South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Producing the 'Local': Land, Caste and Custom in Kumaon, 1900-1950

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

Custom in colonial Kumaon was not merely an ethnocentric construction. It came into play through bureaucratic practices seeking to represent the local, the Pahari, in an institutionalized way. This paper critiques the Pahari “Being” enabled by bureaucratic/legal representation as a space that only landholding castes could occupy. It allowed them to act strategically to keep the laboring castes landless, a fundamental condition for their manifold exploitation.

Historical narratives of the region have largely focused on popular resistance to state assertion of eminent domain over forests and rights over unpaid labour. However we also need to appreciate the bureaucratized processes by which the abrasive interface between state and society was smoothened by incorporating routines of representation for landholding bodies such as hissedari panchayats. Extending well beyond the realm of personal law, custom was central in framing rules for the management of commons, wastelands and labour.


 The paper highlights instances where acquisition of land by Dalits was resisted by the landowning castes, using the voice/space ceded to them under colonial regulations. They could thus block acquisition through fresh cultivation; sale; tenancy rights in village commons and allocations from forests and wastelands. Such bureaucratic channels of representation created new discourses of power. The power of the landed over agricultural labour could be exercised without having to speak of caste privilege or debt-bondage, which would have been inadmissible in the public sphere. The laboring poor on the other hand were represented only as a sectional interest, not within the universal category of “being Pahari”.

Rashmi Pant

University of Delhi, India

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3 - Producing the 'Local': Land, Caste and Custom in Kumaon, 1900-1950



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