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Aid for Subsistence or Power?


Ranjeeta Dutta

REVENUE FREE LAND GRANTS IN MUGHAL INDIA: AWADH REGION IN THE 17TH & 18TH CENTURIES
By Jigar Mohammed
Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 147, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 4 April 2004

The book under review is a monographic study of the madad-i-ma’ash grant holders in Awadh during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Literally meaning, “aid for subsistence”, the term was applied to the land granted by the state, in which it alienated its right to collect revenue. Situated in the context of transition of Awadh from a Mughal suba (province) to a nawabi (independent state) and the corresponding onset of Mughal decline, this study analyses the role of the madad-i-ma’ash grantees in the provincial and state politics during this transitional period. The Islamic injunctions enjoined upon the state to give these grants to four classes in the society, viz., the scholars, saints, destitutes and ‘persons of noble lineage who ignorantly deemed it below their dignity to take to any employment.’ In practice, the main beneficiaries were the influential religious ideologues—the Shaikhs and Saiyyids (who claimed direct descent from the Prophet), the qazis and the ulemas (primarily the clerics) and the sajjada nashins and pirzadas (the caretakers of religious and educational establishments).   However, the assignment of revenue free grants was not just an act of pious altruism on the part of the Mughal state. Rather, the motive was political, whereby the ruler expected this class to generate loyalty for the regime, pacify recalcitrant tendencies and legitimize the state policies. This was crucial for the Mughals and especially for Awadh, which was a disturbed province due to perennial revolts against the state.   Despite being the traditional supporters of the state, the madad-i-ma’ash holders with their ability to mobilize public opinion were prone to seditious tendencies. The state realized this and exercised caution and prudence while making these charitable endowments. The assignment of these grants on certain terms and conditions involved a complicated bureaucratic procedure under constant state supervision. Although assigned for perpetuity, the continuation and inheritance of the grants was dependent on the emperor’s will. The grantees were entitled only to the revenue and not to any zamindari right that was ‘proprietary’ in nature. The temporary nature of the grants ensured that the holders did not acquire a power base, adding further to the state’s discomfiture.   Undoubtedly, the grantees adopted fraudulent measures to increase the size of the grants and acquired permanent rights on them. Even rulers like Akbar, despite known to be vigilant were not successful in controlling them. The Mughal emperors and the nawabs of ...


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