Jirati is a technical term for the land tenurial relations in Bengal during the pre-colonial and colonial periods. Jirat, an Arabic word, means arable land or land where tax-paying raiyats have settled. In medieval Bengal, when land-man ratio was always in favour of man and when land tax was fixed and collected on the basis of land actually cultivated. The term jirat appeared in Mughal records as 'cultivated lands' as opposed to uncultivated fallow lands. Jirati land was also differentiated then from lands occupied by homesteads and gardens.
But the term seems to have undergone a change in its meaning and application from the early seventeenth century. In Bihar, jirati land gradually came to be known as faslee or cropped land, and in Bengal it became abad or cultivated land. Yet, the term jirat lingered on to denote those lands that were cultivated by seasonal raiyats coming from other villages. They were described as jirati raiyats, because they came for a crop season and returned home with their own share of crops after harvesting was over. Usually the frontier districts were cultivated mainly by jirati raiyats.
In Eastern Bengal jirati raiyats played the most crucial role in clearing and cultivating lands in the sundarbans, barind and haor regions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The land hungry raiyats from the neighbouring districts used to go into those places, take settlements for the season from the landholders, cultivate lands, and finally return to their parent villages with their own shares of the harvests. Harvests were divided between the owners and the jirati raiyats according to dastur or established rates.
With the growth of population and development of communication system, the jirat lands have disappeared. But even now the seasonal labours who move into labour-dry regions of the haors of northeast Bangladesh for harvesting are called jirati. Locally they are also known as Bhagalo. They get a share of the harvests after their reaping, thrashing and storing. [Sirajul Islam]