Weapon of the Discontented? Trans-River Migration as Tax Avoidance Practice and Lever in Eastern Bukhara
Until the early twentieth century, the border formed between contemporary Tajikistan and Afghanistan by the River Panj/Amu Darya was relatively easily traversable, even for larger groups of people with bulk loads and animals. Migration from one bank to the other was frequent and family units in riparian areas often had members on both sides of the river. Migration, especially collective outmigration, was, however, also an act of protest by dissatisfied peasants and pastoralists who sought to evade disproportionate or irregular taxes. Out-migration affected the interests of authorities and different social actors more intensely than other forms of evasive protest; it forced rulers or local authorities to negotiate terms of return, or contend with labour deficits, degradation of lands and irrigation structures, (cash) crop shortages, and unprotected border zones. Evasive tax flight and barter arrangements for return were a promising avenue for poorer population segments to pressure authorities for better conditions. This implied the involvement of mediators, community elders, local authorities, and others, who negotiated on behalf of the different stakeholders.
This paper examines various incidences of evasive, trans-border migration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries against the background of British and Russian colonial encroachment and increasing marginalisation of these riparian regions and population regimes in the border lands. It argues that marginality equipped the local population with a lever for pressuring authorities, which, however, could also be turned against them.
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