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CBSE Notes | Class 12 | History | Chapter 2 - Colonialism And The Countryside

The chapter introduces students to the colonial administrative procedures and tax culture during the British raj. The chapter highlights various land revenue systems in India: Ryotwari, Taluqdari, Zamidari & Mahalwari systems. It also describes the people of the hills; Paharias and Santhals. Further, the chapter concludes on the role that India played during the American civil war and the Cotton boom.

Bengals And The Zamindars


Bengal was the first state to experience colonial rule. The earliest attempts were made here to reorder rural society and establish a new regime of land rights and a new revenue system.

Auction in Burdwan

There was a fixed revenue system in Bengal; the zamindars had to pay a fixed amount. Those who fail, their states were to be auctioned to recover the revenue. 

Hence, in 1797 an auction was organised in Burdwan, many people participated in the auction and the states were to be sold to the highest bidders. It was also seen that the auction was controlled indirectly by the zamindars.

The bidders or purchasers turned out to be servants and agents of the raja who had bought the lands on behalf of their master.

What was the revenue system?

The rural economy in Bengal was adversely affected by the recurrent famines and declining agricultural output. The rates of the revenue were permanently fixed in Bengal.

It was felt that by investing in the agricultural sector, trade and revenue resources of the state would improve. It was also hoped that the process would lead to the emergence of a class of yeomen farmers and rich landowners who would have the capital and enterprise to improve agriculture.

The Permanent Settlement was made with the rajas and taluqdars of Bengal. The zamindar was not a landowner in the village, but a revenue Collector of the state. Zamindars had several (sometimes as many as 400) villages under them.

The zamindar was to collect the revenue and pay the fixed amount to the company and retain the difference as his income. Failing which the zamindars estate was to be auctioned

Why Zamindars defaulted on Payments?

A fixed revenue demand would give zamindars a sense of security and, assured of returns on their investment, encourage them to improve their estates.

The following reasons caused to be the failure:

  • First, the demands were very high, the company argued that the burden on zamindars would gradually decline as agricultural production expanded and prices rose.

  • Second, high demands were imposed when the prices of the production were very low. This caused the failure of the ryots to pay the rent to zamindars.

  • Third, the revenue was invariable and according to the sunset law, if the amount did not come in by sunset, the property was liable to be auctioned.

  • Fourth, limitations were there on the powers of zamindars to collect rent from the ryot.

The rent collection was a major problem because of the ‘Bad Harvest’ it was difficult for ryots to pay the rent, and many of them deliberately delayed the payment.

It was also a fact that rich ryots and village headmen – jotedars and manuals were happy to see the zamindar in trouble. The zamindar could therefore not easily assert his power over them. 

The zamindars’ troops were disbanded, customs duties abolished, and their “cutcheries” (courts) brought under the supervision of a Collector appointed by the Company. Zamindars lost their power to organise local justice and the local police.

The Accounts of Buchanan

Francis Buchanan was a Scottish physician who worked for the East India Company and made significant contributions as a geographer, botanist, and zoologist while in India.

Buchanan searched for natural resources that he could control and exploit, surveyed landscapes and revenue sources, organised voyages of discovery, and dispatched geologists, geographers, botanists, and medical men to gather data; he marched everywhere with a large army of people draughtsman, surveyors, and palanquin bearers at EIC's expense.

Buchanan, for example, was unquestionably an exceptional observer. He was obsessed with observing the stones and rocks, as well as the various strata and layers of soil.

There were no signs of iron ore, mica, granite, or saltpetre. He paid close attention to local salt-making and iron ore-mining practices.

Buchanan's vision and priorities differed from those of the locals: his assessment of what was required was shaped by the Company's commercial concerns as well as modern concerns.

He was always critical of forest dwellers' lifestyles and believed that forests needed to be converted into agricultural lands.

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The Rise of Jotedars

In Francis Buchanan’s survey of the Dinajpur district in North Bengal, we have a vivid description of this class of rich peasants known as jotedars.

The local trade was controlled by the Jotedars. They posed a great influence over the poor cultivators of the region as they lend money to them.

A large part of their land was cultivated through sharecroppers (adhiyars or bargadars) who brought their own ploughs, laboured in the field, and handed over half the produce to the jotedars after the harvest.

They were located in the village and fiercely resisted the efforts of the zamindars to increase the payment. The Jotedars also deliberately delayed the payment to zamindars. They were also among the purchasers in the auction.

In some places they were called haoladars, elsewhere they were known as gantidars or mandals. Their rise inevitably weakened zamindari authority.

The Zamindars Resist

The authority of the zamindars in the rural areas was sustained despite high demand and the auction of their states.

They devised many strategies to survive, like fictitious sales; it required a series of manoeuvres.

The raja transferred the property to the name of his mother since the Company had decreed that the property of women would not be taken over. The auctions were to be manipulated by the agents of the zamindars.

The zamindar’s men bought the property, outbidding other purchasers. Subsequently, they refused to pay up the purchase money, so that the estate had to be resold.

