Social Scientist. v 16, no. 183 (Aug 1988) p. 30.

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Variations in Perception of the Insurgent Peasants of Bengal in the Late Eighteenth Century

This paper shall deal with the problem of explicating certain stages in the realm of perception of the rebel peasants in the late eighteenth century Bengal. The purpose of this explication is to understand variations in the perception of such insurgents with regard to the early colonial domination as well as their own role against the domination. Our investigation, however, will be limited to two uprisings of the period—the Fakir-Sannyasi (1761-1800) and Rangpur (1783)—and the appraisals will be based on the data collected in this regard.

We are not repeating here the well-known set of information, available from contemporary official records, on the basic economic changes which started taking shape in Bengal, particularly after the East India Company's assumption of diwani in 1765., unleashing the crucial drive to enhance the land revenue of the province. It is now generally recognized that the collection of this enhanced revenue, which was essential for financing one-way export trading and the administrative expenses of the Company, was mostly carried out by a group of new intermediaries and that the ultimate burden was placed ruthlessly on the small peasants. It is also known that this increased revenue burden gave birth to a major contradiction in Bengal during the 'mercantile' colonial phase and formed, in a nutshell, the material basis of peasant resistance across the last four decades of the eighteenth century. We are skipping such official information and imputations therefore because, in spite of the importance of these structural data and quantitative details, the pivotal question remains almost unanswered: 'How did the peasants themselves look at the unprecedented domination of their village economy by the alien East India Company and its new intermediaries?' Furthermore it remains much less unanswered whether there was any variation in this perception of the peasantry.

We shall, therefore, have to begin with exploring a different category of source materials as well as reinterpreting the existing official data. In other words, we shall primarily locate and consider such records which are expected to reflect the viewpoint of the insur-

* Sociological Research Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta

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