Knots of Trade

Credit, Conflict and Community

A study of trust-based commercial transactions in Kashmir.

by Aditi Saraf

Srinagar. © 2012 Aditi Saraf

Abstract

This project examines traditional modes of transacting trade through credit networks in the Kashmir region. In bazaars, wholesale trade is generally conducted through promissory payments that are settled according to varying conditions and timelines that depend on local usages and vernacular patterns of exchange. There is scarcely any data on the amount of money that circulates through this system, though some effort has been made to delineate its institutional functioning and persistence in the present. Further, such trust-based systems of promissory payments, though they are variously connected to the banking sector, are regarded with suspicion outside the networks within which they circulate, particularly by the state. In the wholesale market where I conduct research, credit forms the mainstay of capital accumulation while remaining embedded in long standing moral frameworks. I seek the antecedents of such forms of credit in the historical form of hundi and its variants – promissory notes that circulated within the ethnically diverse mercantile networks and plied trans-Himalayan trade and provisioning. Combining ethnographic with archival work, I track the persistence of credit relations in my field site across different intensities of insurrection. The endurance, however tenuous, of such relations within a diverse mercantile community reveals notions of autonomy, obligation and community that are distinctive to the political economy of the Himalayan frontier. Through transformations in credit relations over time, I also aim to trace the shifting dynamics between traders from different communities in this politically disputed region.

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