chapter  2
18 Pages

Peasant as alibi: An itinerary of the archive of colonial Panjab

The fi gure of the peasant consumed the imagination of British offi cials in late nineteenth-century Panjab. An indication, as well as manifestation, of this is evinced by a quick inventory of the colonial record. There is, on the one hand, an abundance of government reports, legislative acts, administrative commentaries, census data, private correspondence, journalistic articles and published books that all contended with the peasant as the natural corollary of agriculture. On the other hand, there is a lack of equivalent material dealing with urban merchants, professionals and workers; or on rural pastoralists, religious notables and traders; or on artisans such as carpenters, blacksmiths, weavers and potters; or especially on the leather-workers, sweepers and water-carriers occupying the lowest levels of village hierarchy. From the vantage of the archive, then, much of Panjabi history is the intractable one-act theatre of those deemed peasants.