The Pastoralist Gujars and the Impact of Agro-social Transformation Through British Colonialism in the 19th Century Doab      (dt.: Das Hirtenvolk der Gujars im Spannungsfeld der agrosozialen Transformation durch die britische Kolonialmacht im Doab des 19.Jahrhunderts) Jürgen Krämer / Hagen 1993 
zurück, drucken und download mit Browser-Button !

1. Introduction: The British colonialism´s history alone is a very complex problem even in the territorial and temporal enclosure here (Doab, 19th century), moreover while being connected to the question of agro-social transformation. The difficulties then multiply by taking into consideration a pastoral group. Receivable informations on Gujars are not only seldom (if not mainly their warlike contribution to the `mutiny´1 is considered) and widespread, they are also inconsistent and refractory to simple ranging and judging (what is valid for Indian society in general).
Both bases in a euro-centric framed source material and investigation: So it is clear, that an agro-exploiting orientated colonialism would not leave too much statistics or balances regarding cattle-breeders´ activities. Likewise reduced, conventional research notices the complex and heterogeneous social structure of a because of its pastoral character anyhow marginally recognized culture,  what could be easily exemplified along the until now not cleared question, whether the Gujars are a tribe or a caste. The Atlas Of Tribal India:

The Gonds, for example, are a `scheduled´ tribe in Madhya Pradesh, but a `scheduled´ caste in Uttar Pradesh. Such a discrimination is further accentuated in the case of transhumant groups like the Gujjars in north-western India. A Gujjar Bakarwal Kafila, for example when pasturing in Himachal Pradesh during the summer belongs to the `scheduled´ category, the same group loses this status in its winter pastures on the Jammu plains.2

Here the next problem occurs: The necessity to require knowledges on pastoral societies out of the Doab3 and, after serious examination, to transfer that onto the Gujars - in order to win results on the whole. Despite all aggravations we should have a try on that subject, dividing it into three parts, the periods before, while and after the `mutiny´; beginning with a view on Gujar history and presence at the time of the assumption of colonial power by the British, i.e. the East India Company (EIC) in the Doab.

2.The Gujars...

2.1. - before the `mutiny´

2.1.1. Gujar history and presence at that time in general

“The early history of this tribe is obscure”, is said by Eric Stokes.”They boasted a western or `Punjabi´ origin”.4 Also Westphal/Westphal-Hellbusch describe the Gujars as a “branch of the Charan”5, the latter having lived as cattle-pastoralists in northwest India. Westphals as well as Stokes point out, “that their history cannot be detached from the Rajput history”6 resp. “that they were of `impure´ Rajput stock”.7 In the 1596 Ain-i-Akbari the Gujars already were “recorded as an important land-controlling element in the upper Doab”8, two and a half centuries later the Census Of The North-Western Provinces in 1865 counts one quartermillion Gujars, “congregated largely in the grazing lands of the Ganges, Jumna and Hindan riverain tracts of the upper Doab”.9 Regarding the time shortly before colonial usurpation in the Doab too, R.P.Ranas study Agrarian Revolts in Northern India is most informatively dealing with that turbulent period, which “swept across three Mughal subas, namely Agra, Delhi and Ajmer in the late 17th and early 18th century”.10

    The Gujars here are classified, besides Jats, Ahirs, Malis and Minas as a so-called middle caste with an agro-social rank also in the middle: “Petty producers who were more or less self-sufficient inasmuch as they did not hire out or hire in labour [...] They formed the single largest section of the peasantry”11, called gaveti-palti. Below there were wandering smallholders, selling a part of their labour and/or renting agricultural implements or animals, often used as substitute for ran-away peasants: the pahis. The deepest class consisted of low-casted, landless workers, satisfying the “labour needs of the entire landowning peasantry”12. To the latter belonged, as the gaveti-palti but above them, the “owners of large family holdings,[...] characterized by a moderate hire of labour, leasing out of livestock and equipment that yielded a relatively large income”13, who derived from the higher-casted Brahmans, Rajputs and Mahajans, the gharuhalas. Finally and above them all throned an elite of “large scale producers who depended entirely on hired labour”14: the khudkashta. They enjoyed the lowest revenues, the next-ranking group also was relatively softly taxed, the gaveti-palti however had the highest rate - and therefore contributed collectively as well as individually the far most to the state´s tax receipt. A conversion from the higher into one of the lower taxed landholdings was strictly forbidden. Nevertheless the barriers were not totally unpermeable: especially the pahis often descended from the deprived part of the middling ranks. 

