The Hindu Jajmani System

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Item Code: ISA10
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Author: William Henricks Wiser
Language: English
Edition: 1988
ISBN: 8121500538
Pages: 158
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8" X 5.8"
Weight 330 gm
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Book Description

About The Book:

The Hindu Jajmani System was first published in 1936. To this day it remains the most standard and only work which deals with the Jajmani system. It defines the role of the caste in the economic life of a village community. The author describes the functions assigned by Manu to various castes and how these caste groups interact with each other in the production of goods and services needed by the village community and they try at the same time to function within the framework fixed by Manu despite the social, economic and political changes during centuries. The impact of economic economic development through industrialization has dealt a crushing blow to the Jajmani system. Growth of cities, migration of rural labour, mechanization of agriculture, etc., have made Jajmani system irrelevant today in the Indian village. Yet traces of the system continue to linger. It is an important book for those engaged in the study of village economics and role of caste in it. Economic historians will find it a valuable sourcebook.


This second edition of The Hindu Jajmani System by William H. Wiser will be welcomed by all students of Indian society and culture. Based upon field work and a thorough knowledge of the village community. Wiser's little book is in the best anthropological tradition and an important contribution to our scientific knowledge of Indian village life.

Although first published 22 years ago, Wiser's work is still the only detailed analysis of the jajmani system and represents the first attempt to present as a system, the complex exchanges of goods and services between castes. It provides us with a framework for a better understanding of much discrete data which earlier observers, such as Russell, Crooke, Baden-PowelI, Ibbetson and Darling, described under the heading "village menials", "village servants", artisans, jajmans, kamins, etc. It also facilitates detailed comparative analysis and the application of modern sociological role theory to the relationship between jajman and kamin.

In focusing upon the economic aspects of the caste system, Wiser has done pioneer work; for despite the abundant literature on caste, its economic aspects have been relatively neglected. An awareness of the relationship between caste and economy seems to be missing even in such a standard book as J.H. Hutton's Caste in India (Oxford University Press) in the revised edition of which (1951) there is no reference to the jajmani system or to Wiser's work. Most books on caste have dealt with the problems of its historical origins and development, with the rules governing endogamy, food taboos, ritual purity and caste ranking, and the more dramatic injustices of untouchability. It is common in works about caste for the author to list the castes of a particular region with some account of the traditional occupation of each; but it is a curious fact that the author generally avoids what might logically seem to be a next step, an analysis of how these groups interact with one another in the production and exchange of goods and services.

When Wiser wrote his book he did not know how general or widespread this system might be, although he referred to some passages in the works of other writers which suggested that it had a wide range of diffusion. This conclusion is supported by more recent studies, which give evidence for much of the same kind of system in eastern Uttar Pradesh, parts of Malabar and Cochin, Mysore, Tanjore, Hyderabad, Gujarat, and the Punjab.

Wiser's definition of the jajmani system stresses the element of reciprocity between jajman and kamin and the stabilizing and integrating aspects of the system, but his data also points to the asymmetrical nature of the power relationship. Landownership is clearly the single most important determinant of power in the jajmani system. Indeed, a major function of the system is to assure a stable labour supply for the dominant agricultural caste in a particular region by limiting the mobility of the lower castes, especially those who assist in agricultural work. In spite of Wiser's essentially benevolent interpretation of the jajmani system he is not unaware of the harsh realities inherent in the hierarchical patterns of village life. This awareness is given sharp expression in his book Behind Mud Walls, written in collaboration with his wife, Charlotte Viall Wiser.

"The leaders of our village are so sure of their power that they make no effort to display it. The casual visitor finds little to distinguish them from other farmers. And yet when one of them appears among men of serving caste, the latter express respect and fear in every guarded word and gesture. The serving ones have learned that as long as their subservience is unquestioned the hand which directs them rests lightly. But let there be any move toward independence or even indifference among them, and the paternal touch becomes a strangle-hold ... in every detail of life have the leaders bound the villagers to themselves. Their favour may bring about a man's prosperity and their disfavour man cause him to fail, or may make life so unbearable for him that he will leave the village." (pp. 18-19).

That the ownership of land, including house, sites, is the crucial factor in power position of the jajman, appears in other areas as well. "In the good old days", writes Darling of the Punjab, "village servants were in complete subjection to their 'masters', and this is still largely the case in the feudal north and west. There the fear of ejection from the village is a yoke which keeps the head bowed, and only those who own their own house and courtyard dare assert themselves." (M. L. Darling, Wisdom and Waste in the Punjab, Oxford University Press, 1934, p, 272.) "That the zemindar is all-powerful in such places need hardly be stressed", writes Mohirder Singh. "The threat of demolishing a man's dwelling or ejec ing him there from are powerful weapons in his hand for extorting begar. Till recently the cultivators did not have any rights in their house sites." (M. Singh, The Depressed Classes, Hind Kitabs, Bombay, 1947, p. 35.)

