Upon gaining power in India, the British introduced numerous changes in the economic, political, and social spheres. During the 1750s, India witnessed the decline of the Mughal Empire and the rise of successor states. Initially arriving in India for trade purposes, the British eventually became rulers of vast territories and greatly influenced the nation’s economy, politics, and society.

  • Economically
    • British policies were primarily focused on benefiting themselves; these policies led to the commercialization of agriculture and the decline of traditional Indian industries.
    • The British exploited India’s resources, disrupting the economy and negatively impacting local industries.
  • Politically,
    • A series of Acts passed by the British had both positive and negative consequences.
    • However, the most notable outcome was the establishment of British authority over the Indian subcontinent.
    • Acts such as the Regulating Act of 1773, Pitt’s India Act of 1784, and various Charter Acts contributed to the constitutional development in India.
    • Additionally, the British introduced significant changes to the administration, including revenue management, civil services, police, army, and judicial services.
  • Socially,
    • The British influenced Indian society through their policies on education, language, and culture. While some positive changes were embraced by the Indian population, oppressive measures led to revolts and rebellions.
    • The British presence in India resulted in a considerable transformation of the nation’s society, with both beneficial and detrimental effects.

How did British rule affect the Indian Villages: Ruling the Countryside

  • Under British rule, the East India Company initially saw itself mainly as a trading organization, even after becoming the Diwan of Bengal.
  • However, the Company’s aggressive revenue collection practices led to a severe crisis in the Bengali economy.
  • This culminated in the devastating famine of 1770, which resulted in the deaths of 10 million people, wiping out nearly one-third of the region’s population.
  • Recognizing the need for change, many Company officials began to advocate for increased investment in agricultural lands and the improvement of farming practices.
  • Consequently, several land-revenue systems, such as Zamindari, Mahalwari, and Ryotwari, were introduced in an effort to restore stability and prosperity to the Indian countryside.
  • These efforts aimed to encourage investment in the land and agricultural improvements, ultimately shaping the economic landscape of rural India during British rule.

Permanent Settlement (Zamindari)

  • The Permanent Settlement, also known as Zamindari, was introduced in 1793 by the East India Company when Cornwallis was the Governor-General of India.
  • Under this system, rajas and taluqdars were acknowledged as zamindars, who were responsible for collecting rent from peasants and paying revenue to the Company. The revenue amount was set at a fixed rate, which was not to be increased in the future.
  • However, the Permanent Settlement encountered several issues. Company officials realized that the zamindars were not investing in land improvement.
  • The fixed revenue amount was so high that many zamindars struggled to make the payments. Those who failed to pay the revenue would lose their zamindari status, resulting in numerous zamindaris being auctioned off by the Company.
  • During the 19th century, the market experienced some improvement. However, the Company did not benefit from this as they could not increase the fixed revenue demand. Meanwhile, in the villages, cultivators found the Permanent Settlement system to be extremely oppressive.

Mahalwari settlement

  • The Mahalwari settlement was introduced as a response to the financial needs of the British East India Company, which required additional funds beyond the fixed revenues provided by the existing zamindari system.
  • Holt Mackenzie, a British official, developed this new system in 1822, focusing primarily on the North-Western Provinces of the Bengal Presidency, which is now largely situated in Uttar Pradesh, India.
  • Mackenzie believed that the village played a crucial role in the social framework of the region. As a result, under his guidance, collectors traveled from village to village to assess the land, measure fields, and document the customs and rights of various groups. These assessments were then used to estimate the revenue owed by each plot of land within a village.
  • The combined revenue for all plots determined the total amount owed by the village or mahal. Unlike the zamindari system, these revenue demands were subject to revisions over time, rather than being permanently fixed.
  • In the Mahalwari system, the responsibility of collecting revenue and making payments to the Company shifted from the zamindars to the village headmen.
  • This approach became known as the Mahalwari settlement, which aimed to provide a more flexible and effective method of generating revenue for the British East India Company while acknowledging the importance of villages in the social structure of the region.

