[History] Consequences of British Tenure systems

Consequences of British Tenure Systems

Land becomes a property
Before British
During British rule
1.   Private ownership of land did not exist land belonged to the village community
2.   Land was never treated as the property of the kings - benevolent or despotic, Hindu, Muslims or Buddhist.
3.   Land was not treated as individual cultivator’s property either.
1.   Introduced private ownership of land
2.   This divided village into 1) landlords 2) tenants 3) labourers
3.   This material transformation the agrarian society in India witnessed profound social, economic, political, cultural and psychological change.
4.   With generations- land kept dividing among sons=>land fragmentation, diseconomies of scale, lower production.
Panchayat Lost Prestige
Land matters and civil disputes were adjudicated by Panchayat within the village.
1.   Farmer had to approach British courts for matters related to Revenue, property attachment, debt-mortgage etc.
2.   Panchayats lost their power and prestige.
Food  insecurity
Farmers usually grew foodcrops- wheat, maize, paddy, jowar, bajra and pulses.
1.      Since British demand revenue in CA SH, farmers resorted to growing cash crops: indigo, sugarcane, cotton=> Area under food crop cultivation declined.
2.      Then, Lacks of People would die of starvation during famines.
3.      Even after independence and before green revolution- India was not self-sufficient in grain production.
4.      At independence India was faced with an acute food shortage near-famine conditions in many areas.
5.      Between 1946 and 1953 about 14 million tonnes of food grains worth Rs 10,000 million had to be imported = ½ total capital investment in the First Five Y ear Plan (1951–56).
1.   Kings constructed ponds, canals and wells to improve agriculture
2.   Irrigation taxes were moderate
1.      British did construct new  canals:- More area brought under cultivation, particularly in Punjab. But most canals caused salinity and swamps=>declined productivity over the years.
2.      T axes on Irrigation were quite high. Therefore Canal irrigation was used to grow sugar, cotton and other cash crops, instead of food crops=>food insecurity, starvation and death during famines.
Cash economy &  indebted farmers
1.   Land Revenue was paid in kind.
2.   Village was a self-sufficient economy with cooperative units.E.g. blacksmith would make farm-tools, would get yearly payments in grains/kind.
3.   Moneylending, mortgaging were negligible.
4.   Collective village life based on common economic interests and resultant cooperative relation.
1.    British obliged the farmers to pay revenue in cash and not in kind.
2.    The land revenue was increased arbitrarily to finance British wars and conquests. But the farmers had no right to appeal in the court of law.
3.    Farmers had no understanding of cash economy + frequent droughts and famines
4.    Hence they had to borrow money from unscrupulous grain traders and money-lenders=> compound interest rate, perpetual indebtedness.
5.    Eventually, the typical Indian villager was stripped of all savings, caught in debt trap, mortgaging almost everything-whether personal jewelry, land and livestock, or tools and equipment.
6.    A new village came-where existence was based on competition & struggle among independent individuals.
Rural Industry destroyed
1.   India was steadily becoming more urbanized,
2.   Significant portion of the Indian population living in large or small towns.
3.   Even in Villages, there was skilled artisans like weavers, potters, carpenters, metal-workers, painters etc.
1.  De-urbanization and de-industrialization of India
2.  Greater pressures on agriculture since large categories of highly skilled artisans and non-agricultural workers were thrown out of work.
3.  When the British left, India had become a village-based agricultural economy.
4.  Trade tariffs and excise duties were set so as to destroy Indian industries, and squeeze domestic trade.
5.  Bihar and Bengal: severe restrictions were placed on the use of inland water-ways causing fishing and inland shipping and transportation to suffer.

Lack of Capitalist Agriculture

In most economies, the evolution is traditional farming=>capitalist farming methods. But in India, it did not happen, why?

1.      Large landowners in zamindari and ryotwari areas leased out their lands in small pieces to tenants.

2.      Small tenants continued to cultivate them with traditional techniques= low productivity.

3.      Rich farmers/ zamindars lacked the risk bearing mindset for capitalist mode of production (i.e. invest more money in seeds, fertilizer, animal husbandry, contract farming,  large-scale capitalist agriculture using hired wage labour under their direct supervision. etc).

4.      Even if they wanted to take ‘risk’, government did not give any agricultural support, credit, insurance etc. yet demanded high taxes.

5.      It is not surprising, therefore, that Indian agriculture, which was facing long-term stagnation, began to show clear signs of decline during the last decades of colonialism.


Before: slavery/bonded labour /Begari almost non-existent.

But During British raj:-

1.      Zamindars gave loan to farmers/laborers and demanded free labour in return.

2.      This practice prevented farmers/laborers to bargaining wages.

3.      Even in ryotwari areas, upper caste controlled the land. Lower caste was reduced to sharecroppers and landless laborers.

Cash economy & indebted farmers

1.      Farmers shifted from food crop to Cash crops. But cash crops need more inputs in terms of seeds, fertilizer, and irrigation, hence farmer had to borrow more. This brought moneylenders, Shroff, Mahajan, Baniya, into limelight- they were in control of village land without any accountability.

2.      Thus British land revenue system transfered ownership of land from farmer to moneylender. Towards about the end of the colonial period, the total burden on the peasant of interest payments on debt and rent on land could be estimated at a staggering Rs 14,200 million

3.      According to RBI ’ s survey in 1954: 93% moneylenders.

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