    On the other hand “namely the Jats, the Gujars, the Gojhas and the Minas”15 recruited Zamindars too. Whether petty producers, big owners or Zamindars - altogether the Gujars won a remarkable weight as landowners, reflected in the above characterization as “important land-controlling element”. As genuine cattle-breeders they moreover show the specific differences to the farming majority of the upper Doab´s country-people: a high need of pasture ground, a culturally stipulated sort of nomadic freedom, a certain disdain concerning agricultural labour, the latter however being done additionally in cases of necessity. C.A.Baily, Stokes´ editor, characterizes the Gujars in a pregnancy proper for a provisional résumé as “semi-nomadic caste of cattle-keepers, pastoralists, and petty cultivators living in a wide swathe of country from Rajasthan through the upper Doab.”16

2.1.2. The course of colonization in general 

The British colonialism´s grip setting in in the Doab at the beginning of the 19th century through the EIC now leads to very considerable distortions in the hitherto economically balanced agro-social structure. A first inventory by the EIC in 1807/8 concluded, that agriculture is basically stable and its production could be even much increased. As early as 1803 she had demanded investing support to plant cotton, thus already indicating the direction: By means of revenue- and subsidy-politics agro-production should be intensified, aiming at worldmarket profitable cash crops like cotton, indigo and sugar-cane. Where this pole-changing of hitherto worldmarket independent local subsistence-economies faced indigenous resistance, they were flanked by penal and military prosecution. Indeed, tilled land has three decades later grown by 20 % on the whole: the cash crop area multiplied by two and a half, wheras the food crop area mounted up by 12 % only. The real quota of the latter thus declined from 90 to 80 %. In the 1830s farmers already depended on the proceeds from cash crop cultivation in order to pay their subsistence-costs. Moreover just the foodstuffs´ prizes rose with each drought - so in 1836/38, as the wheat-prize multiplied by 2,5 and that of barley triplicated, while the cotton´s for instance remained constant.17

    Beyond that, the up to 70 % destruction of the indigenous dhak-wood within the first 50 years of British rule (to gain arable land, also charcoal, and as a means against resistant groups being active until far into the 1820s) led to severe ecological postponements like an increase in temperature and rainfall absence, groundwater decrease, erosion and salinisation. Finally the displacement of the original landowners, tribes and clans (from which in the early 1850s the very most were disappeared) by capitalized citizens, heirs to their revenue-insolvent predecessors, meant no less than the traditonal social obligations (infrastructure, wells, food in times of necessity, supply storage, protection against enemies etc.) being removed too - with inevitably catastrophic consequences in periods of drought. As for instance in 1837/38 the ecological balance (Ganges and Jamna lost more than one third of their water, the groundwater-level partially fell about 5 meters), agriculture and commerce collapsed, there died over one million people and millions of others fled the Doab. Thus it is easy to be seen, that the colonial grip -although not directly turned against cattle-breeding Gujars, but aimed at the coercion of export-orientated cash crop production- nevertheless must have had striking effects on them too. How did those look like?

2.1.3. Colonial transformation and its pressure towards pastoralism

First of all its ecological consequences heavily effected the pastoralist basics: grass and water. The comparison of two maps, shown in a study by Michael Mann17a, proves the regions of dhak- or grass-jangal approximately halved between around 1800 and 1850. Although Mann refers to the Central Doab, the balance ought to be transferable at least in its tendencies to the Upper Doab18. Mann himself writes: ”The changes of vegetation have been in the Central Doab, but also in large parts of northern India and the whole subcontinent under [...]British rule[...]before the 1857/58-uprise, by far bigger than during the subsequent period.”19 Where the grass did not disappear at all, its quality worsened: It has “in former days grown so high, that it could be used as roofing material. Now however, because of the lacking rain it is so short, that hardly the animals could be feeded with.”20 Of course “the clearing of dhak- and of grass-jangal regions to expand the cash crop economy” was used directly too, thus “leading to a further progressing salinisation...and so contributing to a form of desertification”21. The scarcity of water implicated herein -wells dryed out, the levels of both rivers and groundwater sank, tanks and watering places stayed empty, jhils became marshy (thus increasing epidemics as malaria)- hit Ahirs and Gujars as hard as the shortage of feed.

