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Changing Political process and the power structure as the

motivator of peasant mobility: A critical review from Bangladeshi

peasant society
The political process and power structure play an important role in the peasant
society. Over a long period of time it had been stagnant and operated within the
village community in Bangladesh. As the trend tended to be changed and the local
power structure came to the touch of national politics, the power structure turned into
a new shape. The social mobility of the peasants started to be mobile again and new
classes emerged. The land distribution, changes in size and tenure structure of the
peasants went to a new level. There came a shift from farm to non-farm occupations
also. Land distribution pattern and size holding reflected the growth rates of owned,
operated and cultivated land.
The interrelationship between peasant household mobility and the class formation of
the peasantry are tried to reveal in an authentic and analytical way in this paper. By its
nature, specific case studies have been initiated by profound researchers and
organizations that show the subtle change in the rural peasant politics. ndigenous and
peasant struggles for political power are not simply products of recent reforms but
have deep historical roots in broader struggles for political autonomy and territorial
control. !hile indigenous and peasant control of political power represents an
important scaling-up of rural struggles in many locales, it carries with it serious
dangers of bureaucratization, co-optation, and the fragmentation of indigenous and
peasant struggles "#arim, $%&'(.
)or the purposical interest of being a sociologist, there came the issues of who owns
what, who gets what and what do they do with it* +ocial relations, notably class and
gender and politics "both of the state and wider social movements(, inevitably govern
the distribution of assets, patterns of wor, and divisions of labor, the distribution of
income and the dynamics of consumption and accumulation in peasant societies.
-owever, the whole aspects ma,e an interrelation among the political process, power
structure and social mobility of the peasants that reflect the culture of peasant society.
#ey words
.easant politics, .ower structure, .easant mobility, .easant culture.
#ey sentence
/The .olitical process and power structure affect the mode of mobility of peasants in
The political process of the peasant society has historically been different from that of
the urban politics. n a sense, the rural political process can also be called as the
peasant political process. As we see, over the last few decades Bangladesh has
become gradually, incorporated into the !orld 1apitalist +ystem. The peasant
economy and society, in particular has been sub2ected to the 3riles of modernization4
by international agencies and successive governments. There have been various
programmers to spread the 5reen 6evolution to assist the .oor and to accomplish
bottom-up development. The e7treme peripherality of Bangladesh and motions of
developmentalism engendered by !orld 1apitalism and the state is li,ely to have
specific conse8uences on the peasant power structure in Bangladesh. The area of
community power in rural Bangladesh has increasingly attracted the attentions of the
social scientists during the last fifteen years. This literature has grown out of surveys,
case studies and anthropological research. A serious shortcoming of a large ma2ority
of these studies is that they attempt at e7ploring the comple7 phenomenon of power at
a very superficial level. +urveys have mainly focused upon the +ocio-economic
bac,ground of the leaders. Anthropological studies have viewed power as
epiphenomena, an ad2unct to stratification. 9ven this stratification theory of
community power ".olsby, $%:'( it rarely spelt out clearly at analytical ;ost of these
studies are descriptive and deal with limited aspect= of power. Therefore, this paper
aims at presenting the political process and power structure change more deeply and
the mobility as a result in the peasant society.
;eaning of .ower +tructure
The term >power? has come from Latin word @potere@ meaning to be able and its
general meaning is affordability. t also means to impose ones will to another. n the
word of ;a7 !eber power means /Asuch a scope within social structure where one
can perform his desire.0 5enerally, the basis of the power can be propaganda
influence s,ill direction B sometimes coercion. To refer peasant power structure, we
understand the system by which the system by which peasant society is predominated
and certain authorities are established.
n another view of !eber the synthesis of those people who e7erting influence in the
production system, administrative and 2udicial system and how they do it and which
components help to organized it, is called power structure.
The power structure is not the same in every peasant society as it rests on
administrative unit. As Bangladesh has been invaded by several countries, the power
structure of our country is of various types. ;ainly we understand the peasant power
structure as the daily interaction of rural peasant life that is conformed to rural rules
and regulations and maintained by a special way in which the standard of the peasant
life becomes unbro,en.
.olitical process and power structure in BangladeshC A critical
review of the 1ontemporary conte7t
After the liberation of Bangladesh, power structure shape in the peasant society
started to change again. Dnion 1ouncils were renamed Dnion .arishads and then
abolished in $%:E. t was revived shortly afterwards. A new institutional e7periment
for local government and development was started through the promulgation of
+awnirvar 5ram +ar,er 6ules, $%&'. t provided for the constitution of a +awnirvar
5ram +ar,ar in each village. t was an ambitious institutional framewor, which aimed
at ensuring political stability and economic transformation of the rural society- Thana
+ar,ar was introduced all over the country, but abandoned within two years shortly
after the death of .resident Giaur 6ahman who happened to fancy it.
