Jump to: navigation, search

Madhyasvatva


Madhyasvatva (Subinfeudation) a term applied to the intermediate rights that developed in the Bengal districts under the changing agrarian relations following the operation of the permanent settlement. By applying their proprietary rights in land, zamindars created new rights in between themselves and raiyats. These new interests often created further sub-rights below them. In some districts, particularly in southern part of Bengal, such intermediate rights reached many degrees one upon another. The practice of creating a chain of intermediate interests in land ownership has been described by the nineteenth century revenue surveyors as subinfeudation, a term for describing European feudalism of pre-modern times. Subinfeudation in feudal sense, however, did not exist in Bengal.

The problem of subinfeudation emerged as a response to the socio-economic forces unleashed by the colonial situation, particularly permanent settlement. The operation of the permanent settlement put up a tremendous pressure on zamindars by way of rigorous enforcement of the revenue sale law, popularly known as the Sunset Law. The revenue assessment on most zamindaris was very high. Consequently, zamindari lands were selling on a very large scale for revenue default in the wake of the permanent settlement. To save themselves from the operation of the sunset law, many zamindars compromised their proprietary rights with others by creating new rights below them. In lieu of a down payment (salami) and perpetually fixed rent, intermediate tenurial rights were sold to local entrepreneurs. The tenures were created mostly in uncultivated jungle lands, which were abundantly available in the early nineteenth century. The intermediate tenureholders invested their capital in clearing jungles and bringing them under abad.

Abad or cultivation by clearing came as a major source of income for zamindars and their tenureholders. Viewed organisationally and tenurially, abad activities may be grouped into four types: noabad, Char-abad, Beel-abad, and Sundarban-abad. The term noabad is peculiar to chittagong, where all newly cultivated land was thus described. Literally, noabad means 'newly cultivated'. Technically, however, noabad denoted land taken into cultivation after the measurement of 1764, on which the Permanent Settlement was based. A comparative study of rennell's atlas (1764-1772), the revenue survey maps (1847-63), and the survey and settlement operations maps indicate that a huge mass of alluvial lands (chars) had come to surface since the days of Rennell. All these chars were brought under cultivation by the tenureholders. Similarly, a large number of huge depressions called beels became shallow through siltation and these were brought under cultivation by these madhyasvatva holders.

Extensive abad or clearing operations throughout the 19th century certainly do not only mean breaking new ground for agriculture. They also imply the foundation of new agrarian settlements. The foundation of a village settlement in a valley of Chittagong, or on a char of some great river, or in the saline forest tracts of the sundarbans is significant both economically and socially. The organisation of noabad, char-abad, beel-abad and the Sundarban-abad indicates the participation of more than one party in the reclamation process. The kingpin of the abad structure was the hawladar. The abad organisation makes it manifest that the large-scale reclamations would have been impossible without the coordinated team consisting of abad talukdar at the top, nim-hawladar at the bottom and the pivotal hawladar in the middle strata in the hierarchic tenurial relations.

The social background of abad organisers depends largely on the type of land ownership and government policy for the settlement of abad lands. Abad operations on the zamindari estates were mostly led by zamindars themselves in benami. Though apparently, most zamindars were found to have alienated lands to abad talukdars for clearing at quit-rent, in practice those so-called abad talukdars were nothing more than their shadows. The zamindar's creation of a tenure-in-chief in his own person was a safety device. Many even created osat talukdar below abad talukdar, as a double insurance against the accident of revenue default and sale of their estates at auction. For actual abad, they created hawladars who paid stipulated rents to them through the fictitious abad talukdar. This legal fiction was absent in government estates.

Madhyasvatva and society It was officially estimated at the time of the Permanent Settlement that about one-third of the cultivable land of Bengal was lying waste. But the agrarian landscape was entirely different at the end of the 19th century. This massive reclamation was made possible by the combined efforts of the three types of madhyasvatva interests. These were the abadkar talukdar, who provided the capital, the hawladar, who organised the abad operations on the spot, and the nim-hawladars or abadkar raiyats, who contributed their labour and turned the jungles into green fields. These interests constituted a new agrarian middle class, which had played significant role in the social and political movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Ironically, the high incomes of the intermediate elements in the nineteenth century did not turn the Bengal abad talukdar into the profit-minded capitalist of Malthusian thought. Instead of cultivating capitalist habits, the talukdars and hawladars always yearned to be recognised as members of the aristocracy. Many first generation abad talukdars were entrepreneurs, their second generation was rich characterised by consumption, and the third generation became members of the poor aristocracy. [Sirajul Islam]