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Jajmani System


Jajmani System a socio-economic institution of the pre-modern and pre-market village economy. Under jajmani system the village community was socially, economically and religiously regulated autonomously mainly by caste and custom. The village life continued without resorting to the use of money and bonded labour. It was an elaborate system of exchange of goods and services between all people of the village.

The system has two institutional connotations ' one religious and the other economic. Religiously, a jajman is one who employs a priest for the performance of any solemn or religious ceremony. Normally, the very same priest is invited to perform a ceremony in a particular locality and the fee payable to him becomes customary and even hereditary. A jajman is usually under obligation to pay the customary fees even when the priest does not perform the ceremony. Religiously, it is an institutional arrangement that makes the priestly class, Hindus or Muslims, dependent for subsistence on the jajmans who constitute its clients. The jajmans or clients pay their dues to the priests impulsively. From religious point of view, the jajman was a kind of tribute payable by the followers to their masters. For both payers and receivers, it was a pleasure. In modern parlance, the system may be called a kind of social domination and subordination on a permanent basis.

In the age of self-subsistent and non-monetised rural economy, the exchange of products and services between the followers of various occupations took place within the framework of jajmani system. The use of money as an exchange medium, be it cowrie or any metal, was minimal under the jajmani socio-economic relations. The village people themselves produced most of their necessaries of life within the limits of caste and occupation. Peasants generally produced food crops, and the non-farm artisans and manials supplied other economic needs. The artisans and manials needed food, and the agriculturists needed things that they did not produce themselves. For implements, clothes, medicines, transports, fish, salt, sugar and so on they depended on food producers, who, in turn, depend on others for land and services.'

Jajmani system settled this interdependence. Villagers exchanged their respective produces between themselves under a customary system of trading and swapping. The food-producing peasants played the pivotal role in the game. The artisans, weavers, boatmen, barbers, cleaners, doctors, etc supplied their products and services to peasant families in return for some share in their harvest which cleared everybody's dues accumulating during the crop season. The peasants become the jajmans of all non-farm elements by catering to their needs in produce.

The pre-market and pre-monetised Bengal economy worked fairly efficiently under the jajmani system. It made the village independent of the external world. Under the jajmani exchange system they could well survive without depending on the outside world to any material degree. This explains a great deal the unchanging character of Bengal society and economy in the pre-industrial era.

Jajmani system came under threat for the first time when the European maritime companies came to Bengal by sea-lanes from the sixteenth century and introduced the cash nexus on a large scale in their respective trading settlements. Every company brought treasures with it for collecting the Bengal products for the world market. Artisans, whom they engaged for supplying their manufactures for cash, were thus the first people to break away from the jajmani system and get integrated to the world market of cash and competition. With improved transportation and growth of urbanism and modern industries accompanied by the rise of wage labour from the early nineteenth century, the system began to disintegrate. It lost its effectiveness when the Bengal economy became fairly monetised' by the close of the eighteenth century. [Sirajul Islam]