Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Panidars and fisherfolk of Bhagalpur

"Chief Minister Laloo Prasad has managed to accomplish one task for which at least 40,000 fishermen of Bhagalpur will remember him forever.  Though zamindari was abolished in Bihar, at least on paper, in 1952, the panidari over the water of Ganga had been left untouched.  Under this system, peculiar to Bihar, the panidars fattened and flourished, while the poor fishermen suffered.  But with the passage of an act in the Bihar
legislature in August last, the tax collecting rights over Ganga now vest with the government of Bihar." from an EPW article by Indu Bharti quoted here in 1991 (via Pradhamanath Sastry).
A 2010 report on later developments Keeping rivers alive:
"It is really tragic that Bihar, a land of three large fertile floodplains, has to import more than 60% of its fish from pond culture farms in Andhra Pradesh. This unfortunate state of affairs reminds us that strong steps are urgently needed. Fishing will have to be regulated and its intensity controlled, especially in dolphin hotspots. Having said this, we re-emphasize the need to completely curb destructive practices by fishers and mafia alike. Regulated and non-destructive fishing sustained over a long-term could itself lead to restoration of collapsed fish stocks and needs to be a long-term goal for the management of the Ganges basin fisheries. The restoration should lead to improved health, numbers and availability of native commercial carps, and preponderance of larger fish sizes and improved juvenile recruitment. Large-scale restoration would involve measures for protecting hydrological services, flooding regimes, preventing degradation of bank habitats and pollution control.

There have been many episodes of mass exodus of fisher families from the area to work as construction labourers in big cities, both because ‘nothing is left to fish’, and the perennial threat of criminal gangs. There is a pressing need to examine alternative livelihood options. Commercial gains for fishers via alternative livelihoods need not be antithetical to dolphin conservation, or ecologically sensitive riverfront management. While reducing pressure on the already depleted resource base, these options could also improve the local economy through involvement of fishers’ knowledge and enterprise. A good example that has been successful elsewhere is the creation of community based aquaculture or fishing cooperatives. Cooperatives set up by local fisher groups via microcredit initiatives could empower fishers to manage their respective stretches, and at the same time, help the sanctuary authorities in monitoring and regulating illegal, destructive fishing."
More recent reports which I have not read are in the proceedings of a symposium Rivers for Life.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


Where as the megaliths of Gobekli Tepe are dated around 9000 BC, the megaliths in India seem to be from around 3000 BC, with the Indus Valley civilization (Early Harappan) already beginning or in existence. From 'Megaliths in ancient India and their possible association to Astronomy' by Mayank Vahla and others.                  )

Peter Dorman on the Greek referendum

What are the beginnings of labor?

Sumit Guha and others (quoted in his book 'Beyond Caste', a good review here)) suggest that local hierarchical systems esembling caste systems existed all over South Asia and elsewhere and discount religion. A crucial part of these systems is the use of labour by lesser ranked groups in the hierarchy. So, it may be worthwhile to look at the beginnings of the uses of labour. In a preview of a recent book, Michael Hudson says "We begin the volume in 10,000 BC in Gobekli Tepe in Turkey where you have very large city-like ceremonial sites, larger than Stonehenge, huge sites that took hundreds of years to build with huge stone megaliths, even in the pre-pottery Neolithic. They didn’t yet have metal to carve these stones. They didn’t even have pottery. But they had in Gobekli all sorts of huge carvings in a seasonal site where people would come together on ceremonial occasions, like midsummer. We researched from Turkey in 10,000 BC to Sumer in the third millennium BC, Babylonia in the second millennium BC, the building of the pyramids, and we have the actual bills and accounting statements for what’s paid to labour to build the pyramids.
We found they were not built by slaves. They were built by well-paid skilled labour. The problem in these early periods was how to get labour to work at hard tasks, if not willingly? For 10,000 years there was a labour shortage. If people didn’t want to work hard, they could just move somewhere else. The labour that built temples and big ceremonial sites had to be at least quasi-voluntary even in the Bronze Age c. 2000 BC. Otherwise, people wouldn’t have gone there.............We found that one reason why people were willing to do building work with hard manual labour was the beer parties. There were huge expenditures on beer. If you’re going to have a lot of people come voluntarily to do something like city building or constructing their own kind of national identity of a palace and walls, you’ve got to have plenty of beer. You also need plenty of meat, with many animals being sacrificed. Archaeologists have found their bones and reconstructed the diets with fair accuracy.
What they found is that the people doing the manual labour on the pyramids, the Mesopotamian temples and city walls and other sites were given a good high protein diet. There were plenty of festivals. The way of integrating these people was by public feasts. This was like creating a peer group to participate in a ceremonial creation of national identity." 
I looked at some of the articles in the book. Though the evidence is not as convincing as Michael Hudson suggests, it seems plausible that the beginnings of semi-voluntary labour are rooted in some sort of primitive religions and the chiefs or leaders who contributed to some records of natural cycles and probably predicted some seasonal and cosmological events. There is more later on about this, for example,
 "First the priesthoods, then the accountants and scribes. The calendar keepers were usually the chiefs (there may have been “sky chiefs” and “war chiefs” separately, or perhaps their roles were combined as dynastic rulers developed). Most of the religions were cosmological. They wanted to create an integrated cosmology of nature and society (“On earth, as it is in heaven”). Administration was based on the astronomical rhythms of the calendar, lunar and solar cycles. For instance, you typically find a society divided into 12 tribes, as you had in Israel and also in Greece with its amphictyonies. In a division of 12 tribes, each could take turns administering the ceremonial centre for one month out of the year."
But this is one region and it is partly speculation. Neolithic age and such came at different times to different region and possibly different kinds of societies existed at the same time. One has to look more about the Indian context to see the beginnings of labor but it seems (from the work of Kosambi and others) different local cults were present from prehistoric times.
P.S. Check also the skeptic's site and Gobekli Tepe: Fuel for crankery. There is also  https://www.facebook.com/gobeklitepe and for details without any theory  http://essayweb.net/history/ancient/gobekli.shtml

