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Posts Tagged ‘Bengal

Sons of the Indian soil, 1941

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The Gavara ryot of Madras (left) and the Kunbi cultivator of Gujarat (right)

The Gavara ryot of Madras (left) and the Kunbi cultivator of Gujarat (right)

To present the cultivator as a person and not as an economic unit. This was the object of a delightful and, in its own way, philosophical volume on the Indian cultivator, published more than threescore and ten years ago in 1941.

‘Sons Of The Soil, Studies Of The Indian Cultivator’ was edited by W J Burns, at the time an Agricultural Commissioner with the Government of India, and the book was printed at the Government Of India Press (at 8 Hastings Street, Calcutta).

The Gavara ryot of Madras, by B Ramaiah Garu – Age-long experience has taught him to adjust the details of his operations in such a way that he and the other members of his family are kept engaged throughout the year and employ as little outside labour as possible. He looks after his cattle well and often makes money by purchasing young calves or buffaloes, rearing them and selling them after working them in his own fields for a season or two.
The Kunbi cultivator of Gujarat, By B S Patel – He is fairly hardy and is inured to the toil and hardship associated with farming. He is sober, quiet, industrious, enterprising and frugal, except on special occasions such as marriage and death ceremonies, when he spends rather beyond his means, vying with his richer brethren. He is very  hospitable, frank by nature, simple in his habits and is a good husband and father. His dress consists of a piece of white cloth wrapped round his head by way of turban, a bandi (a coat up to the waist) and a dhoti covering his legs.

I have here very cursorily extracted the text from six of the 25 captivating sketches of these sons of the soil (the regions included four that were in British India but are not in the Republic of India). These sketches, the treatment by their authors of the cultivator as a many-sided personality, shaped by his region and culture, are of a quality that has scarcely in my view been matched in recent years.

The Lingayat ryot of the Karnatak (left) and the Bengal cultivator (right).

The Lingayat ryot of the Karnatak (left) and the Bengal cultivator (right).

The Lingayat ryot of the Karnatak, by Rao Bahadur S S Salimath – His diet is very simple. It consists mainly of jowar bread, nucchu (broken and boiled jowar grain), boiled pulses, & small quantity of any vegetable that may be available and some rice if he can afford it. His holiday dish is either Imggi (whole wheat grain boiled with some gur) or malidi (boiled wheat dried, pounded and mixed with some gur). The latter is preferred for journeys and in camps.
The Bengal cultivator, By K McLean – The cultivator has a long day. Dawn finds the cultivator up and about on the way to the field. His breakfast, consisting of reheated boiled rice, is brought to him in the field and he carries on till midday when he returns to the homestead for the big meal of the day. This consists of rice and curry which may be made of vegetables only or include fish according to the season.

The many volumes of the last score of years that describe the growing of food and the lives of the growers of food usually fall into two categories – the first of the political economy and agrarian relations kind, which are loaded with sociological cant and dense with agro-economic punditry, or they are the ‘market’ kind and erase to a featureless nothingness the cultivating household in favour of advocating various solutions to the problems of yield, or credit, of cooperation or of finding ways to get produce to market.

Both approaches have for the most part lost sight of the cultivator, his habits, his dislikes, his preferred repasts, his entertainment and his eccentricities.

The Kurmi cultivator (left) and the Bihar cultivator (right).

The Kurmi cultivator (left) and the Bihar cultivator (right).

Hence the clear foreword of ‘Sons Of The Soil’ (for clarity was easier then, when needs were fewer and the distance between town and village shorter, both on the road and in the mind), which said of the cultivator: “He is India outside of the towns. He is mentioned in speeches, leaders, lectures and poems usually more as a type than a person. The object of the following sketches is to give some clear outlines in place of this vagueness, and especially to show the variety of individuals and classes who cultivate the soil of this great country.”

The Kurmi cultivator, By M Mohiuddin Ahmad – It is rather creditable to the Kurmi cultivator that, working against heavy odds, he manages to produce excellent crops on his fields and very successfully competes with more advantageously placed cultivators. Every Kurmi cultivator commits to memory a large number of sayings on different agricultural subjects, such as preparation of seed-bed, time of sowing, manuring, weather forecasts, livestock, and so on.
The Bihar cultivator, By D R Sethi – Simple in habits, thrifty to a degree and a master in the art of market-gardening, the Koer is amongst the best of the tillers of the soil to be found anywhere in India. He rarely hires labour but makes all members of his family, including his womenfolk, work in the fields. The Koer does not indulge in expensive social ceremonies and spends less on marriages than other cultivating classes. He is religious and as a rule avoids intoxicants.

