Chapter 7
Lower Classes and Unmitigated Exploitation

“The Muslims dominate the infidels, but the latter fortify themselves in mountains… rugged places, as well as in bamboo groves… Hence they cannot be subdued…”

 Ibn Battuta

Lower classes formed the bulk of the population. They were economically poor and socially degraded. They existed to provide food and apparel, services and comforts, to the higher classes, and resided in towns and villages. In urban areas these comprised all kinds of artisans from basket and rope makers to clothprinters, embroiders, carpet makers, silk-weavers, blacksmiths, tin workers, carpenters, oil-men, barbers, jugglers, mountebanks, street singers, brewers, tailors, betel leaf sellers, flower sellers, masons, stone-cutters, bullock-cart drivers, doli-carriers, water-carriers, domestic servants, dhobis and workers in a hundred other skilled and unskilled crafts.1 In the villages there lived peasants and shepherds, besides a few artisans of the vocations enumerated above, although of inferior skill. The quality of work of the urban artisans and craftsmen used to be good. Let us take one example, that of stone-cutters and builders of edifices. Timur or Tamerlane, who invaded Hindustan in 1398, was highly impressed with Indian craftsmen and builders and on his return home from India he took with him architects, artists and skilled mechanics to build in his mud-walled Samarqand, edifices like the Qutb Minar and the (old) Jama Masjid of Delhi constructed by Firoz Shah Tughlaq.2 Babur too was pleased with the performance of Indian workmen and described how thousands of stone-cutters and masons worked on his buildings in Agra, Sikri, Biana, Dholpur, Gwalior and Koil. “In the same way there are numberless artisans of every sort in Hindustan.”3

Despite this they were an exploited lot, and so were all others, tillers of the soil in the villages and workmen in towns. It is true that in the medieval times the concept of welfare state was not widely prevalent, although it was not entirely unknown, and many kings and nobles are known to have tried to promote the general wellbeing of the people. On a study of contemporary source materials, it appears that the condition of the people of India up to the fifteenth century was not deplorable. This is borne out by the evidence provided by Indian writers and foreign travellers from the eleventh to the fifteenth century. But thereafter there is hardly any foreign visitor to India in sixteenth-seventeenth century in particular, who was not struck by the extremely miserable existence of the lower class people. Such a situation prevailed in all parts of the country, north and south, east and west. We may attempt a study of the economic and social condition of these lower classes under two categories: (1) peasants and agriculturists, and (2) artisans and labourers, for better comprehension about their exploitation by the upper classes as well as the government of the day.

Peasants and Agriculturists

The condition of the peasantry in India, up to the fourteenth century, was not bad. Contemporary Indian writers and foreign travellers do not generally talk about poverty; on the contrary they give an impression of the wellbeing of the tillers of the soil. Alberuni (eleventh century) has said many things about the Hindus, but nowhere does he say that the people were living in suffering or want. Minhaj Siraj, Ibn Battuta, Shihabuddin Abbas Ahmad, the author of Masalik-ul-Absar, Al-Qalqashindi, the author of Subh-ul-Asha, Amir Khusrau and Shams Siraj Afif (thirteenth-fourteenth centuries), even talk of the prosperity of the people. Even Barani is impressed with their wealth and conveys this impression when he feels delighted at the action of contemporary Muslim rulers against rich landlords and cultivators.4 The decline of the political power of the Sultanate in the fifteenth century, saw a general recovery of people's strength and prosperity in good measure.

But by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries conditions are quite different. They change to such an extent that almost all foreign and many Indian writers are struck by the crushing poverty of the Indian peasant and do not fail to write about it. Athanasius Nikitin, Varthema, Barbosa, Paes, Nuniz, Linschoten, Salbank, Hawkins, Jourdain, Sir Thomas Roe, Terry and a host of others, all talk of the grinding poverty of the Indian people. It will serve no purpose to cite from each one of them, but one or two quotations may be given as specimens to convey the general trend of their impressions. Pelsaert, a Dutch visitor during Jahangir’s reign, observes: “The common people (live in) poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe… their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking…”5 Salbank, writing of people between Agra and Lahore of about the same period, says that the “plebian sort is so poor that the greatest part of them go naked.”6 These two quotations would suffice to show how miserable the common people in the middle of the seventeenth century were. These and many others that follow lead one to the inescapable conclusion that the condition of the peasantry in India during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had considerably deteriorated.

It is pertinent to ask how the peasant during this period was reduced to such straits. India of the medieval times was mainly agricultural, and histories and legends of the times do not tire of singing in praise of the wealth and glory of the Great Mughals. Then how did the peasant become so miserably poor? Were there any ideas and actions of rulers which led to the impoverishment of the agriculturists? Also, were there any ideas of the peasants themselves which taught them to reconcile themselves to their lot and did not prompt them to fight against their economic disablement? Contemporary chronicles do betray the existence of such ideas. That these have not yet been analysed by historians, does not mean that these ideas were not there. An attempt is being made here to discover such ideas and assess their effects.

To find the roots of the miserable condition of the agriculturists in the seventeenth century, one has naturally to look back to earlier times and, indeed, at the very nature of the Muslim conquest of India beginning with the thirteenth century. In the history of Muslim conquest, a unique phenomenon was witnessed in India. Contrary to what happened in Central Asia, Persia or Afghanistan, India could not be completely conquered, nor could its people be converted to the Islamic faith. On the other hand, a ceaseless resistance to the Muslim rule in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is clearly borne out by the records of the times. If Muslim chroniclers gloat over unqualified victories for their Turkish kings, there are a large number of inscriptions of Hindu kings who too lay exaggerated claim to military successes.7 One thing which is clear beyond doubt is that throughout the Sultanate period (and also the Mughal period), there was stiff resistance to Muslim rule, and in one region or the other of the country, the authority of the Sultanate was being openly challenged.

Naturally, the Muslim kings gave much thought to finding some means to suppress the recalcitrant elements. Besides other things, one idea that struck Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316) was that it was “wealth” which was the “source of rebellion and disaffection.” It encouraged defiance and provided means of “revolt”. He and his counsellors deliberated that if somehow people could be impoverished, “no one would even have time to pronounce the word ‘rebellion’.”8 How was this to be done? The Ulama would not have found it difficult to suggest a remedy. It is laid down in the Hidaya that when an “infidel country” is conquered, the Imam can divide it among the Muslims. He can also leave it in the hands of the original inhabitants, “exacting from them a capitation tax, and imposing a tribute on their lands.” If the infidels are to lose their lands, their entire moveable property should also be taken away from them. In case they are to continue with cultivating the land, they should be allowed to retain “such a portion of their moveable property as may enable them to perform their business.”9 In India the conquered land was divided among Muslim officers, soldiers and Ulama in lieu of pay or as reward. Some land was kept under Khalisa or directly under the control of the regime. But in all cases the tiller of the soil remained the original Hindu cultivator. As an infidel he was to be taxed heavily, although a minimum of his moveable property like oxen, cows and buffaloes (nisab) was to be left with him.10 The principle of the Shariah was to leave with him only as much as would have helped him carry on with his cultivation, but at the same time to keep him poor and subservient.

Bare Subsistence

According to W.H. Moreland “the question really at issue was how to break the power of the rural leaders, the chiefs and the headmen of parganas and villages…”11 Sultan Alauddin therefore undertook a series of measures to crush them by striking at their major source of power-wealth.12 But in the process, leaders and followers, rich and poor, all were affected. The king started by raising the land tax (Kharaj) to fifty percent. Under rulers like Iltutmish and Balban, it does not seem to have been above one-third of the produce. Furthermore, under Alauddin’s system all the land occupied by the rich and the poor “was brought under assessment at the uniform rate of fifty per cent”. This measure automatically reduced the chiefs practically to the position of peasants. The king also levied house-tax and grazing tax. According to the contemporary chronicler Ziyauddin Barani, all milk-producing animals like cows and goats were taxed. According to Farishtah, animals up to two pairs of oxen, a pair of buffaloes and some cows and goats were exempted.13 This concession was based on the principle of nisab, namely, of leaving some minimum capital to enable one to carry on with one’s work.14 But it was hardly any relief, for there were taxes like kari, (derived from Hindi word Kar), charai and Jiziyah. The sultans of Delhi collected Jiziyah at the rate of forty, twenty and ten tankahs from the rich, the middleclass and the poor respectively.15

In short, a substantial portion of the produce was taken away by the government as taxes and the people were left with the bare minimum for sustenance. For the Sultan had “directed that only so much should be left to his subjects (raiyyat) as would maintain them from year to year… without admitting of their storing up or having articles in excess.” Sultan Alauddin’s rigorous measures were taken note of by contemporary writers both in India and abroad. In India contemporary writers like Barani, Isami and Amir Khusrau were inclined to believe him to be a persecutor of the Hindus. Foreigners also gathered the same impression. Maulana Shamsuddin Turk, a divine from Egypt, was happy to learn that Alauddin had made the wretchedness and misery of the Hindus so great and had reduced them to such a despicable condition “that the Hindu women and children went out begging at the doors of the Musalmans.”16 The same impression is conveyed in the writings of Isami and Wassaf.17 While summing up the achievements of Alauddin Khalji, the contemporary chronicler Barani mentions, with due emphasis, that by the last decade of his reign the submission and obedience of the Hindus had become an established fact. Such a submission on the part of the Hindus “has neither been seen before nor will be witnessed hereafter.” In brief, not only the Hindu Zamindars, who had been accustomed to a life of comfort and dignity, were reduced to a deplorable position, but the Hindus in general were impoverished to such an extent that there was no sign of gold or silver left in their houses, and the wives of Khuts and Muqaddams used to seek sundry jobs in the houses of the Musalmans, work there and receive wages.18 The poor peasants (balahars) suffered the most. The fundamentalist Maulana Ziyauddin Barani feels jubilant at the suppression of the Hindus, and writes at length about the utter helplessness to which the peasantry had been reduced because the Sultan had left to them bare sustenance and had taken away everything else in kharaj (land revenue) and other taxes.19

But there was much greater oppression implicit in this measure. It was difficult to collect in full so many and such heavy taxes. “One of the standing evils in the revenue collection consisted in defective realization which usually left large balances,”20 and unrealised balances used to become inevitable. Besides, lower revenue officials were corrupt and extortionate. To overcome these problems, Sultan Alauddin created a new ministry called the Diwan-i-Mustakhraj. The Mustakhraj was entrusted with the work of inquiring into the revenue arrears, and realizing them.21 We shall discuss about the tyranny of this department a little later; suffice it here to say that in Alauddin’s time, besides being oppressed by such a grinding tax-structure, the peasant was compelled to sell every maund of his surplus grain at government controlled rates for replenishing royal grain stores which the Sultan had ordered to be built in order to sustain his Market Control.22

After Alauddin’s death (C.E. 1316) most of his measures seem to have fallen into disuse, but the peasants got no relief, because Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq who came to the throne four years later (C.E. 1320) continued the atrocious practice of Alauddin. He also ordered that “there should be left only so much to the Hindus that neither, on the one hand, they should become arrogant on account of their wealth, nor, on the other, desert their lands in despair.”23 In the time of Muhammad bin Tughlaq even this latter fear turned out to be true. The Sultan’s enhancement of taxation went even beyond the lower limits of “bare subsistence.” For the people left their fields and fled. This enraged the Sultan and he hunted them down like wild beasts.24

