The opinions and findings mentioned in the article are based on the author’s observations and analysis.
The place I am concerned with is located at the confluence of Shivaliks and Dhaula Dhar mountain range of Himalayas. Located at the height of 2300 meters, on its east the village is overlooked by the lofty snow-peaked ranges of Kinnaur Kailash. To the south east lies the capital city of Shimla, on the north is the Dhaula Dhar range of Kullu district.
The western boundary is marked by the ranges of Dhaula Dhar. The Shivalik hills of lower Mandi district of Himachal marks the southern boundary of this village. The village has a “khad”, i.e. a stream, that provides natural source of water to the inhabitants.
The source of the stream lies at the top of the mountain peak. Covered by forest filled with deodhar and pine tree, the village has vegetation of sub-tropical Himalayan type.
As I observed, the jungle is inhabited by lion, snow leopard, deer, wolves and wild dogs. These animals live in symbiotic relation with the people here; there has not been any case of attack by these animals on the local people. People are dependent on forest for woods and food. Apart from depending on the forest for fodder, the village has grassland at the upper slope of the mountain. The grassland is used as a grazing land for the live-stock.
The village normally has pleasant weather conditions, with moderate temperature in summer, semi-arctic type condition in two months of winter and high rainfall followed by hailstorm and snowfall in rainy season. The Arabian sea branch of south-west monsoon wind strikes the mountains and bring showers.
In winter too, precipitation due to western disturbance occurs. Clouds swift through the valley and mountain, making the area a part of outer Himalayan weather system. During winter, the village remains unconnected with rest of world for one or more week. The snowfall covers the whole mountain range.
Snowfall makes the land suitable for apple cultivation. Apple orchards are abundantly present here. People from plains are attracted towards the apple orchards. Many of the bureaucrats from Chandigarh and Delhi have bought orchards here.
Apart from apple, walnuts, citrus fruit, maize, potatoes, cereals and coarse grain are produced here. People also cultivate wheat and rice but only in small amount. The major cash crop produces are apple, maize, potatoes and cereals. The cultivation of the crop is largely dependent on rainfall.
Besides cash crops the village has several plants of high medicinal value of them are Gudchi, Mocha, pahari haldi etc.. The various parts of these plants are picked by the local and sold to the merchants and tekedars that is further used in pharmaceutical companies to manufacture costly medicines.
I found out that due to difficult terrain, the village is sparsely populated. The houses are rock-built, having slanting slopes. They are so designed in order to bear the pressure of snowfall and hailstorm. But people have started constructing house of concrete similar in design and pattern to those in plains.
The portable water source for people are the natural springs from the mountain. Further, people also have constructed water tanks for community storage of rainwater. The total number of household in the village is 150. Majority of the people belong to “Koli” caste (which is a scheduled caste in Himachal). Besides, people from “Thakur” (Rajput), “Gupta” (Baniya) and Brahmin castes are also present.
The so called ‘upper caste’ people of “Thakur” and “Guptas” are mostly shop owners, merchants and large land holders while “Koli” are engaged in land cultivation. Many from the ‘upper castes’ have also managed to secure posts in government offices.
The presence of state in the village is scarcely marked There are no primary health care facilities in the village and people have to travel to a nearby health care that is at a distance of 5km. There is a high school and senior secondary school in a village at a distance of 3km from the village. The village has no police post and there is only a chowkidar and a local guard.
The village has a temple of the local deity named “Mulmahu-Nag”. The temple runs under a local priest who is Brahmin by caste. The “devta” is highly revered by the villagers. The “devta” derives its power from the original “Mahunag” Temple that is at a distance of 15km from the village. Every Navratra, the deity is carried to this temple.
One could easily notice that the villagers have deep faith in the ritual ceremonies of the temple, the temple priest has a role to play in socioeconomic and sometimes even a political role in this society. Regarding the cultural life of the people, it is worth noting that women are in comparatively better position than the women from plains. Women are free to come out of house and work in field unlike the brahmanical practise where they are caged inside and men are to work outside.
