In this article we will discuss about socio-economic condition of India during the eighteenth century.
There is a complete dearth of authentic figures which can help in drawing a picture of socio-economic life of India in the eighteenth century. The British records, which also relate to the whole of peninsula, are available only after the census which took place only in 1880 for the first time. The record left by the Court historians of the native rulers was more overshadowed, by pessimism.
The picture drawn with the help of those records and the later figures will be blurred one. It will be further confused if the comments of the Europeans are interpreted to describe the socio-economic condition, since, the latter, for their imperial interests, had tried to establish that it was the low standard of civilization of the countries destined to be the subjects’ of the emerging imperial nations of Europe.
Rather it will be a deception if we accept the comments of the Europeans blindly. Their social systems differed radically with the social system prevailing in, India; they were not aware of the local languages; and they had come into contact only with the court people and the business community. Above all, they were, as a French’ missionary in Mysore, Abbe J.A.
Dubois informs us, “in possession of regular and permanent establishments amongst the people of India for more than three hundred years, it is wonderful to observe how little authentic information they have collected respecting the various nations which inhabit that vast region”.
He is also right in arguing that those who depended on the writings and the documents possessed by the Hindus or Muslims would also not be successful to draw the true picture since those documents “are unfortunately blended with the most extravagant fable”, and, therefore, he further said, “there is little hope of our being able to draw from such authorities a true and connected social history of the country and of the various nations” then existing in India. Besides, the British writers after “accidentally” assuming the political power tried to underrate the nation “which has never sunk into barbarism.”
Indian social life cannot be understood from the political currents. After the fall of the Mauryas, the peninsula never saw political stability at national scale before Akbar could again establish law and order in far and wide areas of the country in the sixteenth century. There were many phases during the intervening period about which we do not have any record.
These periods are described as “dark period”. It does not mean that there was no life in those dark periods. Indian social life, on the contrary, was not dependent much on the political stability. It had a homogeneity beneath the upper surface which was represented in the Indian historiography.
It was urban life. It was not the creation of the rulers. Rather, it was the zenith of the socio-political integration which had been going on since unknown times. Earlier this integration had been brought about by almost constant flow of immigration from the land approaches in the north-west.
Their settlement in these lands left imprints on the existing society and in turn they were affected by the latter. This constant migration and assimilation of different people gave birth to a unique Indo-culture. It was that Indo-culture which sustained the destabilisation and survived the long innings of political instability.
It obviously attained a higher stage in the times of peace and law and order, and suffered set-backs whenever the society was confronted with political instability. It was more true to the urban and political life. Growth of Indian-culture, however, continued almost unabated in the rural areas. This is the reason that the scholars have talked about a continuity in the social life of India.
Keeping this in view, we can say that the Indian social life had two distinct divisions:
(i) Urban life and
(ii) Rural life.
Since in the medieval times, the historian was dependent on the patronage of native rulers, he lived in Courts, therefore, his narration was more about the urban life. In order to understand the social life of India we have to know the political conditions prevailing in the eighteenth century.