Still conditions did not become unbearable all at once. Nature’s bounty to some extent compensated for the cruelty of the king. If the regime was extortionist, heavy rains sometimes helped in bumper production. Babur noted that “India’s crops are all rain grown”.25 Farming in north India depended upon the monsoon rains coming from the Bay of Bengal. Artificial irrigation was there on a very limited scale, for irrigation “is not at all a necessity in cultivating crops and orchards. Autumn crops (Kharif season) grow by the downpour of the rains themselves; and strange it is that spring crops (Rabi season) grow even when no rain falls.” Young trees are watered during two or three years “after which they need no more (watering)”26 as the ground gets soaked with rain in the monsoon season. Ibn Battuta gives a detailed description of the crops grown in India and adds: “The grains that have been described are Kharif grains. They are harvested 60 days after sowing. Thereafter Rabi grains like wheat, barley and massoor are sown. These are sown in the very same field in which Rabi grains (are harvested). The soil of this country is very fertile and is of excellent quality. Rice is sown three times in the year. Production of rice is the largest in the country. Sesame and sugar-cane are also sown with Kharif.”27 Shams Siraj Afif writes that when, during the monsoon season, “there were spells of heavy rains, Sultan Firoz Tughlaq appointed officers to examine the banks of all the water courses and report how far the inundations had extended. If he was informed that large tracts had been made fertile by the spread of waters, he was overwhelmed with joy. But if any village went to ruin (on account of floods), he treated its officials with great severity.”28

But the basic policy of impoverishing the people, resulted in crippling of agricultural economy. By the Mughal period the condition of the peasantry became miserable; if there was any progress it was in the enhancement of taxation. According to W.H. Moreland, who has made a special study of the agrarian system of Mughal India, the basic object of the Mughal administration was to obtain the revenue on an ever-ascending scale. The share that could be taken out of the peasant's produce without destroying his chances of survival was probably a matter of common knowledge in each locality. In Akbar’s time, in Kashmir, the state demand was one-third, but in reality it came to two-thirds.29 The Jagirdars in Thatta (Sindh) did not take more than half. In Gujarat, according to Geleynsen who wrote in 1629, the peasant was made to part with three-quarters of his harvest. Similar is the testimony of De Laet, Fryer and Van Twist.30 During Akbar’s reign, says Abul Fazl, evil hearted officers because of sheer greed, used to proceed to villages and mahals and sack them.31 Conditions became intolerable by the time of Shahjahan when, according to Manucci, peasants were compelled to sell their women and children to meet the revenue demand.32 Manrique writes that the peasants were “carried off… to various markets and fairs, (to be sold) with their poor unhappy wives behind them carrying their small children all crying and lamenting…”33 Bernier too affirms that the unfortunate peasants who were incapable of discharging the demands of their rapacious lords, were bereft of their children, who were carried away as slaves.34 Here was also confirmation, if not actually the beginning, of the practice of bonded labour in India.

In these circumstances the peasant had little interest in cultivating the land. Bernier observes that “as the ground is seldom tilled otherwise than by compulsion… the whole country is badly cultivated, and a great part rendered unproductive… The peasant cannot avoid asking himself this question: Why should I toil for a tyrant who may come tomorrow and lay his rapacious hands upon all I possess and value… without leaving me the means (even) to drag my own miserable existence? - The Timariots (Timurids), Governors and Revenue contractors, on their part reason in this manner: Why should the neglected state of this land create uneasiness in our minds, and why should we expend our own money and time to render it fruitful? We may be deprived of it in a single moment… Let us draw from the soil all the money we can, though the peasant should starve or abscond…”35 The situation made the tax-gatherer callous and exploitative on the one hand and the peasant fatalistic and disinterested on the other. The result, in Bernier’s own words, was “that most towns in Hindustan are made up of earth, mud, and other wretched material; that there is no city or town (that) does not bear evident marks of approaching decay.”36 Wherever Muslim despots ruled, ruin followed, so that, writes he, similar is the “present condition of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Palestine, the once wonderful plain of Antioch, and so many other regions anciently well cultivated, fertile and populous, but now desolate… Egypt also exhibits a sad picture… “37

To revert to the Mughal empire. An important order in the reign of Aurangzeb describes the Jagirdars as demanding in theory only half but in practice actually more than the total yield.38 Describing the conditions of the latter part of the seventeenth century Mughal empire, Dr. Tara Chand writes: “The desire of the State was to extract the economic rent, so that nothing but bare subsistence. remained for the peasant.” Aurangzeb’s instructions were that “there shall be left for everyone who cultivates his land as much as he requires for his own support till the next crop be reaped and that of his family and for seed. This much shall be left to him, what remains is land tax, and shall go to the public treasury.”39

Conditions could not always have been that bad. There were steps taken from time to time to help cultivation and ameliorate the condition of the agriculturists. Shamsuddin Iltutmish constructed a large tank called Hauz-i-Shamsi. Traces of Alauddin Khalji’s Hauz-i-Khas and Firoz Tughlaq’s irrigation canals still exist. Similar steps taken in Mughal times are also known. But such steps in aid of the development were taken because these could offer better means of increasing the revenue. Some steps which looked like helping the agriculturists, sometimes resulted in their perpetual penury. For example, a very common administrative measure of the medieval times was to advance loans to peasants to help them tide over their difficulties. But the important ideal entertained by rulers can be best summarized in the words of Sher Shah’s instructions to his Amils: “Be lenient at the time of assessment, but show no mercy at the time of collection.” This was, on the face of it, a good principle. But even Sher Shah Suri, renowned for his concern for the wellbeing of cultivators, was much more keen about the benefits to be drawn by his Afghan clansmen from the lands they administered. He sent his “good old loyal experienced servants” to districts which yielded good ‘profits’ and ‘advantages’ and after two years or so transfered them and sent “other servants like them that they may also prosper.”40 It was of course the peasant who paid for this prosperity.

Collection of Arrears

We have earlier referred to the problem of collection of arrears. When agriculture was almost entirely dependent on rainfall and land tax was uniformally high, it was not possible for the peasants to pay their revenue regularly and keep their accounts ever straight with the government. The revenue used to fall into arrears. From the study of contemporary sources it is almost certain that there were hardly any remissions - even against conversion to Islam. Muslim rulers were very keen on proselytization. Sultan Firoz Tughlaq rescinded Jiziyah for those who became Muhammadan.41 Sometimes he also instructed his revenue collectors to accept conversions in lieu of Kharaj.42 Rajas and Zamindars who could not deposit land revenue or tribute in time had to convert to Islam.43 Bengal and Gujarat provide specific instances which go to show that such rules prevailed throughout the Muslim-ruled regions.44 But remissions of Kharaj were not allowed. On the other hand arrears went on accumulating and the kings tried to collect them with the utmost rigour. In the Sultanate period there was a full-fledged department by the name of the Diwan-i-MustakharajThe work of this department was to inquire into the arrears lying in the names of collectors (Amils and Karkuns) and force them to realize the balances in full.45 Such was the strictness in the Sultanate period. Under the Mughals arrears were collected with equal harshness. The system then existing shows that the peasants were probably never relieved of the ‘burden’ of arrears. In practice it could hardly have been possible always to collect the entire amounts and the balance was generally put forward to be collected along with the demand of the next year. A bad year, therefore, might leave an intolerable burden for the peasants in the shape of such arrears. These had a natural tendency to grow It also seems to have been a common practice to demand the arrears, owed by peasants who had fled or died, from their neighbour. And peasants who could not pay revenue or arrears frequently became predial slaves.46

In short, between the thirteenth century when armies had to march to collect the revenue,47 and the seventeenth century when peasants were running away from the land because of the extortions of the state, no satisfactory principle of assessment or collection except extortion could be discovered. The situation became definitely worse in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as attested to by contemporary historians Jean Law and Ghulam Hussain. It is this general and continued stringency that was the legacy of the Mughal empire and the Indian Muslim states which continued under the British Raj.

Another idea of the rulers of medieval India was to keep the prices of commodities of everyday necessity low. This idea too emanated in the time of Alauddin Khalji. It was either his own brain-child or that of his courtiers and Ulama. His passion for incessant conquests and constant invasions of Mongols had rendered maintenance of a large army unavoidable. Even if he had recruited the large number of soldiers on a moderate salary, the entire treasure of the state would have been exhausted in five or six years.48 Alauddin, therefore, decided to cut down the salary of soldiers; but to prevent their falling victim to economic distress,49 he also decided to reduce the prices of commodities of daily use.

To the contemporary chronicler these prices were quite low and fluctuation, not even of a dang (small copper coin), was ever allowed whether in seasons of drought or of plenty. Indeed the ‘low’ and ‘fixed’ prices in the market were “considered to be one of the wonders of the age.” But “when a husbandman paid half of his hard earned produce in land tax, some portion of the remaining half in other sundry duties, and then was compelled to sell his grain at cheap rates… to the governments,50 it does not speak well of the general condition of the peasantry in those days.”51 They could never have been happy in selling their grain cheap in the open market nor to the government itself at fixed rates without making profit. Profit is the greatest incentive to production, but it was completely checked by Alauddin’s market regulations and the peasants seem to have lived a life of monotony and low standard.

Without caring to understand that low prices cripple production and impoverish the producer, many sultans after Alauddin Khalji took pride in competing with him in keeping prices low. But their actions led not only to the impoverishment of the peasantry but also of shopkeepers and businessmen. Shams Siraj Afif feels jubilant at describing and listing the low prices during the reign of Firoz Tughlaq, claiming that while Alauddin had to make strenuous efforts to bring down the prices, in the time of Firoz Tughlaq they remained low without resorting to any coercion.52 “Like Alauddin, Sikandar Lodi also used to keep a constant watch on the price-level” in the market.53 Abdullah, the author of Tarikh-i-Daudi, says that “during the reign of Ibrahim Lodi the prices of commodities were cheaper than in the reign of any other Sultan except in Alauddin’s last days”, and adds that whereas in Alauddin’s time the cheapness of prices was maintained through compulsion, force and dire punishments, in Ibrahim’s reign prices remained low ‘naturally.’54

So Alauddin Khalji had pioneered the idea of maintaining prices of necessaries at cheap rates. It was followed by his successors up to the beginning of the sixteenth century, without perhaps caring for its implications on the condition of the peasantry. Historians of Sher Shah affirm that he was indebted to Alauddin in laying down his agrarian policy and Akbar adopted many measures of Sher Shah. During the Mughal period prices by and large went up,55 although as late as in the reign of Aurangzeb, sometimes the prices reported were regarded as exceptionally cheap. But since the land revenue accounted for by far the larger portion of the peasant’s surplus produce, it is obvious that this increase must have wiped out any possible advantage that the peasantry might have obtained through a rise in the prices.56

Besides these handicaps, the peasant suffered because there were no clear ideas about a regular commissariat service to maintain supply-line for the army during a campaign. There is evidence that camp-markets were sometimes established for the convenience of soldiers.57 There are also situations on record when the soldiers were encouraged to loot the peasants to obtain grain.58 Sher Shah took appropriate measures to see that agriculturists were not harassed by an army on march, but Babur noted that on the news of the arrival of an army the peasants used to leave their land, flee for life and establish themselves elsewhere. Encouragement to soldiers to loot was inherent in khums tax, through which the state obtained as its share one-fifth of the booty collected by the troops, while four-fifth was left with the soldiers.

