these themes, this book investigates the history and politics of the emergence of the peasant and its implications for a new form of hierarchy in northwest colonial India and the globe. British officials regarded Panjab as a quintessential agrarian province inhabited by a uniquely diligent, prosperous, and “martial race” of cultivators. They understood the peasant to be “the predominant unit of society,” insisting that the “most important consideration of all” was to implement policies designed to bring about agrarian improvement and uplift.8 This discourse of what I term “colonial benevolence” was underpinned by an ostensibly moderate land revenue demand and protective legislation in favor of those deemed to be peasants coupled with the massive expansion of canal irrigation and extensive recruitment into the military. Such a claim can be found in other contexts too where select forms of patronage and infrastructure are still hauled out as ironclad signs of progress regardless of their authoritarian conceptualization, implementation, and deleterious long-term impact. At its center is the enduring notion that this peasantry experienced nearly a century of unparalleled prosperity. Rather than the immiserations, displacements, and insurgencies that mark other regions of British India, Panjab is seen in much of the popular and even scholarly literature as a bastion of loyalty enjoying an unrivaled period of stability and growth.

Yet the narrative of a benevolent colonialism championing a stalwart peasantry is belied when examined through the prism of how caste, labor, and capital transformed the equation of rural power. The claim that peasants remained largely unscathed if not deliberately empowered under British rule takes for granted both the category of “peasant” and the nature of agricultural production, as well the intent and operations of the colonial state. At a deeper level, it normalizes particular class and caste hierarchies by presupposing a continuity of social and economic relations from the pre- to the postcolonial. One indication of this process is the dominant interpretation of caste-based land ownership in contemporary east Panjab. According to the 2011 census, over 30 percent of the population are Dalits mainly of the Chamar and Mazhabi castes, the highest proportion in all of India. Despite mostly engaging in the labors of cultivation, however, they own less than 4 percent of the total cultivated area. Instead, the vast bulk of land is held by members of the Jatt caste, which accounts for around a third of the population.9 A similar situation exists in the rest of pre-1947 Panjab, in Haryana, and to a lesser extent in Himachal Pradesh (India) and in west Panjab (Pakistan).10 Such disparities are usually explained through the ahistorical alignment of identity with occupation: Jatts are peasants while Chamars and Mazhabis have been landless laborers since antiquity. The postcolonial distribution of economic and political power in the countryside is thus reinforced by colonial assumptions about the inherent and timeless qualities of rural Panjabis.

I challenge the givenness of this agrarian order and the surreptitious denial of its modern transformation by asking three interrelated questions: How did colonial racial, fiscal, and legal policies align the category of “peasant” with hereditary caste identity? What kinds of contestations over collective status, access to credit, and land ownership did this generate among different groups of Panjabis? And what did this mean for the ways that global capitalist processes became implicated in local forms of knowledge and power? In the following chapters, I defamiliarize the idea of the division of labor through an examination of the labors involved in creating and sustaining a series of ideological and material divisions: from the colonial separation of agricultural and non-agricultural tribes to the dissonance between Panjabi, Urdu, and English meanings for various aspects of cultivation, the antagonism between so-called upper- and lower-caste Panjabis, the actual division of crops between landholder and laborer, and the global conceptual split between peasant and proletarian. This book uncovers the tangled politics of how and why colonial officials and ascendant Panjabis together disrupted existing conceptions of identity and occupation to generate a new form of hierarchy in the countryside masked as traditional. The result was the creation of a modern group of hereditary landowning peasants alongside other groups engaged in cultivation yet relegated to the status of landless laborers.

Writing a history of the division of labor opens up possibilities for rethinking the conventions of at least three avenues of historical research. The first is that this book questions the very category of “peasant.” Perhaps the most prominent and durable figure in modern history, peasants have long been a fount for a vast assortment of global arguments in virtually every discipline in the humanities and social sciences. All manner of colonialist, nationalist, socialist, developmentalist, and now environmentalist discourses have sought to analyze, condemn, extol, corral, and improve peasants at each position along the political spectrum. Dedicated publications such as The Journal of Peasant Studies and later the Journal of Agrarian Change rose in prominence in the 1970s due to the increasing importance of their object of inquiry.11 After a brief intellectual interregnum, the peasant dramatically reappeared in the global public imagination in late 2020 with the massive farmer and laborer protests against a proposed set of neoliberal laws in India, leading to an outpouring of new thinking and writings.12 Still, underlying much of this literature is the notion that the peasant simply exists everywhere, a general if not generic figure traced backward from the contested origins of modernity to the recesses of primordial times. Yet these two claims—ubiquity and antiquity—at the very least ought to provoke a pause. The obviousness of the peasant is precisely what demands reexamination in terms of what this category meant in different historical contexts, which groups came to occupy it, and how it shaped not only rural political economy but what we think we know about the past. It also means that contemporary calls for sympathy or solidarity relying on supposedly ancient pedigrees need to be critically assessed and, where appropriate, established on another basis altogether. The taken-for-granted status of the peasant is itself an element in its historical emergence.

This book also calls into question the centrality of the colonizer-­colonized divide for histories of the colonial world. Such a stark, totalizing binary was in fact generated by the racial logic accompanying European conquests from the late fifteenth century onward that regarded societies in Africa, Asia, and America as inherently inferior. While anticolonial movements inverted this logic as part of their struggle to resist and expel foreign domination, generations of thinkers and writers drew on this inheritance to contest the justificatory discourses of colonialism by demonstrating the opposite, that colonized peoples were rational, accomplished, dynamic, civilized, and worthy of freedom. Indeed, postcolonial critique can be seen as an attempt to challenge the obvious as well as insidious arguments, values, and narratives that emerged through the prolonged colonial encounter.

