Class Struggles in the Formation of Himachal Pradesh

This article has been written for a Festschrift published to honour my father, Javeed Alam. The book, edited by Prof Akeel Bilgrami is titled Marx, Gandhi and Modernity: Essays presented to Javeed Alam, and published by Tulika Books, New Delhi. The book was released on 19 July 2014. The article here draws on the research I had done for my PhD and argues that a political struggle between two emergent classes among the peasantry of the Western Himalayas informed the formation of the state of Himachal Pradesh.  Continue reading


A Road Called Sutlej

In 1842, a young officer in the English East India Company’s army, Lt. Cunningham was deputed to camp for the summer on the banks of the Sutlej river at Wangtoo, in the territory of the Rampur-Bushahr state, to keep an eye on the Khalsa general Zorawar Singh whose armies had overrun Ladakh, expelled the Tibetan authorities from Garo and come down into Spiti. The British were nervous that Zorawar Singh will cross the river and intrude into their territory on the eastern bank of the Sutlej. Zorawar Singh never crossed the river and Sutlej kept intact its reputation of being an important border marker due to the difficulty of crossing its turbulent stream. Continue reading

The Book is out….


Finally, Finally, Finally!

Becoming India: Western Himalayas Under British Rule, Delhi, Foundation Books (CUP India), 2007, pp. xx + 334, ISBN: 978-81-7596-564-5, has finally been published.

Here is the cover.

My book

Please check at your local bookstore. You can also order it from

Cambridge University Press India Private Limited,

Cambridge House,

4381/4, Ansari Road,


New Delhi 110002,


Tel: +91 (11) 4354 3500

Fax: +91 (11) 2328 8534



“Beth” in the Simla Hills

This is a seminar paper which I did in Jan-May 1994 as part of my course requirements for the MA in Modern Indian History at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. It is my first foray into researching the history of the Western Himalayas.

Unfortunately the version which survives with me is without footnotes. There were, if memory serves me right, more than a 100 footnotes to this paper, for which I spent a week in the Himachal Pradesh State archives as well as many days in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

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“Beth” in the Shimla Hills.


Unfree labour was central to agricultural production in pre-colonial India. Under colonial impact, these forms of unfree labour, while retaining their outward form, were radically changed in content. In medieval times, the subjects of the king were never `free’ as in the modern sense and all social classes and groups were linked to each other vertically and horizontally in ties of bondage, dependence and patronage. Under colonialism these ties got removed from their socio – economic context of origin and existence, and functioned differently in the new environment. It would be an attempt of this paper to see how and what changes were brought about in the institution of `Beth‘ – forced labour of unfree lower castes – in the Simla Hills under the impact of British rule. Continue reading

Natural Premises

This is a book review of Chetan Singh’s Natural Premises: Ecology and Peasant Life in the Western Himalayas 1800 – 1950, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla and Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1998, pp. 252 + xx. It was published in the Institute of Advanced Studies bimonthly magazine Summerhill in 1999. Continue reading

Preface to Book

This is the preface of Becoming India: Western Himalayas during British Rule, my book, being published by Foundation Books, New Delhi (the Indian arm of Cambridge University Press). It is based on a reworked version of my PhD which I received from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 2002.

Continue reading