As regards the form of marriage, here the bridegroom’s parents are expected to go to the house of bride to ask for the marriage. Polyandry in its distorted form is also present. Women in a marriage are also free to move out as and when they deems fit; the husband does not deny her right to move away.
It’s socially accepted for a woman to move away from relationship and the husband has to pay her sufficient amount till she is settled in the second marriage. But with regard to the role of women in family, her position is second to the male and she has to submit to the decisions by the senior male patriarch. In society too, her identity as an individual with a certain choice and decision making power is non existent.
Patrilineal relations are observed in the matter of property inheritance. And strict patriarchal practices like giving more resources to male child is prevalent in family institutions.
Political economy is the study of political and economic relations constituted within a particular mode of production where every mode of production has its own spatial and temporal fixtures that produce a complex matrix of materiality and ideologies which along with locating human relations with nature and among human themselves, provides material conditions for its inevitable historical change and advancement.
Political economy is thus an identity of historical materialism (class struggle). The determining factor for the advancement of the historic change in material composition of society is class.
Class is determined by one’s role in the mode of production, it is shaped by one’s material condition of existence, that is one’s class is decided by ownership of means of production, the role of an individual in production process and the individual’s link in distributional pattern of the produced surplus in a society. With the knowledge of class, it becomes easier to identify the revolutionary force in a society.
The class which shall lead the revolution and the class which shall ally with the most revolutionary class to smash the ruling class and its material existence is determined by political economy of the area. In similar fashion let us look into the different classes in the area. I have made a broad categorization of class in which people with similar material conditions can be put together.
1. Landlords:- This is a ruling class in the village, mostly from the ‘upper castes’, as I found out; they wield nonparallel political and social power. They own vast tract of agricultural land, mostly apple orchards. Besides this, they also cultivate cash crops like potatoes, maize and peas; wheat and rice are cultivated in small landholdings for domestic needs. They have also confiscated the forest land for the orchards.
These apple orchards extend to a large tract of land, often as large as 40 “bighas” (1ha=12bigha). They are the ones who employ labour on the basis of caste relations from the village. In their orchards migrant labour from Nepal, Bihar and Bengal are also employed. Besides the work in the orchards, the workers are also made to do certain other work for the landlord, like finding fodder for the cattle of landlords.
This is called “jowari”. They are not paid for this labour. The workers are mostly from Dalit caste of “Koli”. Besides people from the caste similar to that of the landlords also perform “jowari”, but this is on condition that the landlord too shall work on their land or in some family functions. Although not obligatory, this has been a social custom here.
Thus, unlike the landlords in the plains, here they perform certain labour but this is very scanty. Almost the entirety of their existence is based on the exploitation of labour power of the workers. They also give their land for cultivation to poor or middle peasants.
The rent for the land is often an annual amount of Rs. 10000 a “bigha” or half of the produce. Further, the tenants are obliged to provide their free labour for household activities of the landlords; they could be called anytime for the personal errands of the landlord.
They are also present in the state bureaucracy, they have strong hold over the political decisions and policies of the governments. It is due to their hold over the state bureaucracy that they have acquired vast land of forest department and have converted it into apple orchards. Besides they have diverted the whole natural source of water to their orchards. This is done through the IPH department.
By the dint of its class power, they have established direct control over the resources. They use caste as a mean to extract surplus and also as an ideology to perpetuate inequality between them and the worker.
What I also observed was that they practise untouchability too. The Dalit workers are not allowed inside the house, they are fed separately, they are not given water in the same vessel as that of the ‘upper castes’.
Dalits are not allowed to get inside the temple. Even Dalit students are discriminated against in the schools and colleges. They are made to sit at the back and are fed separately. Some of the landlords are involved in usury, the rate of interest ranging from 25% to 35%. Many people narrate the story of how the landlords have deceived their parents of their land.
