Essays in Medieval Indian Economic History is part of a four-volume set,
comprising representative articles of Indian History Congress Proceedings (1935-85). In their analysis of the economic history of India during the thirteenth-eighteenth centuries, the essays in this volume delineate a shift from the studies of policies to the working of the revenue system, and its impact on the lives of the Indian people. Further, they highlight patterns and trends of agricultural production, the role of Madadd-i-ma'ash holders, and institutions involved in agricultural expansion and
improvement, and the incidence of rural taxes. The scholarship also marks growing interest in urban studies, and in the structure and role of the business community in India, in relation to the growth of the economy in India, and its relationship to the State. Several articles
deal with subjects as diverse as coinage and mints, and the international debate on the impact of the European trading companies and their system of armed trade and monopoly on the Indian economy and
the Indian business community.
Re-issued in a revised form to synchronize with the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Indian History Congress, the essays in this volume are accompanied by a new preface and an introduction that highlight the changing contours of emphasis, shifting focus/es and methodologies and
projections of research, held under the aegis of the Indian History Congress.
Satish Chandra, former Professor of Economic History of Medieval India, Jawaharlal Nehru University, also served as Vice-Chairman and Chairman of University Grants Commission. His publication, Parties and Politics at the Mughal Court, 1707-1740 broke new ground in Mughal studies. On behalf of the Indian History Congress, of which he has been General (1977) and Secretary (1971-3), he has been responsible for the preparation and publication of several volumes of A Comprehensive History of India.
THE INDIAN History Congress has emerged as a representative organization for a large section of historians in India, providing its members with a forum to present their unpublished research work, using data from across the country. The annual sessions of the Indian History
Congress are invariably attended by senior historians, who provide guidance to young researchers in their endeavours. In its multi-pronged activities, the Congress is perhaps one of the few organizations in India to provide a research and publication forum. To this end, it brings out an edited volume containing selection of the research articles presented at various sessions. In fact, it is the meticulous selection of essays and rigorous editing of the volumes that has given cause for the University Grants Commission to recognize these Proceedings to the level of a referred journal for the purposes of granting Promotion to college and university teachers under the Career Advancement scheme.
During its Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 1987, the Indian History Congress decided to publish three thematic volumes focusing on the Economic history of India. This three-volume set, entitled Indian History Congress golden Jubilee Year Publication Series together contained over a hundred essays, with an introduction by eminent historians. The series met with much success, as it provided a panoramic view of 50 years of changing focuses and emphases of scholars on art, religion, and society and issues related to the historical roots of economic backwardness and the resultant economic under-development in India's colonial past.
These volumes on economic history were also important from another
perspective. While inaugurating the first session of the Indian History Congress 1935, Sir Shafa'at Ahmad Khan remarked that, 'economic history is almost virgin field: In the years following 1935, research in this area gathered depth and pace. In the subsequent decade and, in particular after Independence, considerable literature too was produced on the various aspects of the economic history of India. A nationalistic critique of colonialism during the process of decolonization was a major factor in developing interest in this topic. Meanwhile, since the mid-1950s the Marxist approach too gathered acceptance in the academic world of historians as an important factor in the explication of Historical development. Together, the twin discourses of nationalist critique and Marxist approach became important contributory factors for a heightened interest in the economic aspects of India's historical past.
In challenging the imperialist historiography, Indian historians evolved
Considerable interest in studying society, religion, and art. They posited that Indian cultural past was essentially composite in nature and different
communities lived side by side in a spirit of syncretism. In doing so, historians also examined the nature of religious identities and their role in shaping the contours of societal developments in our past.
Prints of the 1987 three-volume set were soon exhausted. Keeping in view their usefulness and steady demand among scholars as well as students, the Executive Committee of the 71st Session of the Indian History Congress, at University of Gour Banga, Malda, West Bengal, decided to reprint the three volumes, possibly with a new introduction by their respective editors. To this end, I am grateful to Professor Satish Chandra, Professor Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, and Professor B.D. Chattopadhyaya for contributing substantial pieces for the new editions. And, it is indeed a pleasure to have these volumes released as a part of the preparations for the celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee Session of the Congress.
THIS COLLECTION of articles on economic history during the Medieval
period from the thirteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth
century, extracted from the articles printed in the Proceedings of the
Indian History Congress, between 1935 and 1986, was prepared more than a quarter century ago. These articles still remain relevant, but are not easily accessible to serious students of history. Hence this present edition. However in the Introduction I have tried to highlight the main trends of economic history of Medieval India during the period, that is from 1986 to date.
It is evident that during the period the study of economic history has
broadened and deepened. Papers, articles and books carry forward some of the earlier assumptions or postulates on economic development, but also question some of them. Also, they are often posed in the context of social structures. Cultural developments have also been studied in an economic context .... Thus, a holistic picture has begun to emerge.
