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History (Optional) Notes, Mindmaps & Related Current Affairs

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  2. FREE Samples
    4 Submodules
    1. Sources
    9 Submodules
  4. 2. Pre-history and Proto-history
    3 Submodules
  5. 3. Indus Valley Civilization
    8 Submodules
  6. 4. Megalithic Cultures
    3 Submodules
  7. 5. Aryans and Vedic Period
    8 Submodules
  8. 6. Period of Mahajanapadas
    10 Submodules
  9. 7. Mauryan Empire
    7 Submodules
  10. 8. Post – Mauryan Period
    7 Submodules
  11. 9. Early State and Society in Eastern India, Deccan and South India
    9 Submodules
  12. 10. Guptas, Vakatakas and Vardhanas
    14 Submodules
  13. 11. The Regional States during the Gupta Era
    18 Submodules
  14. 12. Themes in Early Indian Cultural History
    9 Submodules
    13. Early Medieval India (750-1200)
    9 Submodules
  16. 14. Cultural Traditions in India (750-1200)
    11 Submodules
  17. 15. The Thirteenth Century
    2 Submodules
  18. 16. The Fourteenth Century
    6 Submodules
  19. 17. Administration, Society, Culture, Economy in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries
    13 Submodules
  20. 18. The Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Century – Political Developments and Economy
    14 Submodules
  21. 19. The Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Century – Society and Culture
    3 Submodules
  22. 20. Akbar
    8 Submodules
  23. 21. Mughal Empire in the Seventeenth Century
    7 Submodules
  24. 22. Economy and Society in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
    11 Submodules
  25. 23. Culture in the Mughal Empire
    8 Submodules
  26. 24. The Eighteenth Century
    7 Submodules
    1. European Penetration into India
    6 Submodules
  28. 2. British Expansion in India
    4 Submodules
  29. 3. Early Structure of the British Raj
    9 Submodules
  30. 4. Economic Impact of British Colonial Rule
    12 Submodules
  31. 5. Social and Cultural Developments
    7 Submodules
  32. 6. Social and Religious Reform movements in Bengal and Other Areas
    8 Submodules
  33. 7. Indian Response to British Rule
    8 Submodules
  34. 8. Indian Nationalism - Part I
    11 Submodules
  35. 9. Indian Nationalism - Part II
    17 Submodules
  36. 10. Constitutional Developments in Colonial India between 1858 and 1935
  37. 11. Other strands in the National Movement (Revolutionaries & the Left)
    5 Submodules
  38. 12. Politics of Separatism
  39. 13. Consolidation as a Nation
  40. 14. Caste and Ethnicity after 1947
  41. 15. Economic development and political change
    16. Enlightenment and Modern ideas
  43. 17. Origins of Modern Politics
  44. 18. Industrialization
  45. 19. Nation-State System
  46. 20. Imperialism and Colonialism
  47. 21. Revolution and Counter-Revolution
  48. 22. World Wars
  49. 23. The World after World War II
  50. 24. Liberation from Colonial Rule
  51. 25. Decolonization and Underdevelopment
  52. 26. Unification of Europe
  53. 27. Disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Rise of the Unipolar World
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India, a country known for its vast landscapes and rural communities, witnessed significant changes in its social structure during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This period was characterized by a predominance of agricultural activities and a relatively limited presence of industrial production and artisanal industries. The rural population, particularly peasants, played a vital role in sustaining the society’s overall well-being. This module delves into the intricacies of rural life during this era, highlighting the structure of rural society and the condition of peasants in India.

The Dominance of Rural India

During the Sultanate and Mughal rule, India remained predominantly rural, with approximately 85 percent of the population residing in villages during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. While there are limited historical accounts of life in rural areas during this period, various documents, records, and literary sources shed light on the conditions prevailing in these regions.

Structure of Rural Society

The foundation of rural society in India during this era was the village, which constituted the basic unit of social organization. A typical village encompassed two essential elements: a group of families residing in dwellings and the cultivated land. This simple yet crucial structure laid the groundwork for various social strata that emerged in the rural landscape.

Peasants: The Pillars of Rural Society

Peasants formed the backbone of rural India during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were responsible for the agricultural productivity that sustained not only the rural communities but also the non-rural segments. However, the peasantry was not a homogenous group; instead, it was highly stratified based on various factors.

Wealth and Social Status Divisions

  • Rich Peasants: The privileged class of peasants included individuals such as khudkasht, gharuhala, and mirasdar, who enjoyed considerable wealth and social status.
  • Poor Peasants: On the other end of the spectrum were the rezariaya, malti, and kunbi, who belonged to the less affluent sections of the peasantry.
  • Resident Status: Peasants were further divided based on their resident status, distinguishing between permanent residents (mirasdar, thalkar) and temporary residents (paikasht, upari).

Role of Caste and Kinship

Caste and kinship ties also played a significant role in shaping the hierarchy within the peasantry. People’s position in rural society was not primarily determined by their material wealth but rather by their caste and official designations. This stratification had a profound impact on the social dynamics within the villages.

