How Islam came to India and why now it needs to go from India – 12 : economic decline under Islam – fate of producers

Posted on September 2, 2008. Filed under: Hindu, India, Islam, Muslims, Politics, religion |

The fate of the Indian producers under Islam :

The quality of work of the urban artisans and craftsmen was internationally acclaimed and without parallel in the Muslim world as testified by Timur who invaded India in 1398, was highly impressed with Indian craftsmen and builders and on his return home from India he took with him architects, artists and skilled mechanics to build in his then mud-bricked Samarqand, grand edifices. Babur too was pleased with the performance of Indian workmen and described how thousands of stone-cutters and masons worked on his buildings in Agra, Sikri, Biana, Dholpur, Gwalior and Koil and “In the same way there are numberless artisans of every sort in Hindustan”.[Baburnama]

Up to the 13-14th century, contemporary Indian writers and foreign travellers do not generally talk about poverty and give an impression of the relative prosperity of the agrarian producer. Poverty or deprivation is not mentioned among the detailed and numerous socio-economic observations and studies of Hindus by Alberuni, the famous 11-th century scholar companion of Mahmud Gaznavi. Minhaj Siraj, Ibn Battuta, the Shihabuddin Abbas Ahmad in his Masalik-ul-Absar,  Al-Qalqashindi in his Subh-ul-Asha, Amir Khusrau and Shams Siraj Afif (13-14th centuries), talk of the prosperity of the people. Barani conveys his overwhelming glee at the actions of contemporary Muslim rulers against prosperous Hindu landlords and cultivators. Ibn Battuta writes “When they have reaped the autumn harvest, they sow spring grains in the same soil in which autumn grains had been sown, for their country is excellent and the soil is fertile. As for rice they sow it three times a year”.  Shams Siraj Afif testifies to the prosperity of Hindu Orissa when Firuz Tughlaq’s invaded it as “The country of Jajnagar was in a very flourishing state, and the abundance of corn and fruit supplied the wants of the army, the numbers of animals of every kind were so great that no one cared to take them. Sheep were found in such countless numbers”. [Similar references can be found for the south in Kincaid and Parasnis, A History of Maratha People, I, Yule – Ser Marco Polo and for rural Vijayanagar in particular by Abdur Razzaq in Mutla-us-Sadain, Eliott and Dowson, Domingo Paes and Fernao Nuniz also indirectly indicate this through their description of items of common consumption traded in the urban markets]. Typically where and when Muslim power became weak, the prosperity of the ground level producers appear to increase. For example when the Delhi Sultanate weakened in the 15th century, or in areas outside the control of Islam, such as Orissa until the very late Sultanate and early Mughal incursions, or Vijaynagar in the south [mostly modern Karnataka, but almost coast to coast and a much larger extent at its peak say under Devaraya III or KrishnadevaRaya] from the peak Sultanate period to early Mughal period. Archaeological excavations around the Khajuraho site in Madhya Pradesh, has revealed the presence of extensive fortifications and innumerable temple sites with obvious indications of a high level of culture and consumption backed by a sound economy- not unnatural perhaps for pre-Islamic India, but what is strange is the fact that this seems to be a sexually, militarily and economically thriving Hindu kingdom flourishing in the middle of Islamic military dominance of the Delhi Sultanante at its peak power in central and northern India with the highly significant reality that cultural icons of Hindus including massive temples from this Delhi Sultanate period only survive in kingdoms that militarily resisted the Muslims for a long time into the Sultanate period – the Bundelkhand region and Orissa.
By the late Sultanate and Mughal period however almost all foreign and many Indian writers like Domingo Paes, Fernao Nuniz, Linschoten, Salbank, Athanasius Nikitin, Varthema, Barbosa, Hawkins, Jourdain, Sir Thomas Roe  talk of the grinding poverty of the Indians. Pelsaert, the Dutch traveler during Jahangir’s reign, writes: “The common people (live in) poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe, their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking”. His contemporary Salbank, writes of people between Agra and Lahore says that the “plebian sort is so poor that the greatest part of them go naked”.[Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar]. Medieval India under Muslims inherited an agriculturally and technologically resourceful economy from the pre-Islamic period [an economy that had sustained the enormous looting careers of the Islamic horde for nearly 500 years], and the Islamic historiand as well as Mughal court records show the obscene luxury and wealth  of the Mughals and their minuens. These records also point out the inherent features of Islamic rule that impoverished and almost ruined the Indian economy.
In Contrast to Central Asia, Persia or Afghanistan, the conquest of India as well as conversion of its people was only partial. This fact is usually held up by Islamic apologists as grand proof  of the “tolerance” of Islam and its spread “not by the sword”, as I come across the infinite arrogance of statements both from Muslims as well as White Christian “scholars-in-love-with-Islam”‘s profound wisdom – that “the Muslims who ruled India for 1000 years could have crushed and converted the Hindus completely if they wanted to”. They can get away with this moronic misutilization of their own ignorance, because the Thaparite School of Indian History which declares itself the sole speakers on behalf of India and Indians have managed to completely erase the records of the persistent non-Muslim resistance beginning right from the fall of the Chahamans and Gahadavalas until the dissolution of the Mughal empire by the Sikhs, Marathas, and Rajputs. The Muslim chroniclers’ trumpeting of unqualified victories for their Turko-Afghan or Mongol kings are matched by a significant number of inscriptions of Hindu kings claiming military successes.[A.B.M. Habibullah-s The Foundation of Muslim Rule in India, First ed., Lahore, 1945].

The Sultanate and the Mughal period shows almost continuous stiff resistance to Muslim rule and many parts of India under Muslim rule erupt into open rebellion. As we will see later this was one weakness of the Islamic setup in the same way that the pressures of the Cold War brought the USSR down – this resistance needed maintenance of ever increasing number of military personnel thereby increasing the drain on the economy in several crucial ways. To suppress the resistance, apart from more traditional Islamic ideas of spectacular tortures that shows a much greater understanding of Sadism in Islam than De Sade himself, Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316) decided that it was “wealth” which was the “source of rebellion and disaffection. It encouraged defiance and provided means of revolt”. Barani reports that he and his counsellors apparently came to the conclusion that if somehow people could be impoverished, “no one would even have time to pronounce the word rebellion”. Barani says that the Islamic theologians in Alauddin’s employ declared that the Hidaya stipulates that when an “infidel country” is conquered, the Imam can divide it among the Muslims. He can also leave it in the hands of the original inhabitants, “exacting from them a capitation tax, and imposing a tribute on their lands. If the infidels are to lose their lands, their entire moveable property should also be taken away from them. In case they are to continue with cultivating the land, they should be allowed to retain such a portion of their moveable property as may enable them to perform their business.”[trs. of the Hidaya, Chapter IV – by Charles Hamilton] The Sultans divided the conquered land among Muslim officers, soldiers and Ulema in lieu of pay or as reward. Some land was kept under Khalisa or directly under the control of the ruler. But in almost all cases the agrarian labourer remained the original Hindu cultivator. As an infidel he was to be taxed heavily, although a minimum of his moveable property like oxen, cows and buffaloes (nisab) was to be left with him [Muhammedan Theories of Finance, Aghnides].   The Shariah stipulation was to leave with the original cultivator only as much as would be necessary to maintain production, but ensure that they remained at the bare subsistence level. This was the principle used by Muhammad in many of his take-overs of the fertile oases or land made fertile by the hard labour of Jews. It is significant to note that a recent TV documentary on the “Moors” in “Al Andalus”, the commentator laments the “Christians” living off the “Islamic agrarian producers” for a whole year without ever mentioning that it was simply a very old and Sunnah supported Islamic practice as applied to Muslims themselves.

