Agricultural Backwardness of Malabar during the Colonial Period: An Analysis of Economic Causes
The erstwhile Malabar district of Madras Presidency, forming the northern region of present day Kerala State, is economically backward in many respects. The region was under colonial rule since the English East India Company conquered Malabar from the Mysoreans in 1792 till attainment of independence in 1947. Though Malabar had been a major exporter of a wide variety of agricultural products to Europe for more than two thousand years and consequently exposed to influences from abroad, it still remains an underdeveloped region with a backward agricultural sector.
Except for a study by T.W. Shea, no attempts have been made to examine the causes of agricultural backwardness in Malabar. Shea1 emphasises six barriers to economic growth in the region, viz., the immobility of the caste structure, the traditional occupational distribution of the elite, the absence of systematic government in the pre-British period, the pattern of land tenures, the structure of family property laws and the pattern of population growth during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In explaining the barriers to economic growth, he puts forward the hypothesis that businessmen in Malabar made no concerted, systematic attempts to rationalise agricultural production, and that because of their lack of interest in bringing about changes in productive techniques in agriculture, the development inhibiting social and economic barriers were never directly challenged. Though the study highlights a few barriers to the economic development of Malabar, a major limitation of the study is that it has completely ignored the impact of colonial policies.
In this study our objective is to present an alternative explanation for the agricultural backwardness of Malabar during the colonial period, in which we emphasise two factors, viz., (1) the unfavourable and extractive policies pursued by the colonial power in the spheres of agriculture, industry, infrastructure, trade and commerce; and (2) the caste system, and the social practices arising out of the system, that prevailed in Malabar.
Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum.