The Company Government in Bengal faced the immediate problem of collection of land revenue. The Company officials were not conversant with the local customs and practices. There was communication gap between the Government and the people due to language barrier. The company searched a group of faithful who could discharge the responsibility of the collection of land revenue on behalf of the Government. By this time, the traditional Zamindars were enjoying enviable status in the society.
Though many of them were not rich enough, they were recognized and respected as the head of the village administration. They also enjoyed certain privileges in the society. They were in receipt of the share from the peasants’ produces mostly in kind. On the other hand, the merchants, traders and money-lenders etc. were wealthy class of people in the society.
In spite of their economic status, they were recognized socially as a class below the Zamindars in the social strata. These people always searched two opportunities. One was the safe outlet for the investment of their capital with assured return. The other was the scope for upward mobility in the society. Purchase of Zamindari was considered the right way to achieve the purposes.
The Company Government, specifically Warren Hastings, introduced the policy that ruined the traditional Zamindars and created a new class of landed gentry. Hastings auctioned the rights of revenue collection to the highest bidders. Estates were put into auction and highest bidders were recognized as the masters of those estates for the tenure of auction.
The auction holders were the authorized agents of the Company to collect revenue. They were allowed to keep a fixed share (one-eleventh of the rent) for their services and transfer the rest (ten-eleventh) parts of the rent to the Company treasury.
That was the beginning of the process of settling land with the persons willing to pay highest or maximum revenue to the Company on fixed date. Here, the moneyed class only could take risk of paying land revenue on fixed date in the event of the crop failure and inability of the peasants to pay.
By the Permanent Settlement of 1793, land was settled with the persons who were earlier associated with the collection of revenue. Most of the traditional Zamindars entered into land settlement. But the adverse effects of the Permanent Settlement were felt very much in no time. Excessively high rate of land revenue and rigid law of collection proved harmful for the old Zamindars. In many case, they failed to pay land revenue in time for various reasons.
The old Zamindars were not rich enough to pay the land revenue from their own treasury in case they failed to collect it from the peasants. Hence on default, their Zamindaries were put on sale. Then the rich merchants, money-lenders and other moneyed classes purchased those estates or Zamindaries speculating high return from land.
These money-classes had no practical idea about land and agriculture. They usually resided in towns and cities and were ruthless in the matter of collection of revenue. So a class of absentee landlords emerged in the society. They became the non-cultivating proprietors having no sympathy for the cultivators. The peasants were forced to rack-renting and ejectment even under worst circumstances. In the process, the old Zamindars who were associated with land and cultivation lost their land for delay in payment of revenue. They were replaced by new land-lords who were primarily moneyed-class people living in towns.
These new landlords had no concern for the cultivators. They always tried to maximize the collection of rent adopting various means. The rent, they collected, was considered as the interest or profit of the capital they had invested on purchase of Zamindars. Therefore, they never took initiative for development of land and agriculture. They increased land rent at their sweet will and the tenants were left to the mercy of the landlords.
As a consequence to the growth of new landlordism, a new type of landlord-tenant relationship came upon rapidly. The new landlords got their land cultivated by the tenants. By subletting method, the landlords leased out their land to tenants at exorbitant rent. Since no other source of employment was available, the people had to rush for a piece of land irrespective of high rent. Prevailing circumstances favored the landlords. They found the outlet for investment of the capital and the jobless people continued to search a piece of land even on rack-renting.
Growth of intermediaries was a remarkable feature of new landlordism. Those intermediaries proved to be the agents of exploitation. Usually the landlords were directly collecting land rent. Their right to collect rent was leased out to the persons on profitable terms. This was the convenient method of being assured of the rent collection without taking any responsibility.
But the land rent increased under very lease and the lease holders found it lard to retain. The lease holders found the overcrowding of land and the competition of the tenants to acquire land as opportunity. So they considered it convenient to sublet their rights in land to subleases. This process of subletting the right to collect rent continued as a chain process. Consequently a large number of rent receiving intermediaries came upon between the Government and the actual cultivator. As result, the tenants who actually cultivated the land had to bear the heavy burden of rent.
The British Rule was greatly benefited by the emergence and spread of landlordism. They found an ever loyal powerful group all along their side. This group played an important political role during the struggle for independence in India.
The Zamindars and the landlords extended support in suppression of popular movements. They realised that their very existence depended upon the continuance of the British imperialism in India. They felt secured and safe under the foreign rule and acted as the chief political supporters of British throughout national movement.
Along with the economic change, the British Rule changed the social structure by spreading landlordism. Those landlords were the agents of economic exploitation and enemies of progress. Their activities made the peasants rebellious and peasants rebellions broke out in different times. Their torture, both economic and social, forced the peasants to enter into the national movement. Due to participation of the peasants India’s struggle for independence took the shape of a mass movement. Also abolition of the Zamindari system was included in the programme of the national movement. In a nut shell, creation and spread of landlordism proved to be socioeconomic curse for the Indian peasants.