For Moreland “the question really at issue was how to break the power of the rural leaders, the chiefs and the headmen of parganas and villages” [Moreland, Agrarian System of Moslem India] prompting Sultan Alauddin to enforce a series of measures to crush them by striking at the economic basis of their defiance [Barani – Fatawa-i-Jahandari] which affected the entire social structure of non-Muslim communities. Alauddin started by raising the land tax (Kharaj) to fifty percent [compared to IltutmishBalban’s usually and formally one-third of the produce but in reality perhaps much more to satisfy the private greed of Muslim collectors in the field]. Further all the land occupied by the rich and the poor “was brought under assessment at the uniform rate of fifty per cent” thereby reducing the chiefs practically to the position of peasants. Alauddin levied house-tax and grazing tax, and all milk-producing animals like cows and goats were taxed. According to Farishtah, animals up to two pairs of oxen, a pair of buffaloes and some cows and goats were exempted. This concession was declared to be on the principle of nisab, namely, of leaving some minimum capital to enable one to carry on with one’s work.[Hidaya,Muhammedan Theories of Finance-Aghnides].  There were additional taxes like kari, (from Sanskrit/Hindi Kar), charai and Jiziyah. The sultans of Delhi collected Jiziyah at the rate of forty, twenty and ten tankahs from the rich, the middle class and the poor respectively.[Afif]

The Sultan had “directed that only so much should be left to his subjects (raiyyat) as would maintain them from year to year without admitting of their storing up or having articles in excess.” Alauddin’s punitive taxation were highly lauded by the Islamic writers. In India contemporary writers like Barani, Isami and Amir Khusrau praised his role as “a persecutor of the Hindus”. Foreigner Maulana Shamsuddin Turk, a Muslim theologian from Egypt, was delighted to observe that Alauddin had made “the wretchedness and misery of the Hindus so great and had reduced them to such a despicable condition that the Hindu women and children went out begging at the doors of the Musalmans.”[Barani, Isami, Futuh-us-Salatin, Agra text, Tarikh-i-Wassaf, Bombay Text, Book IV-V]. Summing up the achievements of Alauddin Khalji, the contemporary chronicler Barani emphasises, “that by the last decade of his reign the submission and obedience of the Hindus had become an established fact. Such a submission on the part of the Hindus has neither been seen before nor will be witnessed hereafter.” Thus all sections of Hindu society both the economically well off and the worst off were all reduced to poverty, and the Hindus in general were impoverished to such an extent that there was no sign of gold or silver left in their houses, and the wives of Khuts and Muqaddams used to seek odd jobs in the houses of the Musalmans, work there and receive wages.[Barani] The poor peasants (balahars) suffered horribly to the great joy of Ziyauddin Barani, [who is also a Maulana] who celebrates the suppression of the Hindus, and writes in greatdetail about the utter helplessness to which the peasantry had been reduced because the Sultan had left to them bare sustenance and had taken away everything else in kharaj (land revenue) and other taxes.[Barani]

Such a huge taxation burden could not be sustained and “One of the standing evils in the revenue collection consisted in defective realization which usually left large balances,”[R.P. Tripathi, Some Aspects of Muslim Administration],  added to the corruption and extortion of low-level revenue officials. Sultan Alauddin created a new ministry called the Diwan-i-Mustakhraj which was entrusted with the work of inquiring into the revenue arrears, and realizing them.[Barani]  In addition Alauddin anticipated the modern Indian governments [which has resulted in a disincentive for the grain-basket Punjab’s wheat farmers having tangible effects on the wheat reserves] by almost 700 years by compelling the peasant to sell all of his surplus grain at government controlled rates for replenishing royal grain stores which the Sultan had ordered to be built in order to sustain his market control  [ Lal, History of the Khaljis] After Alauddin’s death (C.E. 1316) most of his measures appear to have been discontinued for a short time, but Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq who came to power in C.E. 1320 and revived Alauddin’s laws ordering that “there should be left only so much to the Hindus that neither, on the one hand, they should become arrogant on account of their wealth, nor, on the other, desert their lands in despair.”[Barani],  Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s, [a successor of Ghyiasuddin] enhancement of taxation went even beyond the lower limits of “bare subsistence.” and the people left their fields and fled. This enraged the Sultan and he went on hunting parties to kill them as wild beasts. [Hajiuddabir, Zafar-ul-Wali; Barani; Ishwari Prasad, A History of the Qaraunak Turks in India]

