The themes covered by the current double-number of Social Scientist are diverse, but by no means unrelated. Pradipta Chaudhury's account of the Orissa peasantry under British rule, Dick Kooiman's discussion of the role of Christian missions in the transition from slavery to plantation labour in nineteenth century Travancore and Judy Whitehead's analysis of village-level social relationships in post-independence Sitapur constitute themes that are separated from one another in terms of time and space; nevertheless, they add up to delineate a pattern, of change within a continuity of exploitative relationships, that constitutes the essence of modern India. And while contributing to a building up of this overall pattern, each of the papers throws up its own quota of questions and puzzles.
The fact that colonial land settlements raised substantially the burden on the cultivators, especially on account of the falling prices that came in the aftermath of such settlements, the fact that this together with the rigidity of the timing of payments, pushed the peasantry into debt and forced commercialisation, the fact that there was a change in the composition of the landlord class, something noted by the memorandum of the Bengal Kisan Sabha to the Floud Commission, and the fact that these important changes were not accompanied by any noticeable developments in the productive forces in agriculture: all these are well-known and have been documented for other regions in the country. Chaudhury's paper, while establishing somewhat similar trends for Orissa, draws attention to two specific and interesting points: the first is the rather surprisingly limited impact of irrigation on agricultural productivity; the second is the absence of intermediaries between the landlord and the cultivator such as existed in Bengal for instance. The question was raised some time ago: why didn't the landlord, if he was a 'rational' income-maximising agent, eliminate the whole range of intermediaries below him and take over the entire surplus from the cultivator? Well, it turns out that in Orissa apparently he did; and if this is so, then we have to rethink the answers that have been given to this puzzle in the context of Bengal itself.
Converts to Christianity in the nineteenth century were of course motivated by complex considerations. What is equally important is
Social Scientist, Vol. 19, No. 7, August-September 1991