Chapter 8 Peasants, Zamindars and the State Agrarian Society and the Mughal Empire
What are the problems in using the Ain as a source for reconstructing agrarian history ? How do historians deal with this situation ?
(a) Problems : The Ain was revised five times by the author so that it might become authentic. In all the quantitative sections, all numeric data were reproduced in words so as to minimise the chances of errors. But in spite this there are following problems in using Ain as a source for reconstructing agrarian history :
- Numerous errors in totalling have been detected. These are ascribed to simple slips of arithmetic or of transcription by Abul Fazl’s assistants.
- Another problem is about the somewhat skewed nature of the quantitative data. Data were not collected uniformly from all provinces. For example, detailed information about caste composition of the zamindars was collected from many subas. However, such information is not available for Bengal and Orissa.
- Prices and wages that have been documented in the Ain pertains to areas in or around the imperial capital of Agra. It has, therefore, limited relevance for the rest of the country.
- Ain was to present a vision of Akbar’s empire where social harmony was provided by a strong ruling class. There was no place for a successful revolt against the Mughal state. Thus, whatever we learn about the peasants from the Ain remains a view from the top.
- The historians deal with the above problems by supplementing the descriptions contained in sources emanating from regions away from the Mughal capital, e.g., revenue records from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
- The extensive records of the East India Company too provide useful descriptions of agrarian relations in eastern India. These sources describe the instances of conflicts between peasants, zamindars and the state. Thus, they provide an insight into peasants’ perception of and their expectations of fairness from the state.
To what extent is it possible to characterise agricultural production in the sixteenth- seventeeth centuries as subsistence agriculture? Give reasons for your answer.
(a) During Mughal, India was basically an agricultural country. In the Mughal state of India a different varieties of crops were produced. In Bengal two varieties of rices were produced. But the focus on the cultivation of basic crops does not mean that only subsistence agriculture existed in medieval India.
(b) The Mughal state encouraged peasants to cultivate varieties of crops which brought in revenue especially cotton and sugarcane.
(c) Cotton was mainly grown in vast area which was spread over central India and the deccan plateau, whereas in Bengal sugarcane was mainly produced.
(d) Many varieties of cash crops such as oilseeds including mustard and lentils.
(e) An average peasant of that time grew both commercial and subsistence crops.
Describe the role played by women in agricultural production.
The role played by women in agricultural production was as mentioned below :
- Men and women worked shoulder to shoulder in the fields.
- Men tilled and ploughed, while women sowed, weeded, threshed and winnowed the harvest.
- During the medieval period, with the growth of nucleated villages and expansion in individuated peasant farming, the basis of production was the labour and resources of the entire household.
- Inspite of above, there were biases related to women’s biological functions. For example, menstruating women were not allowed to touch the plough or the potter’s wheel in western India, or enter the groves where betel-leaves (paan) were grown in Bengal.
Discuss, with examples, the significance of monetary transactions during the period under consideration.
The significance of monetary transactions during the period (sixteenth and seventeenth centimes) was substantial because the Mughal Empire was among the greatest empires that had managed to consolidate its power and resources. There was stability in the Ming (China), Safavid (Iran) and Ottoman (Turkey) empires. This stability led to create vibrant networks of overland trade from China to the Mediterranean Sea. The discovery of New World resulted in massive expansion of trade of India with Europe.
With the expansion of trade the importance of monetary transactions increased. The expansion of trade brought huge amount of bullion and silver into India where there was no natural resource of silver. This led to remarkable stability in the availability of metal currency, particularly in silver rupya in India. This facilitated an unprecedented expansion of minting of coins and the circulation of money in the economy. At the same time, there was no exchange of goods or barter system during this period. The payments were made in gold or silver coins. According to Giovanni Careri, all the gold and silver which circulates throughout the world, ultimately, comes into India due to its overseas trade. Thus a large amounts of cash transactions took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Examine the evidence that suggests that land revenue was important for the Mughal fiscal system.
(i) Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. Land Revenue collected was used to pay salaries and to meet different kinds of administrative expenses. So it was considered important to establish an administrative apparatus to ensure control over agricultural production.
(ii) Thus, before fixing land revenue, Mughal state first acquired specific information about the extent of agricultural lands and their produce.
(iii) Land revenue collection arrangements was consisted of two stages of assessment. These were Jama and hasil. Cultivators were given the choice to pay land revenue either in cash or kind. The state preferred to collect land revenue as cash. Attempts were made to maximize profits from the land revenue collection.
(iv) Both cultivated and cultivable lands were measured in each province to fix land revenue. According to a decree of Akbar, it was the responsibility of malguzar to make cultivator pay land revenue in kind and it was also kept open. Thus, it is clear from the evidence that the monetary transactions were very important. To continue this policy efforts by subsequent emperors like Aurangzeb continued to measure land for collection of land revenue.
To what extent do you think caste was a factor in influencing social and economic relations in agrarian society ?
Agricultural production involved the intensive participation and initiative of the peasantry. There were different social groups, on the basis of caste and other factors, that were involved in agricultural expansion. This affected their social and economic relations in the agrarian society in the following ways :
- Deep inequalities on the basis of caste and other caste like distinctions made the cultivators a highly heterogeneous group.
- Among those who tilled the land, there was a sizeable number who worked as menials or agricultural labourers (majur).