Yet, as Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire trenchantly remind us, there have always been doubts about the presumed unity and coherence of those deemed “colonized.” Not only did certain elite local actors ally with European powers, but others partially benefited in limited ways from colonial rule, while internal fissures over class, caste, religion, ethnicity, and language were fitfully subsumed (though never silenced) as part of most mainstream anticolonial nationalisms.13 This book confronts the chimera of the colonized by foregrounding the competition and contradictions that developed within Panjabi society during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is therefore not another account of colonized versus colonizer, a repeated instance of heroic peasants fighting against the British Empire. Instead, I explore how colonialism generated a sustained, multifaceted, and unpredictable societal conflict from which certain groups identified as peasants emerged atop a new agrarian hierarchy to the exclusion and exploitation of others who were consigned to a fate of landless laboring. Racial unity might be every bit as hollow as racial inferiority.

Lastly, this book offers an alternative genealogy of the emergence and operations of global capital. If the transformative quality of the bourgeois mode of production is indisputable, the debate over its provenance, essential features, and trajectory has been equally inconclusive. Over a hundred years of intense political and scholarly writings have in various ways explored what actually constituted capitalism proper, how and where it began, and what it meant for people in different parts of the world.14 Much of this revolved around competing interpretations of key texts from the oeuvre of Karl Marx alongside the supposedly exemplary experience of Western Europe.15 Rather than attempt to settle this debate or dismiss it out of hand, I take inspiration from the diversity of perspectives and embrace the contingency it suggests as inherent to all forms of radical change. This requires drawing on Marx differently, not as an authoritative means to adjudicate the truth of capitalism, but as a historical figure offering profound and penetrating yet inescapably elliptical insights into the changing world he was able to witness. “Marx foresaw the foreseeable,” remarked Antonio Gramsci, and not everything, everywhere, and for all time.16 The burden of expectations—of capital to behave in universal ways and of Marx to provide universalist answers—is called into question by attending to the specificity of the transformation of Panjabi society under colonial rule. This book traces how the domains of economy and culture were in fact constituted and intertwined to generate a new, unusual, and variable form of capitalist accumulation and social hierarchy. Its point of departure is to engage in the temptation of comparison without smuggling in a modern version of the scale of civilizations. Far from a simple criticism, this book tries to think with as well as across and through Marx to make sense of a distinctive global context. That is why the events of Isa Khel cannot be understood as purely the result of financial distress, any more than they can be chalked up to religious strife.

Perhaps a final contribution of this book lies in the scope as well as approach toward historical sources. At first glance, much of what I rely on will appear familiar to historians of colonialism and agriculture: settlement reports, government circulars, famine commissions, census data, and legislative acts. I also make use of less common materials such as nineteenth-century dictionaries, statistical surveys, Christian missionary texts, local newspapers, and Panjabi proverbs. The old adage about interpretation—that two scholars can reach different conclusions from the same piece of evidence—should be conspicuous. My aim has been to critically engage this conventional archive by contrasting it with other kinds of sources and posing different kinds of questions. On the one hand, in the course of research I have uncovered certain untapped materials, from vernacular petitions for changing status and a contract between a landholder and laborer to intimate details about rural family consumption patterns. On the other hand, I draw on Sikh and Bhakti sacred verses as well as insights from a range of twentieth-century individuals such as Bhimrao Ambedkar, Mangoo Ram, Harnam Singh Ahluwalia, Muhammad Hayat Khan, and Kapur Singh. In this way, juridical rulings and quantified data are put alongside poetic supplications and personal recollections from archives in Chandigarh and New Delhi to London and beyond.

Near the end of the book, I analyze the writings of Marx along with Adam Smith, Vladimir Lenin, and Karl Kautsky as theory rather than history. A non-Europeanist engaging with ostensibly European thinkers is a deliberate gesture of refusing the boundaries of both discipline and geography, especially when those ideas have so profoundly shaped the material perception of regions such as South Asia. Indeed, their concepts have an import beyond mere accuracy; they circulate the globe through the very grammar of political economy. In this way, I confront the fundamental questions of access—Who reads whom, and writes about what?—in order to defy a hierarchy of knowledge that masquerades as neutral expertise. Monopoly has no place in historical inquiry. I therefore claim neither an entirely novel archive nor an entirely novel method. Rather, this book is an attempt to critically read across diverse genres to produce a narrative—empirically grounded and theoretically apt—that reinterprets major issues in modern Panjabi society in conversation with larger themes in global history. The tension between what constitutes the particular and the general remains abundantly indivisible.

Expectations of Peasant Dormancy and Death

Until recently, the historical experience of peasants in Western Europe was widely held up as the model for the rest of the world. Its particular trajectory of dissolution and transformation inaugurated a compelling set of universal expectations. According to Eric Wolf, not only did peasants “stand midway between the primitive tribe and industrial society,” but their importance was based on the conviction that “industrial society is built upon the ruins of peasant society.”17 Capitalism, in other words, was understood to both require the peasantry and bring about its end. Out of their detritus were to emerge an entirely new class of workers along with those who employed them, that is, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Explanations of this process have proceeded along two main lines. In the classic liberal formulation, innovations in science and technology, the erosion of religious orthodoxy, and the establishment of private property rights created a manufacturing economy that attracted rural peasants to work in urban localities. Classic Marxist accounts, on the other hand, describe how the simultaneous dislocation of the rural population, rise in commodity production, and concentration of political authority, combined with the global conquest of resources and markets, forced peasants to sell their labor-power for wages. For both interpretations, the ultimate future of the peasant was to leave the countryside—eventually, if fitfully—in order to become a worker in the city. The death of the peasantry was thus the precondition for the birth of capitalist modernity.

A crucial distinction between these two narratives was the valence given to this change as well as its horizon. For liberal interpretations, by and large, peasants becoming workers was a story of progress. The gradual, successive evolution from feudalism to capitalism, despite moments of regrettable violence, was considered either a pragmatic or inevitable triumph, producing in its wake a new relationship of free contract between workers and employers based on mutual need. The exchange of work for pay is seen as fair precisely because it is agreed upon by two rational individuals voluntarily making choices in their own best interests. It is this reciprocity, moreover, that for liberals rendered post-peasant society both largely harmonious and stable. As a result, capitalism appeared as the wholesome culmination of all that came before it.