    On the other hand the colonial tax-political means tending to transform a self-sufficient subsistence economy into a cash crop economy, directly influenced the Gujar´s situation by “taxing pasture-land as high as fertile arable land[...] and by introducing a landed property along its european judicial code, thus urging settledness”22. There are three important aspects in here, worth while being deepened: an arising european-modelled land-market, the preference of settledness, the antagonism between settled farmers and nomadic cattle-breeders. According Manns hint “in precolonial times[...] land property[...] has been secondary in importance as long as there was plenty of land and land not forming a commercial object”23. Or in Jacques Pouchepadass´ words: “There was plenty of arable land available: it was labour, not land, that was scarce”24. “When the British arrived”, he continues, “land transfers were of rare occurence, and when they did take place they belonged rather to the political than to the economic sphere[...].In a word, the land market did not exist”25. Thomas R.Metcalf also describes the precolonial agrosystem as a “complex web of customary rights, in which the states and each of the various individuals connected with the land, from talukdar or zamindar down to the cultivating ryot, posessed different rights and claims, but none held the title as owner”26. The installation of a british-styled agrarian law with its basic private land property necessarily caused conflicts: “Where the pattern of landholding had once been complex, diffuse, and customary, it was now simple, clear-cut, and artificial”27

    Undoubtable, the corresponding new fiscal rights, enforced by all means of legal authority if need be, induced several complications and sociohierarchic shiftings, although the widespread and irreversible establishment of a veritable land market took some time: “In the course of the nineteenth century, a regular land market did effectively take shape, though in a slow and uneven fashion. [Not until] after the mutiny, as the volume of land transformations and the trend of land prices conclusively show, a real open market for land began to take shape“28,as Pouchepadass points out in his valuable study. Nonetheless the preference of settled cash croppers inflicted the cattle-breeding Gujars from the very beginning: “A lot of little and middle cattle-breeders could not bring up their revenue money and became victims of `efficiency rationalization´, economy as a whole thus commercialized, because after their terms of revenue payment run out, people had to sell or slaughter parts of the herds29.

    Even at  the landholding´s level the Gujars belonged to the “chief loosers” group, as Eric Stokes exemplified by balancing the “alienations of land” in the district of Saharanpur: The Gujars were mentioned as such in 10 out of 15 parganas30. “These people, lately lords of the grazing grounds and denizens of a mobile economy, found there local dominance challenged by the settlement of regular peasant cultivators as the arable land fitfully expanded[...] a classic example of the very general conflict between farmer and herdsmen31. It should be added, that the virtual titles of posession in this jerky expanding arable land nearly inevitably went into the hands of “tax farmers, petty revenue collectors, bankers, moneylenders, and traders first at auctions of the rights of delinquent revenue payers and later through moneylending activities”32. “70 % of the purchasers of land [until 1850]”, Bernhard S.Cohn figured out with meticulosity, “were urban[...] Over two third of the revenue came from estates whose purchasers lived over ten miles away [60 % even resided farer than 20 miles]”33. Moreover, Cohn notices a striking example of possible reactions “from disposessed zamindars. In 1816[...] there were 15800 Rajputs in Jaunpur who had lost their lands and who were under arms against the government and auction purchasers”34.

2.1.4. Effects and feedbacks

Such massively concerted violent actions answering the beginning deprivations, are not to be noticed concerning the Gujars before the `mutiny´. More easily “a big number emigrated[...] The mountain regions often were the only possibility to emigrate to. In this different environment however, the cattle could not bring up the former output”, thus again aggravating the Gujars´ situation. “In the villages left by Ahirs and Gujars, food supply deteriorated because the milk products became scarce and expensive”35. Where the Gujars did not migrate they had to face "that the balance between pastoralism and agriculture had been decisively tilted against them[...] `The last to choose the settled ground´ found themselves forced away from the old cattle raising and cattle lifting life towards the boredom and degradation of the plough"36.

