The Peasant Production of Opium in Nineteenth-Century India


The Peasant Production of Opium in Nineteenth-Century India is a pioneering work about the more than one million peasants who produced opium for the colonial state in nineteenth-century India. Based on a profound empirical analysis, Rolf Bauer not only shows that the peasants cultivated poppy against a substantial loss but he also reveals how they were coerced into the production of this drug. By dissecting the economic and social power relations on a local level, this study explains how a triangle of debt, the colonial state’s power and social dependencies in the village formed the coercive mechanisms that transformed the peasants into opium producers. The result is a book that adds to our understanding of peasant economies in a colonial context.

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Biographical Note

Rolf Bauer, PhD (2018), University of Vienna, is currently a lecturer in Economic and Social History, South Asian Studies and International Development at that university. He has previously published on the opium industry in nineteenth-century India.

Table of contents

List of Illustrations and Tables
Units of Measurement

1 Introduction
2 The Creation of a System
 2.1 A Chronology of the British Opium Monopoly in India
 2.2 A Further Note on Bengal and Malwa: Two Opium Economies Intermingled
 2.3 Keystone of Empire
 2.4 Opium and China
 2.5 Auctions
 2.6 The Sudder Factories
3 The Functioning of a System
 3.1 The Opium Department: A Centralised Bureaucratic Structure
 3.2 The Settlement
 3.3 Laws and Fines
 3.4 Local Collaboration
4 A Local-Level Analysis of an Opium District: Saran
 4.1 Topography and General Aspects Related to Agriculture
 4.2 The People of Saran
 4.3 Distribution of Land Proprietorship and Tenancy
 4.4 Crops
5 The Costs and Benefits of Poppy Cultivation
 5.1 Poppy within Bihar’s Agriculture
 5.2 Agricultural Operations of Poppy Cultivation
 5.3 Who Cultivated Poppies?
 5.4 Costs and Benefits: An Assessment
6 The Mechanics of a System: Incentives, Coercion and Dependence
 6.1 The System of Advance Payments
 6.2  Sarkar—By Order of the Government
 6.3  Zamindar—Triadic Relations
7 Conclusion



All readers interested in the economic and social history of British India, the history of drugs, and anyone concerned with peasant studies and coercive labour relations.

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