A new scheme for administrative devolution was launched in $%&< which made old
Thanas the centre of local administration, planning and development. Dnder this
scheme old thanas have been upgraded as Dpazilas. The Ordinance of $%&< provides
for the revolutionary administration to be run by Dpazila Hirbahi Officer "DHO( and
the development administration by Dpazila .arishad. The Dpazila 1hairman is to be
elected directly on the basis of universal franchise. The Dpazila .arishad en2oys
strong administrative and financial support and is responsible for all local level
development activities.
t is apparent from this short overview of the history of local administration and self-
government that after a very long period of nIglect, there has been a series of
e7periments with local administration. Ambitious schemes have appeared and
disappeared with the change of political regimes. These e7perience merits have been
imposed from the above which have allowed little scope for stability and evolution of
local institutions.
!hile studying on the power structure in the peasant societies, the researchers and
authors have generally adopted micro level studies. This gives us a good specific idea
of several power structure patterns in the agrarian societies.
;icro-level studies of power provide us with an insight into the way power is
structured and e7ercised. But as it has been pointed out earlier, such studies are
unrepresentative and often incomparable. +urveys, although limited in depth, bring
more representative data. An analysis of several such studies will be discussed below.
Ahmed "$%&F( conducted an anthropological study of the peasant politics and power
structure of a village called Bi2na located in Brahmanbaria, 1omilla in $%:&-:%.
According to Ahmed there were si7 ma2or factions in the village co-terminus with si7
ma2or lineage groups. The Talu,dars were the oldest land-owning ;uslim lineage in
the village and became the most dominant 4feudal4 aristocracy of the locality after
migration of the -indu zamindars. But their .ower slowly decreased following the
$%E's and later time.
)rom Ahmed4s highly descriptive account, several implicit ideas emerge. )irst, the
domination of a single lineage simply gave way to the combined domination of
lineages within the village power structure. +econdly, lineages used different
combination of resource to gain an access to the power structure.
B6A1?s "$%&F( study conducted in $%:% provides a graphic picture of the way power
is generated and retained through coercion crime and corruption of power structure of
ten Killagess in border and forest region of ;ymensingh As it was mainly an area of
new settlement, it gives a rare e7ample of the way. The powerful men in the area
attained their power. The study reveals that most of the F% local potentates had achie-
ved their power through government land-grant, land-grabbing. smuggling, cattle-
lifting and even dacoity. n there village?s powerful men were organized into factions,
bad maintained good relationship with the local bureaucracy through bribery and were
lin,ed to political parties and mainly to the party in state-power.
n $%:& +LA undertoo, well-irrigation in the former district of Bogra "1hisholm,
$%&J(. t included an e7ploration into the relationship between new technology and
power structure. The study found that the impact of the new technology was more
comple7 than it is generally assumed. The rich peasants were threatened by the new
technology as it was li,ely to erode the customary bases of power. One typical
response was to capture the technology and to e7clude the small and middle peasants
from its benefits. t e7emplified the anti-production attitude of the rich peasants. The
second type of response was To run the machine efficiently for the mutual benefit of
the surplus peasants. 9ven in the pump groups dominated by small leaders who
sought to establish their power of the new technology. The well became a of factional
rivalry as various sought control over it not emerge any broader participation or co-
operation the peasants. t was mainly because the small peasants and tenants had
limited ability to contain the arbitrary actions of4 the managers. But they could bring
pressure upon the management for better operation of the machines. Thus the new
technology did bring some benefits to the poor, but not much. t did not increase the
bargaining power earners. As 1hisholm points outC
An unequal social structure preoccupied with competitive struggles for survival was
the setting for a technology seemingly requiring social cooperation, It would appear
to be a rural development model with store prospect of entrenching than transforming
existing social hierarchic.
Luring $%&J-&E #arim "$%&'( undertoo, an intensive study of changing leadership
patterns in two Killages of .uttia Dpazila of 6a2shahi. #arim found that +ama2 "or
society( constituted the traditional and non-formal institutional basis for the e7ercise
of power in these two villages. The +ama2 was headed by one or more .ardhans or
.aramani,s. Their position was hereditary, but the members of the +ama2 had power
to elect leaders under specificcircumstances. The formation of +ama2 in both the
villages could be traced to persons who were connected with revenue collection
during the 6a2. By the middle of $%&'+ there were $' +ama2es and F$ .ardhans and
.aramani,s. The +ama2 often mainifested a precarious unity as it, in one instance,
underwent fragmentation over the issue of a few stolen hens. One Mea-son for the
fragility of +ama2 was possibly the scheming of aspiring leaders who could be
benefited by its multiplication. The importance of +ama2, in spite of its fragility, lay in
the fact that it served as a vital mechanism for conflict resolution and. patronage.