This process continues until the state & other bidder gets exhausted. At last, it was bought at a very low price. The zamindars never paid the full amount also company never recovered their unpaid balances.

The zamindars were so dominant that the outsiders could not take the possessions; their agents were attacked by lathyals of the former zamindars. Sometimes even the ryots resisted the entry of outsiders.

The Fifth Report (1818)

The administration of the East India Company came under the survey, a series of reports were published.

The fifth report in the series was a detailed document of the administration of EIC in India. It ran into 1002 pages – 800 of them were the appendices, report of collectors, statics tables, revenue reports and the administration of madras and Bengal.

What was the report all about?

The EIC was under the umbrella of corruption, many political groups argued that the conquest of Bengal was only benefiting the “EIC” not Britain as a whole.

The Company’s misrule, maladministration and corruption were hotly debated. The British parliament passed a series of acts to control and regulate the rule of ECI in India.

A committee was made to produce regular reports by looking into the affairs of the company. The 5th report was one such report produced by selected committees.

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The Hoe And The Plough

What was the Buchanan description of Raj Mahal hills?

Buchanan Description of Raj Mahal Hills was:

  • The hills appeared Impenetrable.

  • Zone where very few travellers ventured.

  • An area that signifies danger.

  • People were hostile

Buchanan’s journal was written as a diary of places he visited, people he encountered, and practices he saw.

The Paharias

The people who lived in the hills were known as Paharias, according to revenue records from the late 18th century. They lived in the Raj Mahal Hills and relied on forest food and shifting cultivation to survive.

For consumption, a variety of pulses and millets were grown, and the ground was lightly scratched with hoes. The cleared land was cultivated for a few years, then left fallow to recover its fertility, and the farmers moved to a new area.

They gathered mahua (a flower) for food, silk cocoons and resin for sale, and wood for charcoal production from the forest.

They slept in huts in the midst of tamarind groves and ate in the shade of mango trees. They considered the entire region to be their land, and they resisted outsider intrusion.

The Paharias' unity was maintained by the chief, who also resolved internal tribal disputes and led battles. During times of scarcity, the plains were raided on a regular basis, according to records.

Paharias frequently paid zamindars tribute in exchange for peace, and traders paid them to use passages that passed through their lands.

The Interference of the British

As the new reforms in the agricultural sector, the British planned to extend the settled agriculture. The forests were associated with wildness and saw the forest people as primitive and difficult to govern.

A conflict between hill folks and settled cultivators began. The hill folks began to raid settled villages with increasing regularity carrying away food grains, cattle. The colonial officers found it difficult to control and subdue the Paharias.

In the 1770s a new brutal policy of extermination was introduced, for killing the Paharias.

The Policy of Pacification

In the 1780s, the Policy of Pacification was proposed by Augustus Cleveland. (Collector of Baghalpur)

  • Paharia chiefs were given an annual allowance.

  • They were made responsible for the proper conduct of their men.

  • They were expected to maintain order in their localities and discipline their own people.

  • Many Paharia chiefs refused the allowances. Those who accepted, most often lost authority within the community.

The Santhals

They were agriculturalists who lived in Bihar's Raj Mahal Hills. Around the 1780s, the Santhals began to arrive in Bengal. They were hired by Zamindars to reclaim land and expand cultivation, and they were invited to settle in the Jangal Mahals by British officials.

To subdue Paharias and convert them into settled agriculturists, the British turned to Santhals. They were the ideal settlers, cutting down trees and ploughing the land with zeal.

The Santhals were given land and persuaded to relocate to Rajmahal's foothills. Damin-i-Koh, a large area of land set aside for Santhals, was established in 1832. (Present-day Jharkhand). Plains and Pahariyas were separated from the area.

Revenue flowed into the Company's coffers at a faster rate as cultivation grew.

Santhal Revolt (1855-56)

In India's Bengal Presidency, the rebellion began as a reaction to the despotic British revenue system, usury practises, and the zamindari system.

They soon discovered that the land they had worked so hard to cultivate was slipping away from them. The company was taxing their land heavily, and money lenders were charging them exorbitant interest rates.

The zamindars were consolidating their hold on the Damin region. Santhals decided it was time to rebel against zamindars, money lenders, and colonial states in 1850. They required their own ideal world, in which they would reign supreme.

Pargana was formed after the revolt led by Sidhu Manjhi, which carved out 5,500 square miles from the districts of Bhagalpur and Birbhum.

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A Revolt In The Countryside The Bombay Deccan

A movement began on May 12, 1875, in Supa, a large village in the Poona (now Pune) district. It was a market town with a lot of shopkeepers and moneylenders.

Many ryots from the surrounding countryside gathered and attacked shopkeepers, demanding their bahi khatas (account books) and debt bonds. Their 'Bahi khata' was set ablaze, as were their shops and the homes of the 'sahukars.'

The uprising did not stop in ‘poona' (modern-day Pune) but also spread to Ahmednagar. It spread even more over the next two months, covering 6,500 square kilometres.

At every location, the revolt followed the same pattern. The sahukars were so afraid of the Peasants' attacks that they fled their villages.

