How Muslim rulers economically exploited the underclass and appeased the merchants
- In article
- 08:24 PM, Jan 15, 2017
- Saswati Sarkar. Shanmukh. Dikgaj. Kirtivardhan Dave. Aparna
The Muslim regime in India was a colonial structure and therefore, naturally exploitative of the indigenous populace. The principal dynasties all arrived from well outside India: 1) Sindh was conquered by the Arabs in the eighth century; 2) Turko-Afghan dynasties ruled large parts of India from the late ninth to the sixteenth centuries; 3) subsequently, they were replaced by the Central Asian Moghul dynasty, which continued ruling large parts of India along with its tributaries up to the mid nineteenth century. Such long durations of colonisation would not have been possible without large scale internal collaboration. The wealthy and influential Indic mercantile groups constituted one of the allies of the Muslim rulers. In the previous part of the series, we have shown how the Indic merchants funded the campaigns of the invaders against native kingdoms via loans and contributions, enabled the functioning of the Islamic state by funding its rulers and its nobility and managing its finances, and gathered intelligence for the invaders and undermined public morale against them. In this article, we briefly touch upon one of the major atrocities perpetrated by the Muslim rulers on the indigenous Indic, that of economic exploitation of the Indic underclass. We also contrast the same with the economic and social appeasement of the Indic merchants by the same. We dwell on other atrocities like the institutionalized slavery, forcible and incentivized conversions to Islam and temple destructions in the next articles. We focus on the atrocities by the Delhi Sultanate like Firuz Tughluq, and Mughal emperors, starting from Akbar, and post-Mughal Muslim rulers, since this is also the period from which evidence of substantial collusion have survived. While the bulk of the guilt for the atrocities lies on the perpetrating rulers, it must be emphasised that they could not have perpetrated them effectively without the collusion of the big business classes. Thus, the big business classes served as instruments of the oppressive Islamic imperialism. We naturally observe that they were largely exempted from the atrocities, until the respective states turned significant Muslim majority, which means there were no Indic commons left to exploit.
The Muslim rulers practiced a strong discrimination based on class among the populace of the same religion, that is, the Hindus. The appeasement of the merchants by Muslim rulers is in fact in stark contrast with the cruel oppression they perpetrated on the remainder of the populace. The merchants were taxed much less than the peasants. The peasants were in fact taxed into misery, and famines wiped out huge numbers of them. Incidentally, the ancient Hindu regimes were much more equitable and responsive to the welfare of the peasants as compared to the Muslim regimes. Next, the Muslim rulers showed complete indifference to the professional requirements and survival conditions for the peasants and the underclass, but promptly responded to the business needs of the merchants and mostly granted them business autonomy. As a result, there was a huge disparity in the distribution of wealth, which ought to demolish the myth of prosperity during this period.
The bulk of both the merchants and peasants were Hindus. For example, about the end of the 16th century, only about one Muslim for every thousand Hindus was connected with the land [agriculture]. pp. 731-732, . In the next three centuries, the proportion of Muslims increased among the peasants, again primarily due to slavery, forced and incentivized conversion and economic oppression, but, the bulk remained Hindu if we consider India as a whole (the proportion changed in Bengal and Sindh during this period). As to the religious demography of the merchants, the French physician Bernier, who visited India during Aurangzeb’s reign, pointed out that [Hindus] ``possess almost exclusively the trade and wealth of the country.’’ p. 225, . Among the peasants, Hindu peasants were more at the receiving end than their Muslim counterparts, due to a variety of reasons which would be discussed in the next article.
Section A: Exploitative taxation of peasants and exemption for merchants
The peasants were burdened with excessive taxes imposed by the Muslim rulers. Ala-ud-din Khalji, charged one-half of the produce p.94 . Ashraf has noted about the Delhi Sultanate, ``The masses of the people no place in the government, no share in political power. They had very few rights, if any. Their duties principally consisted in paying heavy taxes to the state’’ p. 83, , also, ``Of the produce of land, a large share went to the state, in the form of land-tax and various prerequisites’’. p. 123,  During the Mughal regime, land revenue generally varied from 1/3 to 1/2 of the total produce of the land , which could not have left the ordinary peasant with any substantial surplus p.33, . While speaking of land revenue assignment, Pelseart declared that ``so much is wrung from the peasants that even dry bread is scarcely left to fill their stomachs’’, p 230, . Abul Fazl said that " no moral limits could be set to the fiscal obligation owed by the subject to the ruler: the subject ought to be thankful even if he we're made to part with all his possessions by the protector of his life and honor’’ p. 230, . Everywhere in Moghul India, the bulk of agrarian surplus was appropriated by the state leaving the peasantry with only the minimum necessary subsistence loc. 1328, .