In present times too, if a person is not able to pay back the loan then he has to work in the field or his land is confiscated as well. They are the most backward and reactionary section of the society. They exploit women’s labour in the household and exercise feudal control over their choice. They are forced to marry within their caste.
Various brahminical feudal norms with regard to women sexuality is practised. Menstruating women are not allowed to go inside the kitchen, they are given a separate room and yet, in some households, they are asked to remain outside the house. During the said time frame, women are not allowed to come in front of “devtas”.
Hi-tech equipments like rain gun, sprinkle irrigation devices imported from foreign corporations are used by them in their orchards. They depend upon multi-national corporations for apple plantations. From root-stock to packaging and transportation to the market, huge dependency on foreign imperialist bourgeois is seen.
In root-stock, it is Antonvoka 313, P.18 and MM.111 EMLA coming from Russia, Poland, US and England that have flooded the Indian apple market. In fungicide it is German capital through Bayers that largely controls the apple production market. In the market for apple box package, the landlord has to depend on the companies from Punjab and Haryana, which has to depend on imperial powers for technological aids and money grants.
The landlords have not developed any supportive industry for apple cultivation and marketing. The capital generated through the sale of apple is used for personal consumption or is spent in usury. In collaboration with imperialism and comprador bureaucratic capitalists of India, the landlords exercise their dominance. They have certain contradictions with the landlord class of the lower hills of Himachal in the district of Una, Kangra, Sirmaur and Bilaspur.
The low hill or plain area landlords compete with the landlord from upper hills with regard to the control over state apparatus. They compete for infrastructural building in their respective area in order to generate more and more surplus, infrastructure development in the field of horticulture is the major demand of the landlord here.
The construction of roads, dams and sanction of funds for urbanization projects are the major contesting points of the upper hill landlords while those from low hill or plain wants the state fund to be concentrated on their land.
The demand for roads and railways are in order to transport the labour force, apple and other food crops directly to market, dam demand too is to concentrate water and electricity for the landlords. These projects are directly monitored by World Bank. World bank constructs roads and other such infrastructures for the landlords and comprador bourgeoisie.
The landlord class plays an important role in getting the projects implemented on the ground, they create public opinion and also tries to appease the local deity to agree to these development projects. The last decision with regard to any development project lies with the local “devta”. Therefore, it is important for the state and imperial powers involved in the projects to appease the “devta” (that is the priest or brahmin), and to do so, the local landlord plays an important part.
The local temple is under strict control of this class and through the help of priests, this class performs the judicial function at the level of village. But sometimes they fails to appease the brahmin as a result of which the state has to take back the projects. The state is practically non-sovereign here, what we have instead is an semi-feudal authority working through the institution of temple.
Some of the landlords are also the local contractors, who signs up with government for the construction of ‘development’ projects. In the name of construction, they squeeze large amount of money from the public funds. This is also done with the help of local panchayat level officials. Pharmaceutical companies make deal with the contractor for the medicinal plants.
The contractor, in turn, hires women labour on daily wage basis to collect these plants from forest and sells this in thousands to the companies, which in turn earn lakhs from it. In this way they squeeze profit from the labour of the workers. At the level of electoral politics, the non antagonistic contradiction between the landlord from plain or lower hills and the landlords from upper hills explains the minor difference in their representation in various political parties.
BJP largely represents the landlord from plain or the low hills but of late this has changed, the appointment of Jai Ram Thakur as CM was an effort in this direction. Congress and CPI/CPM are old representatives of this class.
2. Rich Peasants:- This is a class that has more than required landholdings with them. They mostly belong to the ‘upper caste’ “Thakurs” but many of the “Kolis” have also risen to the level of this class. They have comparatively smaller apple plantations of 1500-2000 plants. They also cultivate cash crops like pea, potatoes and maize.
