The present number of Social Scientist is the first of a double-issue which brings together papers by historians, political scientists and economists on the general theme of the history of peasants in struggle. These papers were presented at an Indo-Soviet seminar held under the auspices of the Indian Council of Historical Research and the Academy of Sciences, USSR in September 1988. We are grateful to ICHR for permission to publish the papers by the Indian scholars.
R.S. Sharma is well known to readers for his seminal work on land grants in ancient and early medieval India, and the application of the concept of feudalism to the social formations of that period. He puts forward in his paper on Problems of Peasant Protest in Early Medieval India, the evidence on increasing number and burden of taxes on peasants during the 'kali' age. He suggests that land grants on a large scale from the 4th-5th century onwards were resorted to in order to solve the problem of tax-collection, and the consequent superseding of customary peasant rights by those of the grantees, evoked various forms of protest ranging from refusal to pay rent, litigation, and even self-immolation. Of particular interest is the suggestion that 'hero-stones' in South India should be mapped as to their geographical distribution and studied in the context of struggles over rights to produce and land. New light is thrown in this paper on the Kalabhra revolts in Tamilnadu and the Kaivarta revolt in Bengal, as well as on the changes in the theory of Varna, in which we find a clear tendency to give ritualistic recognition to the social changes taking place in production relations.
Thematically very close to the paper by R.S. Sharma, is the contribution of M.G.S. Narayanan who utilises the extensive Sangam literature to discuss the character of the developing social formations of the three southern kingdoms of Tamilakam, in the first millennium after Christ. Once again the evidence of land grants is drawn upon for delineating the position of the various social classes in the Marutam or fertile river valley regions generating a large agricultural surplus. Narayanan shows how the oppression of the peasants in this early period took the form not only of extraction of surplus by the proprietory groups, but also constant raids and looting of cattle and grain by the warlike maravar of the more arid areas. After the ascendancy of the immigrant brahmin to whom extensive land grants were given by the