(1) Division of Society on the Basis of Nationality:
The most important characteristics of the society were division on the basis of nationality.
Earlier such a division was very insignificant but now it had become quite distinct.
(i) Foreign Muslims:
Foreign Muslims, in general, constituted the ruling class. It was the most privileged and respected section of the society. All high offices of the state were usually kept reserved for them. They received extensive jagirs in return for their services. They exercised great influence in society, politics and administration.
They belonged to different nationalities such as the Persians, the Afghans, the Egyptians, the Arabs, the Turks and the Abyssinians. Such a composite group had no solidarity. The Turks claimed and maintained their superiority over all others up to the thirteenth century. Intermarriages among different sections of foreign Muslims brought them at par with each other.
(ii) Indian Muslims:
The next section was that of the Indian Muslims. These belonged to two categories. Either they were converted to Islam themselves or were descendants of converted Muslims. The foreign Muslims despised Indian Muslims because most of them were converted to Islam among low-caste Hindus. Therefore, the Indian Muslims were not given equal status with foreign Muslims either in society or in administration. During the entire period of the Sultanate, only very few Indian Muslims could get high positions.
(iii) Shias and Sunnis:
The Muslims—foreign as well as Indian were also divided on the basis of religious sect, education and professions. The Ulemas claimed superiority. The Sunnis were backed by the Sultans of Delhi and the Shias had entered India after the Arab conquest of Sindh and therefore were powerful in Sindh and Multan. The Sunnis and the Shias had frequent clashes. Scholars and soldiers were divided on the basis of education and professions. Shopkeepers, artisans, peasants and the like constituted the lowest cadre among the Muslims in the society.
The Hindus constituted the majority of the Indian society. They were treated as second rate citizens of the state. Their services were considered essential in the revenue department. They, mostly monopolised trade and agriculture. They were divided into different sects and castes.
2. Privileged and the unprivileged class:
There was practically no middle class in the societies of those days. There were the privileged and unprivileged classes. The privileged class was small and it was made up of the members of the imperial family, the courtesans, nobles, ulemas, and other learned men in the Islamic law and theology. The rest of the people belonged to the unprivileged class.
3. Five major social groups:
(i) The royal class
(ii) The aristocratic class
(iii) The Ulemas
(iv) Town people
(v) Peasants and labourers and artisans.
(i) The royal class:
This class included the Sultan, princes and the governors of provinces.
(ii) The Aristocratic class:
This class comprised the nobles, ministers, landlords and the feudal lords. The Sultan enjoyed a special position for stressing his special significance, several ceremonies and rituals were carried out. The Sultan held a court with a great splendor. Court etiquettes were prescribed. Balban introduced a special practice called sajda i.e. kneeling before the Sultan.
The Sultan had a large household with many officers and servants along with slaves to work. This enabled him to live in luxury and great pomp and show. The nobles also imitated the Sultan. They had large income from their jagirs. They lived in luxury. They also kept a large number of slaves and servants. They built palatial buildings for living in them.
(iii) The Ulemas:
The priestly class and especially the Ulemas also occupied an important status in the society. Some of them exercised tremendous influence on the rulers. They also served as their teachers and performed religious ceremonies. They became very rich by receiving grants of land and gifts.
(iv) Town people:
The nobles, merchants, and officers lived in towns. They enjoyed a decent standard of living.
(v) The peasants and others:
At the lowest rung of the ladder were the peasants who lived from hand to mouth.
4. The slave system:
Slaves were sold like any other commodity. It is understood that there were slave markets also in a few towns. The Sultans and the nobles kept slaves in large numbers. The slaves were provided education and training. They were also provided opportunities to rise in their careers. Several of them like Malik Kafur rose to eminent positions in the state.
5. Position of women:
In general, the status of women deteriorated in the society and they suffered from many social evils. Normally monogamy was in practice but among the rich polygamy was prevalent. ‘Sati’ practice in the Hindu society continued. Widow re-marriage was very rare. ‘Purdah’ (veil) system among Muslim women was strictly observed. Polygamy was widely prevalent among the Muslims. The nobles and rich Muslims kept a number of wives. Very little attention was paid to the education of women.
In general, while the Hindus were vegetarian, the Muslims were non-vegetarian. Martial races among the Hindus were mostly non-vegetarian. Among the Muslims, the ‘Sufis’ and the people under their influence avoided meat-eating. ‘Quran’ prohibits the use of liquor to the followers of Islam, yet it was consumed mostly by the wealthy class.