    The like, a second measure, normally applied only very occasionally, grew popular, explained by Elizabeth Whitcombe: “Gujars[...] derived their regular livelihood from grazing and from the sale of thatching grass, and their food supply from rabi grains[...] When conditions prevented cultivation, they could resort to cattle thieving”37. So the Gujars increasingly fell back upon their traditional, but criminal expedient of theft. Adding the warlike tendency deriving from their quasi-Rajput status, completed the material to deliver the colonial historians´ image of the Gujars as notorious troublemakers, thieves, and lazy-bones which was contrasted with the positive example of the “sturdy Jats” who diligently, skilfully, and loyally practiced that “industrious agriculture” the British cash crop economists exactly headed for. However, as Stokes´ hint sets right the subject, “where the Gujar had succeeded in obtaining good land and had forsaken cattle-lifting, he soon became almost indistinguishable from the more industrial agricultural castes”38. Reversely not all the Jats were those good sturdy followers, for instance “the warlike Jats in the Delhi environs, who apart from agriculture carried on cattle-breeding, thus being mounted herdsmen, [...]speedy and powerfull”39 and playing a leading role in the `mutiny´.

    Finally a lot of deprived Gujars found “employment as watchmen and policemen” in the towns (where some of them discovered “urban crime as a secondary occupation”)40 - especially as such they were to become the decisive agent to transport the at first very limited sepoy mutiny into the rural hinterland.

2.2. The Gujars during the `mutiny´

2.2.1. The uprise´s background and development in general

The mutiny itself, which ist to be examined in general before we focus the Gujars´ role in there, quite characteristically began in units consisting of “Rajput and quasi-Rajput pastoralist tribes”, who in military service had recognized “one outlet[...] in a world going awry”41 to “avoid being degraded from cattle-breeders down to ploughing farmers”42. “Apart from enlisting in the regular regiments of the EIC´s army, they also filled the ranks of  the local Haryana Light Infantry and 14th Irregular Cavalry. It was the outbreak among these troops[...] that touched of rebellion”43.

    As already exemplified by the Jaunpur Rajputs, the colonialism-induced decline of this hitherto leading class has been enormous. The like “the Bangar-Rajputs´ posessions were reduced steadily[...] after 1833, 1868 they had sunk to the status of mere cultivators”44. Same as the middle-ranked cattle-breeding Ahirs and Gujars, also “Rajputs[...] often had no other possibility but to emigrate.”45 Likewise characteristic, “the main region of the sepoys´ uprise” forming a roughly equilateral triangle, includes with Awadh, Jhansi and Nagpur just those estates who had been annected by the British in the 1850s46. Results for instance: “In Awadh the immediately installed anti-talukdar-settlement had disastrous effects to the social structure. The deprivation of not only the local magnates set in within shortest time”47. Also a certain feeling of collective humiliation by mere annexion must have had contributed to heat up Rajput psychosphere.

    The mutiny of a big part of the troops at once was joint by deprived or threatened citizens, before particularly the Gujars carried the torch of rebellion into the rural regions. The rebellion however “consisted according to lacking organisation of a number of noncoordinated local uprises”48, which “seriously menaced [British rule in India] for some months”49, that´s true. Medium term however, the successive crush of all the different rebelling crowds by British, loyal Indian or new recruited Sikh troops50 could not be much more than a matter of time. Indeed fire of uprise was under control within one year. Moreover it has to be stated, that the uprise was neither revolutionary nor singular or -in spite of all its widespread contributors- common. Rather it should be qualified as a planless spontaneous reaction towards the dramatical political, economical, and social detoriations in northern India. “The various discontents” of most different concerned groups as “princes and mercenaries, landlords and farmers”51, traders, craftsmen, and herdsmen in a certain situation bundled up to a rebellion, which not differed principally but in its vehemence and dimension from “the lot of local uprises in the decades before”52. Yet there remained not few Indians from each rank neutral or loyal - even certain Gujar groups. The Gujar merits in multiplying the revolt into the rural regions can be seen quite clearly guided by Eric Stokes´ detailed studies.

