Social and Economic Conditions of Maharashtra on the Eve of 1848

1. Social Condition

The social life was dominated by the village communities, which had Patil as the head of the village; he was supported by the village accountant or Kulkarni, who kept village record upto date and village watchman. There was Chaugule, who worked as assistant to Patil. This team worked in consonance of each other and became a special feature of the Maratha social life.

There was a joint family system under the Marathas. The eldest member was the head of the family. It was a patriarchal family system property of the family was in the name of head of the family. He was to look after the family but all members were to help him equally. There was a system of arranged marriage in society. Naturally, systems like child marriage, prohibition of widow remarriage, polygamy, dowery system, concubinage and Sati system were practiced. These systems were supported and glorified by religion. The position of woman was very much deplorable, because she was not considered fit enough to receive education. Since the society was orthodox, superstitions and male domination added every thing to worries of woman in the society. The woman was not to question but abide by any order of her husband even if he had ordered her to drink a glass of poison or jump into an open well. She was to consider him as her master. He treated her as his property and lower species than him. The system of female slave or Batkin or dasi was in that society. Generally, Ghataspota was practiced by the upper caste people but not it was practiced in the sense of divorce. It was some thing like severance of marriage. Kadimede means breakage of marriage was performed by elderly people of both sides. It is very interesting to note that all above systems were supported by the laws and codes existed in that society. The logical position was based on the ancient scriptures is little less or more severity. The society used the ancient literature for educating their children. It stressed upon mastering them and awarded degrees like Pandit, Vaidya or Shastri. Marathi was the language of the people but the script was Modi and was under influence of Urdu and Persian languages. These were the languages used in the Mughal court.

2. Economic Conditions

The Cambridge Economic History of India says that economic condition of Maharashtra on the eve of the arrival of the British had some salient features as agrarian economy, cottage industries, weakly markets and poor means of transportation and communication. It means the Maharashtra of 17th & 18th centuries had agriculture as the main source of earning; it was cultivated on the monsoon water with the help of old and ancient means and techniques. There was a village community in which the contribution of twelve Balutedars and Alutedars was very much constructive. These twelve balutedars and alutedars or twelve artisans and assistants performed all supportive functions and made tools, weapons and appliances needed for cultivation of agriculture and received agricultural produce in proportion of their share. This arrangement gave birth to Barter system, which was the backbone of the economic life of Maharashtra and India in general. There was no sufficient irrigation of agriculture, which affected the agricultural production. Generally, standing crop was destructed by invading armies, pindharis, drougut, famine and other factors worsened the food condition and increased the problems of people.

The economic condition was further deteriorated due to Anglo-Maratha wars, farming of land Revenue system, Jagaridari system and the subsidiary alliance system of the British, which was imposed on the last Peshwa. However, the position of farmers in some segments, on the eve of the arrival of the British was comparatively better. This is very well supported by Elphistane, a Mumbai Governor in the first decade of the Nineteenth century. He says that the prices of the essential commodities were proper and there was no exploitation of farmers during the Royal period of the Marathas. But when the Peshwa Bajirao II came to power everything began to change as prices of the commodities went down, the farmers did not get enough money to pay increased and heavy land taxes, and they were forced to sell their lands for the same. Merchants, middlemen, and officials added to the miseries of people. Especially, the officials had rights to get each commodity free from the farmers by virtue of their office and position. But some of the towns like Paithan, Pune, Thane, Kalyan, Sawantwadi, Kolhapur, Sangli, Miraj and Janjira had linkage with the rural area and faced less problems comparatively.

Maharashtra during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had no good sources and means of transportation. Roads and canals were not upto date and not feasible for transportation. The external forces or Pindars and pillagers were looting the goods in transition which disturbed the trade and commence. Naturally, this source did not become popular or profitable source of income. Industries were not developed, except few during that period industrial commodity were sold abundantly in the weekly markets. Introduction of monetary system means payment of land revenue in coins, promoting industrial goods manufactured in England and exploitation of Indian raw materials by the British ruined the economy of the country in general and Maharashtra in particular.

Under the Marathas, the land was the basic source of income. It had several characteristics during that period. The territory of the Marathas was called Swarajya whereas the land under the outside rulers was known as Sambrajya. Marathas fallowed the land tenure system, which was undertaken by Malik amber in the Nizamshashi Kingdom of Ahmednagar. This system was so viable that it gave enough production and revenue which led that kingdom to defy the Mughal invasion. Naturally, it was very supportive to the sons of the soil, who cultivated it. The same land, which cultivated by owners of the land was called thal land and the land awarded to officials, sardars and nobles in the consideration of their services came to be known as watan land. The Government used to assign land to various cultivators for cultivation and getting maximum revenue. The land allotted to original settlers of villages came to be known as Mirasi land whereas the land assigned to the migrant settlers was known as the Upari land. In case, these migrant settlers failed to pay the requisite revenue the land was reverted by the Government. The land was also given as jagir to the efficient people in war administration and other areas of life for their outstanding contribution such people were called jagirdars. Although, the jagirdari system was scrapped by Chhatrapati Shivaji but it became a need in the latter period of the Maratha Empire.

When the British company came to power it started to concentrate the attention on the revenue collection policy. It was the backbone of their success in administering the country – peacefully. The Company decided to continue with the old land tenure system and change it as and when it was needed. The permanent land settlement was dismissed the Royatwari system and was continued with certain changes to suit the situation in Maharashtra which led to prove and establish the property right or ownership of property of Ryat but brought the Ryats under the burden of debt. The transition from the Maratha rule to the British was burdensome and full of horrors. The year 1818, 1819 and 1820 brought Maharashtra under drought, epidemics like cholera and scarcity of food grains. Although, there was a great demand for Government assistance, tagai or loans and remission in land assessment but it was not complied because the British had come to plunder India and not undertake the activities of welfare of Indian people. Introduction of commercialization of agriculture and payment of land revenue in cash made the life of people in Maharashtra much more miserable and ruined them completely.

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