Day 2 – Q 3. What was the Mahalwari system? How did it impact the socio-economic conditions of peasants in India? Describe. 

  • IASbaba
  • June 11, 2020
  • 0
GS 1, Indian History & Post-Independence, TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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3. What was the Mahalwari system? How did it impact the socio-economic conditions of peasants in India? Describe. 

महलवारी प्रणाली क्या थी? भारत में किसानों की सामाजिकआर्थिक स्थितियों पर इसका क्या प्रभाव पड़ा? वर्णन करें।

Demand of the question:

It expects students to write about the revenue method of Mahalwari system and its impact on the socio-economic conditions of peasant in India.


Mahalwari system launched by Holt Mackenzie covered the states of Punjab, Awadh and Agra, parts of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. During the 1800s, the British tried to establish their control over the administrative machinery of India. The System of Land Revenue acted as a chief source of income of the British. Thus, they used land to control the entire Revenue system, strengthening their economic condition in India.


Mahalwari system of revenue collection:

  • Mahalwari areas, the Land revenue was fixed for the whole village and the village headman collected it. Meaning theoretically Village headman itself was a landlord/zamindar.
  • R.M Bird provided for detailed survey to assess the revenue of entire mahal or fiscal unit, based on the net value of potential produce of the field.
  • The total revenue was then to be shared by the members of co-sharing body. The state was to appropriate two thirds of revenue of the land and the settlement was to be made for 30 years. 
  • British obliged the farmers to pay revenue in cash and not in kind. The land revenue was increased arbitrarily to finance British wars and conquests. But the farmers had no right to appeal in the court of law. Farmers had no understanding of cash economy, with frequent droughts and famines, their condition worsened.  
  • Hence they had to borrow money from unscrupulous grain traders and money-lenders with compound interest rate which led to perpetual indebtedness. 
  • A new village came-where existence was based on competition and struggle among independent individuals. Farmers shifted from food crop to Cash crops. But cash crops need more inputs in terms of seeds, fertilizer, and irrigation; hence farmer had to borrow more.
  • This brought moneylenders, Shroff, Mahajan, Baniya, into limelight- they were in control of village land without any accountability. Thus British land revenue system transferred ownership of land from farmer to moneylender.
  • Eventually, the typical Indian villager was stripped of all savings, caught in debt trap, mortgaging almost everything-whether personal jewellery, land and livestock, or tools and equipment. 

Impact on the socio-economic condition of peasant in India: 

  • Towards about the end of the colonial period, the total burden on the peasant of interest payments on debt and rent on land could be estimated at a staggering Rs 14,200 million.
  • Zamindars gave loan to farmers/labourers and demanded free labour in return. This practice prevented farmers/labourers from bargaining wages.
  • Begari, Bonded labour, or debt bondage became a common feature in large parts of the country. Even in ryotwari areas, upper caste controlled the land. Lower caste was reduced to sharecroppers and landless labourers.
  • Small tenants continued to cultivate with traditional techniques led to low productivity. Rich farmers/zamindars lacked the risk bearing mindset for capitalist mode of production i.e. invest more money in seeds, fertilizer,  animal husbandry, contract farming,  large-scale capitalist agriculture using hired wage labour under their direct supervision.
  • Even if they wanted to take risk, government did not give any agricultural support, like credit; insurance etc. and yet demanded high taxes. 
  • It is not surprising, therefore, that Indian agriculture, which was facing long-term stagnation, began to show clear signs of decline during the last decades of colonialism.
  • Independent Farmer/tenant was hardly left with any money to re-investment in agriculture. Most of his surplus income/profit went into paying taxes. These taxes were used for exporting raw material from India to Britain which led to drain of wealth.
  • When individuals or small group of farmers could not organize a collective action against Zamindars/government, they started robbery and dacoity.
  • The impoverishment of the Indian peasantry was a direct result of the transformation of the agrarian structure due to colonial economic policies, ruin of the handicrafts leading to overcrowding of land, the new land revenue system, colonial administrative and judicial system.

However, Peasants lately emerged as the main force in agrarian movements, fighting directly for their own demands. The demands were centred almost wholly on economic issues. The movements were directed against the immediate enemies of the peasant—foreign planters and indigenous zamindars and moneylenders. The struggles were directed towards specific and limited objectives and redressal of particular grievances. 

Colonialism was not the target of these movements. It was not the objective of these movements to end the system of subordination or exploitation of the peasants. Territorial reach was limited. There was no continuity of struggle or long-term organisation. The peasants developed a strong awareness of their legal rights and asserted them in and outside the courts.


The peasantry were never really to recover from the disabilities imposed by the new and a highly unpopular revenue settlement. Impoverished by heavy taxation, the peasants resorted to loans from money-lenders/traders at usurious rates, the latter often evicting the former from their land on non-payment of debt dues. These money-lenders and traders emerged as the new landlords, while the scourge of landless peasantry and rural indebtedness has continued to plague Indian society to this day.

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