Saturday, January 15, 2011

All those shalas!!

Don’t mistake me!!

That is what Ritu Birla says "to dharamshalas, pathshalas, gaushalas... all those shalas!" 

From a good review by Vikram Doctor:
  • .....found explicit categories of donation: "anukampa-dan, a gift given out of compassion; ucit-dan, a gift given out of duty; kirti-dan, a gift given to earn fame; abhay-dan, a gift of fearlessness; supatra-dan, a gift of religion." 

  • She started researching this and it lead to the subject matter of her Ph.D. thesis and a recently published book entitled Stages of Capital: Law, Culture and Market Governance in Late Colonial India. Recently in Mumbai she delivered a lecture on the subject, the fifth in the excellent series of annual lectures on Indian business history organised by the Godrej and Tata archives.  

  • This synthesis took the form of (and was influenced by) legislation like the Indian Companies Act (1882), the Indian Income Tax Act (1886) and the Negotiable Instruments Act (1881), as well as infrastructure like the telegraph and railways. But it also took the less tangible form of a cultural view of the market and of Indian merchants by the British government that mixed suspicion and support (and which one could argue was later inherited by the Indian government, persisting till today).  

Birla writes, “The standardization of trust procedure saw attempts to align the family firm and other forms of customary association with contractual models. Case law that had coded the endowment as a trust opened new possibilities for governing custom as analogous with the social relations of the market” (p. 105).

Let’s see what others said about the book: 
  • G Balachandran, writes: The three chapters of the first part of the monograph explore the constitution of Marwari commercial groups and actors as economic subjects. The first chapter studies three pieces of legislation dating to the 1880s, viz. the Negotiable Instruments Act, the Companies Act, and the Income Tax Act, to uncover the construction of a public market in opposition to the ‘kinship-based’ exchange relationships of vernacular capitalism. Interestingly, while the latter two pieces of legislation promoted the constitution of the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) as an economic entity fenced in as a cultural institution, debates over the negotiable instruments act mobilized both tropes of difference and similarity to justify subordinating local usages conditionally to practices and conventions familiar to British businesses in India.   

  • B. R. Tomlinson writes: While Birla shows clearly how the Marwari community adapted its traditional behavior to new market structures, she does not explore the degree to which the market imperfections of twentieth-century India have made possible the continued dominance of family firms there.  Problems of information, knowledge, and trust limited the development of market institutions in colonial India; since independence, the state’s deliberate policy of preventing the growth of fully functioning capital markets—through  restrictions in the form of import licenses, planning controls on plant size and location, and limits on foreign exchange—dominated the process of economic development, at least until the mid-1990s.  Many analysts of India’s current “economic miracle” ascribe the imposition of these restrictions  to the close relations between the Indian government and major family-based business groups  until  the 1980s.  Cronyism, corruption, and political favoritism have characterized the growth of Indian big business during recent decades. Under  such circumstances, it may be that the Marwari community had a better chance of succeeding within the particular business structures that emerged over the course of their history than might have been possible within a more open and institutionally evolved market structure.  The continued growth of the Indian economy under increased economic openness may provide the answer to such questions. 
  • Ishita Pande writes: In offering these insights, Birla's work cuts sharply through the popular slogan of "India shining" and images of the "corporate guru" that circulate in the premature celebration of India's future as an "economic powerhouse" on the global stage. For this reason, one hopes that Birla's work might also find an audience beyond the circle of postcolonial critics and interdisciplinary scholars of South Asia that Birla engages and addresses here. For this latter group this work might indeed be indispensable.

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