A contrast between taxation between Hindu and Muslim regimes is in order here. According to Muslim law, the ruler was free to demand the full economic rent or producers surplus, whatever it might be, provided always that such a demand did not cause the peasants to abscond or reduce the area of their cultivation p.15, . In ancient Hindu kingdoms, the king’s share, Bhag (sometimes referred to as the Shadbhag), was usually one sixth p.264, . As per the Manusmriti, the king may take the eighth, sixth or twelfth part of the crops p. 236,  which could be increased in times of direct distress to one fourth p.428, . In the Maurya period, the taxation of the peasant was 1/6 of the produce, with taxation rising to ¼ in times of emergencies pp. 168-172, . This policy of light taxation seems to have continued into the Gupta and the Harsha eras. The details of taxation in the time of Harsha are noted by the famous Hiuen Tsang, whom  quotes at some length: ``In the branch of finance, Hiuen Tsang was impressed with the moderation of the State demand and the absence of vexatious restrictions against the liberty of the subject, from which resulted a complete security of property. He writes: `As the government is generous, official requirements are few. Families are not registered, and individuals are not subject to forced labour contributions’. Again he says: `Taxation being light and forced labour being sparingly used, every man keeps to his hereditary occupation and attends to his patrimony.’’’ pp. 357-358,  However, by the 9th and 10th centuries, the taxation started varying from place to place and from king to king. There are many references to kings arbitrarily raising tax demands in Rajatarangini. Note though that kings were also overthrown for raising tax demands on the people eg: Jayapida of Kashmir was deposed by a conspiracy for his oppressive taxes p. 116, . Further, one of the dictum that Medhatithi [a political legalist commentator of the 9th century] states is that ``On a small holding the taxes should be light; heavier taxes should be borne by larger profits.’’ p. xviii, . Further, it was local governments [village and town councils] that collected the taxes under the Rashtrakuta and Pratihara kings. There is no evidence of tax farming that would become so common in the Muslim era. But, by the late 10th and early 11th centuries, a few regimes imposed taxes that are comparable to the lower end of Mughal revenue rates. In the time of Rajaraja I, the state's demand of land revenue seems to have been one-third of the gross produce p. 250, , and there was considerable use of forced labour by feudal lords. p. 250, . So, overall, Hindu kingdoms were more equitable than the Muslim ones, though, the former were deteriorating on that count by the time of the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate.
Getting back to the Muslim regimes, the merchants were taxed much less than the peasants, and received several other economic concessions. Ala ud Din khilji, who taxed the peasants half their produce, advanced wealthy Multani merchants two million Tanga (the currency of the time) from his treasury to subsidize their trade in textiles throughout the Sultanate p. 98, . The other Delhi sultans continued his generosity towards the merchants. When Morroccan traveller Ibn Battutta travelled to India in the 14th century he noticed that “it was the custom at Multan that one fourth of the commodities brought by the merchants was appropriated by the state and on every horse was levied a tax of seven dinars.” p.12,  He goes on to write that “two years after our arrival the Sultan remitted these taxes. And he ordered that nothing should be collected from the merchants” p.13, . In fact, Firuz Shah Tughlaq severely reprimanded the vile informers who maliciously directed the attention of the Sultan towards the growing wealth of some bankers or traders. p. 157, .
During the Mughal times, the merchants in Gujarat were, for example, taxed at a much lower rate than the rest of the populace. They paid customs duties of only 2.5-5%, minor inland taxes and some usual bribes p. 130, . We learn more from Farah Abidin on taxes imposed on merchants on the trade routes between India and Afghanistan (the Kabul Suba of the Mughal empire): ``The merchants had to pay taxes on their merchandise, though the levy was normally moderate 2.5-3% .... The fiscal system was not oppressive for the merchants, and favored trade and commerce. In order to ensure the free flow of traffic Akbar had remitted all imposts on goods in transit over land routes. He also abolished the commercial taxes baj and tamgha in 1581. ...Jahangir continued the policy and completely abolished the duties on the Kabul routes.... similarly aurangzeb had also issued a farman forbidding the levy of cesses on traders and merchants in the course of their journey on land routes....the cess on trade was fixed at two and half percent. However, the taxation system was not uniform, and varied from one community to other. In certain instances, the Armenian merchants were taxed at 20% and the Baniyas, ten percent of their sales and purchases in Kabul. Abul Fazl refers to the tax on sale and purchase, he states that half percent of the value should be charged from the purchaser, one and half percent from the seller and half percent from both on account of imam (which was probably brokerage); in all two and a half. Under Jahangir and Shah Jahan, the official rates for all legal levies also remained at one in forty. But Aurangzeb duing the 8th Regnal year enforced a general regulation with regard to market dues and all other legal levies and the rates prescribed were two and half from Muslim and 5% from Hindus and in case of foreigners three and half. This rate was implemented throughout the empire and collection at higher rate was prohibited’’ Loc 2346 – 2368, . Thus, Aurangzib’s regime is one instance during which we note discrimination between Indic and Muslim merchants, during other Mughal rulers we note that the Indic baniyas paid half the taxes that (mostly Christian) Armenian merchants did.
