Social Scientist. v 6, no. 61 (Aug 1977) p. 65.


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Agricultural Wages in Bengal and Bihar, I793-I972

A DISTRIBUTION of income in a society arises out of a historically determined distribution of the ownership of the means of production and wealth at a given technological level, and,, the level 'of technology, in turn., is rooted in a histoiically 01 tented structure of economy. A division of income into two categories, income by performance of labour and income bv ownership of property of any sort, is more fundamental than that into rent, interest, profit and wages. A study of income distribution by social classes ?nd sub-classes may be more relevant in the national context today. In this perspective, it will be useful to study the income in real terms over a long period of time even with fragmentary evidences.

Attempts have been made in this note to point out to some of the well-known but readily-not-available historical documents beaiirg on income distribution in the structural setup of the economy in some of the districts of Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh. First, a treatise by Henry Thomas Golebrooke published in 1794 under the title Remarks on the Husbandry and Internal Commerce of Bengal may be mentioned. The next set of documents is the result of enquiiies conducted by Francis Buchanan during 1807-14. P G Mahalanobis procured a microfilm copy of the entire manuscripts running into 10,000 folio pages. He was of the opinion that ^the wealth and reliability of the information (so far as this can be judged from internal evidence) make the report one of the most remarkable surveys of all times. There is nothing in any subsequent survey in India to approach the one conducted by Buchanan 140 years ago." The third set of documents is the confidential reports of the enquiries conducted practically throughout India in 1888 at the instance of Lord Dufferin to ascertain the conditions of the lower classes.

Henry Thomas Colebrooke elaborately discussed the economics of the then firm management in Bengal and Bihar and mentioned the share of different participating classes in agricultural production, including sharecroppers, agricultural labourers, bonded labour and urban labour, depicting the level of living of each class. He mentioned wage rate of a ploughman with plough of oxen at two annas (Re 0.13) per diem



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