And above all, one fact is clear in the chronicles of medieval India - any measures against the higher classes ultimately affected the peasants, because any loss to the former was surreptitiously transferred to the peasants. For, as Sir Thomas Roe (1615-19) wrote, the people of Hindustan lived “as fishes do in the sea - the great ones eat up the little. For first the farmer robs the peasant, the gentlemen robs the farmer, the greater robs the lesser and the King robs all.”59 Bernier corroborates the conclusion when he writes: “In eastern countries, the weak and the injured are without any refuge whatever; and the only law that decides all controversies is the cane and the caprice of a governor.”60

Of all the ideas, motivations and actions mentioned above leading to the impoverishment of the peasantry, the one of leaving “nothing but bare subsistence”, was the most atrocious. Writing about the times of Aurangzeb, Dr. Tara Chand rightly observes that “the policy (of leaving) bare subsistence was suicidal for it killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. It left no incentive for increasing the production or improving the methods of cultivation.”61 Consequently, there was a progressive deterioration in the living standards of the peasantry as decades and centuries passed. As said earlier, Alberuni, Barani, Ibn Battuta and Shams Siraj Afif talk about the prosperity of the people right up to the fourteenth century. R.H. Major in his translation of the works of Nicolo Conti, Athnasius Nikitin, Santo Stefano etc.,62 only refers to the poverty of the Indian peasant in the fifteenth century. But Babur in the sixteenth century witnessed extreme poverty; he repeatedly talks about langoti as the only apparel and khichri as the only food.63 Witnesses for the seventeenth century are unanimous in observing extreme poverty of the peasantry.

Resistance of the Peasantry

The idea of leaving only the bare minimum to the peasant and collecting the rest of his hard-earned produce in land revenue and other taxes, remained the basic policy of the rulers during the medieval times. Some chroniclers were aware of its evil effects. Shams Siraj Afif, writing in the days of Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88) says that “Unwise regulations had been made in former reigns, and the raiyyats and subjects were oppressed in the payment of revenue. Several writers told the author of this work that it was the practice to leave the raiyyat one cow and take away all the rest.”64 Such a policy proved counter-productive. It not only harmed the agriculturists but also the Muslim regime, for, in place of minimising opposition, it actually encouraged resistance. In the unequal struggle between the poor peasantry and the mighty government carried on over a long period of time the tillers of the soil ultimately lost. But not without stiff resistance. Hindu Zamindars as the leaders and the peasants as their followers, both fought against the unjust demands of the king. Under Alauddin himself the Khuts and Muqaddams (Zamindars) avoided to pay taxes, did not care for the summons of the Diwan-i-Wazarat or Revenue Department, ignored to call at his office and paid no heed to the revenue officials.65 And the peasants, finding continuance of cultivation uneconomic and the treatment of the regime unbearable, left the fields and fled into the jungle from where they organized resistances. In this confrontation Zamindars played the role of leaders and the peasants joined under their banner.

Ibn Battuta describes this scenario. “The Muslims dominate the infidels,” writes he, “but the later fortify themselves in mountains, in rocky, uneven and rugged places as well as in bamboo groves (or jungles)… which serve them as ramparts. Hence they cannot be subdued except by powerful armies.”66 The story of the resistance of the Hindus to Muslim dominance and injustice is repeated by many contemporary writers. Ziyauddin Barani says that if the Hindus “do not find a mighty sovereign at their head nor behold crowds of horse and foot with drawn swords and arrows threatening their lives, they fail in their allegiance, refuse payment of revenue and incite a hundred tumults and revolts.”67 Similar is the testimony of Amir Khusrau, Ibn Battuta, Vidyapati and the Muslim chroniclers of the fifteenth century.68 In the fifteenth century, when the Sultanate of Delhi had grown weak, the tillers of the soil evaded, more than ever, payment of land tax, and revenue could be collected only through army sorties in regular yearly or half-yearly expeditions.69 Such resistance continued throughout, for the Indian peasant had his own survival strategies. These comprised mainly of two options - to fight with determination as far as possible, but, if resistance proved of no avail, to flee and settle down elsewhere. Medieval Indian society, both urban and agrarian, was to some extent an armed society. In cities and towns the elite carried swords like walking sticks. In villages few men were without at least a spear or bow and arrows, and they were skilled in the use of these arms. In 1632, Peter Mundy actually saw in the present day Kanpur district, “labourers with their guns, swords and bucklers lying by them while they ploughed the ground”.70 Similarly, Manucci described how in Akbar’s days the villagers of the Mathura region defended themselves against Mughal revenue-collecting officers: “The women stood behind their husbands with spears and arrows, when the husband had shot off his matchlock, his wife handed him the lance, while she reloaded the matchlock.”71 The countryside was studded with little forts, some surrounded by nothing more than mud walls, but which nevertheless provided centres of the general tradition of rebellion and agrarian unrest. Armed peasants provided contingents to Baheliyas, Bhadauriyas, Bachgotis, Mandahars and Tomars in the earlier period, to Jats, Marathas and Sikhs in the later.

But as the people put up a continual resistance, the Muslim government suppressed them ruthlessly. In this exercise the Mughal emperors were no better than the pre-Mughal sultans. We have often referred to the atrocities of the Delhi sultans and their provincial governors. Abul Fazl, Bernier and Manucci provide detailed accounts of the exertion of the Mughals. Its summing up by Jahangir is the most telling. In his Tarikh-i-Salim Shahi he writes:

“I am compelled to observe, with whatever regret, that notwithstanding the frequent and sanguinary executions which have been dealt among the people of Hindustan, the number of the turbulent and disaffected never seems to diminish; for what with the examples made during the reign of my father, and subsequently of my own, there is scarcely a province in the empire in which, either in battle or by the sword of the executioner, five or six hundred thousand human beings have not, at various periods, fallen victims to this fatal disposition to discontent and turbulence. Ever and anon, in one quarter or another, will some accursed miscreant spring up to unfurl the standard of rebellion; so that in Hindustan never has there existed a period of complete repose.”72

“In such a society,” observes Kolf, “…the millions of armed men, cultivators and otherwise, were its (government’s) rivals rather than its subjects.”73 This attitude was the consequence of the Mughal government’s policy of repression. As an example, the exploits of one of Jahangir’s commanders, Abdullah Khan Uzbeg Firoz Jung, can provide an idea of the excessive cruelty perpetrated by the government. Peter Mundy, who travelled from Agra to Patna in 1632 saw, during his four days’ journey, 200 minars (pillars) on which a total of about 7000 heads were fixed with mortar. On his way back four months later, he noticed that meanwhile another 60 minars with between 2000 and 2400 heads had been added and that the erection of new ones had not yet stopped.74 Abdullah Khan’s force of 12,000 horse and 20,000 foot destroyed, in the Kalpi-Kanauj area, all towns, took all their goods, their wives and children as slaves and beheaded and ‘immortered’ the chiefest of their men.75 Why, even Akbar’s name stands besmeared with wanton killings. In his siege of Chittor (October 1567) the regular garrison of 8000 Rajputs was vigorously helped by 40,000 armed peasants who had shown “great zeal and activity”. This infuriated the emperor to massacre 30,000 of them.76

In short, the Indian peasant was clear in his mind about meeting the onslaughts of nature and man. Attached to his land as he was, he resisted the oppression of the rulers as far as his resources, strength and stamina permitted. If conditions went beyond his control, he left his land and established himself in some other place. Indeed, migration or flight “was the peasant’s first answer to famine or man’s oppression.” Babur’s description of this process may be quoted in his own words: “In Hindustan,” says he, “hamlets and villages, towns indeed, are depopulated and set up in a moment. If the people of a large town, one inhabited for years even, flee from it, they do it in such a way that not a sign or trace of them remains in a day or a day and a half. On the other hand, if they fix their eyes on a place in which to settle,… they make a tank or dig a well; they need not build houses or set up walls, khas-grass abounds, wood is unlimited, huts are made and straightaway there is a village or a town.”77

Similar is the testimony of Col. Wilks about South India. “On the approach of a hostile army, the… inhabitants of India bury underground their most cumbrous effects, and… issue from their beloved homes and take the direction… sometimes of a strong fortress, but more generally of the most unfrequented hills and woods.” According to Amir Khusrau, “wherever the army marched, every inhabited spot was desolated… When the army arrived there (Warangal, Deccan), the Hindu inhabitants concealed themselves in hills and jungles.”78 This process of flight seems to have continued throughout the Mughal period, both in the North and the South. Writing of the days of Shahjahan, Bernier says that “many of the peasantry, driven to despair by so execrable a tyranny, abandon the country and sometimes fly to the territories of a Raja because they find less oppression and are allowed a greater degree of comfort.”79

To flee was a good idea, when it is realized that this was perhaps the only way to escape from the cruel revenue demand and rapacious officials. Some angry rulers like Balban and Muhammad bin Tughlaq hunted down these escapists in the jungles, others clamped them in jails, but, by and large, the peasants did survive in the process. For, it was not only cultivators alone who fled into the forests, but often even vanquished Rajas and zealous Zamindars. There they and people at large organized themselves to defend against the onslaughts of the regime. For it was not only because cultivation was uneconomic and peasants left the fields; it was also a question of saving Hindu religion and Hindu culture. Under Muslim rule the two principal Muslim practices of iconoclasm and proselytization were carried on unabated. During the Arab invasion of Sind and the expeditions of Mahmud of Ghazni, defeated rulers, garrisons of captured forts, and civilian population were often forced to accept Islam. The terror-tactics of such invaders was the same everywhere and their atrocities are understandable. But even when Muslim rule had been established in India, it was a matter of policy with Muslim rulers to capture and convert or disperse and destroy the male population and carry into slavery their women and children. Minhaj Siraj writes that Sultan Balban’s taking of captives, and his capture of the dependents of the great Ranas cannot be recounted.80 In Katehar he ordered a general massacre of the male population above eight years of age and carried away women and children.81 Muhammad Tughlaq, Firoz Tughlaq, Sikandar Lodi, Sikandar Butshikan of Kashmir, Mahmud Beghara of Gujarat and emperor Aurangzeb were more enthusiastic, some others were lukewarm, but it was the religious duty of a Muslim monarch to capture people and convert them to Islam.

In these circumstances the defeated Rajas and helpless agriculturists all sought refuge in the forests. Forests in medieval India abounded. Ibn Battuta says that very thick forests existed right from Bengal to Allahabad. In his time rhinoceroses (gender) were to be found in the very centre of the Sultanate, in the jungles near Allahabad. There were jungles throughout the country. Even the environs of Delhi abounded in forests so that during the time of Balban, harassed Mewatis retaliated by issuing forth from the jungles in the immediate vicinity of the south-west of Delhi, attack the city and keep the king on tenter-hooks.82 When Timur invaded Hindustan at the end of the fourteenth century, he had learnt about this resistance and was quite scared of it. In his Malfuzat he notes that there were many strong defences in India like the large rivers, the elephants etc. “The second defence,” writes he, “consists of woods and forests and trees, which interweaving stem with stem and branch with branch, render it very difficult to penetrate the country. The third defence is the soldiery, and landlords and princes, and Rajas of that country, who inhabit fastnesses in those forests, and live there like wild beasts.”83

Growth of dense forests was a cause and effect of heavy rains. Forests precipitated rainfall and rains helped in the growth of forests. Therefore, like forests, rains also helped the freedom loving “wild-beasts” living in the jungles in maintains their independence and culture. It is truly said that in India it does not rain, it pours. The rainfall in the north and the northeastern India - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal, including eastern Bengal (now Bangla Desh) and parts of Assam (the Hindustan of medieval times) - is in the following order: The average annual rainfall in U.P., Bihar and Bengal is 100 to 200 cms. (40 to 80 inches), in eastern Bengal and Assam it is 200 to 400 cms. and in some parts above 400 cms. (80 to 160 and above 160 inches). In all probability a similar average obtained in the medieval period also. Medieval chroniclers do not speak in quantitative terms: in their language “rivulets used to turn into rivers and rivers into seas during the rainy season.” The situation is best depicted by the sixteenth century conqueror Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur himself in his memoirs Tuzuk-i-Baburi or Babur NamaHe writes about Hindustan: “Sometimes it rains 10, 15, or 20 times a day, torrents pour down all at once and rivers flow where no water had been.”84 Such intensity of rainfall had rendered precarious the grip of Turkish rulers in many parts. For example, the government at Delhi could not always maintain its hold on Bengal effectively. There were very few roads and hardly any bridges over rivers in those days, and the almost primitive medieval communication system used to break down during the rainy season. Local governors of the eastern region - Bihar and Bengal - did not fail to take advantage of this situation and used to declare independence. Governor Tughril Beg of Bengal “depended on the climate and waterlogged soil of the province to wear out the Delhi forces,” for three years (1278-81).85 Bengal almost remained independent till the middle of the sixteenth century.