Wheat and rice are cultivated in small amounts and is used only for domestic consumption. They compete with the landlord over water for plants, they has to depend on drum water collected during rainfall and sometimes they have to buy drum water from IPH department for irrigation. They employ only a small number of workers. Hired workers are employed by them only during grading, packaging and sorting of apples.
For other activities, however, like grafting, spraying of pesticides, preparation of soil through manuring etc., communal labour is employed. The communal labour consists of labour power exploited on the basis of caste identity. That is to say people belonging to same caste share their labour power among themselves; if there is a need for labour in the field, then people from same caste as that of the landowner can come to work in the field and in return the landowner is expected to do some labour for the household of person who worked in his field.
However, there is no obligation for them to work. Besides, the rich peasants have to labour in their own field and also contribute communal labour to the households from his caste group. They exploit less labour power than the landlord. Sometimes during harvest season, it becomes imperative to employ wage labour in the field.
In this way, the rich peasants ensure labour in their field. Sometimes due to other engagement like jobs in government offices and private business, the people from this class give their land on rent to tenants at the cost similar to that taken by the landlord. Like the landlords they also employ “jowari” labour to cut the grass for cattle. They have cattle to meet the needs of milk and its products. This class has good presence in state bureaucracy.
It was noticeable that rich peasants also lend money on interest rate to the landless, poor and middle peasants. If they fail to pay back the money, the poor or middle peasants have to labour on the field or in household of rich peasants. They have less advanced technological equipments to manage their orchards and agriculture. They have water motor for irrigation and use small sized tractors to till the land.
They lack the courage and determination to fight with the landlord for water and resources from the jungle. They have their ample presence in the local government institutions. This ensures their hold over the government funds. They sometimes also become “tekedars” or contractor for the government ‘development projects’.
The proximity of rich peasants with the local government institutions like the panchayats is also to ensure that they get benefit of the government schemes. Some of the rich peasants have shifted to organic farming in which no expensive medicines and hybrid seeds are used while others like the landlords use heavy chemical fertilizers for agriculture. The shift is very less in number but is considerable.
Unlike some of the landlords, the rich peasants are not able to generate capital from agriculture. Some of them, they say are ‘hand to mouth’ after the end of every season. They are able to sustain themselves only on the basis of other source of income like shop ownership, government employment, etc.
This is because the local water resources are under the direct control of landlords. Further, the terrain is tough to ensure good production and the dependence on rainfall severely affects their income from agriculture.
Many of the rich peasants, unlike the landlords, are opposed to state’s ‘development’ projects as they see this as the cause of fog (the rich peasants here voices their dissent over the construction of Kol Dams) and other environmental changes that severely affects their apple production.
Similarly, the road construction and felling of tree by governments is seen as encroachment upon the traditional rights over forests. Caste dissects the class. The rich Dalit peasant is totally subservient to brahminical authority depicted through temple in the village.
Despite the superior class status, he is not allowed entry in the temple and has to follow all the caste rules of untouchability. On the electoral front at the state level, they don’t have a political party that exclusively represent their class but at the local panchayat level, block level or Zila Parishad level they have their representation.
As far as their spending are concerned this class spends a lot on building his status, they buy cars and houses/flats in Chandigarh or Shimla. Some of them also buy more of arable land in order to expand their orchards. They are very frugal in their spending and often use deceiving means to embezzle money from people. A huge thrust for money in this class has been seen.
This is due to expanding neo-liberal consumerist pattern of the hill people. The large scale commercialization of almost everything was unprecedented for the people who for some decades back use to live in semi-communal society.
The magic of money is totally new to people and they seems to have been blinded by the sudden flow of money molecules in the hills. In case of credit requirements they move to bank for loan or sometimes even go to the landlords. Some of the rich peasants are also in the business of illegal supply of timber to the corporate house in Shimla and Chandigarh.
