Social Scientist. v 2, no. 18-19 (Jan-Feb 1974) p. 67.


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Origins of the Assamese Middle Class: Reply to Comment

I am grateful to Amalendu Guha and Arvind N Das for the scrupulous attention they have given to my article. I am aware that it betrays a number of lacunae, and I am prepared to admit that it may contain very serious mistakes. But I should like to dispute Guha and Das's contentions and criticisms in the spirit of that 'collective effort5 which they uphold. After all, to think dialectically is not only to think in the collective spirit, but also to think correctly.

Guha and Das agree with me in seeking to discover the historic links of the Assamese bourgeoisie with the past. They deny in this connection that the bureaucratic element in the composition of the modern Assamese bourgeoisie has any antecedents in the past structure of Assamese society. (Incidentally, in that form I have asserted it nowhere). They argue that the pre-British society of Assam was tribal-feudal rather than feudal-bureaucratic. I think their categorization is confused. It is permissible to talk about a bureaucratic-feudal system, underlining in this way a peculiarity of the superstructure. But to talk about a tribal-feudal system is as bewildering as to talk about a feudal-capitalist system, thus mixing up two different stages and orders of social development. Guha and Das remark that "the administration did not involve elaborate office work as in the case of the Mughal system." One agrees that Assam under Ahom rule had not evolved commodity production and division of labour to the extent that Mughal India had. Hence keeping of accounts had not acquired in Assam the same degree of importance and finesse. But the attempts at periodic surveys of land and census of population recorded in Ahom chronicles mark a significant advance towards the system in operation in the rest of India. The army of officers supervising production and administration in all spheres is a conspicuous feature of the type of bureaucratic feudalism common in Asia. Indeed the hierarchy of officialdom had become so imposing that even the religious monasteries (the satras which dominated Assamese social life even after the passing away of Ahom rule) copied the pattern with their own ranks of officers. Of course the tribal heritage was still strong, but it was undermined first by the forcible breaking up of ancient kinship bonds and clannish ties by the state, and secondly by the acid of other-worldly bhakti movement. Even the rotating people's



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