There is no evidence to show the condition of peasants during the period of study. Land grant charters bestowed the beneficiary with “superior rights over and above those of the inhabitants in the donated village or villages.
In many cases along with revenue and economic resources of the village or villages, human resources such as peasants, artisans and others were also transferred to donees. In many cases, because of the right of getting cultivated their land by others.
The land lords could replace old peasants by new ones. In this way the Indian peasants was completely subordinate to the benefactor.
During the Gupta age, the grants from Central and Western India virtually show that the peasants had to raider “visti” or forced labour to their king or land holder while some grants from the post-Gupta period make the land-lord’s right to forced labour quite clearly for example a grant of the Valabhi ruler Dharasena I in 575 A.D. confers on the recipient of a religious grant the right to impose forced labour if the circumstance arose, same concession is also granted by Siladiya in his charter of seventh century. It further occurs in the land charters of the Chalukyas of Badami.
There was a few radical changes in the nature of the forced labour during the Gupta and post- Gupta period. This practice was extended to the Western part of Central India, Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka as mentioned by the Vakataka, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya record.
The right of forced labour or “Serva-Visti” (in Central India) which was confined to king., was now extended to the recipients of religious grants. The scope of forced labour of “Visti” was widened and various kinds of works done by means of “Visti” was given by the contemporary texts.
The peasant under land-holders were reduced to a completely dependent status. The free- peasants also lost their status because of the imposition of several new taxes and levies. It seems that during the Gupta and post-Gupta periods the inhabitants of villages had to pay forced-contribution of money,
Bijapur district issued by an early Chalukya king of Badami, who donates 25 “nivartanas” of land along with all its produce, garden-cultivation water and nivesa or house. In this example “nivesa” is used not for merely a house but also of peasants living there.
This conclusion is supported by a Ganga grant from the Ganjam district which states that six “halas” of land (land cultivated ‘by six ploughs) along with four cottages or “chaturnivesana sahita” were constituted into an “agrahara” was granted free of taxes to god Narayana.
Probably, from south India the practice of transfer of peasants spread to Central India e.g. a Vakataka grant of the fifth century A.D. reveals that the gift four houses meant for the use of “Karasakanivesanai” or cultivators i.e. workmanship of cultivators to the beneficiary.
In the Western India, the land grants of the post-Gupta period imply the transfer of peasant along with soil particularly in Gujarat. The Valabhi ruler Darasena-D records the gift of plots of different sizes held by five persons.
All of whom are mentioned by name in the grant. Perhaps with the plots their holders also changed. The Darasena-IH, the successor of Darasensa II, made a grant in 623-24 A.D. of four plots of cultivated land, held by the four cultivators or “Karsakas” are mentioned in the grants.
These instances mentioned above are concerned the gift of field not of villages. The earliest grant which without any ambiguity transfers the villagers to the grantee is that of a feudatory ruler called “maharaja” Samudrasena in seventh century A.D. According to this, a village in the Kangfa area is made over as a grant with its inhabitants.
‘Serfdom’ i.e. the practice of transferring peasants along with land to the beneficiaries seem to have been the feature of the grant of those pieces of land which did not form part of organised villages but were held independently by the peasant families having their habitation in isolated houses rather than in a cluster of dwellings.
In these cases all the lands cultivated by the peasant, who lay around their houses. When these lands were donated the peasants working on them had to be retained due to the cultivation of the fields, if the peasants were not retained to these lands the beneficiaries would be in hot water such as no cultivation consequently no income. In fact grants will not serve the purpose of donation.
Among these peasants, some of them were certainly ploughmen and those who served as tenants living in villages. The ploughmen attached to the land may be equated with the serfs or slave.
According to “Varanashrama dharam” “Sudras” were attached to the land. While the tenants may be treated as semi-serfs as they were transferred along with the lands or village. Tenants or semi-serfs did not have to work on the private forms of the beneficiaries.
They could normally leave the village to seek means of livelihood elsewhere except under the economic constraints. On the basis of epigraphic evidences we can conclude the following observations on serfdom in India which emerged fairly common by the middle of eighth century A.D.
1. It began in undeveloped, uncultivated and * peripheral areas and then gradually spread to the heart of country in Northern India.
2. It was organised in the backward and tribal regions which did not have sufficient number of peasants to maintain the community based rural economy.
Further, with the empowerment of land lords or land holders over the peasantry it later on spread to the developed areas.
3. It began with the share-croppers and then covered peasants in general.
4. Finally, it began with the plots of land and then came to grip the whole villages with the increase of landholders and their pockets. In this way different classes led to the emergence of hierarchical landed intermediaries.
Vassals and officers of the state and other secular assignee had military obligation and feudal titles. Sub-infeudation which varying in different regions, by these donees to get their land cultivated led to the growth of different strata of intermediaries.
It was a hierarchy of landed aristocrats, tenants, share croppers and cultivators. This hierarchy was also reflected in the power or administrative structure, where a sort of lord-Vassal relationship emerged. In other words Indian feudalism consisted in the gross unequal distribution of land and its produce.
Due to the growing claims of greater rights over land by rulers and intermediaries peasants suffered a curtailment of their land right.
Rise of “Sudra-Peasants” is another development of the Gupta era and post-Gupta period. There is sufficient reason to believe that “Sudras” were also becoming peasants in good numbers. Several law-books show that land was rented out to the “Sudras” for half the crop.
This would suggest that the practice of granting land to Sudras” on share-croppers, the share-croppers was becoming more common. Narada includes the peasant among those who cannot be a witness.
A commentator of the seventh century A.D. explains the word “Kinas” or peasants as a “Sudra” which shows that peasants were thought of “Sudras”. Brihaspati in “Samriti” provides severe corporal punishment for “Sudras” who acts as a leader in boundary disputes of the fields. It further suggests that such “Sudras “were owners of fields.
Huein-Tsang describes “Sudras” as a class of agriculturists. This is confirmed by the “Narasimha Purana” which is compiled before the tenth century A.D.
In this way, the farmer population was largely composed of “Sudras” during the Gupta and post- Gupta times. Thus, for the rise of feudalism, the transformation of “Sudras” from the slaves and hired labours into agriculturists should be regarded as a factor of great importance.