Both W.H. Moreland and Irfan Habib [Agraraian System of Mughal India], who have specially studied the agrarian system of Mughal India, agree that the basic object of the Mughal administration was to obtain the revenue on an ever-increasing scale. The share that could be taken out of the peasant’s produce without destroying his chances of survival was the fundamental . In Akbar’s reign, in Kashmir, the state demand was one-third, but in reality it amounted to two-thirds [W.H. Moreland, From Akbar to Aurangzeb]. The Jagirdars in Thatta (Sindh) took half as tax. Geleynsen writes in 1629 that in Gujarat the land tax was three-quarters of the harvest. This is supported by De Laet, Fryer and Van Twist. [Moreland in Journal of Indian History, IV, pp. 78-79 and XIV, p. 64]. Abul Fazl, the administrative chronicler of Akbar writes that “evil hearted officers because of sheer greed”, used to proceed to villages and mahals and sack them. [Abul Fazl, Akbar Nama, Beveridge’s translation].  By Shahjahan’s period, as we have already mentioned,  Manucci describes how peasants were compelled to sell their women and children to meet the revenue demand. Manrique writes that the peasants were “carried off to various markets and fairs, (to be sold) with their poor unhappy wives behind them carrying their small children all crying and lamenting”. Bernier writes that the “unfortunate peasants who were incapable of discharging the demands of their rapacious lords, were bereft of their children, who were carried away as slaves.” The weeping widower ShahJahan who found time to console himself with the captured younger women of Hindus from his raids [look at part 1 of this series on enslavement] further proved his Thaparite “lack of religious motivation” by ordering that such Hindus peasants and their family should be sold to Muslim buyers only. Given this scenario, the peasantry had no interest in cultivating the land. Bernier observes that “as the ground is seldom tilled otherwise than by compulsion, the whole country is badly cultivated, and a great part rendered unproductive. The peasant cannot avoid asking himself this question: Why should I toil for a tyrant who may come tomorrow and lay his rapacious hands upon all I possess and value without leaving me the means (even) to drag my own miserable existence? – The Timariots (Timurids), Governors and Revenue contractors, on their part reason in this manner: Why should the neglected state of this land create uneasiness in our minds, and why should we expend our own money and time to render it fruitful? We may be deprived of it in a single moment. Let us draw from the soil all the money we can, though the peasant should starve or abscond”. This encouraged the revenue collector to be extremely exploitative on the and the peasantry fatalistic and disinterested. The result, according to Bernier, was “that most towns in Hindustan are made up of earth, mud, and other wretched material; that there is no city or town (that) does not bear evident marks of approaching decay. Wherever Muslim despots ruled, ruin followed” so that similar is the “present condition of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Palestine, the once wonderful plain of Antioch, and so many other regions anciently well cultivated, fertile and populous, but now desolate. Egypt also exhibits a sad picture.”

part 13: economic decline – fate of the producers – effects of taxation

part 1: enslavement of non-Muslims of India

part 4: myth of peaceful role of Sufis in conversion

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3 Responses to “How Islam came to India and why now it needs to go from India – 12 : economic decline under Islam – fate of producers”

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very well written article. when i studied history written by the indian historians, i was made to believe that islam came to india because hinduism was bad etc, it has no casteism etc. but when i started hearing about sunny-shia rivalry during iran-iraq war, i knew something was wrong. shame on indian historians

Dear Dikgaj,

I am really thrilled to read this 13 part (so far) and I would like to translate it to Tamil Language so that many Tamil people who think that Islam is a ‘Religion of Peace’
May I have your permission please?

Dear Dikgaj,

I am really thrilled to read this 13 part (so far) and I would like to translate it to Tamil Language so that many Tamil people who think that Islam is a ‘Religion of Peace’ can really know what is real Islam
May I have your permission please?


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