Ryotwari / Munro System

  • Earlier Captain Alexander Read and later Thomas Munro felt that in the south there were no traditional zamindars.
  • The settlement, they argued, had to be made directly with the cultivators (ryots ) who had tilled the land for generations.
  • Their fields had to be carefully and separately surveyed before the revenue assessment was made.

Rise of Landless Agrarian Labourers

  • The escalating rates of illiteracy, poverty, and seasonal unemployment have led to a surge in landlessness in India.
  • This study aims to examine the issues faced by landless laborers, such as rising population and wage concerns in the agricultural sector.
  • Additionally, it will discuss the customary rights of laborers active in the country and propose potential interventions that can be effective in mitigating the problem of landless laborers in contemporary India.
    • Discussion on Landless Labourers: 
      • Landless laborers are often denied ownership of the lands they cultivate and are forced to work on others’ lands for low wages.
      • The number of landless laborers has been on the rise due to various political and environmental issues affecting India.
      • Climate change and recurrent natural disasters have contributed to the growing prevalence of landless laborers in the country.
      • Furthermore, low literacy rates in rural areas and increasing unemployment have fueled the gradual increase of landlessness.
      • The lack of alternative occupations and limited policies for agricultural development in many rural areas has forced low to mid-level laborers to become landless, ultimately exacerbating the issue of landless laborers in modern India.
    • Issues of Landless Labour in India: 
      • The extensive use of machinery in agriculture has created a significant void for landowners by reducing the availability of agricultural lands.
      • The disorganized approach of rural farmers and their reliance on traditional methods have led to a substantial increase in landlessness among laborers.
      • Poverty has also emerged as a critical factor contributing to the growth of landlessness in rural areas. Most rural regions in India are underdeveloped, which allows for chaos to reign over illiterate and impoverished farmers.
      • This eventually results in landlessness among laborers due to high maintenance costs and business losses associated with agricultural lands.

Reasons for the Rising Population of Landless Labourers in India

  • The agricultural sector in India is currently grappling with the issues of underemployment and unemployment in rural areas.
  • This has resulted in severe consequences for landless laborers, leading to a spike in their population.
  • Most agricultural laborers are entangled in debt due to their landlessness and reliance on working on others’ lands.
  • This has further impacted the poverty levels of laborers and exacerbated the seasonal unemployment they face.
  • Familial issues among farm laborers, especially regarding the cultivation of the same land over the years, have also contributed to this problem.

A Brief Overview of Wage-Earning and No-wage Earners in Agriculture

  • In India, wages are generally low due to the limited productivity of laborers in the agricultural sector.
  • The challenging marginal productivity in agriculture has impacted wage-earning for laborers in recent times.
  • Moreover, the increased use of weedicides and machinery on agricultural lands has made it difficult for laborers to adapt, contributing to low wage-earning for laborers in India.

Customary Rights of Landless Labourers

  • Landless laborers in India have been subject to various consumer rights throughout different eras in the country.
  • During the feudal period in India, laborers had a taxation system and debt trap rights based on the Ryotwari System.
  • Subsequently, in British India, the Forest Act was introduced for landless farmers, and in modern times, the laborers have the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act 2013 as their customary rights.

Strategies to Improve the Current Circumstances of Landless Labourers in India

  • To enhance the current situation of landless laborers, government intervention and other methods should be employed, such as:
    • Providing landless laborers with farm tools
    • Promoting development in rural areas
    • Improving the literacy rate among landless laborers


  • In conclusion, British rule in India brought about significant changes in the country’s economic, political, and social spheres.
  • The introduction of various land-revenue systems, commercialization of agriculture, and the rise of landless agrarian laborers led to the decline of traditional Indian industries and the oppression of Indian peasantry.
  • Despite some positive changes brought about by the British, the negative consequences heavily impacted India’s rural economy, leading to widespread poverty, famine, and indebtedness.
  • To improve the current circumstances of landless laborers, it is crucial to implement government interventions, promote rural development, and enhance literacy rates among the affected populations.

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