While the landowners are generally of higher caste in Indian villages, it is their position as landowners, rather than caste membership per se, that gives them status and power. In Karimpur, where the Brahmans are the landowners, the traditional caste hierarchy obtains. But in Rampur the Jats own the land, and the Brahmans are subservient to them. Majumdar and his colleagues present a similar picture in their description of the village near Lucknow: "The respect which the Brahmans enjoy is merely conventional; in daily life, however, the Brahmans are treated on an equal footing with the other castes .... The Thakurs are the most influential group of people in the village because they are economically better off. They own most of the agricultural land in the village. They are the landlords who give employment to the other caste people. The various other castes serve the Thakurs as their dependents." (D. N. Majumdar et al. "Intercaste Relations in Gohanakallan, a Village Near Lucknow", Eastern Anthropologist, vol. 8, 1955, p. 211.)

Since the passing of Zamindari Abolition Bills, the key power of landowners may have been curtailed in certain areas. Majumdar and his colleagues, for example, report in the village they studied near Lucknow, where Zamindari abolition has taken place, Chamars now refuse to perform begar, while the barbers refuse to draw water for the Thakurs and will not wash their utensils or remove their leaf-plates any more. (D. N. Majurndar, op. cit., pp. 191-92). However, the occurrence of begar since Indian independence has been noted in some areas-by Gitel Steed, for example, and by Shridar Misra. "Caste Survey in Two Model Villages with Stereo- typed Discriminations", in Intercaste Tensions. University of Lucknow, mimeographed, 1951, p. 58.)

It is true that while a landowner may have both tenants and kamins, the two groups need not be identical. He may have kamins who are not his tenants. This point is made by Opler and Singh, who also note that when there are disputes between Thakurs, the tenants align themselves with their landlords. (M. Opler and R.D. Singh. "The Division of Labour in an Indian Village", in A Reader in General Anthropology, Edited by C.S. Coon, New York, 1948. pp. 464-%.) Perhaps a more crucial consideration, however, is that the Thrkurs in Senapur, like the Jats in Rampur, form a caste group that may (despite factional cleavages and wealth differences) join ranks in solidarity vis-a-vis the lower castes in crucial issues

The lower castes, theoretically at least, have a potential retaliatory weapon in the boycott, or withdrawal of their services. Thus, when the Nais of Rampur were informed of a decision of the Jats to reduce the lug jog paid at weddings, they stopped shaving and cutting their jajman's hair in protest. But the sequel is instructive. The Jats retaliated by buying razors and shaving themselves. This shows that such protests may prove to be self-defeating. It also indicates that the jajmani system may be disrupted by action of either the jajmans or the kamins, or by the cumulative effect of both. (See Lewis and Barnouw "Caste and the Jajmani System in a North India Village", Scientific Monthly, vol. 83 no. 2, August 1956.)

Since Wiser first published his book in 1936 the jajmani system has been weakened by far-reaching social, economic and political changes in India. Among the most important changes have been the increasing population pressure on limited land resources, the zamindari land reforms, the trend from a subsistence to a market economy, accompanied by the greater use of money in the villages, increased off-farm employment, the introduction of labour saving devices, the spread of education, the campaigns against untouch- ability, and the ger eral strengthening of the position of some of the lower castes. Despite these forces, the jajma i system is still an important feature of village life. However, the weakening of the system has led to increased hostility and open violence between castes in many parts of the country and has been disruptive of traditional village unity. Perhaps the new tensions are part of the birth pangs of a new and more democratic social order. Certainly it is difficult to reconcile the semi-feudal, hierarchical values of the jajmani system with L1C expressed ideals of Indian leaders for a modern democratic nation. Moreover, it must never be forgotten that the vaunted unity of the much idealized traditional Indian village, was generally based upon the coercive power of the landholding jajman.


In October 1925, while engaged in Christian rural social service for the North India Mission of the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A., my wife and I were permitted to become camp residents of a village which we call Karimpur. It has a population of 754, consisting mostly of farmers, is located 27° 19' N. and 79° 8' E., in the United Provinces of India, and lies in the fertile area between the Ganges and Jumna rivers. For centuries it has been in the possession of, or under the direct influence of, Brahmans, and furnishes an excellent center for the study of a long-established Hindu village community. Various missionaries of the North India Mission had had occasional contacts with the village over a period of not less than sixty years. Ours was the unique privilege, for the purpose of study, of spending all our time in this one village of five consecutive camping seasons and of retaining intimate contacts with it until March 1931, from our residence at Mainpuri, five and one-half miles distant. A brief sketch of the village and of the people living in it, with some of our personal experiences, are given in our book entitled Behind Mud Walls.

While in the village we heard for the first time the terms "Jajman"* and "Jajmani* Haqq". Gradually we discovered that these terms referred to an established service relationship which was somewhat like the old feudal system, yet unlike it. It contained a mutuality that was lacking in the feudal system. With the help of two Hindu youths, Nawal Behari and Bajrang Pande, we were able gradually to accumulate the information which is given in the following pages. This study was finally prepared during residence in Cornell University under the helpful guidance of Professors Sanderson, Eaton and Boyle.