Rather than inverting celebration into condemnation, Marxists usually offered a more intricate account of this history. While concurring with the progress involved in transforming the peasantry into the proletariat, they have also emphasized the necessary suffering, brutality, and “ruthless terrorism” required for that transformation.18 Far from momentary, however, this specific violence was understood to reflect a general antagonism inherent to all class relations, one that becomes especially animated in periods of dramatic change. The employment contract is hardly a neutral exchange; instead, it presupposes and entrenches a deep inequality mediated by the forces of law, state, and market. Antagonism therefore continued beyond the disappearance of the peasant into a new struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Post-peasant capitalism for Marxists was regarded as an ongoing and unfinished project. In these ways, responses to the peasant question lay at the center of competing understandings of the making of modern society.

What is significant about these two political and intellectual traditions has been for a long time their denial of the agency, activities, or even potential of peasants in the modern age. Along with articulating the dissolution of the peasant with the coming of capitalist modernity, both conventional liberals and Marxists established the notion of peasants playing little meaningful role in their own (inexorable) demise. It is as if the peasantry was absent at its own un-making.19 Instead, change was understood to have initiated from elsewhere. To the liberal identification of a coalition of social forces with the bourgeoisie at the helm, the most crucial source of transformation was the nascent proletariat for Marxists. To whatever extent peasants may have participated in the two great European revolutionary upsurges, France 1789 and Russia 1917, the common notion is that the achievements of those struggles were due to the bourgeoisie and the worker. As a result of this intertwining of explanatory narrative with historical interpretation, a distinct image of the peasant emerged. For liberals and most Marxists alike, the peasant was a relic: an anachronism, dormant if not static, usually a force of conservatism and reaction, a flawed receptacle for outside ideology, and at best an unreliable and perhaps unworthy ally for producing a new society.20 Despite differences over the emergence, content, and direction of modernity, both interpretations concurred on the assumed absence of peasants as subjects of history.

This unseemly consensus of peasant dormancy began to unravel in the post–World War II era of decolonization and cold war. In 1949, an overwhelmingly peasant army defeated both foreign and domestic opponents to take power in China; ten years later, another insurgency made up largely of peasants overthrew a dictatorship in Cuba. Throughout the following decades, peasant guerillas engaged in asymmetrical wars across what was then called the Third World, from Vietnam to Angola and Algeria. In India, a peasant movement initially demanding land redistribution in the area around the West Bengal village of Naxalbari escalated into an armed uprising against the state in 1967.21 That conflict exposed the pitfalls of nationalism by laying bare the violent inequities of postcolonial society, inspiring later generations toward a form of political militancy that continues to this day. It also spurred the Indian government to redouble efforts to implement modernization programs designed by foreign institutions such as the World Bank and the Ford Foundation to lessen absolute rural poverty by increasing agricultural output.

Yet an important element common to all of these conflicts is that they were not simply gestures of peasant resistance—defensive efforts to prevent change or preserve a preexisting order—but acts of revolution, that is, positive, creative attempts to transform society.22 These peasants were not waiting to become workers in order to assume their assigned role in a world-historical transition. Peasants qua peasants could observe and comprehend their situation, organize into effective military units, and use advanced weaponry and tactics to fight and occasionally defeat forces thought to be vastly superior. By disrupting the notion of peasant inertness in such decisively modern ways, these tangible political successes challenged the exclusivity of the French and Russian revolutions as paradigms of radical change and arbitrators of human progress. Liberals and especially Marxists were forced to take heed. No longer an anachronism, the peasantry could not be denied a place in the making of its own history and future.

The Discovery of Peasant Agency in India

If peasant political power was seen to emerge from the barrel of a gun, a large measure of the scholarly reexamination of peasant agency and politics was compelled by the echo of the shots. Investigations of the peasant question in India have occurred along different disciplinary paths. Economists and sociologists in the late 1960s entered into an intensive, wide-reaching debate about the classification of the peasantry, their mode of production, and the nature of agrarian capitalism. It is not without significance that this scholarship began with the Panjabi peasant. In response to the celebratory tone taken by some commentators toward the “Green ­Revolution”—the introduction of high-yield seed varieties, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, submersible water pumps and rapid mechanization, which dramatically increased crop output, particularly wheat and rice23—Ashok Rudra and his colleagues used evidence from a small study of peasants in Panjab to argue against the notion that a new class of dynamic capitalist farmers had appeared. Rather famously, they rejected the optimistic forecasts of social peace through agrarian prosperity in favor of anticipating an explicitly “Red” revolution.24

On the other hand, sharply critiquing their methodology as well as politics, Utsa Patnaik deployed a different criterion to measure capitalist development across several Indian states to insist on the opposite, that capitalist farmers were indeed emerging, albeit unevenly and in a historically evolutionary manner.25 From this initial exchange, a series of responses and interventions drew in over a dozen prominent participants over the next two decades.26 At the same time, this particular debate partially overlapped and became implicated in a much larger discussion over the precise mechanism that constituted the genesis of worldwide capitalism.27 While the discussion about the Indian peasantry dried up somewhat inconclusively by the late 1980s, its fervor succeeded in demonstrating the importance of the peasant as a contemporary object of inquiry, one requiring distinct forms of empirical analyses, theoretical frameworks, and political narratives.

The discovery of peasant agency had an equally profound, though more gradual and enduring, impact on the discipline of history. In 1976, Eric Stokes began an important synopsis of the prevailing interpretations of colonialism in South Asia with a comment on the limits of accessing the historical peasant. He explained that the peasant archive was overwhelmingly impersonal and statistical, produced by white- or even brown-skinned desk-bound officials “entangled in a fearsome thicket of technicality.” This rendered the peasant “unreachable through the intimacy of shared experience and its accompanying intuitive understanding,” estranging generations of historians. Historiography, he went on, neglected to address the consciousness, experiences, and activities of peasants from within their own habitus.