Village police stations were established to intimidate rebellious peasants and bring the situation under control. 951 people were arrested as a result of the strict command, but it took several months to bring the countryside under control.

Ryotwari System

Outside of Bengal, the Permanent Settlement was rarely extended. Despite an increase in agricultural prices and the zamindars of Bengal's income, the colonial state was unable to claim a surplus share of this increased income.

To increase land revenue, the colonial government implemented a new revenue system, annexed many territories, and made temporary revenue settlements. Cultivators who failed to pay were likely to become rentiers, and their surplus income was unlikely to be invested productively in land improvement.

In the Bombay Deccan, a ‘Ryotwari settlement' was implemented, in which revenue was paid directly to the ryots. The average income from various types of soil was calculated, the ryot's revenue-paying capacity was assessed, and a percentage of it was set aside as the state's share.

Every 30 years, the lands were resurveyed, and the revenue rates were raised. As a result, the revenue demand was no longer stable.

David Ricardo, a well-known Englishman and economist at the time, stated that "a landowner should have a claim only to the "average rent" that prevailed at the time." The landowner had a surplus that the state needed to tax when the land yielded more than this "average rent."

What type of revenue demand was put on by the company?

The first revenue settlement was the Bombay Deccan. The amount of money demanded was so high that many peasants abandoned their villages and moved to new areas.

The problem was particularly acute in areas with poor soil and fluctuating rainfall. This resulted in a harvest failure as well as a revenue payment failure. The revenue collectors were eager to demonstrate their efficiency and please their superiors.

The problem worsened after 1832 when agricultural product prices plummeted and did not recover for over a decade and a half. Famine struck the countryside at the same time (1832-34), killing one-third of the cattle and half of the human population.

The Ryots needed money to survive, so they took out loans from money lenders. They found it difficult to repay the money, resulting in unpaid loans and an increase in the ryot's reliance on money lenders.

By the mid-1940s, the economy had stabilised, and the Colonial administration had realised that the earlier settlements had been harsh and that the revenue demanded was exorbitant.

Cultivators increased their acreage, moved into new areas, and converted pastureland into cultivated fields.

Cultivators were now expanding their land holdings, expanding into new areas, and converting pastureland to cultivated fields. The cultivators were once again reliant on moneylenders for additional funds, as they required more ploughs, cattle, and seeds.

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Cotton Boom

America was the great cotton supplier to Britain before the 1860s, as three fourth of the raw cotton came from America. The British cotton manufacturers were worried about this dependence which caused the formation of the ‘Cotton Supply Association’ in 1857.

In 1859 the Manchester Cotton Company was formed. Their objective was “to encourage cotton production in every part of the world suited for its growth. India was seen as a country that could supply cotton to Lancashire if the American supply dried up.

In 1861 American Civil War broke out a wave of panic spread through cotton circles in Britain. The raw cotton imports from America fell to less than three per cent of the normal. Amid the civil war, cotton production in India was increased

This turned the Sahukars who turned the extended credit to those moneylenders who promised to secure cotton production.

The ryots in the Deccan villages suddenly found access to seemingly limitless credit. They were being given Rs 100 as advance for every acre they planted with cotton. The production in Bombay Deccan expanded while the American crisis continued.

Credit dries up

The Civil war ended in 1865, America revived its cotton production, also the cotton production in India declined. The export merchants and sahukars in Maharashtra were no longer keen on extending long-term credit.

They decided to close down their operations, restrict their advances to peasants, and demand repayment of outstanding debts. While credit dried up, the revenue demand increased.

The ryots were again in trouble as the cotton fields started to disappear, the moneylender now refused loans, as they no longer had confidence in the ryots’ capacity to pay.

The Experience of Injustice

The ryots were enraged by moneylenders' refusal to extend loans. The moneylenders were breaking the countryside's customary norms.

The relationship between the moneylender and the ryot was governed by a number of customary norms. The interest charged could not be more than the principal. This was a general rule.

According to the Deccan Riots Commission's investigation, the moneylender charged over Rs 2,000 in interest on a Rs 100 loan. The ryots filed a complaint against the unfairness of such exactions and the violation of custom.

In petitions that the Deccan Riots Commission collected, ryots described how this process worked and how moneylenders used a variety of other means to short-change the ryot:

  • They refused to give receipts when loans were repaid.

  • Entered fictitious figures in bonds.

  • Acquired the peasants’ harvest at low prices.

  • Ultimately took over peasants’ property.

The new oppressive system was symbolised by deeds and bonds. Such acts were uncommon in the past.

Peasants were forced to sign documents and make thumb impressions on them without knowing what they were signing. They were completely unaware of the clauses inserted by moneylenders in the bonds.

Peasants had no choice because they needed loans to survive, and moneylenders refused to give loans without legal guarantees.

The Deccan Riot Commission

The Bombay government established a commission of inquiry to look into the causes of the riots.

In 1878, the commission presented the British Parliament with the "Deccan Riot Report."

The commission took down statements from ryots, sahukars, and eyewitnesses compiled statistical data on revenue rates, prices, and interest rates in various regions, and compiled district collectors' reports.

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