Organized Panel Session
Questions of agrarian labor and livelihood have been central to administrative and analytic heuristics in the South Asian context. The Indian countryside was deeply imbricated within the structures of global capital: specific commodities shaped and responded to global market demands since the nineteenth century, while the status of smallholders emerged early and forcefully as contentious issues for imperial and national state policy.
The agrarian landscape has been radically remade in recent decades, from the changes wrought of globalization to the rise of financialization, wherein the increased mobility of capital supposedly mitigated the focus of the original agrarian question. Within this broader context of sharp regional differentiation and historically uneven patterns of agrarian change, a pronounced shift to non-agricultural economic activity and increased wealth for certain large landowning groups has intensified differentiation within rural populaces.
This panel offers a long, historically-informed account of South Asia’s changing agrarian trajectories. Meghna Chaudhuri’s paper interrogates how the credit crisis of the 1870s produced an approach to rural distress that continues to inform the premise of contemporary development discourse. Benjamin Siegel extends the global, structural framing of local histories through an account between the licit and illicit markets for Madhya Pradesh opium in the twentieth century. And Jens Lerche's paper foregrounds the ways in which Dalit producers have experienced deepening inequality over twenty-five years of economic liberalization in Uttar Pradesh. These papers will revisit the classic "agrarian question," rethinking its conceptual valence for concerns of labor, production and inequality in South Asia.