Stokes critiqued the dominant scholarship by dividing historians into “neo-Machiavellians” and “neo-Marxists.” Whereas the former defined British rule as a “maximum economy of effort,” relying on native collaborators and in continuity with previous rulers, the latter emphasized the parasitic, extractive quality of colonial capitalism, having “struck a local bargain with feudalism” that also left Indian society largely unchanged.28 The problem was that for both strands, “the peasantry remained an inert mass.”29 Stokes then pointed out how these positions were increasingly untenable in light of several new studies that explored different forms of peasant dynamism from the latter half of the nineteenth century. Yet although he heralded this emerging scholarship as the “return of the peasant to South Asian history,” Stokes reiterated the limitations of the discipline as a whole, concluding that “the historian must content himself with the role of the humble camp follower to the sociologist and economist.”30

A few years later, Ranajit Guha and the Subaltern Studies Collective not only furthered the critique of historiographical elitism but also proposed a dramatically new orientation toward the study of Indian history. Beginning with a reevaluation of the mass mobilizations against British rule, they argued for the importance of understanding domains of popular life neither reducible to the machinations of select personalities nor perceptible through the conventions of historical research. Appreciating the politics of the subaltern—groups denied access to power due to occupying a position of structural yet relational subordination—required a different conception of the category “political.” This meant challenging the centrality of the colonial state, and most particularly its archive which rendered peasant rebellions a problem of lawlessness, by implicating historical difference within narratives of nation, community, and capital.31 This is why histories of subalternity could not simply follow existing modes of radical scholarship in Europe, because the directions in which they led were constituted by the very marginalization and obfuscation of the subaltern. Nor was the state in the colony and its ancillary institutions identical to that in the metropolis. In other words, the venerable “history from below” approach remained the same history, only seen from a different vantage.32 For Subaltern Studies, the colonial peasant at once fully inhabited modernity as a conscious political subject yet imagined and conducted politics in a profoundly different way. Perhaps most incisively, Guha noted that the domain of the subaltern “can be sensed by intuition and proved by demonstration,” signaling an affective quality to the study of history by forcefully connecting the politics of the historian with the production of historical narratives.33

By insisting on the need to recognize the peasant “as a subject of history in his own right,” Guha and Subaltern Studies opened up new avenues in the study of peasant history and wider questions of popular beliefs, labor relations, and knowledge practices under colonial rule.34 They produced studies exploring the aspirations and activities of peasants in the contexts of nationalist mobilization to economic disruption and changing epistemologies.35 At the same time, other historians also concerned with agrarian history linked regional dynamics with capitalist processes over the long durée to situate the Indian peasant within the broader world economy.36 Together this body of scholarship overturned almost all of the previous assumptions about peasants serving as victims of irrational, unchanging, and naturalistic tendencies, receptacles of external ideology incapable of becoming political agents. The peasant became recognized as a crucial, distinct figure central to the making of anticolonial nationalism as much as modern capitalism. Later works have taken this critique in different directions, foregrounding how peasants conceived of their own identities or the ways peasants negotiated the unevenness of colonial capitalism or the need to broaden the definition of who is included in peasant castes.37 More recently, scholars such as Rupa Viswanath, Tariq Ali, and Mubbashir Rizvi have provocatively reimagined the politics of rural life in different regions of the subcontinent through unfree caste regimes to the circulation of global commodities and ongoing struggles for land rights. Once peasants were acknowledged as agents rather than anachronisms, historians and anthropologists over the past four decades became pioneers instead of followers in their study.

The Inscrutability of Peasant Dominance in Panjab

Peasant domination in Panjab has been so self-evident that it warranted little sustained scholarly investigation in the years following partition and independence. Aside from the post-1960s debates over the content and potential of the Green Revolution, this peasantry has been obliquely assumed rather than directly studied. The overriding assumption of a benevolent administration, and the apparent absence of mass poverty or insurrection, largely directed scholars toward analyzing peasants through the prism of the colonial state. In 1966, Norman Barrier published a study of the legislative efforts to address the problem of peasant indebtedness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although he noted the state acted largely in self-interest to preserve order, he suggested “official concern” for the “alienation of land by the agriculturalist” also sprang “from a paternal attitude toward the illiterate peasantry, a feeling that the government had a responsibility to defend the rights of the poor and down-­trodden.”38 While the extent to which certain laws succeeded in alleviating debt remained an open question, the proposition of the largely beneficial relationship between peasants and the British became unquestioned. Several scholars continued in this line of inquiry, examining the mindset of key officials and the conflicting priorities and actions of the administration as it consolidated and sustained its rule.39 Despite their statist framings, these works contributed to establishing the specificity of colonialism and its claims in Panjab from the rest of colonial India.

This early historiographical emphasis on state policy led to further studies on other distinctive aspects of colonial governance that were at least indirectly related to peasants. The first is the role of canal irrigation in the making of what Imran Ali termed “a hydraulic society.” Beginning in the 1880s, the administration used local labor and public funds to build hundreds of miles of canals to supply water to the drier southwestern portion of the region. This increased the area of cultivation—and therefore of taxation—from three million to over fourteen million acres, “the greatest expansion in agricultural production in any part of South Asia under the British.”40 Economic growth, however, did not correspond to social progress. For Ali, colonial developmental ambitions were thwarted by entrenched local traditions that resulted in a persistent form of feudalism rather than capitalist dynamism. In other words, the full potential of agrarian change was introduced but then inhibited by a “benevolent despotism.” Thus, the main contradiction for Ali and other scholars revolved around how state-led irrigation schemes both generated rapid prosperity and maintained traditional backwardness for peasants.41

The second aspect of the distinctiveness of the Panjab administration focused on the politics of recruitment into the British Indian army. Assistance given by collaborating local rulers to suppress the 1857–58 revolt transformed British apprehension toward Panjabis from earlier wars (1845–46 and 1848–49) into a concerted policy of cooptation and conscription. The creation of new “military labour markets” targeted the supposedly innate martial prowess of primarily Sikhs, Pathans, Rajputs, and caste Jatts of all religions to serve as soldiers for internal patrolling, defending the frontier and imposing British rule throughout the world.42 Not coincidentally, many of these groups were also considered naturally endowed to be peasants, so that the qualities of soldiery became conflated with husbandry. Indeed, after twenty-five years of service, ex-soldiers were given grants of land in the newly established canal colonies as part of their pensions. The peasant thereby remains unquestioned in statist studies of infrastructural development and military recruitment.