In the field of agrarian history of India, focus has shifted from the study
of administrative methods adopted by the central government for assessing and collecting land revenue, to how these measures operated at the local level, and their impact on different segments of village society. This has led to a deeper study of the structure of village societies, and the economic and social position and role of different sections there. Segmentation of village society has been worked out in some areas such as east Rajasthan. It has also been postulated that the economically stronger sections in village society-the zamindars and khud-kasht, played a definite role in expanding and improving cultivation. The richer section of the khud-kasht, were actively engaged in expanding cash crops and superior crops (jins-i-kamil) and introducing new crops. However, these
sections also largely appropriated the fruits of development in the area.
In this context, it has been noted that the sharecroppers (muzarian) and
the landless that formed together the majority of village population lived at the marginal or subsistence level. Among them, there was a process of rural migrations in search for better prospects. Some of these pahis or landless which specially included the scheduled castes, did manage to get land in some areas, such as south Rajasthan. Elsewhere, when the state undertook bringing new land under cultivation, some of it was sometimes given to scheduled castes as a reward for their labour Thus, rural society was not totally unchanging.
Study on the role of towns, including small towns (qasbas) has shown that in many of the qasbas, specially those on or near major roads, artisans and traders formed a considerable section. Growth of qasbas reflected growth of rural society because some of the richer peasants also lived there. Both Indian and foreign scholars have engaged themselves in the study of the structure of the state, and its role in the national economy. While the earlier assumption that the Medieval Indian state was inhibitive of economic development' was discarded quite sometime back, according to some scholars it still remained a major obstacle to economic development. According to them, the state demand of revenue was so heavy, and its appropriation among the stakeholders was so lopsided, that it left little room for economic expansion.
This view has been countered by another group of scholars. They consider the Medieval state, particularly the Mughal state, as being basically mercantilist in nature, with the feudal bureaucracy and the royal elements being commerce minded. Hence a fairly close nexus existed between them and the rising class of wholesale traders and financiers (shroffs). According to them, this was reflected in the large-scale use of the hundi-not only for trade but for financial transactions of the state, including land revenue collection.
This debate is carried forward to the eighteenth century: whether the
economy continued to grow during the period, following the decline and fall of the Mughal Empire, or there was a setback in the process of developments, specially during the second half of the century:' One view was that, development received a big set back with the East India Company's domination of Bengal and south India. Another view has been that despite some set backs the economic growth continued, largely till the early part of the nineteenth century. Apart from this controversy, study of economic developments of specific regions, such as Awadh and Bengal, Poona, etc., has been carried forward.
The discussion on the nature of the state and its role in economy has led
to a study of (a) prices during the seventeenth century (sharp rise or stable); (b) role of the rupee nationally and internationally; and (c) mints and their role in the growth of trade and economy.
Discussion about the role and character of the Mughal state-patrimonial
bureaucratic or feudal bureaucratic, and the function and role has also raised questions about the nature and consequences of the concept of an agrarian crisis in the Mughal empire. It has been shown that agricultural production, or the extent of land under cultivation, did not decline. Nor was there any mass migration of peasants. Hence, the agrarian crisis been seen in the context of a developing social crisis whereby the rising class of zamindars and the khud kasht tried to assert themselves, and sharply opposed Mughal revenue and administrative measures, leading to revolt against it in some areas. It has, however, been noted that while these revolts put pressure on the Mughal state, they were not able to open any new avenues of growth or change the existing system.
There has been emphasis on the study of the artisans-both those engaged
in quality and export production, and those working at the local and village levels.
A new aspect which has opened up is women's studies. While a major focus of women's studies has been on their social position, and their cultural role, the position of women artisans, and women workers among the weaker section has received some attention. The position of better off women with respect to their property rights-housing, shops, land, etc., has also received some notice.
Another new field of study which has opened up is the study of mentalities. Such studies go forward from subaltern studies to a deeper study of the position and role of marginal sections, including tribals. Recent studies on mentalities have largely concentrated on the attitude and perceptions of the Mughal ruling class towards religious values, the ruler, and the lower classes. Study on trade and economy has been furthered by the study of the role, structure and composition of the Indian trading classes: overland up to south Russia, and the sea up to Levant. The domination of the sea by foreign traders- Portuguese, French, Dutch, and their role in the economic, social and cultural developments of the country including boat-building has received attention. However, it has been noted that Indian traders remained active, either individually or in partnership of the Europeans. There were shipowners and large merchants among them. Hence they cannot be called peddlers.
Large-scale study of documents in various libraries is still a lacuna which,
when made good, would further deepen and broaden the study of economic history of Medieval India.
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