It has been stated (p, 109) that the belief in an original “communal” form of village in peninsular India was largely due to the conservation of some forms of joint village, which (without asking anything in detail as to their date or other features), were at once assumed to be ancient, and to represent relics of an early universal common ownership. I therefore briefly sketch the different cases where such survivals occur.
I. In Bombay we find (a) in the Gujarat districts a limited number of actually existing joint villages – in strong contrast with the “severalty” villages all round. In the Dakhan districts there are only traces of a (more ancient) mirasi tenure prevailing from former times down to the days of the Marathas.
II. In Madras, especially in the Chingleput district and the immediate vicinity, we have (fast disappearing) traces of a privileged co-sharing tenure of villages, also Called by the Moslems mirasi, and by the indigenous people kaniatsi.
I. (a) In some of the Gujarat districts a limited number of villages (narwadari and bhagdari) are known to be comparatively modern, though a precise date is not assignable. In both cases they represent the growth of certain dominant families over the village. In the Broach district these are Bohra128 families, often descended from one ancestor. In the Kaira district villages the families are of the Kunbi caste, and here apparently (in some cases) several families had originally joined together for the purpose of restoring cultivation or taking the revenue responsibility. In time, the families multiplying in numbers,
divided their interests and responsibilities in suitable shares. But (as usual) they kept together as jointly liable bodies, without which they would have soon lost their privileged position. As it was, these dominant bodies came to constitute the corn; munity – the joint proprietors of the whole village. The Bohras adopted the plan of dividing into fractional shares, according to the “ancestral” system, following the table of descent – each share of the holding corresponds to a similar fraction of the revenue liability129. The Kunbis (being probably associate groups of different families) contracted for a lump sum of revenue on the whole village, and proceeded to divide it and the cultivation – not by (ancestral) fractional shares – but by arranging groups of cultivation (including portions of each kind of soil), and making out a narwa or distribution scheme, which apportioned the revenue responsibility over the holdings of the different sections or family groups.
(b) The more interesting ancient mirasi traces in many Dakhan villages are fully discussed in a paper contributed by me to the Royal Asiatic Society’s Journal in 1897130. It was long ago noticed that in these villages certain lands were said to be minim, and had once constituted shares in a property which, in fact, included the whole village. In some cases the complete list of shares could still be traced, and they were all known by Hindu-Aryan names, and the holders were superior in rank and dignity. Looking back at the known early history of Western India, I think there can be no doubt that these were the shares in villages which had become dominated by families of some rank, perhaps connected with the )(Maya kingdom of Devagiri, or with the Chalukya or the Rashtrakuta clans, all well known to history and to our epigraphists. These, being Of Military; not agricultural caste, perished in the wars that (as a matter of fact) overthrew the ‘Maya and Chalukya kingdoms iti the Middle Ages. The names and locale of the shares (bhag) remained, owing to the tenacity of tradition which is so notorious throughout the East; and as the miras tenure was an advantageous one, it was found possible (for a long time) to continue
the privilege, and fill the vacant holdings by the revenue authorities granting (or even selling) the miras title. Here, then, we have only the “manorial” growth of dominant, co-sharing families over the villages. But in this case the families shared the misfortunes of their race and disappeared; while in other parts of India the joint families persisted, multiplied, and furnished quite numerous “communities,” dominating the villages, and introducing their own co-sharing constitution.
II. The vestiges of mirasi tenure in Madras are of a different order131. Tradition in this case – as accepted by all the best authorities – is supported by the caste and other features of the villages, which were still plainly in evidence at the end of the eighteenth century. They were chiefly mediaeval villages established by a succession of immigrants of a peculiar agricultural race (Vellalan) from North Kanara and elsewhere, who were with difficulty induced to settle by the promise of exceptional privileges, and a permanent interest in the villages they established. The success of this special colonising enterprise, after many failures, is referred to the efforts of one of the later Chola kings who ruled in the eleventh century A.D. The case was altogether exceptional; and the families appear to have found a close co-operation necessary, both to insure a victory over the difficulties of the enterprise, and also to secure among themselves the due sharing of the privileged tenure, with its partial exemption from taxation. We have fair evidence of their mode of allotting the lands each year for cultivation, and of sharing the profits. In some cases they actually divided the shares on the ground permanently132.
In all these cases we have varieties of ways in which a special privilege, a grant, or even the usurpation, of families of superior ability or rank, results in producing a joint body of proprietors.
In some cases it is over existing severalty villages; in others, the dominant groups (with the same sense of superiority) have occupied newly established villages, so that there were no former landholders to become vassals, but only such slaves, tenants, and helpers as the superior settlers themselves introduced and located. But the whole circumstances in each case clearly negative the idea that in such traces we have a primitive and general institution. The raiyatwari was the general form, the mirasi right a special and privileged growth in and over it, and it certainly had nothing of a communistic character. In so brief a note I have not attempted to allude to every instance of an alleged mirasi interest in Madras; but an examination of any village to which the term mirasi can properly be applied, in districts other than Chingleput, will always show that it is a case of some grant or dominant right acquired.
128. The Bohra are a caste partly of traders, partly of agriculturists. The Kunbi are the well-known cultivating caste of Western India. The total number of these villages does not exceed 347 (“ L.S.B.I.,” Vol. III., p. 260). The largest number is in the Broach district, much fewer in Kaira, and about a dozen in Surat.
129. For details and examples, see “Ind. Vill. Comm.,” p. 386 ff.
130. Vol. for 1897, April, p. 239. See also my “Ind. Vill. Comm.,” p. 380 ff.
131. These are the traces discussed in the volume entitled “Mirasi Papers,” Madras, 1862, to which Sir H. S. Maine once alludes (see p. 36).
132. The details are given in “Ind. Vill. Comm.,” p. 362 ff. Of course colonist parties have been found in other parts of India, most commonly on a smaller scale, and with no particular difficulties to contend with, so that exceptional advantages are not expected or granted. In the S.E. Panjab many (individual) villages were founded by colonist bodies, who have fallen into the joint village class because they readily accepted a joint liability for revenue (pp. 94–5).
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage