Rent (jama) revenue or dues payable by raiyats to government in Mughal India. It was more a revenue than a rent. After the establishment of the British colonial rule in Bengal, jama was given the interpretation of rent in Britain. But British rent collected from tenant is not really comparable to Bengal jama collected from raiyats who were not tenants. They had prescriptive rights in land. As proprietors, the British landlords had the right to demand rent from their tenants according to the established principles of political economy. But zamindars were not a proprietary class like British landlords, nor were raiyats like tenants of contemporary Britain. The tenants under the landlord in Britain used to pay rent which was variable, and they were subject to eviction. But the Bengal raiyats paid jama to zamindars according to pargana nirkh or standard rate which was not variable, and the raiyat had the right to possess and enjoy the land from generation to generation if they paid jama regularly according to pargana nirkh.
During the Hindu period rent was called rajasva or king's share. The king's men used to collect rajasva from cultivators according to law, and none could be evicted if rajasva was paid regularly. Terminologically, Hindu 'rajasva' became 'jama' during Mughal period. However, the spirit of rajasva and jama remained the same. The cultivators had customary rights in land which the sovereign honoured.
After the acquisition of the diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, the east india company began investigating into the jama of Bengal raiyats. They tried to compare Bengal jama with British rent. In doing that, they even imagined that Bengal zamindars were comparable to British landlords as regards their rights and privileges in land. Under that impression the Company government made the permanent settlement (1793) making the zamindars absolute proprietors of land. Raiyats under the permanent settlement rules were turned into their tenants in British sense. Under the permanent settlement zamindars were made a prototype of the British landlords. As proprietors, zamindars got all the rights to demand rent from raiyats according to market rate. Legally, raiyats lost the right to pay rent according to invariable customary rate.
But raiyats were not prepared to accept the change. They offered resistance to the change of their status in various forms, including occasional open uprising. In the nineteenth century there were many suits challenging the rights of zamindars to demand rent from raiyats like British landlords. The Diwani Adalat was not uniform in its judgement about rent. Some judges decreed in favour of zamindars, and some in favour of the raiyats. In the court, lawyers engaged by zamindars argued citing the Rent Theory advanced by Ricardo, Malthus and West according to whom land was a commodity owned by landlords and they had the right to demand rent according to market rate. In other words, they advocated that zamindar had right to evict old raiyats if they did not pay rent at competitive rate.
The agrarian unrest in the 1860s and 1870s is attributed to the frequent enhancement of rent and eviction of raiyats from their land for non-payment of rent as demanded by zamindars. Raiyats of many Bengal parganas gave combined resistance to zamindari attempts to enhance rent. The Rent Act of 1859 and bengal tenancy act of 1885 are the results of the peasant resistance movement. Under the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885, the British rent theory was reversed, and peasants got back the right to enjoy land and pay rent according to established pargana rate of jama. The Tenancy Act was further amended in 1928 and 1938 enhancing the rights of raiyats. After 1938, raiyats became practically the proprietors of land, and zamindars became only rent collectors. Rent became more or less unchangeable since 1938. Under the east bengal state acquisition and tenancy act of 1950 zamindari system was abolished and raiyats were declared as owners of land. Now the owners of land are exempt from paying rent for maximum of 25 bighas of land. Now the term rent is used in the sense of jama. Thus, though urban land and even rural land in many places are very expensive, the rent rate is very nominal. [Sirajul Islam]