a development chronology of tihi

since the 12th of january, i have been living in tihi, a village of 300-odd households in the central indian state of madhya pradesh (more specifically, in malwa). six years ago, itc-ibd, an indian agribusiness, set up an ict kiosk in the house of one of the larger farmers in this village, began using that to transmit market (and itc-ibd) prices into the village, began competing with traditional agri-produce buying structures. the task at hand is to gauge the impact that the kiosk has had – economic, social…

needless to say, that is not what this post is about — it will take me ages to figure out the impact, and the factors explaining that. instead, this latest sporadic offering to the blogging gods will focus on the agrarian history of tihi. it is the incidental outcome of some time I spent chatting with village elders, trying to understand what this hamlet was like in the days gone by. later, during a trip to delhi, i corroborated what they told me about crop prices and wage levels, famines and epidemics, forests and water levels, with the old district gazetteers.

note: the data derived from the gazetteers is marked with a ‘D’. the rest comes from the interviews with the elders.

note: you will have to excuse the sheer randomness of the first three entries. while putting this chronology together, i was mainly interested in developments that appeared to impact agriculture in this region.

0900. rajputs enter and found new principalities in malwa and nimar. till now, malwa inhabited by tribals — bhils, gonds and korkus (D)

1690. the maratha invasion. they replace the mughal empire. (D)

1766. malhar rao dies. by now, his holkar dynasty controls the malwa tablelands. (D)

1811. under the usual succession squabbles and misgovernance, holkar empire begins to fall apart. attacks on malwa villages – sometimes from neighbouring rajput and bhil kingdoms, sometimes by holkar nobility looking for extra cash, villages themselves attack neighbouring villages…(D)

1818. the treaty of mandsaur. indore state becomes – what is the word – a british protectorate? (D)

1877-1878. distress years (D)

1886-87. famine (D)

1891. price of jowar. 28 seers for a rupee (D) (one seer = 933.10 grams).

1895. 29 inches of rain instead of the usual 39.5 (D)

1896. 26 inches of rain (D)

1897. 30 inches of rain. (D)

1898. 39 inches of rain. (D)

1899. 10 inches of rain. (D)

1899. management of the state moves from the holkars to the british resident. the land revenue system stays much the same as what the marathas used — in terms of soil classification, in terms of levies… (if you are interested in this sort of thing, google ‘peasants and imperial rule’ by neil charlesworth. am reading this right now. and might read andre wink’s ‘land and sovereignity in india: agrarian society and politics during the eighteenth century maratha svarajya’, after the charlesworth. suggestions on other books to read on this issue of agriculture during colonial and precolonial times will be gratefully received. one good thing about living in a village is the sheer amount of reading time one gets.)

1899-1900. the great famine. population in the district comes down from 1,099,990 (1891) to 850,690 (1901). given the very poor rain, both rabi and kharif crop fail that year. prices rise 100-300% over the average in the preceding five years. only 37% of land revenue is realised that year. (D)

1901. price of jowar. 17 seers for a rupee. between now and 1918, prices more or less kept rising. (D)

1903. plague (this might not have afflicted the whole district at the same time. cycling, instead, though different parts of the district over the next few years) (D)

1904. plague (D)

1905. plague (D)

1905. plague. frost kills most of poppy, wheat and gram. (D)

1906. plague. prices rise. (D)

1906-07. agricultural wages rise 25%. (D)

1907-1908. famine. around this period, jowar prices partly rose due to export of the grain to other places where crops had failed. (D)