“There is,” Burns had written all those years ago, “a family resemblance between these cultivator types, a resemblance that grows as one reads the life-story and daily routine of one son of the soil after another. There is the same plainness of life, the same wrestling with uncertainties of climate (except in favoured areas), the same love of simple games, sport and songs, the same religious background, the same neighbourly helpfulness, and the same financial indebtedness.”

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British Bombay’s furious 1911 growth rate

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In 1911 the population of Bombay was recorded as being 979,000 and the city had recorded an astonishing growth in population, adding 203,000 inhabitants (more than 20% in the decade) from the time of the previous Census, that of 1901.

Detail of Bombay map from 'Indien: Handbuch Für Reisende', published by Verlag von Karl Baedeker in Leipzig, 1914

Detail of Bombay map from 'Indien: Handbuch Für Reisende', published by Verlag von Karl Baedeker in Leipzig, 1914

“British India contains more than 250 Districts,” explained the Imperial Gazeteer of India, 1909. “The average area of a District is 4,430 square miles, and the average population 93,000. The average District is thus about three-fourths of the size of Yorkshire, and its inhabitants number considerably more than half the population of that county. The actual Districts vary greatly in size and density of population. For instance, the Upper Chindwin District of Burma has an area of 19,000 square miles and a population of 153,000; Mymensingh, in Bengal, has an area of over 6,ooo square miles and a population of nearly 4,000,000; and Vizagapatam, in Madras, has an area of more than 17,000 square miles and a population of nearly 3,000,000. Among the major Provinces the Districts are largest in Burma and Madras, and smallest in the United Provinces.”

“Burma is about the size of Sweden, with nearly twice its population, and contains great tracts of forest and jungle. The territories administered by the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, though smaller in extent than Burma, contain more than eight times the number of inhabitants and form the most onerous of the Provincial charges. This Province nearly doubles the population of France, though only three-quarters of its size. The United Provinces of Agra and Oudh are almost as densely populated as Bengal, and contain more people than Austria-Hungary in an area less than that of Austria alone. The population of Madras and the area of Bombay approximate to the population and area of the United Kingdom.”

The Gazeteer explained in detail the role of the principal administrators, none of whom seemed more indeispensible than the District Collector: “The ordinary day’s work of the Collector-Magistrate entails many other miscellaneous duties, which vary in accordance with circumstances and of which it would be difficult to give a complete list. The Government looks to him for information on all important occurrences which take place in his District, he is called on to advise on general schemes which may be under consideration, and he is expected to explain to the people any new orders of the Government which they may not readily understand.”

“In times of stress and difficulty his duties and responsibilities are increased tenfold. If a collision is apprehended between Hindus and Muhammadans, or if an agrarian difficulty is likely to result in outrage, it is to his tact and firmness that the Government looks to prevent violence, and, if necessary, to quell disorder. Should the District be attacked by famine he is responsible for the lives of the people; he must watch minutely, and keep the Government informed of, the progress of events, and must organize and carry out measures of relief. For the proper discharge of his many duties he must be accessible to and intimately acquainted with the inhabitants. This acquaintance cannot be gained at the desk or on the bench, and accordingly the Collector-Magistrate spends several months of the year in camp. During his tours he inspects the working of the various departments with which he is concerned, satisfies himself as to the manner in which his subordinate officers are carrying out their duties, and advises and encourages them in their work. At the same time he gets to know the people of all parts of the District, and they have a ready opportunity of discussing their affairs with him. The local magnates will visit his tent with some ceremony; the village elders will come and chat with him about the prospect of their crops, the assessment of their lands, the opening of a new school, some local quarrel regarding a right of way, the dacoity which occurred in the village during the preceding summer…”