!hen .ardhans and .aramani,s were as,ed to list the activities for which people
came to them, a ran, -order emerged. These were mainly conflict resolutions, advice
and negotiations for marriage help in litigation= advice for- vote advice on religious
and ritual affairs help for meeting funeral e7penses= and economic assistance.
According to #arim, there was a continuation of traditional leadership in the less
developed village. n the more developed village, formal authority was e7ercised by
new leaders who were young and educated. n this village there was a combinations
of old and new leadership. But #arim emphasizes that control of +ama2 and formal
organizations were held by same families and gosthis. The new leaders were younger
,indsmen of the traditional leaders and thus there was no conflict of interest between
the old and the new leaders. Lominant families and gosthis were able to en2oy a lions-
share of the flow of government resources into the villages through the net -wor, of
Though some dashing efforts were ta,en by the above authors and organizations, it
has hardly been studied in depth or detail or meaningful theoretical conte7ts. ;ost of
the studies have focused upon selective aspects of power structure. Again most of the
micro level studies have concentrated on one or two villages and une7plored the
politics at the level of Dnion 1ouncil or .arishad which is a crucial locus of power in
rural Bangladesh. These studies also provide us hardly any ,nowledge of ideology of
the powerful or the s,ill or strategies with which they rule the country. -owever,
these are very optimistic approaches that will lead us to further interests.
.easant mobilityC A result of the change in power and politics
>;obility? means the movement of position of an individual or a group of people in a
given social hierarchy. >.easant mobility? refers to the social mobility i.e. movement
up or down in a stratification system( of the peasants. Traditionally, the peasants are
not willing to change in the peasant society. )or this reason mobility comes in a slow
pace in the peasant society. One main reason for this is the self-sufficiency of the
peasants. Also they are conservative in attitude. -owever, over time, the power
structure of the peasant society made some mobility among the peasants.
-istorically, as mentioned at first, the peasants were self sufficient in the early village
communities of Bengal. The changes came in $:E& with the British rule in vogue. )or
their own necessary this made a brea, in of the agrarian structure. The pressure
created by the British led towards the famine of $::'. The British then introduced the
permanent settlement act in $:%F. This made the zamindari systems introduction with
it. The .easant mobility still did not came as the landlords only sought their own
n the first 8uarter of the <'
century the mobility started among the peasants. +ome
people of the peasant society became educated= they too, some initiatives to mobilize
the stagnant society. +chools, ;adrarsah and other institutions made profound
change. Also in that time the 2ute production increased and the price was good for the
peasants. .easants regained economic sufficiency again.
+ome peasant movements occurred for the rights of peasant. mobility came through
this social changes also. 5reen revolution was another movement that made a
profound effect on the mobility of peasant society.
1hanges of .easant ;obility in Bangladesh
There came numerous changes in the peasant mobility pattern in Bangladesh over the
last few decades. One of the basic influential reasons for this change is the changing
power structure discussed earlier. The Hational Agricultural 1ensus underta,en in
$%%I is now published to satisfy the growing demand lion data pertaining to the
structure and organization of agriculture and other related aspects of peasant
households for the entire region of Bangladesh. The earlier agricultural census was
underta,en n $%&FN&J. These two 1ensuses adopt similar concept, for categorization
farm, non-tarn, and tenure and for this reason, data pertaining to these variables are
directly comparable. The analysis of data generated by v these two censuses can
obviously provide a basis for showing both the direction as well as magnitude of
changes in the structure and organization of the agricultural sector in Bangladesh
"+aha, <''$(.
How we shall analyze the pattern of )arm and Hon-)arm household pattern change of
the peasant society below.
There has been a shift of peasant households from farming to non farming
occupations. )rom the table below, it can be seen that the percentage of households in
farm sector decreases from :F to II per cent, while in non-farm sector, it increases
from <: to FJ per cent. Over .the span of twelve years, the non-farm households
grows at a rate of about J per cent per annum double of that of all peasant households.
DI!"IB#!I$% $& '$#('$)D B* &A"+, %$%-&A"+ A%D
A."IC#)!#"A) )AB$#"("
$%&FN&J $%%I Annual growth rate in O
O of -N- O of Agri.
O O)
O of Agri.