1908. this is the year when the gazetteer was released. at this time, indore was the largest town in the district with a popn of 86,686. population of the seven next biggest towns in the district ranged between 8,273 and 4,639. of the 3,379 towns and villages in the district, 3,114 have a population below 500. every household, on an average, 47 members. the district is predominantly hindu (79%), bhil (11%) and muslim (8%). among these, the bhils are mostly found in the southern reaches of the district. agriculture is the largest source of employment (142,705). the state employs 24,698 people. personal service employs another 25,516. general labour accounts for 107,559. and those without any occupation (mendicants et al) number 20,428. within agriculture, 96,959 were tenant cultivators, 42,613 worked as field labour, 1,168 were landlords. (D)

more on agriculture. it cost anywhere between rs 300-500 to dig a well. it cost between rs 4-7 to irrigate one bigha (about half an acre) of land. cost of agri-labour? 3 anna and five paisa a day (men) and 2 anna and three paisa a day (women). this was up 50 percent from 20 years ago. in part due to the famines which created a labour shortfall. i should also add that 16 annas constitute one rupee, 100 paisas make for one rupee. a woman or boy who sat in the field to chase away birds and deers that came to graze on the crop would be paid rs 4-5 a month. that said, wages in kind were common in the villages. the 1908 gazetteer mentions weeding. this called for 8/10 people per bigha, who might be paid in kind — 2.5 seers of jowar for a day’s work. similarly, carpenters might be paid 20-50 seers of maize or jowar for every plough. that would be given to them after the kharif harvest. they might similarly get a part of the rabi crop. potters and barbers were paid similarly, though at lower rates.

other numbers. one cultivator with two bullocks could farm 25 bigha/12 acre of kharif. or 16-20 bigha/10 acre of rabi. The average landlord farmed 85 acres. the average cultivator held 12 acres. i am not very clear about the taxation system so far. here is what I aggregated from the gazetteers re the taxes levied. road cess (3 pies/rupees), sardeshmukhi (7% of assessed yield), jasti kharch (rs 2 per plough of land). then, there were other cesses — for weighing, ground rent, cesses on specific castes like balais and chamars. two things, now. one, this is the new system that the british brought in to replace the old ijaradar system. which is described as very exploitative by the gazette. and two, from what the village elders tell me, the lagaeen was so high the villagers were left with nothing once they paid their taxes.

i am yet to understand why a farmer with 12 acres could be left so destitute. the steady switching between famines and epidemics would have forced the cultivators into hugely indebted existences. but i still need to figure out the economics of agriculture in this period.

1908. about 80-90 years ago, the kaali bukhar came, said the village elder who lives near the shiv temple. so many died that it was hard to find enough people to cremate the dead. the gazetteers refer to virulent plague and famine in 1909. the same?

1911-1921. the decade would see poor rains. outbreaks of plague, cholera and influenza (D)

1912-13. prices rose. (D)

1913-1914. agricultural wages now stand at 4 anna, 9 paisa (D) 1917. plague. (D)

1918. influenza. 18.5 inches of rains (D)

1918-1919. influenza. (D)

1919. agricultural wages. 8 anna, 9 paisa. (D)

1920. agricultural wages. 8 anna, 9 paisa. (D)

1920. poor rain. impact shows in prices. wheat 6.5 seers/rupee. rice 3.5 seers/rupee. gram 6 seers/rupee. jowar. 11 seers/rupee (D)

1921. influenza. wheat 6.25 seers/rupee. rice 3.5 seers/rupee. gram 7 seers/rupee. jowar. 9 seers/rupee. (D)

1921-1931. a good set of years for mhow tehsil (which is where tihi falls). normal, natural growth. that said, prices stayed high for the first five years in this period as the abnormal conditions created by WW1 took time to vanish. (D)

1925. low rain. prices of wheat, jowar and gram rise (D)

1928. land rate. 6 bighas for rs 100.

1931-41. another good decade for mhow tehsil. prices come down, partly due to an expansion in farming area. in 1931, wheat 12.5 seers/rupee. rice 6 seers/rupee. gram 12.5 seers/rupee. jowar 24 seers/rupee. by 1941, however, wheat 10.25 seers/rupee. rice 5.5 seers/rupee. gram 14.5 seers/rupee. and jowar 18 seers/rupee. this seems to link to world war two. 1939 prices had been lower than 1931 prices. wheat 13.25 seers/rupee. rice 8.25 seers/rupee. gram 15 seers/rupee. jowar 19.75 seers/rupee (D)

1938-39… agricultural wages. ploughing: 3 annas, 0 paisa (men); sowing: 2 annas, 11 paisa (men); 2 annas, 5 paisa (women). weeding: 2 annas, 2 paisa (men), 2 annas, 1 paisa (women). harvesting: 3 annas, 4 paisa (men); 3 annas, 2 paisa (women).

