A zamindar, zomindar, zomidar, or jomidar, in the Indian subcontinent was an autonomous or semiautonomous ruler of a state who accepted the suzerainty of the Emperor of Hindustan. The term means land owner in Persian. Typically hereditary, zamindars held enormous tracts of land and control over their peasants, from whom they reserved the right to collect tax on behalf of imperial courts or for military purposes.
The term means land owner in Persian. Typically hereditary, zamindars held enormous tracts of land and control over their peasants, from whom they reserved the right to collect tax on behalf of imperial courts or for military purposes.
In the Mughal official records the term zamindar was used in a very wide sense. It covered petty landholders in the villages, descendants of old ruling families who retained small portions of their ancestral lands as well as the Rajput and other chiefs who exercised autonomous administrative authority in their principalities.
The zamindars had hereditary rights of collecting land revenue from a number of villages which were called his talluqa or zamindari. For the collection of land revenue they used to get a share of revenues which could go up to 25 per cent of the revenue. In Bengal the zamindars paid the state a fixed sum as the revenue of a village, making collection from the individual peasants at rates fixed by custom or by himself.
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In the 19th and 20th centuries, with the advent of British imperialism, many wealthy and influential zamindars were bestowed with princely and royal titles such as Maharaja (Great King), Raja/ Rai (King) and Nawab.
During the Mughal Empire, zamindars belonged to the nobility and formed the ruling class. Emperor Akbar granted them mansabs and their ancestral domains were treated as jagirs. Under British colonial rule in India, the permanent settlement consolidated what became known as the zamindari system. The British rewarded supportive zamindars by recognising them as princes. Many of the region’s princely states were pre-colonial zamindar holdings elevated to a greater protocol. However, the British also reduced the land holdings of many pre-colonial princely states and chieftaincy, demoting their status to a zamindar from previously higher ranks of nobility.
The system was abolished during land reforms in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1950, India in 1951 and West Pakistan in 1959.
The zamindars often played an important role in the regional histories of the subcontinent. One of the most notable examples is the 16th century confederation formed by twelve zamindars in the Bhati region (Baro-Bhuyans), which, according to the Jesuits and Ralph Fitch, earned a reputation for successively repelling Mughal invasions through naval battles. The confederation was led by a zamindar-king, Isa Khan, and included both Muslims and Hindus, such as Pratapaditya. The zamindars were also patrons of the arts. The Tagore family produced India’s first Nobel laureate in literature in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore, who was often based at his estate. The zamindars also promoted neoclassical and Indo-Saracenic architecture.
The difference between his collections and the amount he paid to the state was his personal income. Where the state demand reached the maximum that the peasant could pay, a deduction of 10 per cent was made from the total amount of revenue and paid to the jzamindars as malikana either in cash or in the form of revenue-free land.
The zamindar was not the owner of the land of his zamindari and peasants could not be dispossessed of land as long as they paid land revenue. The zamindars served the state as an agency for collection of revenue and exercised considerable local influence in administrative and social affairs.
They often commanded armed forces and had fortresses. According to Abul Fazl, their combined troops exceeded 44 lakhs. Sometimes the state had to use military force against recalcitrant zamindars for the realisation of revenue.
The general attitude of the Mughal ruling class towards zamindars was unfriendly, if not hostile. Writing in Aurangzeb’s reign Munucci says: “Usually there is some rebellion of rajas and zamindars going on in the Moghul kingdom”. The zamindars were a very powerful class and were to be found all over the Mughal Empire under different names, such as deshmukhs, patils, nayaks, etc.
In some respects of zamindars and the peasants were natural allies in any struggle against the Mughal government. The higher class of zamindars, i.e. tributary chiefs, also rendered military service to the Mughal government. Hereditary succession to zamindari was the general rule.
Zamindari was divisible among legal heirs and could also be freely bought and sold. Normally in the Mughal Empire villages were divided into zamindari and raiyati (non-zamin- dari) areas.