2.2.2. Character and heterogeneity of Gujar participation

First we are interested in those Gujars, urbanized as policemen, watchmen and/or petty criminals: In Meeerut

urban riot was quickly suppressed [.../i.a. because the rebels marched towards Delhi in the same night], but the shock waves of disturbance ran through the countryside. The communicators were the Gujars. Their villages ringed the city and cantonment, and they filled the ranks of the police[...] their blue uniforms were observed amongst the ranks of the rioters53. Like their brethren around Delhi[...] they formed the natural carriers of violence to the countryside. Their action and that of other turbulent communities like the Muslim Rangars54 unsettled the entire upper Doab[...] Gujar turbulence spilled over on to the far banks of the Jumna and Ganges, into the Ambala district (of the Punjab province), and into Bijnaur and Moradabad in Rohilkand. Indeed, it was a striking feature of the upper Doab that rural disturbance at first outpaced military mutiny55.

Obviously, the hinterland Gujars, inspired by their urban kinship, were not less ready to rebell as the Rajputs in the army - they on the contrary even surpassed them at first. Of course it is not possible here to examine all details and facets of Gujar contributions to the uprise. Nevertheless some qualifications and completions should be made, following for instance C.A.Bayly´s hint, that Gujar “magnates and villages -especially those beginning to settle to secure agriculture- held aloof from revolt while those Gujars who did plunder were as much a menace to the lines of supply of the insurgents and the King of Delhi as they were to British communications“56. Unfortunately, Bayly fosters the impression that Gujar rebellion regularly turned out as wild plundering immediately after “the police and the military had disintegrated”57, whereas many examples on the contrary show, that their élan and their staff throughout was effectively compatible with the insurgent troops´ plans. As “many colonial officials” also Bayly imputes the “addiction to plunder”, although avoiding the term “criminal tribe”. In writing that “the notion that the Gujars were the prime force for revolt[...] had much more to do with the desire of officialdom to preserve the reputation of the `sturdy´ Jat peasant farmer”58 he associates plunder and criminality with revolt, even if in the foreground defending the Gujars as not less loyal than the Jats (the latter indeed also taking part in rebellion). The uprise´s rural component thus transforms into “plunder” and “looting”.

    Stokes in this concern uses the term “autonomous peasant jacquerie in the countryside” (on the one hand, on the other “the capture of key urban centres by the mutineers, both having to be connected by “political leadership supplied from the magnate class”59 in order to gain victory), which also sounds slightly negative but not as derogatory as Bayly´s plunder . Stokes accordingly differentiates two phases: an “initial stage” of “violent release of social tensions[...], necessarily heterogeneous and random”, potentially turning against hated neighbours, money-lenders, grain-speculators, or EIC-representatives, and a “second stage[...] from discrete disorder to formed rebellion[...] overcoming such extreme particularism by wider political alignments and alliances”60. Stokes´ states: “The initial response of formerly dominant pastoral groups like the Gujars[...] was to sack the neighbouring small towns, which offered loot as well as symbolizing the world that had undone them[...] The Gujars [stormed] Sikandarabad and Bulandshar“61. Exemplifying just the Bulandshar district, rebelling Gujars are prooved having strongly participated in the uprise´s second phase too, where they reinforced the rebel army of Nawab Walidad Khan of Malagargh: “His army of 400 cavalry and 600 infantry was backed by `about 1000 insurgent Gujars and Rajputs´”62. Moreover, the Sikandarabad and the Bulandshar assault seem to have been coordinated between Walidad and Gujars before.62a

Das sind erst ca. 50 % des Textes. Wer eine Kopie des Gesamten, incl. der Nachweise, Karten, Fußnoten, Literaturliste und Inhaltsübersicht erhalten möchte, schreibt eine eMail, ein Fax (06024-6359754) oder einen Brief und überweist (bzw. schickt, gerne auch in Briefmarken) dazu den Unkostenbeitrag in Höhe von 10 € (oder 15 € für die deutschsprachige Version) auf Nr. 1560549 bei BLZ 76090500. Rückadresse nicht vergessen!

Copyright by
Jürgen Krämer / Lindenstr.18 / D-63825 Schöllkrippen / zurück, drucken und download mit Browser-Button