Abwab is the plural form of the Arabic term bab which means a door, a section, a chapter, a title. In Mughal India all temporary and circumstantial taxes and impositions levied by the government over and above regular taxes were called abwabs. More specifically, abwab meaning all irregular impositions on raiyats above the established assessment of land in the pargana. Land tax was established by Todar Mal after a field-to-field survey. The standard of rent thus established has hardly been changed since 1582. To meet unforeseen exigencies, the government used to levy temporary taxes, cesses, and imposts, all collectively known as abwab. During nawabi period a variety of abwabs were imposed on zamindars, who conveniently transferred them on to their raiyats. In addition to zamindari abwabs, there were also many other abwabs, which were imposed by faujdars and kotwals.
Under the Regulations of the permanent settlement (1793) all abwabs were consolidated with rent and subsequently, further impositions of abwabs were strictly prohibited. Under the permanent settlement Regulations, zamindars were required to give patta to raiyats specifying to them the exact amount of rent demanded from them. It was made a punishable offence to impose abwab under any pretext over and above the rent recorded in the patta. But because of existing socio-political conditions, such a rule did not take any effect at the village level where zamindari agents always collected abwabs under many pretexts, such as, marriage, pilgrimage, shraddha, festivals, punya, chandas, and so on and without any interventions from the concerned authorities.
According to the revenue survey of the 1860s and the Rent Commission of 1880, most zamindars levied abwabs on their raiyats with impunity. The Rent Commission revealed that abwabs were so much a customary affair that raiyats had little or no objections to zamindari abwabs, which they considered to be their duty to pay. But, they had tremendous aversion to enhancement of rent. They tended to resist any demand beyond the pargana rate established by custom. In fact, most agrarian disturbances in the nineteenth century originated from the issues of the enhancement of rent rather than from collecting abwabs.
The practice of collecting abwabs began to decline from the 1920s. Factors like the rise of a rural middle class, the beginning of electoral politics, the socialist movement, peasant parties and peasant movements and the like had made the raiyats increasingly conscious of their position in relation to their landholders. To win village support, public leaders organized peasants against the oppressive landlords. The peasants also declared solidarity with one or another party to protect their class interests. Under the Tenancy Act of 1939, all sorts of abwabs and salamis were banned. [Sirajul Islam]