ETHNONYMS: Landlord, Seth, Zemindar
Zamindars are from the Muslim Rajput castes who settled in rural areas of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, from Pakistan to Bangladesh. Horsemen of these lineages were of higher status, while the foot troopers were from the lower castes. The root words, zamin and dar, are Persian, together meaning "landowner." Relationships of the Zamindars with the premodern state varied from region to region, as did the origin of the Zamindar class. Among examples mentioned by Tom Kessinger are caste or lineage groups that conquered an area, or at least became the dominant settlers there; officials who were able to make their land grants hereditary; rajas who had held on to some land after being deposed; and the descendants of holy men (Sadhus) who had received grants of land. In each case the crucial factor was state recognition of a responsibility on the part of Zamindars to collect and transmit revenue from a specified area. From a local point of view Zamindars, wherever they existed, were always a force to be reckoned with; for not only did they have an official sanction to collect revenue, but they could commonly back up their position with fortresses and small contingents of armed enforcers. These Zamindars were in charge of supervising new immigrants to the village and of organizing lands for cultivation. In return for their effort a share of the product was taken by them. The right of ownership of the land was through Descent within the same family. Division of land was never marked specifically; therefore, land was jointly held and the income shared. Under the British, landownership was formalized for the organization of tax revenues. In 1857, permanent ownership was granted to those with land occupancy and Zamindars were held responsible to pay taxes to the government in cash and not in grain. In some areas, as in Dhanbad District, Uttar Pradesh, the amount of rent paid by cultivators to the Zamindars was not controlled by any law but rather was established at the will of the Zamindars. As time passed Zamindars gained power while the cultivators became weak and abused. Before the abolition of the Zamindari System in 1948, the Zamindars had the habit of spending money frivolously, often to the point of having to borrow more money to pay off their debts. The situation caused them loss of prestige and honor. In contrast to the district of Dhanbad is the village of Mohla in the district of Gujrat in Punjab State, where land and prestige go hand in hand. Zamindars there have certain obligations toward the farming people that make them trustworthy persons.
Economy and Social Organization
Social status ranges greatly according to the amount of land owned by any given Zamindar man. He is variously identified as a generous, authoritarian, logical, and friendly person, along with his patrilineage. A Zamindar man's chief concern is for his land and its productivity. He depends greatly on other people for their labor, especially on the artisans, Because they make the tools needed for his land. The largest lands belong to the most powerful and influential Zamindars. They spend, entertain, and associate with prominent people on occasions such as marriage, circumcision, and harvesting. Each such occasion can increase their status, honor, and prestige. The call by a Zamindar to mang (collective labor) is a test of people's loyalty. The main social effect of mang is the reinforcement of relations between the Zamindar and the community.
Zamindars are adopting new cultural changes and improvements. They are willing to go to the cities to learn new ways and introduce them to their village. New equipment for the cultivation of land is being bought, water glasses are now preferred, and tea sets are becoming fashionable. They are moving toward renewing business and raising the standard of living. At the same time, legal ceilings on landholdings in most states have been make it increasingly difficult in recent decades for the Zamindars to hold onto large tracts of land. Nevertheless, they try to do so, often by registering ownership of various plots of land in the names of different family Members, whether male or female. Whatever they do, they never leave the village life behind and cannot be uprooted from it.
Through biraderi (patrilineage), families maintain unity, which is very important in every aspect of life. Land is inherited from the male side by the sons; under normal circumstances none goes to the daughters. If a Zamindar dies Without leaving any sons, then his daughters will inherit. The selling of land cannot occur without consultations with Family members. A Zamindar must then establish a good reason, such as marriage or a need to pay off debts, and if the reason is accepted by others he may sell. The first option to purchase the land goes to his brother, then his brother's son, his Father's brother's son, or any biraderi kinfolk. Zamindars are greatly attached to their biraderi and their village. They prefer to keep land and village in the family, because newcomers do not feel as reliable to them. The strong attachment within a patrilineage enhances the prestige of every member. Inheritance through a mother is called nanki virsa, and people who inherit from a mother are considered outsiders. This latter situation is not the only basis of a woman's dominance in a household. A chief needs the support of his wife and mother to develop his status among his people. Women are in charge of money and the food of the household. Currently women are voicing their own needs, even though they may be hesitant to do so. For a woman to ask for her share of inheritance is a very risky situation, even though the law permits it, Because she is going against her brothers and traditionally such an action would destroy respect. The new law of equality in respect to inheritance has helped women to get their share and not feel guilty. Parents are also concerned about their daughters' education. It has become a strong prerequisite in choosing a respectable mate.
The major function of marriage is to form a bond between two families or to strengthen a previous bond. As in other parts of India the two families investigate the social and financial status of each other. They normally choose a mate close in age and skin complexion, the male being slightly older. Zamindars marry within their status category among other Zamindars. Marriage with other working-class people is disapproved of and done without paternal consent. The girl's parents are content when their daughter is treated well by her groom's family and is given a fair amount of gifts. The boy's family is pleased according to the amount of dowry brought and later gift giving by her family to the wife, her husband, and her children every time she visits her natal home.
Islam is devoutly followed by most Zamindars and it seems to be the uniting factor among them. They do not evaluate each other on the basis of caste. They believe that all belong to one caste and that it is Islam. To the Zamindars, the caste system borrowed from the Hindus is the equivalent of an occupational class structure. People celebrate every religious holiday and occasion. The wealthy Zamindars send food, sweets, and drinks to the mosque during the month of Ramadan (the fasting month). Prayers are said five times a day in the mosque over the loudspeakers. The people have put their faith in the hands of God, because they believe that God does not punish but helps. Zamindars also believe that while People must strive for a prosperous life, they must not let the material attachments of life hold them down. It is through prayers that they reach toward God and depend on his help. Zamindars in more easterly parts of the Indo-Gangetic plain tend to be Hindus, except for those in Bangladesh who again are Muslim.
See also Kambi
Kessinger, Tom G. (1974). Vilyatpur, 1848-1968: Social and Economic Change in a North Indian Village. Berkeley: University of California Press. Reprint. 1979. Delhi: Young Asia Publishers.
Metcalf, Thomas R. (1979). Land, Landlords, and the British Raj: Northern India in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.
Rothermund, Dietmar, and D. C. Wadhwa, eds. (1978). Zamindars, Mines, and Peasants: Studies in the History of an Indian Coalfield and Its Rural Hinterland. New Delhi: Manohar.