Reflections on Haryanvi society

Political Economy of Production and Reproduction: Caste, Custom and Community in North India
By Prem Chowdhry.
Pages 434. Rs 895.

Reviewed by Rajesh Kumar Aggarwal

HarYANA was the largest supplier of draught animals to neighbouring states and other parts of India during British rule. It was a fodder-supplying state and a major recruiting area for the British Indian Army, particularly after the First World War. Most of the existing capital was then going into usuries, mortgages and land purchases, mostly for renting out purposes. The book reflects them as important reasons for keeping Haryana as a deliberately backward region during imperialism.

This book is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the state, law and economy in five different essays. The seven essays in the second part discuss shifts and constraints in caste, community and gender.

Discussing the Jat-dominated Rohtak district in the second essay, the author argues how Jats in Haryana emerged as an important category during British India and why caste equations continued to be relevant even in the present-day politics.

Another essay traces contours of communalism by analysing socio-economic foundation of communal riots which took place in Ambala and Rohtak divisions just before the onset of the Second World War. The essay "High Participation, Low Evaluation" exhibits that women emerged and were recognised as an economic asset in Haryana, particularly among the households engaged in agriculture, allied activities and animal husbandry. Capitalistic thrust in agriculture during the post-Green Revolution phase left females with inferior, low-paying jobs. They were not only thrown out of work but also withdrawing themselves to provide first opportunity to their male counterparts to get agriculture-related jobs. Two essays discuss "ghungat" or veil and "expenditure-consumption patterns". The veil continues to be cultural centrality in Haryana despite the involvement of women in rigorous economic activities. The impasse of veil and discerning expenditure-consumption patterns have been well articulated in the book with the help of local dialects, proverbs, customs, ideology, cultural and hierarchical relations within the context of rising urbanisation and consumerism.

Another essay on a "daughter’s claim to patrilineal property" correctly sums up the "catch-22 situation" for a woman wherein she is supposed to choose between her natal family and her right to inheritance, mainly due to prevalent patriarchal societal norms. The essay on "Private Lives, State Intervention" analyses a series of court cases involving runaway couples of Haryana and Punjab. The essays on "Caste Panchayats and the Policing of Marriage in Haryana" and "First our jobs than our girls" empirically point out the role of social and community factors operating behind the intervention of panchayats, though without any reference to "khap" panchayats.

The book is informative, well researched and includes mapping of social transformation processes and helps in understanding some of the prevalent complexities and contradictions of Haryanvi society.