The course on ‘The Making of Modern Punjab’ seeks to give an overview of significant historical processes that are crucial to an understanding of contemporary Punjab. Although seemingly specific to a region in India, this paper shall try to comprehend the medieval and modern state formations of ‘greater Punjab’ which constituted a significant region of South Asia and underline the processes which led to its partition in 1947. It begins with a discussion on the need to understand ‘Regions’, with special emphasis on Punjab and through a long-term perspective and draws a broad trajectory from medieval to contemporary social and economic formations. It transcends the territoriality of nation-states and foregrounds the study of Punjab as a significant region of South Asia.

It is pertinent to note that Punjab had some unique features of state formation owing to its frontier geographic location and its significance for trade and agrarian expansion. The region was also a buffer zone against the devastative influence of Mongols on the one hand and Afghans on the other. This not only ensured continual engagement of Delhi with the region but also determined the nature of medieval state formation. Colonial engagement with the region was thus a continuation of this complex process of consolidating British influence in the province through a dominant engagement with the zamindars and native elites in the newly established canal colonies, and transforming the region into a garrison state. The region, however, continued to articulate counter-hegemonic traditions in the form of dissent and martyrdom which was articulated through heroic sacrifices, folk ballads and narratives, representing three major devotional strands of its social formation Nath-Bhakti traditions, Sufism and Sikhism.

This course also lays emphasis on locating the rise of Sikhism in the medieval Indian milieu which was already influenced by the social critique of Nathpanthis, Bhaktas and the mystic ideology of Sufism. It provides an insight into the process of identity formation in the colonial Punjab which later led to the rise of communal politics and subsequent partition of the province. Even while colonial legitimization of the dominant element in the region created barriers for the engagement of rural classes with nationalist politics, yet Punjab had a major share of political movements of different ideologies; nationalist, socialist, communist, peasant, etc. One significant element of communal politics in the colonial and post-partition Punjab was the creation of binaries between different communities but this did not deter people to go to sufi shrines which continue to articulate a unique feature of its lived experience.

Post-partition Punjab(s) (east and west) continue to experience their share of colonial influence which is reflected in region’s engagement with nation-state, women, dalits, small peasants and landless labourers. While introduction of Green Revolution in the east Punjab ensured food security, over-capitalisation, large-scale use of pesticides and insecticides, and dependence on hybrid seeds has wrecked havoc for its agrarian economy leading to rural and urban distress and the rise of turbulent phase of militancy in the region. This distress has propelled desperate immigration of large number of Punjabis to destinations outside India in search of gainful employment and perpetuated the implications of diasporic influence on the region.

This course thus tries to comprehend the complexities of contemporary Punjab through following broad themes;

  1. Why Understand Region? Readings on Historiography
  2. Center and Periphery: Empire, State and Region
  3. Agro-pastoralism to Green Revolution
  4. Official and the Lived: Martyrdom and Belonging
  5. Text and Practice: Social Space of narrative
  6. Panth te Kaum: Making of Religious Paradox
  7. Shrines, Spatiality and the realms of Partition
  8. Contextualising ‘Movements’ in Punjab
  9. Many moments of Modernity