In short, heavy rains and thick forests affected the mobility of the government’s army, leaving the refugees safe in their jungle hide-outs and repulse any intrusion. Ibn Battuta describes how people used to fight behind barricades of bushes and bamboo trees. “They collect rain water” and tend their animals and fields, and remain so strongly entrenched that but for a strong army they cannot be suppressed.86 Babur confirms this: “Under the monsoon rains the banks of some of its rivers and torrents are worn into deep channels, difficult and troublesome to pass through anywhere. In many parts of the plains (because of rains) thorny jungle grows, behind the good defence of which the people… become stubbornly rebellious and pay no taxes.”87 It was because of this that Muslim conquest could not penetrate the Indian countryside nor Muslim rule affect it. If there was any fear of attack, the villagers just fled and re-established themselves elsewhere, or returned after the storm was over.

SC, ST and OBC

Those who took to the jungle, stayed there, eating wild fruits, tree-roots, and the coarsest grain if and when available,88 but surely preserving their freedom. But with the passing of time, a peasant became a tribal and from tribal a beast. William Finch, writing at Agra about 1610 C.E., describes how Jahangir and his nobles treated them - during Shikar. A favourite form of sport in Mughal India was the Kamargha, which consisted in enclosing a tract of country by a line of guards, and then gradually contracting the enclosure until a large quantity of game was encircled in a space of convenient size. “Whatever is taken in this enclosure” (Kamargha or human circle), writes Finch, “is called the king’s shikar or game, whether men or beasts… The beasts taken, if man’s meat, are sold… if men they remain the King’s slaves, which he sends yearly to Kabul to barter for horses and dogs: these being poor, miserable, thievish people, that live in woods and deserts, little differing from beasts.”89 W.H. Moreland adds: “Other writer (also) tell it besides Finch.”90 Even Babur, always a keen observer, had not failed to notice that peasants in India were often reduced to the position of tribals. “In our countries,” writes he in his Memoirs, “dwellers in the wilds (i.e. nomads) get tribal names; here (i.e. Hindustan) the settled people of the cultivated lands and villages get tribal names.”91

In short, the avalanche of Turco- Mughal invaders, and the policy of their Government turned many settled agriculturists into tribals of the jungles. Many defeated Rajas and harassed Zamindars also repaired to forest and remote fortresses for security. They had been defeated in war and due to the policy of making them nest-o-nabud (destroy root and branch), had been reduced to the position of Scheduled Castes / Tribes / Backward Classes. For example, many Parihars and Parmars, once upon a time belonging to the proud Rajput castes, are now included in lower castes. So are the “Rajputs” counted in Backward Classes in South India. Two examples, one from the early years of Muslim rule and the other from its closing years, would suffice to illustrate the point. In the early years of Muslim conquest, Jats had helped Muhammad bin Qasim in Sind; later on they turned against him. Khokhars had helped Muhammad Ghauri but turned hostile to him and ultimately killed him. This made the Turkish Sultanate ill-disposed towards them, and in course of time many of these Jats and Khokhars were pushed into belonging to low castes of to-day. For the later times is the example of the Satnamis. This sect was an offshoot of the Raidasis. Their stronghold in the seventeenth century was Narnaul, situated about 100 kms. south-west of Delhi. The contemporary chronicler Khafi Khan credits them with a good character. They followed the professions of agriculture and trade on a small scale. They dressed simply, like faqirs. They shaved their heads and so were called mundiyas also. They came into conflict with imperial forces. It began as a minor trouble, but developed into a war of Hindu liberation from the persecution of Aurangzeb. Soon some five thousand Satnamis were in arms. They routed the faujdar of Narnaul, plundered the town, demolished its mosques, and established their own administration. At last Aurangzeb crushed them by sending 10,000 troops (March, 1672) and facing a most obstinate battle in which two thousand Satnamis fell on the field and many more were slain during the pursuit. Those who escaped spread out into small units so that today there are about 15 million Satnami Harijans found in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.92

Thus were swelled the numbers of what are today called Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (SC / ST / OBC). The eleventh century savant Alberuni who came to India in the train of Mahmud of Ghazni, speaks of eight castes / sections of Antajya (untouchable?), or workers in low professions in Hindustan such as fuller, shoemaker, juggler, fisherman, hunter of wild animals and birds. “They are occupied with dirty work, like the cleaning of the villages and other services.”93 In his time their number was obviously not large. Today the SC / ST alone comprise 23 percent of the population or about 156 million, according to 1981 census.

Add to this the Other Backward Classes and they all count to more than fifty percent. This staggeringly high figure has been reached because of historical forces operating in the medieval times primarily. Muslim rule spread all over the country. Resistance to it too remained widespread. Jungles abounded through out the vast land from Gujarat to Bengal and Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and flight into them was the safest safeguard for the weak and vulnerable. That is how SC / ST people are found in every state in large numbers. During the medieval period, in the years and centuries of oppression, they lived almost like wild beasts in improvised huts in forest villages, segregated and isolated, suffering and struggling. But by settling in forest villages, they were enabled to preserve their freedom, their religion and their culture. Their martial arts, preserved in their Akharas, are even now practised in different forms in many states. Such a phenomenon was not witnessed in West Asian countries. There, in the vast open deserts, the people could not save themselves from forced conversions against advancing Muslim armies. There were no forests into which they could flee, hide themselves and organize resistance. Hence they all became Muslim.

In the Indian forest villages these “primitive” Hindus continued to maintain themselves by engaging in agriculture and simple cottage industries. They also kept contact with the outside world for, since they had remained Hindu, they were freely employed by Rajas and Zamindars. They provided firewood and served as boatmen and watchmen. The Hindu elite engaged them for guard duty in their houses, and as palki-bearers when they travelled. Travelling in the hot climate of India was mostly done at night, and these people provided guard to bullock carts and other conveyances carrying passengers and goods. There are descriptions of how these people ran in front and rear of the carts with lighted torches or lanterns in one hand and a lathi in the other. They also fought for those Hindu leaders who organized resistance from remote villages and jungle hide-outs. The exaspertated and starving peasantry sometimes took to highway robbery as the only means of living. Raiding bands were also locally formed. Their main occupation, however, remained menial work, including scavenging and leather tanning. But with all that, their spirit of resistance had made them good fighters. Fighting kept their health replenished, compensating for the non-availability of good food in the jungles. Their fighting spirit made the British think of them as thugs, robbers and bandits. But the British as well as other Europeans also embarked upon anthropological and sociological study of these poor forest people. In trying to find a name for these groups, the British census officials labelled them, in successive censuses, as Aboriginals (1881), Animists (1891-1911) and as Adherents of Tribal Religions (1921-1931).

These days a lot of noise is being made about helping the SC / ST and OBCs by reserving their quotas in government jobs. It is argued that these people have been oppressed by high caste Hindus in the past and they should now be helped and compensated by them. But that is only an assumption. It is they who have helped save the Hindu religion by shunning all comforts and taking to the life of the jungle. That is why they have remained Hindu. If they had been harassed and oppressed by high-caste Hindus, they could have easily chosen to opt for Muslim creed ever so keen on effecting proselytization. But they preferred to hide in the forests rather than do so. There is another question. Was that the time for the Upper Caste Hindus, fighting tenaciously to save their land, religion and culture, to oppress the lower strata of Hindus whose help they desperately needed in their struggle? The mindset of upper-caste / backward-caste conflict syndrome needs reviewing as it is neither based on historical evidence nor supported by compulsions of the situation. The present day isolated conflicts may be a rural politician / plebian problem of no great antiquity.

Another relic of the remote past is the objection to the entry of men of lower class people into temples. In Islam slaves were not permitted to bestow alms or visit places of pilgrimages.94 In India, according to Megasthenes, there were no slaves. But slavery (dasta) probably did exist in one form or the other. Were the dasas also debarred from entering temples and the practice has continued; or, was it that every caste and section had its own shrines and did not enter those of others? The picture is very blurred and origins of this practice are difficult to locate.

Above all, there is the question: Would the SC / ST by themselves accept to change their way of life and accept the assistance? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. An example may help understand the position. In June 1576 Maharana Pratap of Chittor had to face Akbar’s armies in the famous battle of Haldighati. Rana Pratap fought with exemplary courage and of his soldiers only a little more than half could leave the field alive. In the darkness of the evening, the wounded Rana left the field on his favourite horse Chetak.95 A little later, in October, Akbar himself marched in person in pursuit of the Rana, but the latter remained untraced and unsubdued. Later on he recovered all Mewar except Mandalgarh and Chittor. His nearest associates, the Bhil and Lohia tribals, had taken a vow that until their motherland was not freed, they would not eat in metal plates, but only on leaves; they would not sleep on bedsteads, but only on the ground; and they would renounce all comforts. The bravest among them even left Chittor, to return to it only when Mewar had regained independence. That day was not destined to come in their life-time. It was not to come for decades, for generations, for centuries. During these hundreds of years they lived as tribals and nomads, moving from city to city. On India regaining independence, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who knew about these people’s poignant history, decided to rehabilitate them in Chittor. In March 1955 an impressive function was arranged there and Pandit Nehru led the descendants of these valiant warriors back to their homes in independent Chittor in independent India. But most of them did not care to return. They live as nomads even today. The SC / ST and OBCs too may find their way of life too dear to relinquish for the modern “urban” civilised ways. Many welfare officers working in their areas actually find it to be so.


The forest-village-dwellers, whether escapees or resisters, suffered untold privations. Still they had the satisfaction of being able to preserve their freedom, their religion and their culture. But all victims of aggression were not so “lucky”. Many vulnerable groups and individuals could not extricate themselves from the clutches of the invaders and tyranny of the rulers; they used to be captured, enslaved and even sold, not only in India but also outside the country. It was not only Jahangir, a comparatively kind hearted emperor, who used to capture poor people during his hunting expeditions and send them to Kabul in exchange for dogs and horses, all Muslim invaders and rulers collected slaves and exploited them as they pleased.

When Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sind, he took captives wherever he went and sent many prisoners, especially women prisoners, to his homeland. Parimal Devi and Suraj Devi, the two daughters of Raja Dahir, who were sent to Hajjaj to adorn the harem of the Caliph, were part of a large bunch of maidens remitted as one-fifth share of the state (Khums) from the booty of war (Ghanaim). The Chachnama gives the details. After the capture of the fort of Rawar, Muhammad bin Qasim “halted there for three day, during which time he masscered 6,000 …men. Their followers and dependents, as well as their women and children were taken prisoner.” When the (total) number of prisoners was calculated, it was found to amount to thirty thousand persons (Kalichbeg has sixty thousand), amongst whom thirty were the daughters of the chiefs. They were sent to Hajjaj. The head of Dahir and the fifth part of prisoners were forwarded in charge of the Black Slave Kaab, son of Mubarak Rasti.96 In Sind itself female slaves captured after every campaign of the marching army, were married to Arab soldiers who settled down in colonies established in places like Mansura, Kuzdar, Mahfuza and Multan. The standing instructions of Hajjaj to Muhammad bin Qasim were to “give no quarter to infidels, but to cut their throats”, and take the women and children as captives. In the final stages of the conquest of Sind, “when the plunder and the prisoners of war were brought before Qasim… one-fifth of all the prisoners were chosen and set aside; they were counted as amounting to twenty thousand in number… (they belonged to high families) and veils were put on their faces, and the rest were given to the soldiers”.97 Obviously, a few lakhs of women were enslaved and distributed among the elite and the soldiers.

In the words of the Andre Wink, “From the seventh century onwards, and with a peak during Muhammad al-Qasim’s campaigns in 712-13, a considerable number of Jats [and also others] was captured as prisoners of war and deported to Iraq and elsewhere as slaves. Some Jat freemen became famous in the Islamic world, as for instance Abu Hanifa (699-767?), the founder of the Hanafite school of law.”98

So, from the days of Muhammad bin Qasim in the eighth century to those of Ahmad Shah Abdali in the eighteenth, enslavement, distribution and sale of captives was systematically practised by Muslim invaders. A few instances are necessary to have a clear idea of the monstrous practice of taking captives. When Mahmud Ghaznavi attacked Waihind (near Peshawar) in 1001-02, he took 500,000 persons of both sexes as captive. This figure of Abu Nasr Muhammad Utbi, the secretary and chronicler of Mahmud, is so mind-boggling that Elliot reduces it to 5000.99 The point to note is that taking of slaves was a matter of routine in every expedition. Only when the numbers were exceptionally large did they receive the notice of the chroniclers. So that in Mahmud’s attack on Ninduna in the Salt Range (1014), Utbi says that “slaves were so plentiful that they became very cheap; and men of respectability in their native land (India) were degraded by becoming slaves of common shopkeepers (of Ghazni)”.100 His statement finds confirmation in Nizamuddin Ahmad’s Tabqat-i-Akbari which states that Mahmud “obtained great spoils and a large number of slaves”. Next year from Thanesar, according to Farishtah, “the Muhammadan army brought to Ghaznin 200,000 captives so that the capital appeared like an Indian city, for every soldier of the army had several slaves and slave girls”.101 Thereafter slaves were taken in Baran, Mahaban, Mathura, Kanauj, Asni etc. so that when Mahmud returned to Ghazni in 1019, the booty was found to consist (besides huge wealth) of 53,000 captives according to Nizamuddin. But Utbi is more detailed. He says that “the number of prisoners may be conceived from the fact, that each was sold for from two to ten dirhams. These were afterwards taken to Ghazna, and the merchants came from different cities to purchase them, so that the countries of Mawaraun-Nahr, Iraq and Khurasan were filled with them”. The Tarikh-i-Alfi adds that the fifth share due to the Saiyyads was 150,000 slaves, therefore the total number of captives comes to 750,000.102

This was the practice throughout the medieval period. Furthermore, it was also a matter of policy with the Muslim rulers and their army commanders to capture and convert, destroy or sell the male population, and carry into slavery women and children. Ibn-ul-Asir says that Qutbuddin Aibak made “war against the provinces of Hind… He killed many, and returned home with prisoners and booty.”103 In Banaras, according to the same authority, Muhammad Ghauri’s slaughter of the Hindus was immense. “None was spared except women and children."104 No wonder that slaves began to fill the households of every Turk from the very beginning of Muslim rule in India. Fakhr-i-Mudabbir informs us that as a result of the Muslim achievements under Muhammad Ghauri and Qutbuddin Aibak, “even a poor householder (or soldier) who did not possess a single slave before became the owner of numerous slaves of all description (jauq jauq ghulam har jins)…”105

In 1231 Sultan Iltutmish attacked Gwalior, and “captured a large number of slave”.106 Minhaj Siraj Jurjani writes that Sultan Balban’s “taking captives, and his capture of the dependents of the great Ranas cannot be recounted”.107 Talking of his war in Avadh against Trailokyavarman of the Chandela dynasty (Dalaki wa Malaki of Minhaj), the chronicler says that “all the infidel wives, sons and dependents… and children… fell into the hands of the victors”.108 In 1253, in his campaign against Ranthambhor also Balban appears to have captured many prisoners. In 1259, in an attack on Haryana (the Shiwalik Hills), many women and children were enslaved.109 Twice Balban led expeditions against Kampil, Patiali, and Bhojpur, and in the process captured a large number of women and children. In Katehar he ordered a general massacre of the male population of above eight years of age and carried away the women and children.110

The process of enslavement during war went on under the Khaljis and the Tughlaqs (1290-1414 C.E.). Of Alauddin Khalji’s 50,000 slaves111 some were mere boys,112 and surely mainly captured during war. Firoz Tughlaq had issued an order that whichever places were sacked, in them the captives should be sorted out and the best ones should be forwarded to the court. His acquisition of slaves was accomplished through various ways - capture in war, in lieu of revenue and as present from nobles.113 Soon he was enabled to collect 180,000 slaves. Ziyauddin Barani’s description of the Slave Market in Delhi, (such markets were there in other places also), during the reign of Alauddin Khalji, shows that fresh batches of captives were constantly replenishing them.114 The practice of selling slaves was well established and widely known. Amir Khusrau in the fourteenth century writes that “the Turks, whenever they please, can seize, buy, or sell any Hindu”.115 He is corroborated by Vidyapati in the next century. The latter writes that the Muslim army commanders take into custody all the women of the enemy’s city, and “wherever they happened to pass, in that very place the ladies of the Raja’s house began to be sold in the market.”116 Alauddin Khalji fixed the prices of such slaves in the market, as he did for all other items of common use like wheat and rice, horse and cattle. The sale price of boys was fixed from 20 to 30 tankahs; the ill-favoured could be obtained for 7 or 8. The slave boys were classified according to their looks and working capacity. The standard price of a working girl was fixed from 5 to 12 tankahs, that of a good looking girl from 20 to 40, and a beauty of high family even from 1 thousand to 2 thousand tankahs.117 Under Muhammad bin Tughlaq, as per the information of Shihabuddin al Umri, a domestic maid in Delhi could be had for 8 tankahs and one deemed fit to be a concubine sold for about 15 tankahs. “In other cities,” says he, “prices are still lower.”118

Muhammad bin Tughlaq became notorious for enslaving captives, and his reputation in this regard spread far and wide so that Umri writes about him thus: “The Sultan never ceases to show the greatest zeal in making war upon the infidels… Everyday thousands of slaves are sold at very low price, so great is the number of prisoners.”119 Ibn Battuta’s eye-witness account of the Sultan’s arranging marriages of enslaved girls with Muslims on a large scale on the two Ids confirms the statement of Al Umri. “First of all,” writes he, “daughters of Kafir (Hindu) Rajas captured during the course of the year, come, sing and dance. Thereafter they are bestowed upon Amirs and important foreigners. After this the daughters of other Kafirs dance and sing… the Sultan gives them to his brothers, relatives sons of Maliks etc. On the sixth day male and female slaves are married.”120 It was a general practice for Hindu girls of good families to learn the art of dancing. It was a sort of religious rite. They used to dance during weddings, festivals and Pujas at home and in temples. This art was turned ravenous under their Muslim captors or buyers.

In short, female slaves were captured or obtained in droves throughout the year. Such was their influx that Ibn Battuta appears having got bored of them when he wrote: “At (one) time there arrived in Delhi some female infidel captives, ten of whom the Wazir sent to me. I gave one of them to the man who had brought them to me, but he was not satisfied. My companion took three young girls, and I do not know what happened to the rest.”121 “Thousands (chandin hazar) of non-Muslim women (aurat va masturat) were captured during the yearly campaigns of Firoz Tughlaq” and under him the Id celebrations were held on lines similar to those of his predecessor.122 Their sale outside, especially during the Hajj season, brought profits to the state and Muslim merchants. Their possession within, inflated the harems of Muslim kings and nobles beyond

Some feeble attempts were sometimes made by some kings to put a stop to this inhuman practice. The Mughal emperor Akbar, for example, abolished the custom of enslaving helpless women and children in times of war.124 Jahangir ordered that “a government collector or Jagirdar should not without permission intermarry with the people of the pargana in which he might be”125 for abduction and forced marriages were common enough. But there was never an abjuration of the policy of enslavement as mainly it was not the Mughal emperors but the Mughal nobility who must have taken the lion’s share of the state’s enslavement, deportation and sale. To make the long and painful story short, it may just be mentioned that after the Third Battle of Panipat (1761), “the plunder of the (Maratha) camp was prodigious, and women and children who survived were driven off as slaves - twenty-two thousand (women), of the highest rank in the land, says the Siyar-ul-Mutakhkhirin.”126

The above study points to some hard facts about enslavement of Hindus under Muslim rule. It is not pertinent here to make a detailed study of the Muslim slave system which was an institution as peculiar as it was unique. Examples of men like Iltutmish and Balban are cited to show how well the slaves fared in the Islamic state and society, how well they were brought up and how easily they could rise to the highest positions in life. “Iltutmish received nourishment like a son” in the house of his master.127 Firoz Tughlaq and his nobles too treated their slaves in a similar fashion.128 But it is the captured and enslaved victims who felt the pinch of slavery. Here only their sufferings may be briefly recapitulated under three separate sections-the fate of men, of women and of children. Of the men captives, the Muslim regime did not have much use. Male prisoners were usually put to the sword, especially the old, the overbearing and those bearing arms, as had happened during Muhammad bin Qasim’s invasion, Ghauri’s attack on Banaras, Balban’s expedition to Katehar, Timur’s campaign in Hindustan or Akbar’s massacre at Chittor.129

Of the captured men, those who could fetch good price were sold in India and outside. A lucrative trade in Indian slaves flourished in the West Asian countries. Many chroniclers aver that an important export item of commerce abroad comprised of Indian slaves who were exchanged for horses. If the trade in slaves was as brisk as the horse-trade, then many thousands of people must have been deported from India each year. For example, over the years from the eleventh to the early years of the nineteenth century, three quarters of the population of Bukhara was of mainly Indian slave extraction. The Hindu-Kush (Hindu-killer) mountain ranges are so called because thousands of Indian captives “yoked together” used to die while negotiating them. Ibn Battuta himself saw Indian slaves being taken out of the country.130

Many of the slaves who were not sold by their captors, served as domestic servants, as artisans in the royal Karkhanas and as Paiks in the army. The Paiks cleared the jungles and prepared roads for the army on march. They were also sometimes used as human “shields” in battle.131 But others, especially professional soldiers captured in war and willing to serve the Muslim army, joined the permanent cadre of the infantry, and were known for their loyalty.132 Alauddin Khalji, Mubarak Khalji, and Firoz Tughlaq were saved by Paiks when attempts were made on their lives.133

