Social Scientist. v 13, no. 140 (Jan 1985) p. 54.

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Review Article


Economic History or an Apologia for Colonialism

AN English gentleman had observed, "the primary object of Great Britain^ let it be acknowledged, was rather to discover what could be obtained from her Asiatic Subjects, than how they could be benefited/'1 Indeed this was a frank confession, but ideologues of the colonising nation, of a later period, refuse to admit this. To these apologists, colonial engineering injected life into and regenerated a stagnant and backward country like India. The second volume of the Cambridge Economic History of India (CEHI) is a researched demonstration of this viewpoint. Some Indian contributors to this volume, too, adhere to this colonial identity. We would discuss theme-wise the major views of some of the authors in this volume.

Land Revenue and Labour

The policies of the state regarding agriculture provide the central problematic in a backward country. Having this question in mind, E. Stokes, B.B. Chaudhuri and D. Kumar have argued that the appropriation of surplus from agriculture, in the form of land revenue, was not as high^ with adverse consequences, as has been traditionally supposed In fact» the peasants were more at the mercy of the landlords and mahajans than of the government Agricultural changes, therefore, were according to them more due to these indigenous classes rather than to the government. This viewpoint has been developed to its logical extent by M.D. Morris. in his discussion on labour./ Oppressed and ruined by landlords and mahajans, the evicted peasants found employment in the industries and auxiliary sectors which were developed by the Raj. Had the Raj not taken these initiatives the condition of the peasants, according to him, would have been more miserable. In these new avenues of employment^ Morris argues further, the condition of the workers had improved as was evident from the real wage data.2

The land revenue settlements evolved by the State, under Company and Crown management, were different in the various regions of India. One need not delve into the details of these settlements; some general

"Department of History, Murshidabad Adarsha Mahavidyalaya, West Bengal.

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