In recent years, scholarship has focused more directly on the changing texture of rural Panjab under British rule. Neeladri Bhattacharya’s valuable study examines the contradictions within colonial authority and the fate of pastoral and nomadic groups amid the rise of settled agriculture. The “great agrarian conquest” was an imperial project of conceiving “a new regime of categories” alongside their haphazard, conflicting deployment in the countryside.43 In this way, his approach is similar to Richard Saumarez Smith’s district-level study of colonial recordkeeping practices and Tom Kessinger’s century-long tracing of land tenures in a single village.44 Despite a wealth of details, Bhattacharya does not question the actual composition of the peasant, nor does he substantively address the shifting politics of caste or religion, or for that matter much of vernacular Panjabi culture. His object of inquiry is the intricate workings of colonial state power—tellingly, the book opens and closes with the musings of two different officers at the beginning and end of a hundred years of British rule. As a result, the peasant is still an already-constituted figure located at the center of cultivation in these histories of modern Panjab.

In contrast to studies giving primacy to the colonial state, the field of social history has been particularly significant in investigating areas of popular beliefs and practices in Panjab. To a degree this is due to the presence of three as opposed to two major religious traditions. Sikhi not only altered the binary narrative of Hindu-Muslim relations, but the rise of Sikh power and the kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh immediately prior to British rule also garnered attention as a potent political force. In fact, the undue academic emphasis on colonial manipulation is partly what prompted scholars such as Harjot Oberoi to reevaluate indigenous agency in reforming and consolidating religious identities, though not without generating important critiques.45 This extended into studies of other aspects of social change, from rural patriarchy to gender relations and language politics.46 Yet in these works too the peasantry is largely taken for granted. Rather than constituting an object of inquiry, the peasant appears as the implicit, unchanging subject of a region declared to be fundamentally agrarian—the societal rock upon which other social changes occurred. While there have been efforts to explore the making of the agricultural economy,47 social histories of Panjab effectively accepted the equation of self-evident and longstanding peasant castes dominating agricultural production. As a result, while scholarship on popular life moved away from statist concerns, it still ceded the domain of material relations to fixed colonialist assumptions rather than a site of contestation among different social, political, and epistemological forces.

The Labors of Division

This book interrupts the obvious yet unexamined history of the peasant by tracing its emergence, contradictions, and implications in the making of a new agrarian hierarchy in colonial Panjab. The nature of my intervention is perhaps captured by revising a claim made by Dipesh Chakrabarty on the difference between modern India and Western Europe. “What distinguishes the story of political modernity in India from the usual and comparable narratives of the West,” he writes, “was the fact that modern politics was not founded on an assumed death of the peasant.”48 It is my argument that Panjabi modernity and many similar regions of the Global South were in fact founded on the birth of peasants as we now know them. By attending to struggles within rural society as well as between colonizer and colonized, I move beyond the commonsense notion that Panjab was merely “the showcase of Indian colonial development.”49 And I demonstrate how the peasant as the product of a recent alignment of caste with occupation introduced novel forms of exclusion and exploitation for those deemed inherently landless and forever laboring. In this way, I trouble the narrative of a self-evident, exclusive group of precolonial peasants simply enduring through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to arrive not only intact but also entitled to their position of relative dominance in the present.

Building on the scholarship of Ritu Birla, Vinay Gidwani, and Andrew Sartori, among others, this book explores wider questions of how the operation of colonial knowledge and vernacular politics transformed society amid the tumult of a new market economy. Historicizing the landed peasant and the landless laborer denaturalizes their usual location within the story of global capital. As a figure emerging from a collision between caste and class forces under British rule, the Panjabi peasant is shown to be anything but a relic of the past—and thus an indication of the persistence of semi-feudal relations or a lack of sufficient capitalism. Rather, it is a political and economic subject born of the historical differences drawn through the fractious career of capitalism in this colony. Instead of producing an assumed uniformity across the world, capital in the nineteenth century made use of local forms of power such as caste, tribe, and religion to reproduce societies in altogether dissimilar ways. Diversity and indeed uncertainty are inherent to the rule of capital. This unpredictability is therefore central to explicating the specificity of how the Panjabi peasantry could depart from the trajectory of its fictitious counterpart in Europe without resorting to the stagism of linear progress.

Historians of capitalism in the colonial world continue to confront a bountiful double burden of thinking difference with congruence. The lessons of the emergence of the peasant in Panjab for global history thus require interrogating this very oppositional pairing. It is not simply a matter of scale, of resisting the diminutive positioning of an interesting local history within a predefined global canvas. Nor do I demand that all grand frameworks basically become more reflective by including varied experiences from across the world. While both are worthwhile endeavors, the act of turning away or seeking entry still presupposes a universal division of historiographical importance, such that Panjab must speak amid “India” and through “Asia” at “Europe” or now “America” in order to garner global attention. A reason for this disparity is the elemental vocabulary used to describe changing historical phenomena—hence the need to put pressure on the concept of “the peasant” as well as “the laborer” and even “capitalism.” As a result, it is productive to trace how the actual categories of political economy were in fact formed out of contingent circumstances that nevertheless acquired the explanatory force to describe vast swaths of human society. Beyond the confines of a case study, rethinking the peasant in Panjab is a way to question what is assumed to be known of peasantries in not only England or France but Brazil, Egypt, and China, as well as the capitalist logics that appear to bind these diverse places and pasts together.