Students of the Indian village community, like Baden Henry Baden-Powell and Sir Henry Sumner Maine, have been interested more in the blood-relationship and land-tenure rights than in problems of social interrelationship of the villagers. Students of the Hindu caste system have been interested in origins and caste distribution. Students of Indian rural economics like Gilbert Slater, Sir Henry Sumner Maine, and Radhakamal Mukherjee have recognized the presence of an intricate pattern of every-day relationships, but no one has made an attempt to record these relationship. Gilbert Slater writes, "Various strands of economic, social and religious conditions are strangely and deftly interwoven in the web of South Indian life, and low wages, low efficiency, and high abstinence are the ground plan of the pattern." (Some South Indian Villages, p. 7). Sir Henry Sumner Maine says, "Nothing can be more complex than the customs of an Indian village, though in a sense they are only binding on chiefs of families. The examination of these customs, which have for their object to secure a self-acting organization not only for the community as a whole, but for the various trades and callings which fractions of it pursue, does not fall within the scope of the present lecture, but it is a subject full of interest." (Sir Henry Sumner Maine, Village Communities in the East and West, p. 1 J 7.) Radhakamal Mukherjee writes, "In India, where society was not organized after the feudal pattern, the development of the guilds partook of the nature and process of fission and absorption, giving to each group its rights and privileges which were protected by the established traditions of voluntary social co-operation." (Radhakamal Mukherjee, Democracies of the East, p. 293.)

References to the term "jajman", or "jujman" as it is spelled in older literature, are found in court records usually in reference to the employer of a Brahman priest. The priest is referred to as the "purohit" and his rights as "purohiti haqq." We have discovered in Karimpur, however, that the term "jajman" is used for all who have the employer relationship. And the rights involved in the employer-employee relationship are popularly called "Jajmani haqq.' Just how general this "Jajmani" relationship is in the villages of India we are not prepared to state. The fact that Slater, and Pandian in Indian Village Folk refer to the different services in South India, and A.S. Altekar in his chapter on 'Village Occupations' in a History of Village Communities in Western India refers to the "servants of the community" indicates that there is in existence in other parts of India something similar to what we find in North India, Just what it is called in the different vernaculars we do not know.

It is hoped that this analysis of the Hindu Jajmani system as found in a North India village will lead to further studies of a similar sort in other parts of India. These materials will then afford a basis for comparative studies for students of economics, sociology, politics and philosophy in an analysis of what Mukerjee calls the "Communal-Conservative" type of village community,


Foreword   ix
Preface   xv
Introduction   xix


The Brahman   1
The Bhat   6
The Kyasth   8
The Sunar   10
The Mali   12
The Kachhi   13
The Lodha   14
The Barhai, Lohar   15
The Nai   16
The Kahar   17
The Gadariya   18
The Bharbhunja   19
The Darzi   20
The Kumhar   21
The Mahajan   22
The Teli   23
The Dhobi   24
The Dhanuk   25
The Chamar   26
The Bhangi   27
The Faqir   28
The Manihar   29
The Dhuna   30
The Tawaif   30
Non-Resident Services   31





  A. Service   32
  B. Fixed Payment   33
  1. Daily
  2. Monthly
  3. Bi-yearly
  4. Per piece of work
  5. Special occasions
  C. Concessions   54
  1. Free residence site
  2. Free Timber
    (a) For house building and repairs
    (b) For implements
    (c) For fuel
    (d) For cremation
  1. Free food
    (a) Greens
    (b) Fruit
    (c) Grain
    1. Wild rice
    2. Gleanings
    3. Outright gift of grain
    (d) Cooked food and raw sugar
  1. Free clothing
  1. Free food for animals
    (a) Grazing rights
  1. Free dung
    (a) For fuel
    (b) For plastering walls and floors
    (c) For manure
  1. Rent free land
  1. Credit facilities
  1. Opportunities for supplementary employment
    (a) For men
    (b) For women
  1. Free use of tools, implements and draft animals
  1. Free use of raw materials
  1. Free hides
  1. Free funeral pyre plot
  1. Casual leave
  1. Aid in litigation
  1. Variety in diet
  1. Healthful location
  A. Custom and Belief   69
  B. The Influence of Village Elders   71
    (1) In relation to the "Kam Karnewala"
    (1) In relation to the Jajman
  C. Sacred Books of the Hindus   74
    1. Man's position in the universe
    2. Man's duties in the universe
    3. Man's highest goal in the universe
  D. Law of the state   77



  1. The Hindu Jajmani System is a disintegrated form of the Ancient village Commune
  2. The British System of Governments and Law
  3. Functional Changes


  A. Advantage   96
  B. Disadvantages   97
  A. Advantage   97
  B. Disadvantages   100
  A. Advantage   105
  B. Disadvantages   106
  A. Advantage   109
  B. Disadvantages   115
  What can we learn from this system?   119
  What is there in the system that should be protected and continued?   126
  What is there in the system that is of value of the west?   128
  Index   129

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