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CHAPTER III The Freeholding Village INTRODUCTION EVEN WHEN there were no lords in the village or when the lords were weak, there often still was only very limited outside involvement by peasants. Freeholding villages often had very little interchange of goods and services and manpower with the larger society. The food and handicrafts consumed in the village were produced by the consumers themselves or by oth­ er nearby villagers. Goods produced in the countryside, in many cases, reached centers only through the single strand of the tax collector. Such villages, frequently existing on land marginal in both quality and location,1 did not experience the same types of barriers found in lord-peasant relationships. The question that arises, then, is why freeholding villages (and villages with weak lords), free of the severe sanctions that powerful lords could apply, were so often inward-oriented. Once again, the answer lies in the peasants' relations to other classes in the society. The fact that peasants in freehold­ ing communities did not have another class directly over them with which they had frequent contact does not mean that they lived in a classless, homogeneous society. Even peasants in freeholding villages were part of the larger society, and they 1Andrew Pearse, "Metropolis and Peasant: The Expansion of the Urban-Industrial Complex and the Changing Rural Structure," in Peasants and Peasant Societies: Selected Readings, ed. Teodor Shanin (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971), p. 69. THE FREEHOLDING VILLAGE sharply felt the pressures other classes generated. Their inward -orientation can be understood, in great part, as an adaptative response to their relationship with these socially and spatially removed classes which controlled the state, and to the insecurities of outside market participation. PEASANTS' RELATIONS TO OTHER CLASSES: THE ROLE OF THE POWERLESS The traditional state often had neither the bureaucratic ca­ pabilities nor the will to perform a variety of services within villages, especially when communities were far from the cen­ ters of the society. Unlike instances where the lord was the single strand connecting villagers to the outside, the link in freeholding communities was through the state's representa­ tive, the tax collector. "Diagrammatically the villages are small circles," Bailey wrote, "representing organic and func­ tioning communities. The State is in the centre, linked to each village by a line representing imperium."2 The two regular re­ lationships between the central government and the villages were economic exploitation through taxation and the main­ tenance of external law and order by the government so that agriculture could proceed routinely. This narrowly based village-state relationship was often an inimical one. Unlike the villagers who received many small benefits from their overlords, the freeholding peasants viewed the state as almost entirely exploitative. "It is in part this imbalance between what the state takes from the peasantry and the little that the peasantry gets in return," Befu noted, "that creates the hostility toward ruling elites that is so com­ mon among peasants of the classical state."3 These peasants saw themselves as part of a periphery which somehow had to 2 F. G. Bailey, Caste and the Economic Frontier: A Village in Highland Orissa (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1957), p. 255. 3 Harumi Befu, "The Political Relation of the Village to the State,'" World Politics 19 (July 1967), 609. INWARD-ORIENTED VILLAGES keep the state at bay. Berreman wrote of a village in the In­ dian Himalayas: In Sirkanda the unfamiliar, be it a person or a program of change, is regarded with suspicion. The reasons are readily apparent. Contacts with outsiders have been limited largely to contacts with policemen and tax collectors—two of the most unpopular forms of life in the Pahari taxonomy. Such officials are despised and feared, not only because they make trouble for villagers in the line of duty but also because they extort bribes on the threat of causing further trouble and often seem to take advantage of their official position to vent their aggressions on these vulnerable people.4 Peasants were at the mercy of the state. After tax collection they could be left with barely enough to survive. Although the form of economic exploitation differed from villages with strong lords, the effects were much the same: peasants pro­ duced the vast bulk of the economic value in the society, but much of that value was extracted for use by others. The experience of exploitation and the strength of the state vis-a-vis each village led peasants to withdraw from any more outside participation...


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