In the chapters that follow, I offer a history of the making of peasant caste identity and the politics of agrarian labor under colonial capitalism. Chapter 1 begins by examining the politics of the East India Company’s conquest and early administration of Panjab in the mid-nineteenth century. I focus on how the claim of a benevolent regime extracting “moderate” revenue generated a set of material practices that disrupted and reordered the relationship between caste identity, labor activity, and land ownership. This created a form of accumulation that was modern and capitalist yet strikingly different from the standard narrative in Europe. In Chapter 2, I chart the contradictions between the multitude of evolving vernacular terms for peasant and agricultural production amid attempts by the colonial state to assign precise cultivation practices to specific castes. This poses as well as historicizes the elusive question “Who is a peasant?” and its far-reaching answers. I show how the juridical categories of agricultural and non-agricultural tribes subsumed a fluid constellation of Panjabi and Urdu terms such as kisan, kashtkar, and hali to produce a singular landholding peasant against various groups now categorized as landless laborers. Chapter 3 examines the contradictory evolution of the crisis of rural debt and its various remedies. I demonstrate how the problem of indebtedness, supposedly based on notions of cultural irrationality and extravagance, shifted from excessive spending to land fragmentation to the specific alienation of peasant land. A market structured by colonial legislation empowered a new class within the castes of agricultural tribes to monopolize access to land and thereby dominate the countryside. In Chapter 4, I analyze modes of lower-caste assertion through a new agrarian division of labor. From Sikhi to the Bhakti movement, and Ad Dharm to Ambedkar-led struggles, there is a long history of subordinate groups claiming equality and dignity by converting out of Hinduism. At the same time, I contrast the religious quality of untouchability with its economic imperatives in order to show how the degrading and exploitative conditions of Dalits continued across identity reformation. Chapter 5 concludes with a broader intellectual history of how the category of “peasant” came to be associated with notions of inadequacy and an expectation of transition alongside the rise of the proletariat at the very center of the discipline of political economy. By tracing the debate between Lenin and Kautsky back to Smith and his immanent critique by Marx, I situate the valorization of manufacturing within depictions of agriculture as both an antecedent and inferior civilizational condition. The ideological and material agenda of colonialism in South Asia is thus inextricable from a global inheritance of comparison.

This book ultimately seeks to give a historical account of certain social and economic hierarchies that are presented as natural and timeless, and therefore permanent. I aim to ascribe political contestation and contingency in the making of the hereditary caste peasant atop a new agrarian order in the midst of globalizing capital. Events such as the violence in Isa Khel might thereby transcend colonial dismissal to generate deeper questions about discordant societal transformations as well as the categories through which their meanings are made and unmade. On the one hand, for Panjabi history, the peasant question is a matter of explicating the novelty of hierarchy rather than the falsity of anachronism, in order to reveal its impermanence and therefore possibilities for alternative emancipatory futures. On the other hand, the emergence of the peasant in a global perspective signals the need to re-politicize political economy itself, to implicate knowledge production and cultural difference within the shifting dynamics of capitalist change. Indeed, in an oblique way, the exquisite words of Baba Farid at the start of this introduction provide an orientation into the aporia between actions and aspirations. Nor should we forget that kikar and wool have their uses too. May this effort then bear eventual fruit.


Epigraph: Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 1379. I am using the online version from accessed on April 15, 2022. It uses the exegesis by Sahib Singh, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan (Jalandhar: Raj Publishers, 1962–64) and is translated by Sant Singh Khalsa. Keeping the transliteration mostly intact but without diacritics, I have slightly adjusted the translation. Here the dakh bijurian refers to the small grapes found in Bajaur, a mountainous Panjabi region north of Peshawar in the present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

1. The details in this and the previous paragraph are from Report by H. A. Casson, “Riot Isakhel Bannu Dashera,” December 28, 1893, Revenue and Agriculture Department (Land Revenue), file 215, no. 18 (B), May 1895, National Archives of India (hereafter NAI), New Delhi, India. See also Gazetteer of the Bannu District (Calcutta: Central Press Company, 1883), 176–78, 207–8.

2. Report from H. A. Casson, “Riot Isakhel Bannu Dashera,” December 28, 1893, 2.

3. Report from H. A. Casson, “Riot Isakhel Bannu Dashera,” December 28, 1893, 13.

4. One exception is a short article by Ikram Ali Malik published in 1984 that summarizes much of the Casson report. See Malik, “Isa Khel Riot of 1893,” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, vol. 23, part 1 (January 1984): 13–21. There remains the possibility of pursuing oral accounts, memories, or alternative archives of this event through interviews in the area, located in the Mianwali district of Punjab in present-day Pakistan. For an analysis of another episode of lopsided mass violence between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs thirty years later in the nearby district of Kohat, see Neeti Nair, Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), ch. 2.

5. This is counter to the usual colonial practice of designating conflicts between different communities as the result of inherent and unceasing religious antagonism. See Gyanendra Pandey, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990); cf. C. A. Bayly, “The Pre-History of ‘Communal’? Religious Conflict in India, 1700–1860,” Modern Asian Studies 19, no. 2 (1985): 177–203.

6. Letter from R. I. Bruce, Commissioner and Superintendent, Derajat Division, to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Punjab, January 15, 1894, 3, in “Riot Isakhel Bannu Dashera.”

7. Report from H. A. Casson, “Riot Isakhel Bannu Dashera,” December 28, 1893, 12. For a study of the longer history of debt, power, and agriculture in Gujarat—invoking precisely this trope of the “grasping banniah”—see David Hardiman, Feeding the Baniya: Peasants and Usurers in Western India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996).

8. Malcolm Lyall Darling, The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt (London: Humphrey Milford, 1928), xii–xiii, xvi. For an analysis of the politics of reading ostensibly sympathetic colonial writers such as Darling as historical sources, see Navyug Gill, “Peasant as Alibi: An Itinerary of the Archive in Colonial Panjab,” in Unarchived Histories: The “Mad” and the “Trifling” in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, ed. Gyanendra Pandey (London: Routledge, 2014), 24–28, 36–37.

9. The 2011 Census of India calculated Dalits as 31.9 percent of the population of Panjab. See Census of India 2011, Release of Primary Census Abstract Data Highlights, Dr. C. Chandramouli, April 30, 2013, 11. Estimates of the Jatt population range from 25 to 40 percent. See Ronki Ram, “Beyond Conversion and Sanskritisation: Articulating an Alternative Dalit Agenda in East Punjab,” Modern Asian Studies 46, no. 3 (May 2012): 659; Paramjit S. Judge, “Caste Hierarchy, Dominance, and Change in Punjab,” Sociological Bulletin 64, no. 1 (January–April 2015): 61–66; and Surinder Singh Jodhka, “Caste and Untouchability in Rural Punjab,” Economic and Political Weekly 37, no. 19 (May 11–17, 2002): 1823.