Child captives were preferred to grown up men. It may be recollected that in his campaigns in Katehar, Balban massacred mercilessly, sparing only boys of eight or nine.134 The age factor is material. As these boys grew in years, they gradually forgot their parents and even their native places and developed loyalty only to the king. They could thus be reared as Janessaries were brought up in the Ottoman Empire. The price-schedule of Sultan Alauddin Khalji is evidence of the importance attached to boy-slaves. In his time, while the price of a handsome slave was twenty to 30 tankahs and that of a slave-servant ten to 15 tankahs, the price of a child slave (ghulam bachchgan naukari) was fixed at 70 to 80 tankahs.135 Therefore during a campaign it was aimed at capturing lots of children. But no Hindus wished their children to become slaves, and in the face of an impending defeat Hindu mothers used to burn their little children in the fire of Jauhar136 rather than let them fall into the hands of the enemy to lead the life of perpetual bondage and sometimes meet a most detestable death.137

The women captives in Muslim hands were treated as objects of sex or for making money through sale. Al Umri writes that “in spite of low prices of slaves, 200,000 tankahs and even more, are paid for young Indian girls. I inquired the reason… and was told that these young girls are remarkable for their beauty, and the grace of their manners.”138

This was the position from the very beginning. It has been mentioned before that Muhammad bin Qasim sent to Hajjaj some thirty thousand captives many among whom were daughters of chiefs of Sind. Hajjaj forwarded the prisoners to Caliph Walid I (C.E. 705-15). The latter “sold some of those daughters of the chiefs, and some he granted as rewards. When he saw the daughter of Rai Dahir’s sister, he was much struck with her beauty and charms… and wished to keep her for himself”. But as his nephew Abdullah bin Abbas desired to take her, Walid bestowed her on him saying that “it is better that you should take her to be the mother of your children”. Centuries later, in the time of Jahangir, Abdullah Khan Firoz Jung expressed similar views when he declared that “I made prisoners of five lacs of men and women and sold them. They all became Muhammadans. From their progeny there will be crores by the day of judgement”.139 The motive of having progeny from captured women and thereby increasing Muslim population was at the back of all marriages, abductions and enslavements throughout the medieval period.

One recognised way of escape from sex exploitation in the medieval period was Jauhar or group-self-immolation. Jauhar also was naturally resorted to because the motives and actions of the victors were never in doubt. For example, before Qasim could attack the Fort of Rawar many of the royal ladies themselves voluntarily immolated themselves. The description of the holocaust in the Chachnama is like this: “Bai, the sister of Dahir, assembled all her women and said… ‘God forbid that we should own our liberty to these outcast cow-eaters. Our honour would be lost… there is nowhere any hope of escape; let us collect wood, cotton and oil… and bum ourselves. …If any wish to save herself she may.’ So they went into a house, set it on fire and burnt themselves.”140 It is those of the lesser mettle who used to save themselves and used to be captured. The repeated Jauhars at one place, Chittor, during the attacks of Alauddin Khalji, Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and Emperor Akbar have become memorable for the spirit shown by the Rajputnis. Captured and enslaved women often had to lead a life of misery and dishonour as happened with Deval Devi, daughter of Raja Karan Baghela of Gujarat.141

As the legacy of this scenario, Indian girls are still being sold to West Asian nationals as wives, concubines and slave girls. For example, all the leading Indian newspapers like The Indian Express, The Hindustan Times and The Times of India of 4 August 1991, flashed the news of a sixty year old “toothless” Arab national Yahiya H.M. Al Sagish “marrying” a 10-11 year old Ameena of Hyderabad after paying her father Rs. 6000, and attempting to take her out of the country. Al Sagish has been taken into police custody and the case is in the law-court now. Mr. I.U. Khan has “pointed out that no offence could be made out against his client as he had acted in accordance with the Shariat laws. He said that since this case related to the Muslim personal law which permitted marriage with girls who had attained Puberty (described as over 9 years of age), Al Sagish could not be tried under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Besides Ameena’s parents had not complained.” (Times of India, 14 August 1991).

But this is not an isolated case. I was in Hyderabad for about four years, 1979-1983. There I learnt that such “marriages” are common. There are regular agents and touts who arrange them. Poor parents of girls are handsomely paid by foreign Muslims for such arrangements. Every time that I happened to go to the Hyderabad Airlines office or the Airport (which was about at least once a month), I found bunches of old bridegrooms in Arab attire accompanied by young girls, often little girl brides. “A rough estimate indicated that as many as 8000 such marriages were solemnised during the past one decade in Hyderabad alone.” (Indian Express Magazine, 18 August 1991).  In short, the sex slave-trade is still flourishing not only in Hyderabad but in many other cities of India after the medieval tradition.

Artisans and Labourers

After a brief survey of the misery and exploitation of the peasants, backward classes and slaves, let us look at the condition of artisans and labourers. In the medieval period, as sometimes even now, the work and vocation of agriculturists approximated, bordered, converged and telescoped into many other subsidiary professions. A peasant, when he was free from his field, in terms of time and seasons, or was compelled to leave his village, generally worked as basket-maker, weaver or water-carrier in his village or in the town nearby temporarily or after migrating to it. With the passage of time some of these agriculturalists became efficient and skilled craftsmen while the majority remained engaged in unskilled jobs. In urban setting their life-style may have improved a little - only a little in the medieval age-but they all remained an exploited lot. There was hardly any contemporary foreign visitor to India who was not struck by the extremely miserable existence of the lower class people. Such a situation obtained in all parts of the country, north and south, east and west.

Athnasius Nikitin, who travelled in the Deccan between 1470 and 1474 says that “the land is overstocked with people: but those in the country are very miserable…”142 Durate Barbosa (1600-1615) was horrified by the poverty existing on the Malabar coast and says that some of the lower classes in the region were so poor that they lived on roots and wild fruits and covered themselves with leaves. His near contemporary Varthema (1504-06) and the later visitor Linschoten wrote in a similar strain. Writing around the year 1624, Della Valle gives glimpses of life in Surat by pointing out that the people were numerous, wages were low, and slaves cost practically nothing to keep. Similar is the testimony of Pyrard.143 The Portuguese writer Paes (wrote in 1520) and Nuniz (1536-37), confirm the assertion that the mass of the people were living in the greatest poverty and distress. In the seventeenth century John De Laet (1631) summarised the information he had collected from English, Dutch and Portuguese sources regarding the Mughal empire as a whole. “The condition of the common people in these regions (south and west) is,” says he, “exceedingly miserable”; wages are low; workmen get only one regular meal a day, the houses are wretched and practically unfurnished, and people have not got sufficient covering to keep warm in winter.144

This about the south and west. About the east and north, Bengal and the region between Agra and Lahore, Joseph Salbank (1609-10) writing of the thickly populated country between Agra and Lahore observes that while the nobles “are said to be very wealthy… the plebian sort, is so poor that the greatest part of them go naked.” In this regard, and for the urban scene in particular the testimony of Pelsaert (1620-27) and Bernier (1656-68) is of immense value. They lived and wrote mainly about Agra and Delhi respectively. Pelsaert laments “the utter subjection and poverty of the common people-poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe.”145 He continues: “There are three classes of people who are indeed nominally free, but whose status differs very little from voluntary slavery-workmen, peons or servants and shopkeepers. For the workmen there are two scourges, the first of which is low wages. Goldsmiths, painters (of cloth or chintz), embroiderers, carpet makers, cotton or silk weavers, black-smiths, copper-smiths, tailors, masons, builders, stone-cutters, a hundred crafts in all-any of these working from morning to night can earn only 5 or 6 tackas (tankahs), that is 4 or 5 strivers in wages. The second (scourge) is (the oppression of) the Governor, the nobles, the Diwan, the Kotwal, the Bakshi, and other royal officers. If any of these wants a workman, the man is not asked if he is willing to come, but is seized in the house or in the street, well beaten if he should dare to raise any objection, and in the evening paid half his wages, or nothing at all. From these facts the nature of their food can be easily inferred… For their monotonous daily food they have nothing but a little khichri… in the day time, they munch a little parched pulse or other grain, which they say suffices for their lean stomachs… Their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking… Their bedclothes are scanty, merely a sheet or perhaps two… this is sufficient in the hot weather, but the bitter cold nights are miserable indeed, and they try to keep warm over little cowdung fires… the smoke from these fires all over the city is so great that the eyes run, and the throat seems to be choked.”146 In 1648 the capital shifted from Agra to Delhi, but the story of exploitation remained the same. Bernier writes that” …grandees pay for a work of art considerably under its value, and according to their own caprice.”147 “When an Omrah or Mansabdar requires the services of an artisan, he sends to the bazar for him, employing force, if necessary, to make the poor man work; and after the task is finished, the unfeeling lord pays, not according to the value- of the labour, but agreeably to his own standard of fair remuneration; the artisan having reason to congratulate himself if the Korrah has not been given in part payment.”148

The artisans and craftsmen in the permanent service of the monarch and the principal Omarahs were a little better off than the casual wage earners. They tended to preserve the arts for they were paid more and regularly. Akbar sanctioned the following daily wages for workers and artisans-2 dams (copper coins, 1/ 40 of Rupia) for ordinary labourers, 3 to 4 dams for superior labourers, 3 to 7 dams for carpenters and 5 to 7 dams for builders. According to Moreland carpenters and builders got, in Akbar’s days, equivalent to about one rupee per day on the average, and they were rather better off than the modern workmen of the United Provinces, if not Punjab in the early years of the twentieth century. But there are many buts. It is not certain if the workmen got full sanctioned rates. Then for the slightest mistake they were heavily fined. “If a horse lost condition, the fines came down to the water carriers and sweepers employed in the stable. When an elephant died through neglect, the attendants (some of whom drew less than three rupees a month) had to pay the price of the animal.”149 During the process of investigation and imposition of punishment some money had to be paid to middlemen and Mughal officers. Naturally, such artisans and workers “can never become rich, and he feels it no trifling matter if he have the means of satisfying the cravings of hunger and of covering his body with the coarsest raiment”.150

“Peons or servants are exceedingly numerous in this country,” writes Pelsaert, “for every one-be he mounted soldier, merchant or king’s official-keeps as many as his position and circumstances permit. Outside the house, they serve for display, running continually before their master’s horse; inside, they do the work of the house, each knowing his duty,” like the bailwan, the farrash, the masalchi, the mahawat etc.151 Edward Terry (1616-19), Pelsaert and many others note that men stood in the market places to be hired and many of them were paid very low wages or even paid in kind, “for most of the great lords reckon 40 days to the month, and pay from 3 to 4 rupees for that period: while wages are often left several months in arrears, and then paid in worn-out clothes or other things.” Such fleecing was naturally responded to by cunning and “very few of them serve their master honestly; they steal whatever they can; if they buy only a pice-worth of food, they will take their share or dasturi (commission).”152

Transporters and coolies were no better off. On land, elephants, camels, horse, bullocks and donkeys were the main means of conveyance of kings, nobles, landlords and big merchants. Agricultural products were transported from fields to the markets in the cities in bullock carts. Grain was also carried and sold by roving merchants (banjaras) on mules in places which were not easily accessible. Big merchants with their merchandise generally moved only in large convoys153 using chariots, horses, bullock carts, mules, camels, and even buffaloes, depending on the terrain. The government officials with treasures also travelled in convoys and under proper escorts.154

Transport between rural and urban areas, between cities and within the city was provided by coolies, horses, bullock carts and dola or doli. In the days of Firoz Tughlaq, hire for a bullock cart was 4 to 6 jitals, and 12 jitals for a horse. A dola which was carried by kahars cost half a tankah. The dola or palanquin was the common conveyance of ladies of high rank. But this sophisticated means of transport was also being brought into more and more use by the old and infirm and the ease loving elite. When Qutbuddin Mubarak Khalji (1316-20) felt miserable without the company of his favourite Khusrau Khan, he sent orders to the latter to return from the Deccan as quickly as possible (about C.E. 1320), and Khusrau Khan was taken in a palanquin post haste from Devagiri to Delhi. And Sikandar Lodi’s boast, “if I order one of my slaves to be seated in a palanquin, the entire body of nobility would carry him on their shoulders at my bidding”,155 clearly indicates that besides ladies, the use of palanquin had also become a fashion with men of means. In the fifteenth century Ekka and Tonga had also come into vogue,156 but for long journeys the horse was the common conveyance.157 A footman’s services could be requisitioned for 5 tankahs a month,158 and a man could travel from Delhi to Agra spending only one Bahloli, which sufficed for him, his horse and his small escort / retinue during the journey.159 A large number of people were engaged on this work, and they plied a brisk trade.160 In the Mughal times comparatively better roads added some sort of sophistication to land travel.

