chapter  2
9 Pages

The Market for Mobile Labour in Early Modern North India

WithDirk H.A. Kolff

It is a long time since historians projected the idea of India as a huge collection of economically self-sufficient and politically autonomous village units. Another image, that of two worlds, one of settled agriculture and another of mobile, often pastoral, labour, and of the dynamic frontiers that held them together, has taken its place. In accepting this model, it should be noted, on the one hand, that the pastoral world never existed independently from town and village markets, while, on the other hand, the management of settled agriculture could rarely do without either an annual exodus of seasonal labour during the post-harvest season or the engagement of manpower from outside during the busiest months of the year (Gommans 2002: ch. 1). Long-term labour mobility, more often than not, was circulatory in character and did not lack an agrarian base in the region of origin; neither were sedentary villagers always unacquainted with far-away service, whether as weavers, soldiers or agricultural labourers. On the other hand, a region's circulatory tradition could, if it appeared attractive to do so, produce little diasporas. Sometimes, a man or a family who had left home with the intention to return would settle down somewhere along the road and it was not unusual for landed communities to invite in their midst stranger families with their ploughs and to integrate them in their systems of exchange of produce and division of labour, though such people might, even after years, be more prone to move on than the rest of the villagers.