A Rule of Property for Bengal

An Essay on the Idea of Permanent Settlement

A Rule of Property for Bengal

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: Published: April 1996

Author: Ranajit Guha

Contributor: Amartya Sen

Asian Studies > South Asia, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

A Rule of Property for Bengal is a classic work on the history of colonial India. First published in 1963, and long unavailable in this country, it is an essential text in the areas of colonial and postcolonial studies. In this book, Ranajit Guha examines the British establishment of the Permanent Settlement of Bengal—the first major administrative intervention by the British in the region and an effort to impose a western notion of private property on the Bengal countryside. Guha’s study of the intellectual origins, goals, and implementation of this policy provides an in-depth view of the dynamics of colonialism and reflects on the lasting effect of that dynamic following the formal termination of colonial rule.
By proclaiming the Permanent Settlement in 1793, the British hoped to promote a prosperous capitalist agriculture of the kind that had developed in England. The act renounced for all time the state’s right to raise the assessment already made upon landowners and thus sought to establish a system of property that was, in the British view, necessary for the creation of a stable government. Guha traces the origins of the Permanent Settlement to the anti-feudal ideas of Phillip Francis and the critique of feudalism provided by physiocratic thought, the precursor of political economy. The central question the book asks is how the Permanent Settlement, founded in anti-feudalism and grafted onto India by the most advanced capitalist power of the day became instrumental in the development of a neo-feudal organization of landed property and in the absorption and reproduction of precapitalist elements in a colonial regime.
Guha’s examination of the British attempt to mold Bengal to the contours of its own society without an understanding of the traditions and obligations upon which the Indian agrarian system was based is a truly pioneering work. The implications of A Rule of Property for Bengal remain rich for the current discussions from the postcolonialist perspective on the meaning of modernity and enlightenment.


“Constituting an archaeology of certain modes of colonialist knowledge, A Rule of Property for Bengal is most important for its patient elaboration of how modes of knowledge, developed to account for European civil society, are modified in their intersection with the political exigencies of the colonizing project to become hegemonic for both the rulers and the native elites.” — David Lloyd, University of California, Berkeley

“Guha’s study, still controversial, remains the decisive study of the Permanent Settlement.” — Ronald Inden, University of Chicago


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ranajit Guha is Senior Research Fellow Emeritus at the Research School of Paci&supl;c and Asian Studies, Australian National University. He is the founder-editor of Subaltern Studies.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Amartya Sen ix

Preface to Second Edition xi

Preface to First Edition xiii

Abbreviations xv

Chapter I. Introduction 1

Chapter II. Early Departures, 1769-1772 11

1. Alexander Dow: Philosopher and Mercantilist 12

2. Henry Pattullo: A French Lesson for Bengal 36

3. The Supervisors and the Rejection of the "Farming System" 44

Chapter III. The Personality and Politics of Philip Francis 58

1. Verdicts on Francis 58

2. A Young Alcibiades 62

3. The Search for "Public Virtue" 67

Chapter IV. The Plan of 1776 91

1. The Scope and Method of the Plan 93

2. The Political Economy of Permanent Settlement: The Agrarian Programme 97

3. The Political Economy of Permanent Settlement: The Commercial Programme 133

4. "Who is King of Bengal?" 151

Chapter V. The Progress of the Doctrine 170

1. The Act of 1784 and the Dilemma of Macpherson's Government 171

2. Lord Cornwallis and the Idea of Improvement 178

3. Thomas Lane and the Doctrine in its Final Form 185

Chapter VI. First Doubts 201

Appendix: "Of the Territorial Revenues: Under which Title and in what Manner are they to be collected?" 218

Glossary 225

Bibliography 227

Index 235
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1771-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1761-6
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