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Updated: Aug 9, 2021

There is no clear line of division between the Hindu and Mohammedan times the two periods overlap each other. The first incursions of the Arabs, indeed, seem to have left no trace, but the great tide of invasion, which ultimately swept over the greater part of India, began as early as 11th Century A.D. However, the conquest of the whole country was never completed, although for short periods there may have been practically no other ruling power in India. Therefore, there is no precise period of which we can say that the Mohammedans had conquered the country, and had to consider what laws they would impose, and what system of government they would introduce. Probably, each conquest, as it was made, was felt to be precarious, as indeed, it was proved in many cases to be, and the conquerors would be glad to govern through the established agencies and to be content with a tribute, or with collecting the land revenue as it had therefore been collected.

The Mohammedan law indeed speaks of the conquering Imam’s option to leave the conquered inhabitants in possession of their lands, or to eject them; but this was an option which could only be exercised upon a much more sweeping success than that of Mohammedan invaders of India; a success such as those invaders had perhaps been accustomed to attain in their conflicts with the uncivilized races of the desert, but which they could not hope for in India.

The invaders of India were Mohammedans of the Hanafi sect of Sunni School, and the law peculiar to them is chiefly to be found in Fatwai-i-Alamgiri. In this work, together with the Hedaya and other treatises, we find some light thrown, not indeed upon the Indian land system but upon the principles which the Mohammedans applied in their land-system for conquered countries, when the conquest was sufficiently complete to enable them to do so. In other cases they were content with a tribute. Later on the greater part of the country came under their immediate sway and the tributary princes were either expelled or ranked into the position of tax-collectors. The practice of revenue-collection through tributary chief, who had previously collected the revenue on their own account as rajas and were inclined to regard themselves as having a title superior to that of the headman of the village, reduced the status of the headman. There grew up a vague and shadowy but superior claim of an intermediate nature between the cultivators and the State. These intermediaries were quite different from the intermediaries of the British Period. Both in theory and actual practice they were regarded as mere tax-gatherers or state officials; they were not held to possess an indefeasible right of property. The cultivators possessed a permanent, hereditary and transferable right in land, and were liable to pay the land-revenue at the customary orpurganah rates.

The principles followed by of Muslim Rulers can be summed up as follows

1. If the Imam conquered a country by force of arms, he was at liberty to divide it among the Muslims or his soldiers or he might leave it in the hands of the original proprietors exacting from them a capitation-tax called the “Jezya” and imposing a tribute upon their lands known as the “Khiraf.

2. The Khiraj was originally levied to non-Muslims only but later on it was imposed upon Muslims also. In India, however, no conquered land was distributed among the Muslims. Small portions might have been given to soldiers as jagirs but these were generally waste lands.

3. There was another form of the land-tax for Muslims: this was called the “ooshr’, and could only be imposed upon Muslims. The “ooshr” was, of course, a lighter lax, being only imposed on land actually productive and in respect of the actual produce; while the “khiraf was imposed on all land capable of production, whether actually made productive or not.

4. Tax of the same kind as the Khiraj had been before levied under the Persian (Iranian) rulers of the country. This was based upon a division of the produce between the sovereign and the cultivator.

5. The sovereign, in Mohammedan theory, was considered the original proprietor of the land, so long he received a share of the produce. But when this share was commuted into a fixed money rate, he ceased to be a proprietor. In Mohammedan theory, the two modes of assessment implied theoretically a different ownership; the one in the sovereign, or in the sovereign and cultivator jointly, and the other in the cultivator. And in that theory a change in the mode of assessment, which was in some cases allowed by law. would involve a change of the theoretical ownership. Land which had been assessed with the one kind of khiraj was sometimes assessed with the other kind instead; and then it appears to have been considered by Mohammedan jurists that the proprietary rights had been transferred by the change.

6. The wazifa khiraj, depending upon the capability of the soil, and being independent of its actual cultivation, closely resembled in those respects the tax paid by Khudkasht cultivators under the Hindu system. In fact the whole of the assessment in Hindu times was of the same character; the Pyekashts being less bound to the land and more disposed to abandon it under pressure; but being equally obliged while they held it to cultivate and pay the assessment, which was not remitted when they held the land but did not choose to cultivate it

According to the Mohammedan theory the imposition of the wazifa khiraj recognized a proprietary right in the cultivator or taxpayer. This right, was however, only to the productive powers of the soil, without which the cultivator would not be able to meet his liability for the khiraj. This is said of the khiraj lands generally but is perhaps to be restricted to those subject to the wazifa khiraj, since that mode of assessment alone excludes the sovereign from a share in the produce, and renders the cultivator personally liable for the khiraj whether he cultivates the land or not.Under such circumstances alienation would be more easily allowed than if the sovereign continued to be a sharer. It is obvious that the rendering the wazifa khiraj thus implied ownership, the rendering of it, even in a representative or intermediate capacity and not as the actual cultivator, would tend to give a colour of ownership: and it may perhaps in this way be partly explained the assumption of proprietary rights by the Zamindars in later times. Wazifa land, was alienable; no permission was required from the sovereign. It was thus the subject of a more absolute proprietary right than any which has at present come under the notice. The right to alienate was more limited in the case of mukassimah land: land of this class went to the heirs of the cultivator, but could not be sold or mortgaged without the permission of the sovereign and the sovereign himself was considered to have the right to make a grant of such land in some cases. One main difference between the Hindu and the Muslim systems appears to lie in the incidence of land revenue.

During Hindu period the King’s share was 1 /6th of the produce, while the Khiraj was levied l/3rd of the gross produce. Aurangzeb imposed khiraj as 1/2 of the gross produce. Toclar Mai’s Settlement during the reign of Akbar is a great landmark in the revenue systems of the country furnishing the basis for all subsequent settlements. Under this system arbitrary taxes were abolished and revenue was assessed upon the true capacity of the land. The assessment was based upon an accurate measurement of land by an uniform standard instead of the various local standards that prevailed up to his times and elaborate methods were worked out for the ascertainment to the average produce of each bigha of land. The Todar Mai’s settlement was a raiyatwari settlement, and any rights and interests superior to the cultivators were completely ignored. The headman and other intermediaries were remunerated for their services, or received the hereditary dues in the shape either of percentages on the collections from the ryots or of “Nan/car” and held exempt from revenue. During the period of anarchy between the decline of the Mughal empire and British conquest there was a tendency for the growth of semi-feudal interests. As the authority of the slate weakened, and it failed effectively to protect the life and property of its subjects, the villagers came to look upon more and more powerful official and chieftains for protection. The dependence of the villagers naturally led to encroachment upon their rights. When the British rule was established, these headmen, chiefs, talooqdars, etc. were protected and became practically the owners of those villages and proprietary rights were conferred upon the collectors of revenue to the loss and injury of the tillers of the soil.


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