Those employed by the Government on the work of transport and communication were not ill paid. Ibn Battuta’s description of the same pertains to government’s communication system which facilitated smooth running of administration. According to Barani and Ibn Battua there were two types of news-carriers: the mounted runners (Aulaq) and the foot runners (Dhava). The administration of the Sultanate, Sur and Mughal governments “was greatly facilitated by an efficient postal service which connected different parts of the empire.”161 According to Pelsaert, postmen carrying their master’s letters could cover 25 to 30 Kos a day, but that was also because they ate opium regularly.162

To sum up, Professor Mohammad Habib in his review of G.N. Sharma’s Social Life in Medieval Rajasthan (1500-1800) has this to say about artisans and workers and their wages in northern India of the Mughal times: “The industries of Rajasthan were well-developed, (but) further progress was made impossible owing to the low social position assigned to the worker, forced labour or begar and administrative oppression of all types. ‘The cultivator had to be satisfied with a meagre reward for the hard work of himself and his family’. The inventories of thefts committed show that a well-to-do peasant had two dhotis and two turbans for himself, four saris costing about Rs. 2-4 for his wife and some ten utensils costing Rs.25.” The wages recorded tell the same sad tale. “The account papers (1693-1791 A.D.) of the construction of the palaces of Jaipur and Kotah show that skilled labourers got annas 6 to 8 and a supervising architect Rs.1 / 2 per day.” The wages of un-skilled labourers as mentioned in the Kotah records of 1689 A.D. vary from one anna to two annas. Payment was sometimes made in grain-14 Chataks daily for skilled workers and 2 to 4 Chataks for women workers. The Bikaner Bahis throw some light on wages-a chaukidar Rs.2 per month, grooms, sweepers and gardeners Rs.1 to Rs.3 per month. “From the point of view of wages the prospects of government officials were not very encouraging.” The pay of officers of position, according to the Bikaner Bahi (V.S.1764) varied from Rs.21 to Rs.28 per month. An accountant’s pay according to the Kotah records was Rs. 135 per year. An ordinary clerk could be engaged for Rs. 60 per year, while a senior clerk’s pay was about Rs. 235 a year. A Kotwal was generally paid Rs. 15 to 20 a month. Such low wages would only be possible with the low price of grain. According to Dr. Sharma 10 maunds of wheat could be purchased for Rs. 14 to 16; the same quantity of millet for Rs. 11 to 12 and of barley for Rs. 9 to 10.

The low scale of both grain prices and wages proves only one thing-the thorough exploitation of the peasants and the workers. But this was an Indian-and not a Rajasthani-misfortune. Tavernier, for example, could on his journey from Surat to Agra get 50 guards at Rs.4 per month each. aThe states and the governing classes tried to appropriate the whole surplus value of labour. Still the condition of the workers and peasants was probably better in Rajasthan than in, the Mughal empire.163 The situation in the Mughal empire is summed up by W.H. Moreland like this: “In several instances the lowest grades of servants were entitled to less than two rupees monthly (65 dams for a sweeper, 60 for a camel-driver, 70 for a wrestler, and so on), while the bulk of the menials and of the ordinary foot-soldiers began at less than three rupees. The minimum for subsistence at the court is probably marked by the lowest grade of slaves, who were allowed one dam daily, equivalent to three-quarters of a rupee monthly in the currency of the time… artisans were, as a rule badly off, and they can scarcely have been able to pay high wages to their journeymen… The facts available regarding the wages paid by travellers and merchants come almost entirely from the south and west of India. Terry insists on the excellence of the servants obtained for five shillings, or say two rupees a month, and he adds that they would send half this sum home; probably this statement relates to servants hired in Surat, but in any case it refers to this part of the country, as Terry went no farther north than Mandu. Valle, writing of Surat about ten years later put the rate at not more than three rupees, while De Laet’s informants gave him from three to four rupees, which could be supplemented in some cases by commission charged on purchases. A messenger between Surat and Masulipatam was in 1641 allowed seven or eight mahmudies (say something between three and four rupees) for the journey… These instances appear to justify the conclusion that early in the seventeenth century foreigners could secure capable servants for somewhere about three rupees a month. What this represents in real wages is uncertain… (But) The rates struck Europeans as extraordinarily low, and taken with those which prevailed in the northern capital they enable us to understand the great development of domestic employment which… characterised the life of India at this period.”164 The important point to note is that servants, messengers and escorts were in great demand. Any journey seems to have been inconceivable without a certain number of them. William Hawkins, who was in India in Jahangir’s reign, found that “almost a man cannot stir out of doors throughout all his dominions without great forces, for they are all become rebels”. Tavemier said that, in about 1660, “to travel with honour in India, one hired 20 to 30 armed men, some with bows and arrows and others with muskets. They cost Rs.4 a month”.165 The profession must have been well organised and yet the wages were miserably low.

The economic position of artisans was no better. Bernier writing to Colbert, said: “No artisan can be expected to give his mind to his calling in the midst of a people who are either wretchedly poor, or who, if rich, assume an appearance of poverty, and who regard not the beauty and excellence but the cheapness of an article; a people whose grandeess pay for a work of art considerably under its value and according to their own caprice… For it should not be inferred that the workman is held in esteem, or arrives at a stage of independence. Nothing but sheer necessity or blows from a cudgel keeps him employed; he never can become rich, and he feels it no trifling matter if he have the means of satisfying the cravings of hunger and of covering his body with the coarsest garment. If money be gained it does not in any measure go into his pocket, but only serves to increase the wealth of the merchant.” Bernier’s description is corroborated by what Thevenot was told about the same period of the state of the arts in Delhi.

The story of the exploitation of the poor, both rural and urban, is unending. And the guiding principle of this pernicious practice was to leave the people with bare subsistence. No foreign traveller fails to notice it with disapproval if not actual disgust. It would appear that the lords and the upper classes in Turco-Mughal India derived a cynical pleasure in oppressing the poor. The result was as expected. Artisans, workers and labourers became lazy. Scarcely any one made an effort to climb the ladder to better prospects,166 so that “for a job which one man would do in Holland, here passes through four men’s hands before it is finished.”167 Such exploitation in the Mughal period provided droves of khidmatgars to British officers and men when they established and ran their Raj in this country.

Poorest of the poor

Before closing, a word may be said about the exploitation of the poorest of the poor, the beggars and the handicapped. Muslim law decrees mutilation as punishment for certain crimes and a large number of healthy people were blinded, mutilated and made “physically handicapped” under Muslim rule. The punishments of sultans like Balban and Muhammad bin Tughlaq were terribly severe. Alauddin Khalji had ordered that if any shopkeeper sold any article short-weight, a quantity of flesh equal to the deficiency in weight was to be cut off from his haunches.168 Firoz Tughlaq lists some of the punishments “for common offences”, which were prevalent before his time. These comprised of cutting of hands and feet, noses and ears, putting out eyes, pulverizing the bones with mallets, burning parts of the body, nailing the hands and feet, hamstringing etc., etc.169 As seen earlier, many cultivators and labourers were also reduced to the position of beggars from the Sultanate through Mughal times because of high rate and severity of collection of Kharaj.

All such unfortunate people could only resort to begging for a living. They were sometimes given doles and meals by kind-hearted people: free feeding (langar) was common for the poor beggars. But sometimes even such helpless people were exploited by the rich who extracted their pound of flesh even from them. An Amir by the name of Saiyyad-ul-Hijab was very close to Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq. He used to help all and sundry, but for a consideration. “It is narrated,” says Shams Siraj Afif, “that one day a helpless faqir (beggar) approached him for assisting him get some help from the Sultan.” The nobleman gave him necessary guidance for achieving his purpose. The faqir did as advised, and the Sultan ordered that the suppliant be given one tankah per day from the Zakat fund. But the help rendered was not gratuitous. “The said Amir,” continues Afif, “after rendering help to the needy used to extract something by way of shukrana.”170 No further comment is necessary.


1 Jaisi, Padmavat, pp. 154, 413; Pelsaert, p. 60; Ashraf, Life and Conditions of the People of Hindustan, p. 193.

2 Price, Major David, Memoirs of the Principal Events of Muhammadan History (London, 1921), III (I), p. 267; Lamb, Harold, Tamerlane the Earth Shaker (London, 1929), p. 272; Brown, Percy, Indian Architecture (Islamic Period), p. 26; Lal, Twilight of the Sultanate, p. 40.

3 Babur Nama, II, pp. 518, 520.

4 Only a few examples of this prosperity by writers of the fourteenth century may be cited. Shihabuddin says: “The general food of the Indians (Muslims) is beef and goat’s flesh… it was a mere matter of habit, for in all the villages of India there are sheep in thousands” (E and D, III, p. 583).

Ibn Battuta says: “When they have reaped the autumn harvest, they sow spring grains in the same soil in which autumn grains had been sown, for their country is excellent and the soil is fertile. As for rice they sow it three times a year…..” (Mahdi Husain, trs., p.19). Shams Siraj Afif writing about the prosperity of Orissa at the time of Firoz Tughlaq’s invasion says: “The country of Jajnagar was in a very flourishing state, and the abundance of corn and fruit supplied the wants of the army… the numbers of animals of every kind were so great that no one cared to take them… Sheep were found in such countless numbers…” (Afif, Persian text, pp.165-66. Also pp. 180,  295).

For prosperity in the Deccan see Kincaid and Parasnis, A History of Maratha People, I, p. 37; Yule, Ser Marco Polo, II, p. 323; Wassaf, Bombay text, pp. 521-31.

About the prosperity of Vijayanagar countryside see Abdur Razzaq in Mutla-us-Sadain, E and D, IV, pp. 105-6.

Also Barani pp. 216-17,290-91; and Farishtah, Lucknow text, p. 120,

5 Pelsaert, pp. 60-61.

6 Quoted in Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, pp. 268-69.

7 Liberally cited in A.B.M. Habibullah’s The Foundation of Muslim Rule in India, First ed., Lahore, 1945.

8 Barani, pp. 283-84.

9 Charles Hamilton’s trs. of the Hidaya, Chapter IV.

10 Aghnides, Muhammedan Theories of Finance, pp. 251-52, 253-54.

11 Moreland, Agrarian System of Moslem India, p. 32 fn.

12 Barani, pp. 216-17 and 291.  Also Barani’s Fatawa-i-Jahandari, pp. 46-48.

13 Barani, p. 287; Farishtah, p. 109.

14 Aghnides, Muhammadan Theories of Finance, pp. 251-54.

15 Afif, p. 383.

16 Barani, pp. 291, 297-98.

17 Isami, Futuh-us-Salatin, Agra text, pp. 569-70; Tarikh-i-Wassaf, Bombay Text, Book IV, p. 448, Book V, pp. 646, 647.

18 Barani, p. 288.

19 Ibid., pp. 288, 305, 307.

20 R.P. Tripathi, Some Aspects of Muslim Administration, p. 262.

21 Barani, pp. 288-89, 292.

22 For Alauddin’s Market Control see Lal, History of the Khaljis, pp. 197-225.

23 Barani, p. 430.

24 Hajiuddabir, Zafar-ul-Wali; Barani, pp. 479-80. For a detailed discussion on the Sultan’s measures see Ishwari Prasad, A History of the Qaraunak Turks in India, pp. 67-74.