10. On conditions in Pakistani west Panjab, see Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, “The State as Landlord in Pakistani Punjab: Peasant Struggles on the Okara Military Farms,” Journal of Peasant Studies 33, no. 3 (2006): 479–501; and Mubbashir A. Rizvi, The Ethics of Staying: Social Movements and Land Rights Politics in Pakistan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019), chs. 1–3. On caste politics in the southeast portion of Panjab, which in 1966 became the Indian state of Haryana, see Prem Chowdhry, “Jat Domination in South-East Punjab: Socio-Economic Basis of Jat Politics in a Punjab District,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 19, no. 3–4 (July 1982): 325–346.

11. See Henry Bernstein and Terence J. Byres, “From Peasant Studies to Agrarian Change,” Journal of Agrarian Change 1, no. 1 (January 2001): 1–56.

12. On the 2020–21 farmer-laborer protest in India, see Pritam Singh, “BJP’s Farming Policies: Deepening Agrobusiness Capitalism and Centralisation,” Economic and Political Weekly 55, no. 41 (October 10, 2020): 14–17; Shreya Sinha, “The Agrarian Crisis in Punjab and the Making of the Anti-Farm Law Protest,” India Forum, December 4, 2020; and Navyug Gill, “A Popular Upsurge against Neoliberal Arithmetic in India,” Al Jazeera, December 11, 2020.

13. See Rupa Viswanath, The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Anupama Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Ramnarayan S. Rawat, Reconsidering Untouchability: Chamars and Dalit History in North India (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011); and P. Sanal Mohan, Modernity of Slavery: Struggles against Caste Inequality in Colonial Kerala (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015). For a poignant critique of the project of mainstream Indian nationalism, see G. Aloysius, Nationalism Without a Nation in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997).

14. See Aidan Foster-Carter, “The Modes of Production Controversy,” New Left Review 1, no. 107 (February 1978): 47–77; and Robert J. Holton, “Marxist Theories of Social Change and the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism,” Theory and Society 10, no. 6 (November 1981): 833–867. On capitalism and U.S. slavery, see James Oakes, “Capitalism and Slavery and the Civil War,” International Labor and Working-Class History, no. 89 (Spring 2016): 195–220.

15. See Harry Harootunian, Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015); and Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). See also Irfan Habib, “Marx’s Perception of India,” in Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception (New Delhi: Tulika Books, 1995); Sudipta Kaviraj, “On the Status of Marx’s Writings on India,” Social Scientist 11, no. 9 (September 1983): 26–46; and Pranav Jani, “Karl Marx, Eurocentrism, and the 1857 Revolt in British India,” in Marxism, Modernity, and Postcolonial Studies, ed. Crystal Bartolovich and Neil Lazarus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 81–97.

16. Antonio Gramsci, “The Revolution Against Capital,” in The Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916–1935, ed. David Forgacs (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 33.

17. Eric R. Wolf, Peasants (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1966), vii.

18. Karl Marx, Capital: Volume I: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1976), 89.

19. This sense of absence and un-making is an inversion of E. P. Thompson’s classic argument about the working class being “present at its own making.” See Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage Books, 1963), 9 and passim.

20. See Teodor Shanin, ed., Defining Peasants: Essays Concerning Rural Societies, Expolary Economics, and Learning from Them in the Contemporary World (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990).

21. See Sumanta Banerjee, In the Wake of Naxalbari: A History of the Naxalite Movement in India (Calcutta: Subarnarekha, 1980).

22. This potential of peasantries in the twentieth century to remake their societies stands in contrast to Eric Hobsbawm’s depiction of the limits of peasants as social bandits in nineteenth-century Europe. “Banditry itself is therefore not a programme for peasant society,” he writes, “but a form of self-help to escape it in particular circumstances. Bandits, except for their willingness or capacity to refuse individual submission, have no ideas other than those of the peasantry (or the section of the peasantry) of which they form a part.” Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), 24, emphasis added.

23. See Daniel Thorner, “Capitalist Farming in India,” Economic and Political Weekly 4, no. 52 (December 27, 1969): 211–212; Wolf Ladejinsky, “The Green Revolution in Punjab: A Field Trip,” Economic and Political Weekly 4, no. 26 (June 28, 1969): 73–82; and M. S. Randhawa, Green Revolution (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974). For an influential ethnography of village life in the midst of these changes, see Murray J. Leaf, Song of Hope: The Green Revolution in a Panjab Village (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1984). On long-term consequences, see Francine R. Frankel, India’s Green Revolution: Economic Gains and Political Costs (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), ch. 2; Sucha Singh Gill, “The Farmer’s Movement and Agrarian Change in the Green Revolution Belt of North-West India,” Journal of Peasant Studies, 21, no. 3–4 (1994): 195–211; and Sukhpal Singh, “Crisis in Punjab Agriculture,” Economic and Political Weekly 35, no. 23 (June 3–9, 2000): 1889–1892.

24. See the three-part article: Ashok Rudra, A. Majid, and B. D. Talib, “Big Farmer of the Punjab: Some Preliminary Findings of a Sample Survey,” Economic and Political Weekly 4, no. 39 (September 27, 1969): 145; Rudra, “Big Farmers of Punjab: Second Installment of Results,” Economic and Political Weekly 4, no. 52 (December 27, 1969): 213–219; and Rudra, “In Search of the Capitalist Farmer,” Economic and Political Weekly 5, no. 26 (July 27, 1970): 85–87.

25. See Utsa Patnaik, “Capitalist Development in Agriculture: A Note,” Economic and Political Weekly 6, no. 39 (September 25, 1971): 125 and passim.