Resident Cultivators: Riyayatis and Khud Kasht

The largest section of the rural population comprised of cultivators, a majority of whom claimed to be descendants of the village’s original settlers. These cultivators were further divided into two groups: Riyayati/Khud kasht (privileged) and Raiyati (ordinary).

Riyayati/Khud Kasht

  • The riyayati section consisted of resident owner-cultivators.
  • They were known by different names in various regions, such as mirasi in Maharashtra, gharu-hala in Rajasthan, and Khud kasht in Persian.
  • Owning land and cultivating it with family labor, supplemented by hired labor, were the distinguishing features of khud-kasht peasants.
  • Privileges of Khud Kasht:
    • Concessional land revenue rates.
    • Exemption, partial or complete, from various imposts like taxes on marriages and house tax.
    • The khud-kasht status conferred not only economic advantages but also social status, as the resident cultivators formed the village’s governing body, referred to as the bhadralok or the respectable class.
    • Access to village pastures, forest lands, water reservoirs, fishing rights, and the services of village officials were some of the additional privileges.
  • The privileged section or riyayatis also included higher caste individuals like Brahmins, Rajputs, and Mahajans (banias), as well as local village officials like patels or chaudharis, quanungos, and patwaris, many of whom might have originally belonged to the khud-kasht group.


  • The general category of cultivators was referred to as raiyatis or paltis in Rajasthan or muzarians in Persian.
  • Raiyatis could either be owners (malik, dhani) of the land they cultivated or tenants.
  • The land revenue levied on ordinary peasant’s polaj land was typically one-half of the produce, while wheat and bajra were charged at two-fifth.
  • The raiyatis included middle-caste individuals like Jats, Gujars, Malis, Ahirs, Meenas, etc.
  • Raiyati tenants were further categorized into state tenants and dhani tenants, depending on the land they cultivated and their association with various landholders.

Pahis or Outsiders

The khud-kasht peasants contrasted with the pahis or pai-kasht, who came from neighboring villages or parganas to cultivate surplus land, resettle ruined villages, or establish new ones. The pahis were often provided with concessional rates for land, and in some cases, the state or village money-lenders (bohras) provided them with implements, seeds, and other necessities for cultivation. The movement of peasants from one village to another was common, especially during periods of unrest, such as famine or conflicts.

Intermediate Proprietors: Zamindars

The intermediate proprietors were commonly known as zamindars. These individuals claimed a share in the agricultural produce and wielded considerable control over the village, owing to their historical association with the land. Medieval rulers recognized them for their assistance in revenue collection, and they received a percentage of the total revenue collected for their services. However, the zamindars were not a cohesive social group and were fragmented based on caste associations and social ties.

Craft and Service Communities

A significant portion of the rural population in India during this era comprised craft and service communities, including iron-smiths, carpenters, rope-makers, potters, leatherworkers, barbers, washermen, village watchmen, and more. These communities not only provided valuable services to the villagers but also served as a cheap labor source for agricultural work.

In Maharashtra, there were twelve service sectors known as balutedars, who received a prescribed share (baluta) from the village’s produce. Another group called alutedars, mainly found in larger villages, included village priests, tailors, water carriers, gardeners, drum-beaters, vocalists, musicians, oil pressers, betel nut sellers, goldsmiths, and others. The landless and a significant portion of the service classes, including a sizable section of dalits, were designated as kamin or low-status individuals.

Proportions of Peasant Sections

Estimations regarding the proportion of the three principal sections – riyayati, raiyati, and service classes – varied across regions. In eastern Rajasthan, for example, the riyayati or privileged class accounted for 13 percent, the service classes 11 percent, leaving the remainder at 76 percent. While the majority of cultivators belonged to the middle status, larger villages often had a financially affluent minority (asamis), constituting 5 to 10 percent, and a poor section of 15 to 30 percent. These figures exclude the landless and poorer segments within the service classes.

Disparity’s Impact on Rural Growth

The disparity within the rural society of Mughal India had both positive and negative effects on its growth patterns.

Negative Impacts

  • Richer sections often lent money, oxen, ploughs, seeds, and other resources to weaker sections for cultivation but later realized their dues with interest at harvest time. In case of default, they would foreclose the land.
  • During times of famine or unrest, the wealthy peasants would extend their cultivation over abandoned fields, further exacerbating the situation for weaker sections.
  • The state’s minimal interference often led to the exploitation of weaker sections by the richer ones.

Positive Impacts

  • Privileged sections, including village zamindars and wealthy cultivators, played a pivotal role in expanding and improving cultivation.
  • Introduction of higher quality and cash crops, as well as new crops, was made possible due to the investments and organization provided by the wealthy.

Standard of Living in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Rural India

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in India were marked by significant changes in the social structure, with the majority of the population residing in rural villages. This period saw a stark contrast between the lavish lifestyle of the ruling classes and the dismal living conditions of the peasants, artisans, and laboring classes. Similar disparities were observed in “civilized” countries worldwide during that era, including Europe.