They also act as contractor for supply of labour to the big orchard at Shimla and Kinnaur. In return the big apple growers of Shimla and Kinnaur give them 10%of wage per labour. They have a good hold over the workers and exploit them at several instance in order to extract surplus from the workers.
They have their lots tied up with the landlords. But they also have a sharp contradiction with landlord. At a particular time of struggle they might side with the poor and landless peasant against the landlord.
3. Middle Peasants:- This is a class that have small land holdings, which is sometimes not sufficient to sustain their livelihoods and thus they have to look for other employment. Normally they sell their labour to landlord or rich peasants. They also move to the orchards of Shimla and Kinnaur duirng seasons. But this accounts for only about half of their income.
For the remainder, I found out, they work as shopkeepers or depend on production from agriculture. They do hard labour to produce crops for the livelihood of family. They have no or very less irrigation facilities and have to depend on rain or have tanks for the storage of rainfall. Normally, they use less chemical fertilizers and pesticides and use cow-dung as manure.
They also use communal caste labour for agriculture production. Rarely, they employ workers on their field or in household work. Through their household labour, they produce cash crops like potatoes, peas and maize for the market. They also have apple plantation of 200-500 plants. They sell a part of the produce to the local tekedars who then sell them to the mandi of Shimla and Delhi.
The “tekedar” pays them less than the market price and they are exploited here. They have to give the products to this “tekedar” because they do not have personal means of transport to carry them to the market. Further, due to less production the cost of transportation will further decrease their profit.
The money which they invest on agriculture does not even get recovered through the sell of agriculture products, had it not being for apple their bare subsistence would have been in peril. They own live-stocks like cow, sheep and goats for milk and wool.
They do not have sufficient credit for investment in agriculture and therefore has to depend on moneylenders. And sometimes they also engage in money-lending. They lend money to the poor and landless peasants at a rate less than that charged by the landlords and rich peasants but exploit them through no less interest rate than 8 to 10%.
Mostly people from “Koli” caste fall in this category, but some “Thakurs” and “Brahmin Gautam” also fall in this class. Caste rule remains intact in this class too. As a general rule, the middle peasants are inclined toward spending more on education of their children. They send their children to private schools and educational institutions. Consumerist culture has penetrated in this class too but is limited due to scanty finance with them.
This class is also involved in supply of medicinal plants and roots to the company owners. They employ the poor and landless peasant as collector of roots of certain medicinal plants. Middle peasants are highly uncertain about their future and the private insurance holders exploit them. The insurance holders take more money from the middle peasants but in return they get less than the promised amount.
Sometimes, they even run away with the money of the middle peasants. The shopkeepers that fall in this class has to merge their income from agriculture income with the income from shop. This class also takes an active part in the political activities of the village. They are often part of certain village level panchayat help group like “Yuvak Mandals” and “Mahila Mandals”.
Middle peasants also employ themselves as private tutors. They also use their private vehicle for transportation services, vehicle ply from the village to town. Thus they depend more on their own labour power and less on the exploitation of labour of others.
4. Poor and Landless Peasants:- As per my findings, the poor peasants are those who have very small land holding that does not provide sufficient food for the sustenance of the family. Usually the landholding is less than 5 “bighas”. The production in this land is barely sufficient for their survival. They have to sell their labour power to the above classes in order to survive.
Mostly, they belong to the Dalit caste and on that basis, they work as “jowari” on the land and in household of the landlord, or sometimes get employed as daily wage workers in road constructions or any such construction related activities in the village. They are paid on daily basis for such work but for “jowari” they are paid in kind.
The landless peasants are those who do not own any land and are wholly dependent on his labour power for his survival. This two classes have the highest population in the village. They work on the land of landlords and rich peasants to earn their livelihood. They are totally bound to the land of the landlords, apart from working on the agricultural lands. Landless peasants and some poor peasants have to work in the household of the landlords.