1941-1951. between the bengal famine and the second world war, malwa stays under strain. the government enters procurement and distribution, makes it mandatory for farmers to sell only to it. cracks down on hoarding. the gazetteer says that, on the whole, prices did not go as ballistic as they had during the first world war. but they seem to have.

1941-1951. at tihi, lagaan is now rs 2 for every bigha, and the villagers are unable to pay even that. labour is 25p/man/day. one of the elders I spoke to got married back then after taking a Rs 60 loan, and it takes him two years to clear that. i ask why incomes were so low, why people with land had to do wage work, and am told they would plant jowar and cash crops during the rains. if it rained too heavily, the whole crop would be lost. they would plant wheat in the post-rain months, but that was risky too. by the end of the wheat cycle, water would be low. and there was no telling what the yield could be. as low as one sack per bigha.

1942. Wheat 9.5 seers/rupee. Jowar 15.25 seers/rupee. Rice 4.75 seers/rupee. Gram 12.25 seers/rupee. (D)

1943. Wheat 5 seers/rupee. Jowar 7.25 seers/rupee. Rice 2.25 seers/rupee. Gram 5.25 seers/rupee (D)

1944. Wheat 4.25 seers/rupee. Jowar 5.75 seers/rupee. Rice 1.25 seers/rupee. Gram 4.75 seers/rupee (D)

1944. very heavy rain in mhow tehsil. 159% of the usual amount. (D)

1945. Wheat 4.25 seers/rupee. Jowar 5.75 seers/rupee. Rice 1.25 seers/rupee. Gram 5.75 seers/rupee (D)

1947. independence.

1947. village school opens. wage labour climbs to 50p a day for a man. 25p for a woman

1948. starvation deaths in the village.

1949-50. agricultural wages. ploughing: 15 annas, 7 paisa (men). sowing: 12 annas, 7 paisa (men), 10 annas, 6 paisa (women); weeding: 8 annas, 6 paisa (men), 8 annas, 6 paisa (women); harvesting: 15 annas, 6 paisa (men), 15 annas, 1 paisa (women) (D)

1951. Wheat 0.39 seers/rupee. Jowar 0.24 seers/rupee. Rice 0.88 seers/rupee (D)

1955. Wheat 0.36 seers/rupee. Jowar 0.17 seers/rupee. Rice 0.55 seers/rupee (D)

1956. population indices. birthrate: 32.83, death rate: 12.52;

1961, birth rate: 15.68, death rate: 3.27, infant mortality: 20.47:

1966, birth rate: 22.81, death rate: 8.86, infant mortality: 114.01;

1969, birth rate: 25.58, death rate: 9.75, infant mortality: 96.02 (D)

1940-1960. the village population actually falls during this period due to disease. but, by and large, hovers around 500 people.

1960. plague

1961. birth rate: 15.68, death rate: 3.27, infant mortality: 20.47 (D)

1963-1964. between 1950-51 and now, the double cropped area in mhow tehsil doubles. am not sure why. at the same time, the area under jowar falls from 2 lakh hectares in 1950-51 to 0.7 lakh hectares in 63-64. wheat and tuar were coming in. this decline in sowing area is also attributed to excessive rain at the time of sowing. (D)

1963-64. cost of digging a well. rs 3-4,000 (D)

1966. birth rate: 22.81, death rate: 8.86, infant mortality: 114.01 (D)

1963-68. agricultural wage rates in the village. estimates range between Rs 1.50-2 a day

1968. cost of digging a well. rs 5,000

1969. birth rate: 25.58, death rate: 9.75, infant mortality: 96.02 (D)

1970. the population begins to finally grow.