Segmented Rural Society

The Indian village was highly segmented both socially and economically, resulting in considerable inequality in land distribution. While there was an abundance of cultivable waste land (banjar) available, its utilization depended on the availability of capital, labor, and organization. The rural society’s segmentation led to considerable inequalities even within the same village, although historical sources tend to treat the rural population as a monolithic block.

Clothing and Scantiness

Clothing served as an index of the poverty prevalent among the rural classes. Men in India, especially peasants and low-status individuals, were often depicted as going about naked, wearing only a cloth (lungi) about the loins. During winter, men wore cotton gowns and caps made of quilted fabric.

Women generally wore cotton saris, but there were regional variations in their clothing. In some areas, women did not wear blouses with their saris, while in others, blouses known as choli or angiya were common. The overwhelming impression was that of scantiness of clothing, which was indicative of the rural population’s poverty.

Jewelry and Housing

Despite their poverty, both rich and poor women adorned themselves with jewelry, which contemporary writers described in great detail. Rural housing largely consisted of mud huts with thatched roofs. Poor households typically lived in single-room dwellings, while the rich had larger houses with several rooms and enclosed courtyards.

Utensils and Diets

Rural households predominantly used earthen pots for cooking, while metal utensils were scarce. The diet of common people primarily consisted of rice, millets, and pulses, with meat being a rarity. Famines and epidemics were common scourges that depopulated villages and caused immense suffering.

Standard of Living of Workmen

Workmen’s wages varied depending on their skills and tasks. Ordinary laborers earned about 2 dams a day, while superior laborers could hope to earn 3 to 4 dams a day. Slaves, who were numerous, lived on nothing except their basic needs. The purchasing power of wages during this period allowed for a higher standard of nutrition than in modern times, primarily due to the availability of cheap meat, ghee, and milk.

Share of Produce Paid by Peasants

The share of produce paid by different categories of peasants varied between one-third to half, depending on factors such as soil quality, landownership, and local customs. Caste also played a role in determining land revenue, with upper castes sometimes paying a concessional rate compared to others.

Social Life in Rural India during the Mughal Period

The social life of rural India during the Mughal period provides us with valuable insights into the lives of the majority of the population, who resided in villages. Although the documentation from this era is sparse, scholars have attempted to reconstruct this aspect of history through scattered information gleaned from contemporary literature and chronicles of the time.

Festivals and Amusements

  • Villagers in Mughal India found respite from their drab lives through various festivals and amusements.
  • Fairs and festivals were frequent and provided opportunities for villagers to buy products not locally produced.
  • Both Muslim and non-Muslim segments of the rural population participated in each other’s festivities, fostering a sense of unity and celebration.
  • Non-Muslim festivals often coincided with specific seasons, aligning with periods of leisure, such as after harvesting.
  • Some of the most popular festivals among non-Muslims were Basant Panchami, Holi, Deepavali, and Shivratri.
  • Muslim festivals like Eid, Shabbarat, and Muharram were influenced by the Indian environment.

Dancing and singing were the most popular forms of amusement among rural masses, providing a source of joy and entertainment.

Village Community

The concept of a “village community” popularized by British administrators and nationalist leaders was used as the basis for Indian democracy. However, there is no equivalent term for “village community” in Indian languages.

  • Villages in Mughal India were heterogeneous and not isolated entities.
  • The village panchayat, dominated by resident cultivators or a few individuals from that section, regulated internal village affairs.
  • Land was not held collectively by the village community; rather, individuals were assessed separately for land revenue.
  • The role of resident cultivators in village affairs weakened with the growing strength of zamindars during the eighteenth century.

Servants and Slaves

European traders and travelers of the sixteenth century noted the significant number of servants and retainers employed by rulers and members of the ruling classes. These servants served ostentation and practical purposes in their large households.

  • The service sector formed a substantial section in feudal societies, offering employment opportunities beyond farming and manual labor.
  • The use of slaves for productive purposes in fields or manufacturing was limited in India during this period.
  • Slaves were obtained from various sources, including hereditary and captured slaves, as well as those sold during famines.

Abul Fazl on Society

Abul Fazl, a prominent figure in Akbar’s court, classified human beings into four categories: warriors, artificers and merchants, the learned, and husbandmen and laborers. This classification reflected existing social realities but also the prejudices of the contemporary upper classes.

  • Abul Fazl downplayed the role of religious classes and sought to prioritize those with administrative, intellectual, and military capabilities.
  • While he acknowledged the need for absorbing men of talent from various classes into the king’s service, his views also reinforced the notion of hierarchy and nobility.
  1. Explain the festivals and amusements in rural India during the Mughal period and their significance in providing relief to villagers. (250 words)
  2. Discuss the role of servants and slaves in Mughal society, and analyze the impact of their presence on the economy and social structure of rural communities. (250 words)


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