Well, hasn't the month just zipped past? Always a mixed feeling to get to the last post...
Zinga Goshty was Bangladesh’s pioneering pop band, formed a decade before Bangladesh was independent. Here is one of their hit tracks from 1982 – Dhaka, sung by Nazma Zaman on Bangladesh TV.
The following track is from an album called Beche Thakar Mane (The Meaning of Survival) sung by Nachiketa from West Bengal. The lyrics are by Zulfiqar Russell, a Bangladeshi lyricist, poet and journalist.
Mitthe is from Ekla Prothom, the first album by Zooel Morshed, known simply as Zooel. He is a sound engineer and artiste from Bangladesh.
And the final track for this A-Z series on Bengaliana - is from Miftah Zaman, a Bangladeshi singer-songwriter and musician with a title called Dujon Dupothe (Two people on two paths) about drifting apart, about divergence.
Zamindari...under the Mughals and the British...
Zamindar, from the Persian zamin=earth/land, dar=suffix indicative of possession, means a landlord. The zamindari system was first set up by the Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605). In those times, the zamindars were tax collectors in charge of the land cultivated by peasants. They belonged to the nobility and were mansabdars (mansab= position in Arabic - commanders in the military with a fixed number of troops, varying from ten to over 10,000. Higher mansabs were granted to the princes of royal blood and to the non-Muslim kings who accepted Mughal suzerainty). The collection rights given to these collectors were not necessarily hereditary, the Emperor always had the final say and could allocate the office to another more favoured nobleman, all land belonged to the Empire. The zamindars were also responsible for certain policing, judicial and administrative duties in their domains.
Akbar put in place a taxation system which was thorough and generally fair to the farmer. Though it was not that abuses on the ground did not happen. But by and large the system was based on the fertility of the land, and actual yield potentials. The tax amount varied from 1/3rd on top grade fertile land to 1/26th of the yield on poor quality land. Extortion and abuses, if complaints were brought, were dealt with very severely. Seeds were made available to the farmers by the state, wells were dug, loans were given also. In the case of droughts or famines, taxes were remitted on a case to case basis. Not necessarily a cushy life for the farmer, but it wasn’t a total write off either, crushed by taxes and the state. This system served the Mughal Empire very well. Consider this, the land revenue at Akbar’s time was Rs 175 million; it rose to Rs 211 million under his grandson Shah Jahan, and finally to nearly Rs 300 million during Aurangzeb’s reign. Things kind of fell apart for the Mughals after Aurangzeb and that is when the EIC made its move on Bengal/India, as we have seen earlier in this series.
Some zamindars came to wield enormous power at the grassroots level and sometimes ran their zamindari almost independent of the Empire. Notable examples of such zamindars were the Baro Bhuiya (Baro=Twelve/Several; Bhu=Land, Bhuiya=One with land) of Bengal, around the Bhati or the Delta region in the late 16th century. The Baro Bhuiya included both Hindu zamindars such as Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore, and also Muslims such as Isa Khan. These formed a confederacy that repulsed attacks by the Mughal Empire itself, through superior use of naval power and strategies. The Mughals were pathetic at naval warfare and the navy was the weakest branch of their defence forces. While any ruler of lower Bengal clearly had to be conversant with a riverine warfare regime – the Bhati/Delta region of Bengal is really more water than land. It was only in the reign of Jahangir, Akbar’s son, that Bengal was finally and properly brought under Mughal control. And incidentally it was during his reign also that the first firman granting the British the right to trade was issued.
Getting back to the Bengal zamindars, they were great patrons of the arts, built many monuments, promoted cultural, educational, and economic developments, played key roles in the Bengal Renaissance and the First War of Independence/Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. However, they were also known for developing the urban centres at the cost of the rural masses and exploitation of the peasant farmers. Both Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Rabindranath Tagore, two monumental figures of the Renaissance, were connected to zamindaris, the Raja was himself a zamindar and Tagore was the youngest son of one. Both were vocal in condemning social evils of their time and advocated for social reform.
After the British gained control, Lord Cornwallis put through the Permanent Settlement of Bengal in 1790's, as part of the Cornwallis Code. This affected life in Bengal on many levels and created a powerful landowning class that initially supported the British. In the Mughal era, the zamindars were functionaries of the Empire reporting to the imperial Diwan, whose responsibility it was to make sure that the system did not tax farmers so as to jeopardise future tax collections.
When the EIC took over the Diwani of Bengal in 1764, it found itself short of trained manpower well-versed in the local customs and laws and agricultural practices. (The setting up of educational institutions to train local Bengalis to serve in the British administration, and also the interest in local languages and systems so that Britishers could run the province, were direct by-products of these.) As a result of this gap, zamindars remained unsupervised and/or reported to unscrupulous/clueless/corrupt officials – farmers were taxed without any thought for local welfare or future income.
Once the British took India, many zamindars were granted/assumed the titles of Raja, Maharaja, Rana, Rai and Nawab, all meaning ruler, king or viceroy. While the British retained the zamindari and its associated systems, they changed the land revenue calculations, withdrew the facility of loans without any thought for the future or farmer. The landlords were given lifelong tenure, the zamindari became hereditary, effectively the zamindar became the landowner. However, they were no longer allowed to maintain their own troops anymore. Under this system, the zamindars were liable to pay a fixed sum to the British, pegged at 10/11 parts of the amount realised from the land, and retain one part for themselves. They were free to set the taxes due from farmers to the zamindari. The zamindars thus brought in a certain amount for the British irrespective of weather conditions, fertility of land or any other considerations. Absentee landlords who bore no burdens of the cultivation but claimed the lion’s share of produce appeared as a consequence of this policy. A switch to cash crops like sugarcane, jute, cotton was forced through at the expense of food crops, ultimately resulting in food insufficiency and famines. No-one, neither the British nor the zamindars did anything for the peasants during famines. Not exactly a great system - what had survived under the Mughals for 200 years, did not complete even a century under the new rulers.
Though the British had sought to create a class of native Indians loyal to the Company/Crown through this system, the zamindars ultimately formed a separate, powerful, elite interest group, caring nothing for the cultivators and often at loggerheads with their British masters. The zamindari system was abolished after independence in the early 1950’s in both Bengals in major agrarian reforms.
So. Zat complete’s my A-Z Challenge 2019… Heartfelt thank yous to those of you who came along on this heady trip home, I hope you enjoyed yourselves as much as I did. Off for some much needed zzzzzz now...see you next month!
Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2019