1970. milk finally climbs to rs 1 a litre. had been as low as 16 litres to a rupee in the pre-independence times.

Around 1971. electrification and the green revolution enter tihi. till then, the village had been growing jowar and malwi ghehu (a local wheat variety). the first during rains. the other after that. and some cash crops like chillis, cotton and sugarcane.

Around 1971. with electricity, groundwater pumps come in. so far, this region has seen dryland agriculture, practised mainly during and just after the rains. partly due to lack of public investment in irrigation. but now, thanks to the pumps, dependance on the raingods falls. farming becomes a year-long activity. not much change, though, in affluence levels

1971-84. after bank nationalisation, bank credit becomes easier for the farmers. which they use to dig wells, install pumps, etc. productivity rises. whole village benefits.

Around 1980. between 1960-80, the state had been one of the worst performers in terms of agricultural growth. things change now. it seems that even the green revolution crops came into villages in a big way from 80s onwards. soya comes in. initially, its first few crops bomb in the market, and have to be used as cattle feed. in the next ten years, however, things will change. this is the period, amrit lal patel, school teacher in the village, tells me, when the differences between big and small farmers, in terms of affluence, begins to show.

1983. the first tarred road connecting tihi and the world outside comes up (in this case, to mhow). before it came up, most people were dependant on the work they got within the village itself. and so, the dependance on the higher castes.

around 1984: soya market takes off

1986. cost of digging a well: rs 14,000

1988. one of the major streams flowing through the village’s fields, perennial till now, begins drying up sooner and sooner. this is partly the consequence of some of the farmers sticking water pumps in the field, and using that to irrigate fields.

1988. to bring development to a backward zone, the MP government announces that an industrial township will be set up at pithampur. the tribals living there are kicked out. industry is given incentives. the impact pithampur has on tihi, a mere five kilometres away, is inestimable. it begins by offering rs 7 a day as wage labour. at this time, the village is offering rs five. wage labourers turn towards industry. landed elite in the village respond by moving wages up to rs 10.

around this time, another momentous transition is underway. the lower castes begin leaving their traditional, caste-defined occupations for agriculture. they encroach forest land (which accounts, at that time, for 25 percent of village land) and begin farming there. i am told this is due to better medical facilities. death rate fell. infant mortality, so high at one time that no more than 1 or 2 kids out of a brood of 12 would survive, reduces. as families swell, traditional occupation, built around patronage and great dependance on the elite, can no longer support the lower castes’ families. (note: after the pumps came in, the jajmani system would have begun ending as well. the larger farmers would have had more cash than before, and, ergo, reduced appetite for what the cobbler and the nai and the darzi made. these groups would have had to diversify. Interesting link, eh. This connection between groundwater and caste-defined livelihoods)

around 1988… the bania families start leaving tihi to go live in indore…

after 1990… banks begin withdrawing from rural credit…

1993. adivasis and dalits get 30X30 ft plots to build houses on village commons. around the same time, power cuts begin.

1998. a road between pithampur and indore comes up. indore is now an hour away by bus. pithampur is even closer.

1998. a decline in the annual rainfall that the village gets is palpable. also, post panchayati-raj, political parties get more interested in wooing farmers. the bjp, which has hitherto focused on traders, moves in. one of the local big farmers, the father of the itc sanchalak, is already working for the congress.

around 2002. the government gives a part of the village commons away to the lower castes. some of them take to agriculture. the higher castes in the village bristle, encroach remaining forest/common land. this creates a problem. with the commons gone, grazing grounds in the village reduce drastically. number of households keeping cattle crashes from 225 or thereabouts to 20. only farmers so large they can afford to leave land fallow for cattle can now afford cattle.

2002. echoupal, as the ICT kiosk is better known, enters the village

2003. electricity subsidy removed

2003. water level is now down to 300ft.