25 Babur Nama, II, p. 487.

26 Ibid., p. 486. For Indian rains also Bernier, pp. 431-34.

27 Ibn Battuta, pp. 17-20.

28 Afif, pp. 130-31.

29 W.H. Moreland, From Akbar to Aurangzeb, pp. 253-55.

30 Moreland in Journal of Indian History, IV, pp. 78-79 and XIV, p. 64.

31 Abul Fazl, Akbar Nama, Beveridge, II, pp. 159-60.

32 Manucci, II, p. 451.

33 Manrique II, p. 272.

34 Bernier, p.205.

35 Bernier, pp. 226-27.

36 Ibid., p. 227.

37 Loc. cit.

38 Moreland, op. cit., p. 255.

39 Tara Chand, History of Freedom Movement in India, I, p. 121. Also, Sir John Strachey, India, Its Administration and Progress (third Edition), p. 126.

40 Abbas Sarwani, E and D, IV, p. 414.

41 Firoz Shah Tughlaq, Fatuhat-i-Firoz Shahi, English trs. E and D, III, p. 368; Hindi trs. in Rizvi, Tughlaq Kalin Bharat, II, p. 337.

42 Afif, pp. 268-69; Ishwari Prasad, Qaraunah Turks, p. 331; Badaoni, Ranking I, p. 377.

43 For detailed references see Lal, Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India, pp. 160-161.

44 Lal, Indian Muslims, pp. 50, 63-64; C.H.I., III, pp. 305-306; Census of India Report, 1901, IV, Pt. I, Bengal, pp. 165-181.

45 Barani, pp. 288-89, 292; Tripathi, Some Aspects of Muslim Administration, p. 262.

46 Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, pp. 112-14 and The Agrarian System of Moslem India, pp. 135-36, 146-47.

47 Barani, p. 291; Yahiya, p. 184. For detailed references see Lal, Twilight of the Sultanate, pp. 73-75.

48 Barani, p. 303.

49 Ibid., p. 304

50 Alauddin procured grain from the cultivators, and that too with great severity, to keep Government godowns ever replenished (Barani, pp. 305, 307).

51 Lal, History of the Khaljis, pp. 1 97, 290-91.

52 Afif, p. 294.

53 Nizamuddin Ahmad, Tabqat-i-Akbari, I, p. 338; Farishtah, I, p. 187.

54 Abdullah, Tarikh-i-Daudi, Bankipore Ms., fols, 223-24.

55 Abul Fazl, Ain, I, pp. 65-71.

56 Moreland, From Akbar to Aurangzeb, pp. 253-57.

57 Barani, pp. 328-29; Afif, p. 290; Farishtah, p. 119.

58 Afif, pp. 112, 122, 289; Sharafuddin Yazdi, Zafari Nama, II, pp. 87-88, 152-54, 156.

59 Cited in Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, p. 269.

60 Bernier, pp. 235-36.

61 Tara Chand, History of the Freedom Movement, I, p. 1 21.

62 R.H. Major, India in the Fifteenth Century.

63 Babur Nama, II, p. 519.

64 Afif, trs. E and D, III, pp. 289-90.

65 Barani, p. 291.

66 Ibn Battuta, p. 124.

67 Barani, p. 268.

68 Amir Khusrau, Deval Rani, p. 50; Vidyapati, Kirtilata, pp. 42-44, 70-72.

69 Lal, Twilight, pp. 70-106.

70 Mundy, Travels, II, p. 90.

71 Manucci, I, p. 134.

72 Tarikh-i-Salim Shahi, trs.  Price, pp 225-26.

73 Kolf, Naukar, Rajput and Sepoy, p. 7.

74 Mundy, Travels, II, pp. 90, 185, 186.

75 For action in this region in the reign of Akbar see Abul Fazl, Akbar Nama, II, pp. 195-96.

76 Ibid., I, p. 475.

77 Babur Nama trs. by Mrs. A.S. Beveridge, pp. 487-88.

78 Erskine, Babur’s Memoirs (Leyden and Erskine, pp. 315 n 2) cites from Col. Wilks, Historical Sketches, Vol.I, p. 309, note; Amir Khusrau, Nuh Sipehr, E and D, III, p. 558.

79 Bernier’s Travels, p. 226, also quoted in Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, p. 135.

80 Minhaj, E and D, II, p. 348.

81 Barani, p. 59; Farishtah, I, p. 77.

82 Barani, p. 56.

83 Malfuzai-i-Timuri, E and D, III, p. 395.

84 Babur Nama, II, p. 519.

85 Habibullah, A.B.M., The Foundation of Muslim Rule in India, pp. 174, 185 n.44.

86 Ibn Battuta, p. 124.

87 Babur Nama, II, p. 487.

88 Badaoni, Ranking, I, p. 377.

89 Finch, William, in Foster, Early Travels, p. 154.

90 Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, pp. 27-28 n.

91 Babur Nama, II, p. 518.

92 Their present religious head Mata Karuna Guru has withdrawn support from the Congress, says a press report of the Times of India datelined Raipur 14 February, 1990.

93 Alberuni, I, pp. 101-102.

94 Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, p. 598.

95 Smith, Akbar the Great Mogul, p. 108; C.H.I., IV, pp. 115-16.

96 Chachnama, E and D, I, pp. 172-73; trs. Kalichbeg, p. 154.

97 Ibid., E and D, I, pp. 173, 181, 211.

98 Wink, Al-Hind, I, p. 161.

99 Tarikh-i-Yamini, E and D, II, p. 26; Elliot’s Appendix, p. 438; Farishtah, I, p.24.

100 Utbi, E and D, II, p. 39.

101 Farishtah, I, p.28.

102 Lal, Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India, pp. 211-13. Also Utbi, E and D, II, p. 50 and n. 1.

103 Kamil-ut-Tawarikh, E and D, II, p. 250.

104 Ibid., p. 251.

105 Tarikh-i-Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah, p. 20.

106 Tabqat-i-Nasiri, Persian Text, p. 175. Also Farishtah, I, p. 66.

107 Minhaj, E and D, II, p. 348.

108 Ibid., p. 367; Farishtah, I, p. 71.

109 Minhaj, pp. 371, 380-81.

110 Barani, p. 59.

111 Afif, p. 272.

112 Barani, p. 318; Lal, History of the Khaljis, pp. 214-15.

113 Afif, p. 267-73.

114 Barani, pp. 314-15.

115 Amir Khusrau, Nuh Sipehr, E and D, III, p. 561.

116 Vidyapati, Kirtilata, pp. 72-74.

117 Barani, pp. 313-15.

118 Masalik-ul-Absar, E and D, III, p. 580.

119 Loc. cit.

120 Ibn Battuta, p. 63, Hindi version by S.A.A. Rizvi in Tughlaq Kalin Bharat, Part I, Aligarh, p. 189.

121 Ibid., p. 123.

122 Afif, p. 265. Also pp. 119-20.

123 Ibid., p. 144. Also Lal, K.S., The Mughal Harem, pp. 19-38, 167-69, 170 and Growth of Muslim Population, p. 116.

124 Akbar Nama, II, p. 246; Du Jarric, Akbar and the Jesuits, pp. 152-59. Also pp. 28, 30, 70, 92.

125 Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, I, p. 9.

126 Rawlinson, H.G., in C.H.I., IV, p. 424 and n.

127 Muhammad Aziz Ahmad, Political History and Institutions of the Early Turkish Empire of Delhi, pp. 147-48, 159.

128 Afif, pp. 272-73.

129 Barani, p. 59; Yazdi, Zafar Nama, II, p. 92; Malfuzat-i-Timuri, E and D, III, p. 436; Nizamuddin Ahmad, Tabqat-i-Akbari, I, p. 255; Farishtah, I, p. 77; Akbar Nama, II, p. 475.

130 Ibn Battuta, p. 71; Jahangir, Tarikh-i-Salim Shahi, p. 165; Burnes, Travels into Bokhara, I, p. 276; 11, p. 61.

131 Al-Qalqashindi, Subh-ul-Asha, p. 76.

132 Barbosa, The Book of Duarte Barbosa, I, p. 181; Barani, Fatawa-i-Jahandari, p. 25.

133 Barani, pp. 273, 376, 377.

134 Ibid., pp. 58-59.

135 Ibid., p. 314.

136 Sharma, C.N., Mewar and the Moghul Emperors, pp. 56, 76-77. Also Smith, Akbar the Great Mogul, p. 64.

137 “After his (Firoz Tughlaq’s) death, the heads of these his favoured slaves were cut off without mercy, and were made into heaps in front of the darbar” (Afif, p. 273).

138 Masalik-ul-Absar, E and D, III, pp. 580-81.

139 Chachnama, trs. Kalichbeg, pp. 153-54; Shah Nawaz Khan, Maasir-ul-Umara, I, p. 105.

140 Ibid., trs.  Kalichbeg, p. 155.

141 She was captured by Malik Kafur and brought to Delhi. She was first married to Khizr Khan, then Mubarak Khalji married her forcibly. She was later on taken by Khusrau Shah - too much for a Hindu maiden (Lal, History of the Khaljis, pp. 234-36, 298-99).

142 Nikitin in Major, India in the Fifteenth Century, p. 14.

143 Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, pp. 267-8 and n.

144 Ibid., p. 269.

145 Pelsaert, p. 60.

146 Ibid., pp. 60-61.

147 Bernier, p. 228.

148 Ibid., pp. 256, 288.

149 Ain, I, pp. 148-49, 139, 235; also Moreland, pp. 190-91 n.

150 Bernier, p. 229.

151 Pelsaert, pp. 61-62.

152 Ibid., p. 62-63.

153 Barani, p. 316.

154 Ibn Battuta, p. 151.

155 Passage in Tarikh-i-Daudi as trs. by N.B. Roy in Niamatulah’s History of the Afghans, p. 134.

156 Ahmad Yadgar, Tarikh-i-Salatin-i-Afghana, p. 24 and n, also p. 33.

157 Ibid., 45.

158 A Sikandari silver tankah was equal to 30 copper Bahlolis (Thomas, Chronicles of the Pathan kings of Delhi, p. 336).

159 Tarikh-i-Daudi, Allahabad University Ms., fols. 137-38.

160 Afif, p. 136.

161 Lal, History of the Khaljis, pp. 167-77.

162 Pelsaert, p. 62.

163 Review of Dr. G.N. Sharma, Social Life in Medieval Rajasthan (1500-1800) by Mohammad Habib, Medieval India, A Miscellany, Vol. II, Aligarh, 1972, pp. 342-43.

164 Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, pp. 192-93.

165 Foster, Early Travels, pp. 113,114; Tavernier, I, p. 38.

166 Bernier, p. 228; Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, p. 187.

167 Pelsaert, p. 60.

168 Barani, p. 316.

169 Firoz Shah, Fatuhat-i-Firoz Shahi, Aligarh, 1954, p. 2.

170 Afif, pp. 446-50.

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