26. A few of the notable contributions are Jairus Banaji, “For a Theory of Colonial Modes of Production,” Economic and Political Weekly 7, no. 52 (December 23, 1972): 2498–2502; Andre Gunder Frank, “On ‘Feudal’ Modes, Models, and Methods of Escaping Capitalist Reality,” Economic and Political Weekly 8, no. 1 (January 6, 1973): 36–37; Hamza Alavi, “India and the Colonial Mode of Production,” Economic and Political Weekly 10, no. 33 (August 1975): 1235–1262; Gail Omvedt, “Capitalist Agriculture and Rural Classes in India,” Economic and Political Weekly 16, no. 52 (December 26, 1981): 140–159; and Amiya Kumar Bagchi, “Colonialism and the Nature of ‘Capitalist’ Enterprise in India,” Economic and Political Weekly 23, no. 31 (July 30, 1988): 38–50.

27. Perhaps most revealing in this literature is that while the peasant was usually a historical category for European scholars, it was undeniably a contemporary figure for those living and working in what was then known as the Third World. See Foster-­Carter, “Modes of Production Controversy”; Holton, “Marxist Theories of Social Change”; and Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, eds., Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

28. Eric Stokes, “The Return of the Peasant to South Asian History,” The Peasant and the Raj: Studies in Agrarian Society and Peasant Rebellion in Colonial India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 268–70.

29. Stokes, “Return of the Peasant,” 269.

30. Stokes, “Return of the Peasant,” 289.

31. See Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983), introduction and ch. 3.

32. See Dipesh Chakrabarty, “A Small History of Subaltern Studies,” Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

33. Ranajit Guha, “On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India,” Subaltern Studies I: Writings on South Asian History and Society, ed. Ranajit Guha (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982), 5.

34. Guha, Elementary Aspects, 3.

35. See Gyanendra Pandey, The Ascendancy of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, 1926–34: A Study in Imperfect Mobilization (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978); David Hardiman, Peasant Nationalists of Gujarat, Kheda District 1917–1934 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981); Shahid Amin, Sugarcane and Sugar in Gorakhpur: An Inquiry into Peasant Production for Capitalist Enterprise in Colonial India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984); Partha Chatterjee, Bengal 1920–1947: The Land Question (Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi & Co., 1984); and Gyan Prakash, Bonded Histories: Genealogies of Labor Servitude in Colonial India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

36.  See David Ludden, Peasant History in South India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985); Sugata Bose, Agrarian Bengal: Economy, Social Structure, and Politics, 1919–1947 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); and Sumit Guha, The Agrarian Economy of the Bombay Deccan, 1818–1941 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986).

37. See Vinayak Chaturvedi, Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Vinay Gidwani, Capital, Interrupted: Agrarian Development and the Politics of Work in India (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008); and Rawat, Reconsidering Untouchability.

38. Norman G. Barrier, The Punjab Alienation of Land Bill of 1900 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1966), iii.

39. See P.H.M. van den Dungen, The Punjab Tradition: Influence and Authority in Nineteenth Century India (London: Allen & Unwin, 1972); J. Royal Roseberry, Imperial Rule in Punjab: The Conquest and Administration of Multan, 1818–1881 (New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1987); and Clive Dewey, Anglo-Indian Attitudes: The Mind of the Indian Civil Service (London: Hambledon Press, 1993).

40. Imran Ali, The Punjab under Imperialism, 1885–1947 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), viii, 10.

41. Ali, Panjab under Imperialism, 62. See also M. Mufakharul Islam, Irrigation, Agriculture, and the Raj: Punjab, 1887–1947 (New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1997); David Gilmartin, “Scientific Empire and Imperial Science: Colonialism and Irrigation Technology in the Indus Basin,” Journal of Asian Studies 53, no. 4 (November 1994): 1127–1149; Elizabeth Whitcombe, Agrarian Conditions in Northern India: The United Provinces under British Rule, 1860–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972); and Ian Stone, Canal Irrigation in British India: Perspectives on Technological Change in a Peasant Economy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

42. Tai Yong Tan, The Garrison State: The Military, Government, and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849–1947 (New Delhi: Sage, 2005), 31. See also Rajit K. Mazumder, The Indian Army and the Making of Punjab (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003); and Kate Imy, Faithful Fighters: Identity and Power in the British Indian Army (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019).

43. Neeladri Bhattacharya, The Great Agrarian Conquest: The Colonial Reshaping of a Rural World (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2018), 109.

44. See Richard Saumarez Smith, Rule by Records: Land Registration and Village Custom in Early British Punjab (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996); and Tom Kessinger, Vilyatpur, 1848–1968: Social and Economic Change in a North Indian Village (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974).

45. See Harjot Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); cf. Richard G. Fox, Lions of the Punjab: Culture in the Making (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); and J. S. Grewal, Recent Debates in Sikh Studies: An Assessment (New Delhi: Manohar, 2011). See also Kenneth W. Jones, Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th-Century Punjab (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); David Gilmartin, Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); Christopher Harding, Religious Transformation in South Asia: The Meanings of Conversion in Colonial Punjab (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); and Rajbir Singh Judge, “Reform in Fragments: Sovereignty, Colonialism and the Sikh Tradition,” Modern Asian Studies, 56, no. 4 (July 2022): 1125–1152.

46. See Prem Chowdhry, The Veiled Women: Shifting Gender Equations in Rural Haryana 1880–1900 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994); Anshu Malhotra, Gender, Caste, and Religious Identities: Restructuring Class in Colonial Punjab (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002); and Farina Mir, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

47. See Naved Hamid, “Dispossession and Differentiation of the Peasantry in the Punjab during Colonial Rule,” Journal of Peasant Studies 10, no. 1 (1982): 52–72; Neeladri Bhattacharya, “The Logic of Tenancy Cultivation: Central and South-East Punjab, 1870–1935,” The Indian Economic and Social History Review 20, no. 2 (1983): 121–170; and Bhattacharya, “Agricultural Labour and Production: Central and South-East Punjab, 1870–1940,” in The World of the Rural Labourer in Colonial India, ed. Gyan Prakash (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992).

48. Chakrabarty, “Small History,” 19.

49. Sugata Bose, Peasant Labour and Colonial Capital: Rural Bengal since 1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 64. See also B. R. Tomlinson, The Economy of Modern India: From 1860 to the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 65–68.