2003-04. english medium schools in mhow begin sending a bus to pick up kids from tihi. interest in english education is picking up. till then, all kids went to the village school, which teaches english only from the sixth grade.

2005. the village splits between the congress and the bjp. i hear several explanations for this break – a fight over a local temple pandit, a fight over whether a local community called gusai should be boycotted or not. this is not, however, a caste divide. the dominant caste in the village, khati, is present in both the political camps. Affluence, however, might be a contributing factor. the richest farmer in the village, the seniormost congress functionary in the village, is adding land, beginning to diversify beyond agriculture, and becoming very rich indeed

2006. the village learns that a proposed national highway, a four-laner connecting bombay and agra, will brush by tihi. so close that it will cut the village off from its fields lying to the northwest. the government buys land from the farmers at the rate of rs 1.2 lakh a bigha.

2008. by now, pithampur is offering rs 120 a day for contract work. and rs 60-70 for daily work. with the landed elite at tihi offering rs 50-60, they cannot get people to work in their fields. labour now goes to pithampur. at harvest time, big farmers are forced to get labour from nimar and jhabua. seen like that, pithampur’s impact on the village has been huge. in the old days, the lower castes would come asking for work, asking for surplus food. a dependance that helped support the caste system. but now, the lowers have shrugged that dependance off. some of this change shows up in statements by the elite that the village is not united any longer. or that the notion of being respectful to elders is (maryada) is gone now. which is bollocks.

that said, untouchability is not completely dead. the dalits can now drink from the same wells as the others. but. still. cannot. get. into. temples. fucking amazing. this change in the caste dynamic is the first of three social changes i have spotted so far in the village. the other two are the political split, and rising inequality.

there are other changes. the benefits from the green revolution are winding down. the economics of agriculture are back under strain. i do some ballpark calculations with a farmer and end up with the dismal conclusion that a farmer growing soya on one acre will make no more than rs 4,000 at the end of a 4 month growing cycle. that is rs 1,000 a month! and, mind you, soya is planted during the rains. succeeding crops call for larger electricity bills as the farmers pull water up from lower and lower. indeed, water can now only be found below 400ft in most parts of the village. some parts have gone as low as 700 ft.

there are other environmental clouds on the horizon. as the local forests thinned and vanished, rainfall continues to decrease. pollution from pithampur has reached groundwater in nearby villages. time might be running out for tihi as well.

the last big change comes due to the proposed highway. tihi is admirably sited. an hour away from indore, 20 or so minutes away from pithampur, a national highway and a proposed railway track coming up right next to it. land prices soar. a bigha of land now commands rs 20-25 lakh. some small farmers do the smart thing. sell their plots here. and buy larger plots elsewhere. others do the more predictable thing. sell the land. buy a car. buy bikes. lead the good life. among the village kids, there is growing disinterest about a life in agriculture. three out of four, i am told, want to avoid agri. it is pithampur, with its 8-10 hours of work, its rs 2,400-3,000 every month, that attracts them.

2 responses to “a development chronology of tihi”

  1. […] you have read my previous post on tihi, you will know that the village was facing a huge water crisis. in tubewell capitalism, navroz […]

  2. […] this is the first article i wrote on agriculture. years later, after the village stay at tihi, i read this story again and found it embarrassingly technocratic in its outlook. anyway, do take a […]

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I am an Indian journalist with interests in energy, environment, climate and India’s ongoing slide into right-wing authoritarianism. My book, Despite the State, an examination of pervasive state failure and democratic decay in India, was published by Westland Publications, India, in January 2021. My work has won the Bala Kailasam Memorial Award; the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award; and five Shriram Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism. Write to me at despitethestate@protonmail.com.