The landlord can call them anytime for their personal work like fetching fodder for the cattle and they have to do that. During the apple season, they move to Shimla and Kinnaur area to sell their labour in the orchards. They are paid better than the work in the field of the local landlords. The free labour of this class is also exploited by priest of the temple.
They are called on for all sorts of work in temple, they carry the “devta” to the temple of superior “devta” on the occasion of Navratri. Their labour in temple are unaccounted in terms of money. They are exploited by usurers who charge exorbitant rate of interest on the money so lent. They have to face the most humiliating norms of caste system; they are discriminated on every platform.
They have separate deities to worship but these deities are subservient to the deities of the brahmins where they are not allowed inside. They are dependent on rain for irrigation in the field, they do not have any modern equipment.
They use firewood for cooking and in cold to keep themselves warm, for which they are heavily dependent on forest. The deforestation by forest department in nexus with the bureaucrats of the state is a big impediment for them to meet their fuel needs.
They do not have water for their own field and are totally dependent on rain. Their labour is also exploited by the contractor for the pharmaceutical companies who use the labour of landless and poor peasants to collect the medicinal part of some forest plant but are paid very meagre amounts despite the fact they have to walk several miles on foot in the jungle to get the medicinal plants.
The companies earn crores from such plants but the workers are not paid sufficiently. The women of this class are doubly exploited by patriarchal norms in households and by the feudal authority of the village. The children are discriminated in the school by the ‘upper caste’ teachers. This is the most revolutionary class in the village but lacks revolutionary consciousness since they are tied with the landlords and feudal authority in temple under the garb of religious sanction.
They are not allowed inside the kitchen of the ‘upper castes’ and are given separate utensils for drinks and food. During the occasion of marriage, death or any such celebration, they are expected to work for free in the house of the landlords and rich peasants. They have traditional hold over the forest resources but the state officials restricts them from using the resources, there lies a sharp contradiction between this class and the state officials.
Besides, their fields do not get water while the natural source of water from the hilltops are transferred to the landlords’ orchards. This class has been professional in operating various musical instruments like “Dol“, “Nagada”, “Shaha” etc.
These instruments are played for the “devta” and also at certain functions. People pay in kind for the instrument played during such occasion. However, for the instruments played in temple or in a function of the “devtas”, they are not paid anything. Many of the poor peasants are cobblers, blacksmiths and barbers. They have taken to this jobs historically on the basis of their caste.
This class has very bitter experience with the local government units and political groups, the interest of the local government units is contrary to their interest. They are afraid to plead before the bureaucrats, they are submissive to them but are scornful in their private conversations. There do not find representation in any political parties of the state because everyone has their interest in exploiting this class.
But various political parties lure them to campaign for the class interest of ruling class. Of them CPM and BJP is most active. CPM lures them with the idea of ‘development’ while the BJP tries to paint their religious inclination and blind faith in saffron colour to make them the brigades of hardcore Hindutva politics.
Yet, objectively, both of these parties are anti-Dalit and anti-worker designed to promote the class of big landlords and the comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie subservient to imperialism. On a cultural level, the Indian state through its textbooks and other official measures promotes Brahmanism (the textbooks have “Mahabharat” and “Ramayan” as compulsory reading while the government institutions have “Saraswati” which is an invisible identity in the hills).
They plant Hindu gods and goddesses in the tribal “devtas”. A poster in the village announces a program for travel to Gaya to pay homage to the paternal ancestor of one’s family. The travel is being organized by local Hindutva organisation and this is being done in a state where people do not worship their paternal ancestors.
This has been in a society that has traces of matriarchy and no revers Gaya as a place for “moksha” of their ancestors. By doing so, the state crushes the separate ethnic identities of the land. The local language is also projected as part of the Hindi dialect and thus heavy Sanskrit words are infused in the local language.
The state formation in this part of the Indian subcontinent is done by promoting the material interest of local landlords and creating conditions for the influx of imperial capital, in the ideological cover of Brahmanism of the north Indian plain areas concertize the process.