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Chapter 8: Peasants, Zamindars, And The State Agrarian Society Mughal Empire
The basic unit of agricultural society was the village, inhabited by peasants who performed the manifold seasonal tasks that made up agricultural production throughout the year – tilling the soil, sowing seeds, and harvesting the crop when it was ripe.
Further, they contributed their labor to the production of agro-based goods such as sugar and oil.
But rural India was not characterized by settled peasant production alone. Several kinds of areas
such as large tracts of dry land or hilly regions were not cultivable in the same way as the more fertile.
Our understanding of the workings of rural society does not come from those who worked the land, as peasants did not write about themselves.
Our major sources for the agrarian history of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries are chronicles and documents from the Mughal court.
One of the most important chronicles was the Ain-i Akbari (in short the Ain, see also Section 8)
authored by Akbar’s court historian Abu’l Fazl.
This text meticulously recorded the arrangements made by the state to ensure cultivation, to enable the collection of revenue by the agencies of the state, and to regulate the relationship between the state and rural magnates, the zamindars.
The central purpose of the Ain was to present a vision of Akbar’s empire where social harmony was provided by a strong ruling class.
Any revolt or assertion of autonomous power against the Mughal state was, in the eyes of the author of the Ain, predestined to fail. In other words, whatever we learn from the Ain about peasants remains a view from the top.
Fortunately, however, the account of the Ain can be supplemented by descriptions contained in sources emanating from regions away from the Mughal capital.
These include detailed revenue records from Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
the extensive records of the East India Company (see also Chapter 10) provide us with useful descriptions of agrarian relations in eastern India.
All these sources record instances of conflicts between peasants, zamindars and the state. In the process, they give us an insight into peasants’ perception of and their expectations of fairness from the state.
The term which Indo-Persian sources of the Mughal period most frequently used to denote a peasant was raiyat (plural, riaya) or muzarian.
In addition, we also encounter the terms kisan or asami. Sources of the seventeenth century refer to two kinds of peasants – khud-kashta and pahi-kashta.
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NCERT Solutions Class 12 History Chapter 8 Peasants Zamindars And The State (Agrarian Society Mughal Empire)
1. What are the problems in using the Ain as a source for reconstructing agrarian history? How do historians deal with this situation?
Ans: (a) The Ain-i Akbari written by Abu’l Fazl in 1598 contains invaluable information for reconstructing the agrarian history of the Mughals. But it has its own limitations.
(b) Numerous errors in totaling have been detected. These are, however, minors and do not detract from the overall quantitative accuracy of the manuals.
(c) Another limitation is the skewed nature of the data. Data was not collected uniformly from all provinces. For example, Abu’l Fazl has not given any description regarding the caste composition of the zamindars of Bengal and Orissa (Odisha).
(d) The fiscal data collected from various sources is in detail yet some important parameters such as, wages and prices have not been incorporated properly.
(e) The detailed list of prices and wages found in the Ain-i Akbari have been acquired from data pertaining to the capital Agra and its surrounding regions. It is, therefore, of limited value for the rest of the empire.
(f) Historians have dealt with the situation by supplementing the account of the Ain by information got from the provinces. These include detailed seventeenth- eighteenth centuries revenue records from Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. These have been also supplemented by records of the East India Company.
2. To what extent is it possible to characterize agricultural production in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries as subsistence agriculture? Give reasons for your answer.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the abundance of land, available labour, and the mobility of peasants were three factors that were responsible for the constant expansion of agriculture.
As rice, wheat or millets were the most frequently cultivated crops, it is said that the primary purpose of agriculture was to feed people.
But the focus on the cultivation of basic staples did not mean that agriculture was only for subsistence due to the following reasons :
- Crops such as cotton and sugarcane were jins-i kamil or perfect crops. The Mughal state encouraged peasants to cultivate such crops as they brought in more revenue. Thus, cotton was grown over a vast territory spread over Central India and the Deccan plateau, whereas Bengal was famous for its sugar.
- Cash crops such as all sorts of oil seeds and lentils were also grown.
- Dining the seventeenth century, new crops such as maize (makka) reached India via Africa and Spain. It became one of major crops of western India.
- Vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes and chilies were introduced from the New World. New fruits – pineapple and the papaya too reached India. All these were grown by the peasants.
Thus, it was not subsistence agriculture but subsistence and commercial were mixed together in an average peasants’ holding.
3. Describe the role played by women in agricultural production.
Ans: (a) Women played an important role in agricultural production. They worked shoulder to shoulder with men in the fields.
The men tilled and plowed the lands while the women sowed, weeded, and threshed the harvest. Agricultural production at the time was carried out with the labor and resources of the entire.
(b) The women performed important tasks such as spinning yarn, kneading clay for pottery and embroidery. Thus, the peasant women who were skilled artisans worked not only in the fields but even went to their employer’s houses and even to the markets, if necessary.
(c) Among the landed gentry class women had the right to inherit property. Women, including widows, participated in the rural land market. Selling property that they had inherited especially in Punjab.
(d) Both Hindu and Muslim women inherited zamindaris. They were free to sell or mortgage their zamindari rights. In the eighteenth century, Bengal had many women- zamindars. In fact, the Rajshahi zamindari which was one of the most famous of the time was headed by a woman.
4. Discuss, with examples, the significance of monetary transactions during the period under consideration.
Ans: (i) The political stability provided by the Mughals helped in establishing hoarsening trade relations with Ming (china), Safavid (Iran), and Ottoman (Turkey) empires. It led to increase in outland trade from China to the Mediterranean Sea.
(ii) The Discovery of new lands and sea routes also gave an impetus to Asia’s trade with Europe. As a result enormous amount of silver entered India as payment for goods bought from India.
(iii) Jovanni Karari, an Italian traveler, who passed through India in 1690 has written about how the silver reached India from all parts of the world. From his description, we also came to know how there was an exchange of cash and goods in India in the 17th century.
(iv) This benefitted India as she did not have enough resources for silver. Therefore, from the sixteenth to the eighth centuries there were sufficient reserves of silver in India and the silver rupya was available readily.
(v) The mutual exchange in villages took place. As villagers established their links in the urban markets, there was a considerable increase in monetary transactions. In this way, villages became an important part of the monetary market.
(vi) It was due to the monetary transactions that, became easier to pay daily wages to the labourers in cash and not in kind. This resulted in an unprecedented expansion in the minting of coins and circulation of money allowing the Mughal state to extract taxes and revenues in cash.
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Peasants, Zamindars And The State (Agrarian Society Mughal Empire) NCERT Textbook With Solutions PDF Free Download