Read this article to learn about the rural society during mughal period!
From the writings of Abul Fazal and other contemporary authors, it is clear that personal ownership of land was very old in India. The rights of ownership in land were being created all the time.
The tradition was that anyone who first brought land under cultivation was considered its owner. There was plenty of cultivable wasteland (banjar) available in medieval times. It was not difficult for an enterprising group of people to settle a new village or to bring under cultivation the wastelands belonging to a village and become the owners of these lands.
In addition to owning the lands they cultivated, a considerable section of the Zamindars had the hereditary right of collecting land revenue from a number of villages. This was called his talluqa or his zamindari.
For collecting the land revenue, the zamindars received a share of the land revenue which could go up to 25 per cent in some areas. The zamindar was not the “owner” of all the lands comprising his zamindari.
The peasants who actually cultivated the land could not be dispossessed as long as they paid the land revenue. Thus, the zamindars and the peasants had their own hereditary rights in land. The figures, perhaps also include the strength of the subordinate rajas.
The zamindars generally had close connections on a caste, clan or tribal basis with the peasants settled in their zamindaris. They had considerable local information also about the productivity of land. The zamindars formed a very numerous and powerful class which was to be fund all over the country under different names such as deshmukh, patil, nayak, etc. Thus, it was not easy for any central authority to ignore or alienate them.
It is difficult to say anything about the living standards of the zamindars. Compared to the nobles, their income was limited; the smaller ones may have lived more or less like the peasants. However, the living standards of the larger zamindars might have approached those of petty rajas or nobles. Most of the zamindars apparently lived in the countryside and formed a kind of loose, dispersed local gentry.
It would not be correct to look upon the zamindars merely as those who fought for control over land and exploited the cultivators in the area they dominated. Many of the zamindars had close caste and kinship ties with the land-owning cultivating castes in their zamindari. These zamindars not only set social standard, they also proved capital and organization for settling new villages, or extending and improving cultivation. But the precise extents of such efforts have yet to be studied in detail.
Cultivators and Non-cultivating Classes:
During the 16th and 17th centuries, 85 per cent of India’s population lived in rural areas. The largest section in the village consisted of peasants or cultivators. There were three main classes of peasants.
Those residential peasants living in their own village, owning their own land and implements, paying the land-revenue at a concessional rate, formed the governing body of the village community. Also called mirasdars in Maharashtra and gharu-hala in Rajasthan.
These peasants were basically outsiders but cultivated the rented land in a village either by staying in the same village (residential pahi-kasht) or by staying in the neighbouring villages (non-residential pahi-kasht).
(3) Muzarian (raiyatis):
Those who belonged to the same village but who did not have either land or implements and hence were dependent on the Khud-kasht for their supply. They were divided into two groups; tenants-at-will and those who had hereditary tenant rights, called as paltis in Rajastan.
Apart from the cultivators, there were labourers (majurs). In addition, there were the service people— blacksmith, potter, washerman, etc. In Maharashtra, these service sectors were twelve in number who were called balutedars and received a prescribed share (baluta) from the village produce.
The Indian peasantry in the Mughal Empire was highly stratified and there was considerable difference in the size of holdings, produce and resources of peasants within the same locality.
India had a well diversified economy with the cultivation of a large variety of crops. Cotton, indigo, chay (red dye), sugarcane, oil seeds paid land revenue at a higher rate and had to be paid in cash hence, called cash crops or superior crops.
The peasants not only shifted his cultivation from one crop to other but also adopted new crops. Tobacco and maize were introduced in the 17th century. The adoption of potato and red chilies followed during the 18th century.
During this period, India also exported foodgrains, especially rice and sugar. The peasant was not disposed from his land as long as he paid the land revenue. Although the life of the peasant was hard, he had enough to eat and meet his simple requirements.
(1) Rural artisans—who were only part-time artisans and often indistinguishable from cultivators. These included oil-pressers, indigo and salt petre workers, etc. Their work was seasonal and often they had a small family plot of land for cultivation. They sold their surplus produce in the market.
(2) Professional artisans were living in towns and villages. As trade and manufacture grew, the merchants extended their control over the professional artisans through the dadni or putting out system by giving those loans, providing raw material, etc. In such cases the artisans tended to become wage earners because the cost of the raw materials and their labour was prescribed by the trader.
The master-craftsmen called ustads grew both economically and socially during this period. Abul Fazal called them artificiers and placed them in the second rank in the society (below the nobles). The artisans were generally organised on a case basis. The major industry where artisans were engaged the most were the textile industry and leather industry. The Indian artisans were not opposed to new techniques.
The villages in India continued with the traditional crafts and also developed localised centres of production.