- There was abundance of cultivable land but inspite of this certain caste groups were assigned menial tasks and were relegated to poverty. Such groups comprised a large section of the village population. They had the least resources and were constrained by their position in the caste hierarchy like the Dalits of modem India.
- In Muslim communites too menials like halalkhoran (scavengers) were housed outside the boundaries of the village. The mallahzadas (sons of boatmen) in Bihar were comparable to slaves.
Thus, there was a direct correlation between caste, poverty and social status at the lower level of society. It was, however, not so at the intermediate levels. For example, in Marwar, Rajputs were considered peasants like Jats who were accorded a lower status in the caste hierarchy. The Gauravas, who cultivated land around Vrindavan sought Rajput status in the seventeenth century. Ahirs, Gujars and Malis rose in the hierarchy due to the profitability of cattle rearing and horticulture.
How were the lives of forest dwellers transformed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ?
The forest dwellers were people who earned their livelihood by gathering of forest produce, hunting and shifting agriculture. These activities changed according to seasons. For example, the Bhils collected forest produce in the spring. They did fishing in the summer, cultivated during the monsoon months. They did hunting in the winter and autumn. Such a division of activities presumed and perpetuated mobility which was a distinctive feature of the forest dwellers. However, their lives were transformed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the following ways :
- In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the state required elephants for the army. So, the peshkash – a form of tribute collected by the Mughal state – in the form of elephants too.
- In the Mughal political ideology, the hunt symbolised the overwhelming concern of the state to ensure justice to all the subjects, rich and poor. Thus, during hunting expeditions, the emperor personally attended to the grievances of the people. Such hunting expeditions affected the lives of the forest dwellers.
- Forests were cleaned for agricultural settlements. The spread of commercial agriculture impinged on the lives of forest dwellers, who lived on forest products like honey, beeswax and gum lac. Gum lac was exported from India. Elephants were captured and sold. There was [ exchange of commodities through barter too. All this changed due to commercial agriculture and agricultural settelments.
- Social factors too transformed the lives of forest dwellers. For example, chieftains of many tribes had become zamindars, some even became kings. They built up their armies and demanded that their fraternity to provide military service. In Assam, the Ahom kings had their paiks. They were people who obliged to render military service in exchange for land. Not only this the capture of wild elephants was declared a royal monopoly by the Ahom kings.
- With the establishment of tribal kingdoms in the north-east, war became a common feature.
- The cultural influences as that of sufi saints encouraged the forest-dwellers particularly agricultural communities to accept Islam.
Examine the role played by zamindars in Mughal India.
Zamindars played a significant role in Mughal India as mentioned below :
- The zamindars had landed properties and enjoyed certain social and economic privileges due to their superior status in the society and due performance of certain services (khidmat) for the state.
- They had milkiyat lands which were cultivated for the private use of zamindars with the help of hired or servile labour. The zamindars could sell, bequeath or mortgage these lands at will.
- The zamindars collected revenue on behalf of the state. They were compensated for this financially.
- They had military resources such as armed contingent and fortresses (qilachas).
- In the social hierarchy, the zamindars constituted its very narrow apex.
- Contemporary documents give an impression that conquest may have been source of the origin of some zamindaris. A powerful military chieftain often dispossessed weaker people and expanded his zamindari.
- Zamindars spearheaded the colonisation of agricultural land. They helped in settling cultivators by providing them with the means of cultivation, including cash loans. The buying and selling of zamindaris accelerated the process of monetisation in the countryside. Zamindars sold the produce from their milkiyat lands and established markets (haats) where peasants came to sell their produce too.
- Although the zamindars were considered as an exploitative class but their relationship with the peasants were based on reciprocity, paternalism and patronage because the bhakti saints did not portray them as exploiters or oppressors of peasantry. Not only this, in a large ‘ number of agrarian uprisings in north India in the seventeenth century, zamindars often received the support of the peasantry in their struggle against the state.
Discuss the ways in which panchayats and village headmen regulated rural , society.
Panchayats and village headmen regulated the rural society in the following ways :
- The village panchayat was an assembly of elders. Its decisions were binding on the members.
- The panchayat was headed by a headman known as muqaddam or mandal. The headman supervised the preparation of accounts, assisted by the accountant or patwari of the panchayat.
- The panchayat ensured that the caste boundaries among the various communities inhabitating the village were upheld. In eastern India all marriages were held in the presence of the mandal or headman. Thus, the headman was to oversee the conduct of the members of the village community “chiefly to prevent any offence against their caste”.
- Panchayats had the authority to levy fines and inflict serious punishments such as expulsion from the community. Such punishment was given as a deterrant to violation of caste norms.
- There were Jati panchayats of each caste. In Rajasthan, Jati panchayats arbitrated civil disputes between members of different castes. They decided the disputes related to claims on lands and marriages. Generally, the state respected the decisions of Jati panchayats.
- Sometimes petitions were presented to the panchayat complaining about extortionate taxation or the demand for unpaid labour (begar) imposed by the “superior” castes or officials of the state. These were submitted by the lower classes because they regarded the village panchayat as the court of appeal that would ensure that the state carried out its moral obligations and guaranteed justice. In such cases, the panchayats often suggested compromise and reconciliation. In case of failure of compromise, the peasants generally deserted the village because there was abundance of uncultivated land available in the villages.