ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Landlessness and Agrarian Inequality without Landlordism

Caste, Class and Agrarian Structure in Bihar

An analysis of the agrarian structure in terms of caste and class, based on field data collected from 13 Bhojpuri-speaking villages in Bihar, reveals that villages exhibit a high level of landlessness and agrarian inequality but without landlordism. While all landholding households involve themselves in manual agricultural operations, they also employ free labour. Moreover, sharecropping is on the decline and reverse tenancy is slowly becoming the norm. These changing dynamics in the agrarian structure merit a closer examination of how caste and class function in the current day in the rural economy of villages in Bihar.

The author is grateful to Dipankar Gupta who supervised his work on the villages in Bihar, N Jayaram for his suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper, and the anonymous referee for their astute comments that have significantly increased the quality of the paper. He would like to extend his sincere appreciation to B B Mohanty who invited him to present this paper as the first D N Dhanagare Memorial Lecture in the 44th All India Sociological Conference held at Mysuru on 27–29 December 2018. An earlier version of the paper was presented in a seminar on Advances in Agrarian Studies in the University of Heidelberg, Germany. The author is thankful to Daniel Münster, Christian Strümpell, Manoj Mishra and Julia Poerting for their perceptive observations during the seminar, and his wife, Kumkum Prabhas, for her encouragement. The usual disclaimers apply.

The agricultural economy in India, which was stagnating throughout the latter part of the colonial period (Harriss 2013), remained almost in the same state during a couple of decades after independence. Daniel Thorner (1956) characterised this situation as “built-in depressor,” which ­refers to the existence of landlords who have no incentive to invest in agriculture, while the peasants have no means to do so. The landlords leased out maximum amounts of their land to sharecroppers. The sharecroppers depended on the same landlords for loans at high rates of interest for the purpose of cultivating that land (Thorner 1956: 16). Consequently, agriculture remained stagnant.

The then ruling Congress party had recognised this condition in a report of the Congress Agrarian Reforms Committee of 1949. Accordingly, land reform laws were enacted during the early 1950s to change the situation. But a review of these laws clearly indicates that these reforms did not bring about the end of “landlordism.” Thorner’s “depressor” continued to remain in place. Consequently, India continued to face the problem of food shortage. In the mid-1960s, this problem became extremely serious. It was in this context the government started adopting new agricultural strategies that included the green revolution, massive cash cropping, commercialisation and mechanisation for a significantly higher rate of agricultural growth. Indian agriculture also witnessed population growth-induced division of landholdings and went through the process of liberalisation. Now, there is a strong belief that such developments in agriculture have led to increasing fragmentation and consequently decreasing size of landholdings, and the weakening of sharecropping or tenancy.

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Updated On : 24th Aug, 2020
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