…une plongée dans les failles béantes de la démocratie indienne, un compte rendu implacable du dysfonctionnement des Etats fédérés, minés par la corruption, le clientélisme, le culte de la personnalité des élus et le capitalisme de connivence. (…a dive into the gaping holes in Indian democracy, a relentless account of the dysfunction of the federated states, undermined by corruption, clientelism, the cult of the personality of elected officials and crony capitalism).” Le Monde

…a critical enquiry into why representative government in India is flagging.Biblio

…strives for an understanding of the factors that enable governments and political parties to function in a way that is seemingly hostile to the interests of the very public they have been elected to serve, a gross anomaly in an electoral democracy.” Scroll.in

M. Rajshekhar’s deeply researched book… holds a mirror to Indian democracy, and finds several cracks.The Hindu

…excels at connecting the local to the national.Open

…refreshingly new writing on the play between India’s dysfunctional democracy and its development challenges…Seminar

A patient mapping and thorough analysis of the Indian system’s horrific flaws…” Business Standard (Image here)

33 മാസം, 6 സംസ്ഥാനങ്ങൾ, 120 റിപ്പോർട്ടുകൾ: ജനാധിപത്യം തേടി മഹത്തായ ഇന്ത്യൻ യാത്ര… (33 months, 6 states, 120 reports: Great Indian journey in search of democracy…)” Malayala Manorama

Hindustan ki maujooda siyasi wa maaashi soorat e hal.” QindeelOnline

What emerges is the image of a state that is extractive, dominant, casteist and clientelist.Tribune

…reporting at its best. The picture that emerges is of a democracy that has been hijacked by vested interests, interested only in power and pelf.Moneycontrol.com

Book lists

Ten best non-fiction books of the year“, The Hindu.

Twenty-One Notable Books From 2021“, The Wire.

What has South Asia been reading: 2021 edition“, Himal Southasian


Journalism is a social enterprise…,” Booksfirst.in.

Democratic decay at state level: Journalist M Rajshekhar on book ‘Despite the State’,” The News Minute.

Covid-19 en Inde : “des décès de masse” dont un “État obscurantiste est responsable,” Asialyst.


JP to BJP: The Unanswered Questions“.
Mahtab Alam’s review of “JP to BJP: Bihar After Lalu and Nitish”.

Urban History of Atmospheric Modernity in Colonial India“. Mohammad Sajjad’s review of “Dust and Smoke: Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism, India, c1860-c1940”.

Westland closure: Titles that are selling fast and a few personal recommendations,” by Chetana Divya Vasudev, Moneycontrol. (Because this happened too. In February, a year after DtS was released, Amazon decided to shutter Westland, which published the book. The announcement saw folks rushing to buy copies of Westland books before stocks run out.)

Time to change tack on counterinsurgency” by TK Arun, The Federal.

All Things Policy: The Challenges of Governing States” by Suman Joshi and Sarthak Pradhan, Takshashila Institute (podcast).

The Future of Entertainment“, Kaveree Bamzai in Open.

On What India’s Watching“, Prathyush Parasuraman on Substack.

The puppeteers around us“, Karthik Venkatesh in Deccan Herald.

Will TN election manifestos continue ‘populist’ welfare schemes?“, Anna Isaac for The News Minute.

Why wages-for-housework won’t help women“, V Geetha in Indian Express.

The poor state of the Indian state“, Arun Maira in The Hindu.

Book discussions

26 December, 2021: Rangashankara, Bangalore, a discussion with Dhanya Rajendran.

16 November: Rachna Books, Gangtok, a discussion with Pema Wangchuk.

29 August: Books In The Time of Chaos, with Ujwal Kumar.

21 May: Hyderabad Lit Fest with Kaveree Bamzai and Aniruddha Bahal.

28 March: Paalam Books, Salem, Tamil Nadu.

19 March: The News Minute, “Citizens, the State, and the idea of India

6 March: Pen@Prithvi, with Suhit Kelkar

20 February: A discussion between scholars Usha Ramanathan, Tridip Suhrud, MS Sriram and me to formally launch Despite the State.

6 February: DogEars Bookshop, Margoa.

5 February: The Polis Project, Dispatches with Suchitra Vijayan.

30 January: Founding Fuel, “Systems Thinking, State Capacity and Grassroots Development“.

25 January: Miranda House Literary Society