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dalits as Hindus

Recently, there have been discussions of caste and Hinduism in some circles following the IITM fracas and Mumford's letter. Here is point which Kancha Ilaiah made long ago that has not come up in the discussions.
 ".. until the twentieth century, Dalits were regarded not as Hindus but as a separate and subordinate element throughout India. They were defined as Hindu only in the context of a demographic struggle during which Hindu nationalists realized that counting them as such was critical to the project of redefining the country in Hindu-majority terms." 

Earlier I quoted from "The Telangana Movement 1944-51" by Barry Pavier. "On page 69, he quotes from Census of India 1941, Hyderabad, Vol.2, 672-674. The numbers given (rounding off, in millions)Hindus 10, Untouchables 3, Muslims 2, Tribals .7" 
The above quote is from From Village to City: Hinduism and the "Hindu Caste System" by Nathaniel Roberts.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Two books

Just finished reading 'Beyond Caste' by Sumit Guha. In spite of the rave reviews, I do not think that I understand it well or agree with some of it. But it goes beyond the book by Nicholas Dirks and probably the best book on caste that I read so far. I was planning to write a bit about it but meanwhile 'Labor in the Ancient World' edited by Piotr Steinkeller and Michael Hudson has arrived. I plan to read at least some of it before writing any thing. Michael Hudson talks about it here.
P.S. Meanwhile I am told that I should read 'The Annihilation of caste' by B. Ambedkar. I have read bits and pieces by Ambedkar on various topics earlier but not this book.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Old friends: Lowell Jones

Bombay 1974. He visited Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in early 1974. Since accommodation was not immediately available we put him for a few days. Then he refused to move and stayed on for two months and had to learn eating the Indian way. He is still teaching in SUNY, Stoney Brook.

And from Britian

News from my home state

No wars here but "They have travelled nearly 900 kilometres to get here, and now wait to be picked up for daily wage work. Uncertainty binds these labourers. They have come this distance switching two trains, from Puttaparthy and Kadiri, in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh. "There is no drought work (i.e. work under the rural employment guarantee act, or MNREGA) in the villages, and we haven’t got paid for the work we have done for weeks,” multiple farmers told me. And whatever work there is, falls to a tenth of the actual demand, over the course of the year." from No ticket, will travel

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fine regimes in earlier days

There are precedents for Ferguson. "In eighteenth-century Bengal and Bihar under East India Company administration, fines were part of the tax toll in each district, and cases were judged and fines collected by the tax farmer or tax collector in each area. Fines varied by capacity to pay. In this region "women were appointed to discover cases of fornication and adultery, which were fined heavily on the production of the slightest evidence". More than a century later, in the division of Bakarganj (now in Barisal district of Bangladesh) J.C.Jack, a settlement officer, observed that malicious complaints were encouraged, interference in village quarrels was extensive, and fines for the most trivial offences wee enormous. Jack obtained the account book of one landlord, which closely resembles the tax farmers' accounts from eighteenth-century western India. The landlord, for example, fined one of tenants for an alleged affair with his own mother-in-law.Logically enough, state functionaries punished those who settled disputes without paying the state; so, for example, two men of mercantile castes in Jaipur kingdom who settled their own quarrel were then fined for not reporting it to the state. Community councils and pancayats were fined if local councils disliked their decision, or if they failed to notify the state. Similarly, in the Pesva's territories in 1766, an official who committed some infraction of religious law and arranged purification rituals without state sanction was fined the considerable sum of 3,000 rupees. So in addition to being s source of political power for the ruling houses, family broils and sexual misconduct also supplied important fiscal resources..............Considerable sums were also raised by interference in family affairs; the rich banker Hari Cintaman Patwardhan adopted a son in 1793-1794 and paid 22,000 rupees for permission to do so." from Chapter four, 132 of "Beyond Caste' by Sumit Guha

Working women in the family

Psoriatic arthritis since 1984. Finally getting some relief thanks to working women in the family. Lalita bought the chair for a thousand dollars a few years ago. Shanti bought the contraption today. Jhansi helped buying most of the books around.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Some Telugu folk songs

here. In a thread in Avineni Bhaskar's timeline, Sreenivas Paruchuri writes "I can't tell you the authors' names. I am also not sure if its an individual's work or a collective work - both possibilities exist. But certainly both are modern songs, from the early 20th century, with their origins in north coastal districts. Basically all "rangam paaTalu", that is with reference to Rangoon/Burma are from this time period. What is called "folk/jaanapadam" is not necessarily "old". Very idealistic notions exist here! But its another colonial legacy that we picked and glorified. See the essay http://eemaata.com/em/issues/200609/901.html"
In the linked essay, the authors write "భావ కవులు రాసిన ఈ కవిత్వమంతా పల్లెటూళ్ళలో వుండేవాళ్ళ సంస్కృతిని అందులోనూ కింది కులాల వాళ్ళ సంస్కృతిని అందంగా చిత్రించేదే అయినా వాళ్ళ కవిత్వ భాష మాత్రం యథాపూర్వంగా మధ్య తరగతి కవితా భాషే అయింది."Much more inn the article.

Just when I thought that I was getting somewhere