Current Institutional Affiliation
Research Fellow, Slavery and its Impacts, University of Cambridge

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2016
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Area and Cultural Studies, University of Chicago
Rice and Agrarian Slavery in Southern Colonial India, 1781-1861

Rice began to colonize southern India in the nineteenth century. Often cultivated with the use of a caste-based bondage called 'agrarian slavery' in the records of colonial and native bureaucracies, rice exemplifies the links between environmental and social change in the region. This research asks if the increasing commodification and expansion of rice cultivation molded agrarian slavery into new forms. Beginning with the rationing of rice by the East India Company in 1781 and concluding with the criminalizing of slave ownership in 1861, this project proposes that human processes of imperial expansion, abolition of caste-based slavery and changing food consumption patterns transformed rice into a hegemonic cereal in the region. I propose that the untouchable 'adimai' producing a global commodity in southern Indian paddy fields was named 'slave' through the translation of Abolition into Indian idioms, through new categorizations of labor that the East India Company's revenue assessment exercises produced. I track this process across linguistic and administrative boundaries to offer a comparative perspective across the native-ruled state of Travancore and the British-administered districts of Malabar, Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Madura and Tinnevelly in southern India, across regions where Tamil and Malayalam are dominant languages. Drawing on native and colonial bureaucratic and literary sources, I propose to apply the methods of literary analysis and the questions of anthropology to historical inquiry. This research locates the south Indian paddy field of the nineteenth century at the confluence of the world historical processes of imperialism, Abolition and the concomitant emergence of a global market for rice. This project adds to scholarship on Abolition and slavery in the global South, enriches debates within post-colonial theory and contributes to the environmental humanities.