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Begar


Begar (forced labour, corvee) a form of social labour without payment. Its origin goes back to the pre-money era when labour was viewed as an important item of exchange. The land of the king and his men and priests were cultivated by peasants in exchange of some tenurial rights in land granted by the king. When the state became a more elaborate and complex affair in later period, the demesne lands of the ruling classes, particularly of the landlords, were worked by their prajas or subjects gratis. This was considered to be a pious act to give free labour to the priestly classes. Village people always gave free labour in working temple lands also. Such a free labour system is not to be confused with the use of slave and bonded labours. Free labour was given either in exchange of some rights obtained in land or some invisible merit obtained from rulers or from priests. It was a social arrangement made possible under the pre-monetised modes of production and social relations.

Under the rules of the permanent settlement, zamindars were entitled to hold demesne land known as neej jote or khamar land. In the absence of agricultural labour, the zamindari khamar lands were cultivated by several types of labourers, such as agricultural slaves, paikasta or non-resident raiyats, and zamindari servants. Every substantial zamindari had chakran tenures under which servants were paid in terms of cultivation of land without requiring paying rent. The payment could be made in kind or in services. But the tradition of begar became an oppressive institution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when population growth was accompanied by large-scale sharecropping or the barga system. By the beginning of the 20th century, the sharecroppers lost their bargaining power due to short supply of barga tenures. Landlords and mahajans took advantage of the situation. Many landlords settled land in barga with the undertaking that bargadars would give not only half the crop, but also free labour in their fields. Bargadars worked for the landlord for a certain number of days without wages. The begar labour was used not only for agriculture, but also to dig ponds and canals, prepare the threshing floor, carry goods to the market, mind cattle, catch fish, and so on. Begar labour was used extensively in the north and northeastern districts where tribal sharecroppers were forced to work as begar in the fields of landlords. There was widespread unrest among sharecroppers from the 1930s. The tebhaga movement of 1946-47 was directed not only against the barga system but also against begar. The abolition of the zamindari system in 1950 led to the abolition of the begar system as well. [Sirajul Islam]