-N- $N$$
Agri. Labor
)arm :<.:' E:.'& II.$& $:.$& $.FE -'.<'
Hon-farm <:.F' JF.J: FF.&< E<.&< F.E& <.&%
All $''.'' $''.'' $''.'' $''. '' < $E $.<&
"$F&$:IJI( "EJ%EF''( "$:&<&$&:( "IJ'$J$EF(
&ig: hift from farm to non farm occupations
Source !!" #$%&'. $%%%(.
)ote *igures In parentheses Indicate )umber of household
-ere, the number of agricultural labor household in farm sector is also declining at the
rate of '.<I per cent per annum, while it is increasing al <.&% per cent per annum in
non-farm sector. The labourer household in talc non-farm sector constitutes EF per
cent in $%%I.
Land is an e7tremely scarce natural resource in Bangladesh. There has been a decline
of cultivated land from <'. $I million acres in $%&FN&J to $:.:& million acres in $%%I
indicating that, on an average, nearly < la,h acres of cultivable land are going out of
agriculture every year. The $%%I 1ensus reports that a substantial amount of land has
been diverted from cultivation to the physical area tender- cities, homestead, peasant
roads arid infrastructure. Thus, it is obvious that growth of population "though the
growth rate has now substantially declined( would lead to the decrease of per capita a-
availability of cultivable land.
The pattern of ownership of productive assets, particularly land releases a set of4
forces that determines the relationship between various groups of peasants centering
on land. 4Thus, land arid its distribution pattern plays the central role for determining
the changing peasant power structure that impinges upon 1hang-es in the structure of
agrarian economy in contemporary period.
The patterns of land ownership andNor tenure relations in Bangladesh peasant society
reinforced the mobility of the peasants. The description of peasant Bangladesh as a
land of small peasants does not= conceal the comple7 reality that smallness may
coe7ist with in egalitarian land distributions. As a matter of fact, the small minority of
households who own over the ma2or portion of the country4s land are at the ape7 of
the structure of power in rural Bangladesh. The agricultural censuses of $%&FN&J and
$%%I provide nformation on both ownership and operational land holding, the
distribution pattern of which can be seen in the below table. t appears that.
Bangladesh agriculture is overwhelmingly characterized by the prevalence of small
farms. This prevalence of small fauns can not, however, conceal the highly s,ewed
distribution pattern in both ownership and operational holdings in $%&FN&J and $%%I
t has been observed that landless in smaller farms "up to $.J% acre( constituting EF.:$
per cent of households own $&.$: per cent and operate $J.'J per cent of land in
$%&FN&J census. n $%%I, marginalization is intensified so much so that IJ per cent of
there are now observed to own <I.<J per cent and operatI <F.F per cent. of land. ThrPt
is to say, at the end, the increase in households is associated with proportionate
increase in ownedNoperated land. +imilarly at the upper end "above <.E acres(, <%.II
percent of the households are observed to own I&.IJ per cent and operate :$.'$ per
cent of land in $%&FN&J. n $%%I, <'.$J per cent of the households at the upper end are
observed to own EI.&% per cent, and to operate E&.&$ per cent of land. This indicates
that the decreases in large farmC households go with proportionate decreases in land
so that relative positions of household vis-a-vis land remain the same. As a result,
distribution pattern of both owned and operated land, which is alarmingly s,ewed, has
not undergone significant, changes.
!e can, thus, observe that a dramatic proliferation of small and marginal farms
relative consolidation of middle farms and relative decline of large farms.have ta,en
place over the span of twelve years "$%&J-$%%I(. These changes ta,e place within the
e7isting frame wor, of highly une8ual land distribution.
)or further scrutiny of the above observation, we can e7amine the annual growth rates
of households, owned, operated and net cultivated land by farm size categories
presented below. This table shows that growth rates of all different categories
farmNnon-farm households up to <.J% acres are positive, where as growth rates of all
these variables for larger farms "<.E' acres mid above( are negative. On balance, farm
households grow at a rate of $.FE per cent and peasant households at the rate <.$E per
cent. The number of households for these smaller farms grows at a higher rate than
the rate at which the amount of land under their control grows. )or this reason,
average and per- capita land for them reduced as observed.
