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A zamindar or zemindar ( zamīndār, zamīndār, Eastern Nagari: জমিদার jomidar), was an official employed by the Mughals to collect taxes from peasants. The zamindari system used the existing structure of the bhuiyan land tenure system of the pre-Mughal era by the Mughals as a key economic and political institution to implement the sharia-based Islamic rule over the "zimmi". The practice was continued under British rule with colonial landholders. After independence, however, the system was abolished in Indiamarker and East Pakistan (present-day Bangladeshmarker); it is still current in modern Pakistanmarker.

In Andhra Pradeshmarker, people from the kapu, telaga, balija, Kamma, Reddy and Velama communities were appointed as heads of villages for issues related to revenue, law and order etc. These communities also ruled as kings across Andhra Pradeshmarker and other parts of South and Central India.

Other terms were and are used in various provinces. For example, a zamindar is known as a wadera in Sindhmarker and a jagirdar in Maharashtramarker. In the Punjab, many different terms occur, such as chaudhary, lambardar, and sardar. Malik is an Arabic term used in the Punjab which literally means "king". The word zamindar itself comes ultimately from Persian zamīn, "earth", and the common suffix -dār, "-holder" (as in many of the terms above).

Mughal era

In the Mughal Era, the zamindari system begun to ensure proper collection of taxes during a period when the power and influence of the Mughal emperors was in decline. With the Mughal conquest of Bengal, "zamindar" became a generic title embracing people with different kinds of landholdings, rights and responsibilities ranging from the autonomous or semi-independent chieftains to the peasant-proprietors. All categories of zamindars under the Mughals were required to perform certain police, judicial and military duties. Zamindars under the Mughals were, in fact, more the public functionaries than revenue collecting agents. Although zamindaris were allowed to be held hereditarily, the holders were not considered to be the proprietors of their estates.

The territorial zamindars had judicial powers. Naturally, judge-magistracy, as an element of state authority conferred status with attendant power, which really made them the lords of their domains. They held regular courts, called zamindari adalat. The courts fetched them not only power and status but some income as well by way of fines, presents and perquisites. The petty zamindars also had some share in the dispensation of civil and criminal justice. The Chowdhurys, who were zamindars in most cases, had authority to deal with the complaints of debts, thefts and petty quarrels and to impose paltry fines.

British era

Zamindar was the name of landlords in colonial India.

The zamindari system was a way of collecting taxes from peasants. The zamindar was considered a lord, and would collect all taxes on his lands and then hand over the collected taxes to the British authorities (keeping a portion for himself). The similarities to medieval feudalism are evident.

In the Eighteenth Century, when English and Scots merchants and adventurers began to settle in Mughal India in significant numbers, they noticed a superficial resemblance between the role and status of the zamindari and the landed gentry the Squires or Lairds that were once typical of the British Isles.

Like the zamindari, the English squires and Scots lairds were the leading proprietors in their villages. In addition, they were often entrusted with important judicial and governmental functions, by the Crown in their capacities as Justices of the Peace. It was natural for the British incomers to assume that the zamindari of northern India were a kind of local squirarchy, although there were important differences. Some new Zamindars were old Rajas. Many descended from eighteenth century revenue speculators and military adventurers. Several families are of very ancient lineage, like those claiming Bargujar ancestry and had always been independent rulers at earlier periods of Indian history. They frequently intermarried with the ruling families of the princely states. Their tenants numbered from dozens to many thousands, and under imperial law, had to pay rent to Zamindars to retain rights to their land.

Under the British some of the formerly independent Indian states that were given the status of zamindaris. Some of these zamindars held title to vast tracts of land, which they were required to pay annual rents to the Government of British India. The zamindar of Burdwanmarker was the single largest tax payer in the British Empire, and was referred to as “Maharaja” but in his case it was a non-ruling title and not a princely one. Burdwan and other zamindaris like Darbhangamarker, Bettiah Raj and Dumraonmarker were very wealthy and lived like royalty. Other zamindars, i.e. Cossimbazarmarker and Tekari Rajmarker, apart from these used to be small estates such as kanhauli and two more in which the kanhauli was run by sukul babus having a monthly income of approx rs.3,00,000and area covering thirtyfour thousand acres of land with a vast bungalow namely lalpakka and a renowned singh dwar,used part of their revenues to improve the lot of their tenants through schools, hospitals and other public institutions.

Zamindari mansions were generally large, spacious homes built of stone and teak wood, with a wraparound porch and rooms leading off from a large central courtyard, although this varied with the region. The mansion was a part of a vast estate

By the zamindari system all the public lands were brought under the zamindar's control.

After independence in India

The zamindari system was mostly abolished in India soon after its independence with the 44th amendment to the constitution of India which amended the right to property as shown in Article 19 and 31. This allowed the states to make their own "Zamindari Abolition Acts".The term is usually associated with the aristocracy as zamindars are still considered to be of the landed gentry. Zamindars tend to marry into families of the same social class; however, there have been cases of impoverished nobles marrying into rich families with no titles (this is sometimes considered marrying into the same social class, even if the other family is not of the nobility).

After independence in East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh)

The abolition of the zamindari system (which divided the society into lords, owners of property, and commoners, users of property) in East Pakistan immediately after accession from Pakistan as a separate state was a major landmark in Bangladesh's movement to the comparatively balanced democratic "people's state" that it has evolved into.

In West Pakistan (present day Pakistan)

In Pakistanmarker the zamindari System is still present, especially in the provinces of Sindhmarker and Punjabmarker. Zamindars are known by different terms in different provinces. In Sindhmarker, for example, zamindars are known as Wadera, while in Punjab, different terms such as 'Chauhdari', 'Lambardar', 'Sardar' and 'Malik' are used. This situation has primarily resulted in a feudal system perpetrating the Pakistan Senate and its elected representatives. Almost all elected leaders of the State have been from the landed and feudal gentry. Most Presidents and prime ministers also have been from Feudal stock, with the exception of Martial law administrators and Generals who led coups to power.

See also


  1. Irfan Habib, 1963. The Agrarian System of Mughal India, 1526-1707, Oxford University Press, (2nd rev. ed. 2000) ISBN 0195623290 For the meanings of zamindar see pp. 140ff.
  2. "zamindar" in the American Heritage Dictionary
  3. Lives of the Indian Princes by Charles Allen & Sharada Dwivedi; Crown Publishers, Inc – New York 1985 ISBN 0517556898

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