Organisation of Jute Cultivation in West Bengal: The Changing Forms
IN the colonial period of Indian history, jute emerged as an important cash crop only from the mid-1850s. Between 1872 and 1900, the percentage increase (approximate) in area cultivated in some important jute growing districts varied from 177 percent in Rangpur to 525 percent in Faridpur.1 The average area of jute cultivation in the 10-year period from 1891-92 to 1900-01 was 2,030,548 acres.2 The increasing consumption of raw jute in the new jute mills of Calcutta and Sirajgunjc (an indication of this was the more than ten-fold increase in the number of gunny bags exported between 1874-75 and 1984-85) and also a tremendous increase in the export of raw jute itself (especially after 1850s)3 led to a widening of the market for raw jute. Jute, therefore, got inextricably integrated into the world capitalist system almost from its inception. And the world trade depression of the 1880s saw a decline in the price and cultivated area of raw jute also.
Expansion of market opportunities is a generally accepted index of the growth and maturity of an agrarian economy. However, in a situation where the existing land structure strictly limits the physical expansion of farms and where technical innovations and intensive cultivation cannot be introduced (or if introduced can be done only at a very slow pace and under special circumstances, to which we shall come later), there emerge, sooner than later, such features as sub-division and fragmentation oflandhold-ings, increased rural indebtedness and a general decline in rural household incomes. In such a situation it is an interesting proposition to examine the reaction of the rural economy to a large-scale commercialization of agriculture and to analyse the income growth of the individual cultivator derived from the increased prices of agricultural goods as a result of their growing demand.
This paper is devoted primarily to an examination of this question although, for a proper understanding, it is necessary first