Population of Principal Towns (Census of 1911)
Population Comparison
Town Province/Agency District/State in 1911 with 1901
1. Calcutta with Suburbs and Howrah. Bengal 1,222,313 + 115,575
Calcutta and Fort Calcutta 896,067 + 48,271
Cossipore and Chitpore 24 Parganas 48,178 + 7,428
Manicktola 24 Parganas 53,767 + 21,380
Garden Reach 24 Parganas 45,275 + 17,084
Howrah Howrah 179,006 + 21,412
2. Bombay Bombay Bombay 979,445 + 203,439
3. Madras and Cantonment Madras Madras 518,660 + 9,314
4. Hyderabad and Cantonment Hyderabad Hyderabad 500,623 + 52,157
5. Rangoon and Cantonment Burma Rangoon 293,316 + 47,886
6. Lucknow and Cantonment United Provinces Lucknow 259,798 4,251
7. Delhi and Cantonment Delhi 232,837 + 24,262
8. Lahore and Cantonment Punjab Lahore 228,687 + 25,723
9. Ahmedabad and Cantonment Bombay Ahmedabad 216,777 + 30,888
10. Benares and Cantonment United Provinces Benares 203,804 9,275
11. Agra and Cantonment United Provinces Agra 185,449 2,573
12. Cawnpore and Cantonment United Provinces Cawnpore 178,557 24,240
13. Allahabad and Cantonment United Provinces Allahabad 171,697 335
14. Poona and Cantonment Bombay Poona 158,856 + 5,536
15. Amritsar and Cantonment Punjab Amritsar 152,756 9,673
16. Karachi and Cantonment Bombay Karachi 151,903 + 35,240
17. Mandalay and Cantonment Burma Mandalay 138,299 45,517
18. Jaipur Rajputana Jaipur 137,098 23,069
19. Patna Bihar and Orissa Patna 136,153 + 1,368
20. Madura Madras Madura 134,130 + 28,146

ncipal Towns (Census of 1911)

Population Comparison
Town Province/Agency District/State in 1911 with 1901
1. Calcutta with Suburbs and Howrah. Bengal 1,222,313 + 115,575
Calcutta and Fort Calcutta 896,067 + 48,271
Cossipore and Chitpore 24 Parganas 48,178 + 7,428
Manicktola 24 Parganas 53,767 + 21,380
Garden Reach 24 Parganas 45,275 + 17,084
Howrah Howrah 179,006 + 21,412
2. Bombay Bombay Bombay 979,445 + 203,439
3. Madras and Cantonment Madras Madras 518,660 + 9,314
4. Hyderabad and Cantonment Hyderabad Hyderabad 500,623 + 52,157
5. Rangoon and Cantonment Burma Rangoon 293,316 + 47,886
6. Lucknow and Cantonment United Provinces Lucknow 259,798 4,251
7. Delhi and Cantonment Delhi 232,837 + 24,262
8. Lahore and Cantonment Punjab Lahore 228,687 + 25,723
9. Ahmedabad and Cantonment Bombay Ahmedabad 216,777 + 30,888
10. Benares and Cantonment United Provinces Benares 203,804 9,275
11. Agra and Cantonment United Provinces Agra 185,449 2,573
12. Cawnpore and Cantonment United Provinces Cawnpore 178,557 24,240
13. Allahabad and Cantonment United Provinces Allahabad 171,697 335
14. Poona and Cantonment Bombay Poona 158,856 + 5,536
15. Amritsar and Cantonment Punjab Amritsar 152,756 9,673
16. Karachi and Cantonment Bombay Karachi 151,903 + 35,240
17. Mandalay and Cantonment Burma Mandalay 138,299 45,517
18. Jaipur Rajputana Jaipur 137,098 23,069
19. Patna Bihar and Orissa Patna 136,153 + 1,368
20. Madura Madras Madura 134,130 + 28,146

Written by makanaka

August 2, 2010 at 13:16

Asia’s food-oil-inflation roller-coaster

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These people are already hit by the food price rise

In South-East Asia the price of Thai fragrant rice has surged by 26 per cent since 01 Nov 2009, thanks to storms in the Philippines and drought in southern China. At these levels, physical hoarding is seen taking place among Thai rice exporters, which means they probably have expectations that rice prices will go up even higher. And it is not just rice. Soya beans and edible oils like palm oil are also seeing a rise in prices, which in turn may make livestock more expensive since these crops go into animal feed.

Food prices are also rising in China – prices of vegetables shot up by as much as 10 per cent since 01 January 2010 as extreme cold weather damaged crops and transportation problems hampered delivery. Oil prices have been rallying in line with the global recovery, hitting levels above US$83 a barrel earlier this week, near a 15-month high. Food prices are also rebounding from their 2009 lows, potentially increasing price pressures in Asian countries that are already seeing asset bubbles build up.