."$/!' "A!( $& $/%(D, $P("A!(D A%D C#)!I0A!(D )A%D B*
I1( CA!(.$"I( I% 2334 $0(" 2356758
In Acres
Annual growth rates in : from 2334 over 2356758
'ousehold $wned land $perated land %et cultivated
Below '.'E F.%% $.J: F.I% $.F:
'.'E-'.J% <.:: $.I: F.'& F.'J
'.E'-$.J% <.&% <.'& F.<& F.<&
$.E'-<.J% '.%E '.:J $.C$F $.FF
<.E'-:.E' -$.<: -$.J: -$.JI -$.JJ
:.E'-above -<.&J -<.&I -<.%< -<.&$
All peasants $.FE -'.%& -'.%E -<.&$
All households
")arm and non
<. $E -'.&' -'.&: -'.%J
&ig: .rowth rates of various types of )ands by si9e
+ourceC 9stimates based on the previous table data
.easant 1lass mobility +ystemC The 1hanging .atterns
n the preceding pages, we have seen the structural changes of the peasant society. n
the following pages we shall discuss the rural class system in Bangladeshi society.
There is much controversy at conceptual level on the structures of caste and class. t is
argued by some social scientists that caste and class are not polar opposites. There is a
continuum between the two. Met another argument often given is that there is a class
in a caste. The Brahmin is a caste, but there are classes of BrahminsQpoor and rich--
in the Brahmin caste. 6ecently, a new controversy is raised by Lipan,ar 5upta, #.L.
+harma and other sociologists.
!e do not want to elaborate this controversy but would only say that despite
differences in the comprehension of caste and class the fact remains that the
Bangladeshi peasant society shall have to face for some time to come, social problems
relating the caste system. Louis Lumont is the chief architect of the caste as a form of
culture. -owever, it is not the point to enter into this controversy of caste as a form of
culture or a mode of production. !e only wish to argue that class is not essentially an
urban phenomenon, nor the caste is restricted to peasant society. Both caste and class
as forms of stratification are found in peasant society.
!henever social scientists and political and social wor,ers including the agricultural
wor,ers discuss about rural class system, a 8uestion is raisedC s a transition ta,ing
place in the rural social structure of Bangladesh from caste to class* n other words,
the basic point of en8uiry today is to find out whether caste is changing and ta,ing the
form of a class. The 8uestion is important. t has ta,en a form of debate in rural soci-
ology. -owever, Andre Beteille has wor,ed on the class types of the rural peasants as
the structure is followed.
+ypes of new classes of
Owners of LandN.easant .roprietors Hon-owners of land
"Agricultural Tenants(
Large ;iddle Lower
Land Land Landowners +hare-cash 1rop share 1ash Agricultural
owners owners tenants tenants tenants laborers
&ig: !ypes of new classes of Peasants
On one side of the debate is Andre Beteille who has argued in his article on 41lass
+tructure in an Agrarian +ociety4 says that the Rotedars of !est Bengal, as an
agricultural caste, are moving towards the formation of a class. But the change from
caste to class is amorphous. By amorphousness Beteille means that the form of class
which is emerging among the Rotedars is not of any definite shape or structure of a
class. The movement from caste to class is not clear= it is much doubtful. Beteille
It is frequently argued that in countries li-e India, the older system of
inequalities based on caste is being replaced by a class system not only in the
cities but also in the rural areas. If caste stands for a system of inequality in
which groups are sharply differentiated and at the same time organically
related, then clearly there is evidence of the decline of caste. If, on the other
hand, class stands for a system of antagonistic groups based on the
polarisation of consciously organised interests, there is no general evidence
that this -ind of structure is emerging throughout the country the
predominant impression is bone of amorphousness rather than structure.
n the above statement Beteille is 8uite clear when he ma,es his observation. )irst, if
caste is defined as a form of structural ine8uality then it has died. +econd, if the
meaning of class is ta,en as an antagonistic group then it is not ta,ing a definite shape
of a class in village Bangladesh. This formation of classes, therefore, shows a lot of
mobilization of aspects li,e caste and social grouping inside the peasant society.
The peasant social mobility and change is lot more dependant on the political
variables that affect the power structure of peasant society. The study encourage for
further in8uiry into how peasant power relations between classes and other social
groups are created, understood, contested and transformed. The paper reveals
8uestions of agency of marginalized groups in peasant societies, particularly their
autonomy and capacity to interpret and change their conditions. t will promote
contributions that 8uestion mainstream prescriptions or interrogate orthodo7ies in
radical thin,ing.
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and ,olitical 3ilemmas.@ .. <%-E% in 6obert L. +tevens, -amzi Alavi, and .eter
R. Bertocci "eds.(, .ural 3evelopment in !angladesh and ,a-istan. -onoluluC
Dniversity .ress of -awaii, $%:I.
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I. #han, Azizur 6ahman. +he 4conomy of !angladesh. Hew Mor,C +t. ;artin4s
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!angladesh, Lha,a, Bangladesh, $%&F.
&. B6A1, .ower structure in ten villages, Lha,a, $%&F.