The ‘Ain-i-Akbari’ was the third volume of the Akbar Nama, the chronicle written by Abu’l Fazl, who was Akbar’s court historian.
The ‘Ain’ contained a meticulous record of the arrangements made by the state to promote various agrarian activities. These include –
a. Ensuring cultivation
b. Revenue collection by agents of the state
c. Regulation of relations between the state and the zamindars
The ‘Ain’ described Akbar’s vision of social harmony provided by a strong ruling class. However, it had some limitations.
a. It did not account for revolts since these were considered predestined to fail. Therefore, the ‘Ain’ provides a top-down view of agrarian society in the 16th and 17th centuries.
b. Various other records, such as revenue records from different areas of the empire, as well as the records of the East India Company, that were found show that there were instances of conflict between the zamindars, the peasants, and the state.
In the 16th and 17th century, there was a constant expansion of agriculture, as a result of the abundance of land that was available for cultivation, the availability of labour, and the mobility of the peasant workers to perform this labour.
a. Even though monsoon was the backbone of agriculture, there were many crops that required additional water.
b. For this purpose, artificial systems of irrigation were created, such as watering by means of a wheel or a bucket through elaborately formed devices to take water from wells.
c. Irrigation projects were also supported by the state, such as the digging of new canals and repairing of old ones.
d. While agriculture was mainly labour-intensive, peasants devised technologies to harness energy from cattle. Some examples of these are the wooden plough, or a drill pulled by a pair of big oxen in order to plant seeds.
e. Peasants also used iron blades with small wooden handles for hoeing and weeding.
Thus, there were various irrigation methods and technologies used in agriculture during the 16th and 17th centuries by the peasants.
Zamindars were the landed proprietors during the Mughal rule that held high status in rural society, and were thus accorded social and economic privileges. Their status was based on their caste, as well as the services they provided to the state.
a. The Zamindars held large portions of personal lands/property, called milkiyat, which they used for private cultivate through the use of peasants. They often sold, bequeathed or mortgaged these lands.
b. The Zamindars also collected revenue on behalf of the state, for which they were financially compensated. They also had military resources, as they controlled lands with fortresses, and also had armies. Therefore, they had a lot of power. As a result of this, along with their elevated status, they established firm control over rural society.
c. Another aspect was the consolidation of Zamindari lands. This could be done through land transfers, purchase, or by orders of the state. In some areas, consolidation was done through clans and lineages, such as by the Rajputs and Jats in Northern India. Buying and selling of Zamindaris created monetization in rural areas.
d. Zamindars further created the impetus for the colonization of land for the purposes of agriculture. They helped cultivators by providing them with cash loans and other means of cultivation. They further sold the produce from their milkiyat and they also established markets where peasants would sell their produce to them.
e. While the Zamindars were an exploitative class, their relationship with the peasants had elements of paternalism, patronage, and reciprocity. This can be evidenced by the fact that bhakti saints did not speak of the zamindars as exploitative, and further, the zamindars also received the support of the peasantry during various agrarian uprisings in the 17th century.
Therefore, Zamindars were a crucial part of the 16th and 17th century society in India.
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