Vegetable vendor

There’s already evidence from Kerala that the combination of food price rise specifically and inflation generally is hurting:

“The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (Nafed) will join hands with the State government to implement an ‘Easy Market’ scheme to provide solace to consumers in the event of spiralling prices of essential commodities. The Union government has approved a subsidy of around Rs.600 crore [Rs 6 billion = US$ 133.34 million, Jan 2010] to provide ‘Easy Market’ kits containing 20 items of daily use to consumers at a discount ranging between 30 and 40 per cent. In Kerala, Nafed will use the Triveni and Neethi chain of stores to implement the scheme.
The scheme had been approved by a Cabinet sub-committee and 60 million kits would be distributed in the first phase. These kits contain rice, wheat, whole wheat flour, pulses, sugar, edible oil, etc, he said. Nafed would procure wheat and rice from the Food Corporation of India and distribute them at reasonable rates. Wheat flour would also be distributed similarly.”
Read more here.

Vegetable vendor

But elsewhere in India’s government mindspace, the ‘spend more’ school of thought is dreaming up still more schemes that have to do with food:

“Speaking at the National Retail Summit 2010 “Modern Retail: Towards Sustainable Growth and Profitability” Subodh Kant Sahai, Minister for Food Processing Industry, said that the Union Government is coming out with a series of initiatives to “increase the share of modern retail”. Sahai stated that the centre has planned to upgrade 70 cities in India by 2012 having all the modern facilities that of metros like Mumbai and Delhi. “With the amendment of the Agriculture Produce Market Act or the APMC act, farmers would become the largest beneficiaries. With 70 percent of our population also dependent on agriculture this would also get in 3rd party investors interested in Retail to patronize the farmers,” he said. According to Mr Sahai growth of the food processing industry is directly linked to the growth in retail industry.” Read more here.

Vegetable vendor

It’s typical that India’s administrators, planners, policymakers and legislators don’t bother to look around at the conditions of our fellow Southasians:

“Burma had been the world’s largest exporter of rice as recently as the 1930s, but rice exports fell by two thirds in the 1940s, with the country never again reclaiming its dominant status in the internatinal rice trade. Thailand and Vietnam now lead the world in rice exports. For fiscal year 1938/39, rice accounted for nearly 47 percent of Burma’s export receipts. However, by 2007/08 the corresponding figure had sunk to less than two percent. Dr. U Myint [an economist] said the reintegration of the rice industry into the world market would provide incentives to increase both the quantity and quality of rice and thereby lead to higher incomes and employment opportunities for the rural population, who constitute 65 percent of the population of 58 million. An estimated 31 million acres of land is cultivated in Burma, of which more than 16 million acres are devoted to rice.” Read more here.

Commodity chains took powerful shape in the steam age to give a large number of local products geographically expansive identities. Opium, jute, and indigo are prime examples of nineteenth century Bengal farm products generated by world markets where the ups and downs of prices impinged sharply on local experience in some locales but not others.

Tippoo's Dominions, 1794

“By 1900, commodity production defined South Asia as a region of the world economy, defined regions in South Asia, and defined localities in regions. Ceylon, Malaysia, Assam, Fiji and Mauritius were for plantations. Ceylon first produced coffee; then tea, rubber, cocoanut, and cinchona. Assam was tea country. Ceylon and Assam replaced China as top suppliers of English tea. Fiji and Mauritius meant sugar plantations. Labour supplies posed the major constraint for plantation capitalists who found the solution in eventually permanent indentured labour migration from labour export specialty areas in Bihar, Bengal, and southern Tamil districts.”

“Sites of commodity production demanded more commodities. Circuits of moving commodities linked commodity producers and consumers to one another in spaces that surpass the spatial imagination of national history. Modern Indian history has circulated in the space/time of capitalism, in the manner of globalization today, for over a century. Far-flung plantations in Malaysia, Fiji, Mauritius and the West Indies, as well as cities and farms in Burma and Africa developed circuits of commodity production and capital accumulation anchored in India. Tamil Chettiyars became local financiers on the rice frontier in Burma’s Irrawaddy River delta, which generated huge exports of rice for world consumers, including Indian cities that needed Burma rice so much that when Japan’s conquest of Burma cut rice exports, it precipitated the 1943-4 Bengal famine. In 1930, Indians composed almost half Rangoon’s population. In East and South Africa, Gujarati merchants and workers arriving from Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras provided labour and capital for railways and import-export dependent urbanism. The Indian diaspora was well underway a century ago: between 1896 and 1928, seventy-five percent of emigrants from Indian ports went to Ceylon and Malaya; ten percent, to Africa; nine percent, to the Caribbean; and the remaining six percent, to Fiji and Mauritius.”

From ‘Agricultural Production, South Asian History, and Development Studies’, edited by David Ludden, Oxford University Press, September 2004