We now show that merchants could stave off adverse impacts of discrimination by forming coalition across religions. At some point Aurangzib exempted the Muslim merchants of any levy on overland trade between India and Kabul. An interesting phenomenon immediately ensued, the Muslim traders started transferring all the merchandise of the Hindu traders, conceivably in lieu of a part of the proceeds, and the coalition completely cut the state off from any share of the revenue. The income of the state fell down drastically and Aurangzib reinstated the 2.5% levy back on Muslim merchants. Abidin has recorded: ``Two years later the levy prescribed for Muslims was abolished and Muslims goods throughout the empire were declared custom free. But all this caused a set back to the government revenue, it was found that a large number of Hindus were transporting their goods under the names of their Muslim friends and thereby evading custom collection. Consequently, Aurangzeb in 25th year of his reign through another regulation, set aside the exemption given to the Muslims and reimposed the older regulation of two and half percent’’ Location 2361-2376 . Alexander Burnes has recounted another instance of similar discrimination inflicted by non-state actos. During 1830s, he observed that a plundering tribe called Momunds in Afghanistan, demanded half a rupee of every Muslim, and double the sum from Hindu merchants p. 114, . His fellow-traveler Mohan Lal has noted that in 1831 in the Sikh territories of current North West Pakistan, like Multan and Dera, the Hindus and Sikhs paid a duty on the import of silk which was half that paid by the Muslim Afghans and the sales tax which was only one fourth p. 67, . On the other hand, the Muslim Afghan Lohani merchants were connected to the Pashto tribes whose territories the caravans had to cross on their way between the Punjab and Sindh and Kabul. Their massive presence mostly ensured safe passage for the caravans, provided the duties were paid to the various tribal chiefs p. 66, . Thus, the different discriminative protections paved the way for mutually beneficial coalition between the two groups of merchants p. 67, .
A question that arises is if the merchants were otherwise economically exploited, or more specifically, were they extorted? Extortion could be an occasional possibility for lower rung of merchants, but can be negated for the top rung, who were extremely influential. We illustrate our point through a few examples, and will get into details of mercantile influence on Muslim establishment in subsequent pieces.
First, several wealthy Indic merchants enjoyed immense political influence and social status in the Muslim, particularly the Mughal, eco-system. According to Jain tradition, Jahangir gave the Oswal Jain court financier and jeweller, Shantidas Jhaveri the title of ‘mama', and granted him access to the Mughal harem. The royal ladies treated him as their brother, and prince Khurram used to address him as mama ('maternal uncle') pp. 129-130, . Individuals who would be extorted were expected to hold grudges and would not be allowed intimate access. Next, Shah Jahan who destroyed several temples during his reign, made exceptions for temples constructed by Shantidas Jhaveri. As to the destruction of temples by Shah Jahan, the Badshahnama mentions, ``It had been brought to the notice of His Majesty that during the late reign many idol temples had been begun, but remained unfinished at Benares, the great stronghold of infidelity. The infidels were now desirous of completing them. His Majesty, the defender of the faith, gave orders that at Benares, and throughout all his dominions in every place, all temples that had been begun should be cast down. It was now reported from the province of Allahãbãd that seventy-six temples had been destroyed in the district of Benares.’’  In addition to the temples in Benares, Shah Jahan, destroyed the temples in Orchha and Kashmir (Ichhabal) and erected mosques on their sites . We now show the exceptions extended made for Shantidas Jhaveri. In 1645, Shah Jahan had appointed Aurangzeb as the Subahdar or the Viceroy of Gujarat. Soon after, Aurangzeb ordered the desecration of a temple built by Shantidas Javeri, and its conversion into a mosque. Shah Jahan overturned the instruction, and issued a firman directing the restoration of the building, and restitution for all damage done. The firman reveals that Shah Jahan made arrangements for the restoration of the temple for the worship by the Jain community. He also ordered that the Bohras who had removed some of the materials from the temple should be forced to return the same or to pay for the replacement p. 132, . The unusual step of a monarch of overturning the decisions of, and thereby undermining the authority of, his son and representative in a province is indicative of the influence of Jhaveri, which makes it all the more unlikely that businessmen of his stature would be extorted.
There are numerous other examples of the influence the merchants wielded. In 1546, the merchants felt that the Portuguese in Div in charge of valuing coinage in the customs house were acting against their intersts. However, they did not appeal to the appropriate Gujarati official in Diu, but just retaliated on their own by organising a boycott and the Portuguese immediately backed down. p. 121, .
Once when a minor Portuguese official was killed in a Gujarati town, and war was threatened in retaliation, the merchants ensured that the status quo was restored by mediating between the two sides. The merchants also guaranteed to the Portuguese that the existing agreements between Gjuarat and Portugal shall be observed. In 1661, the chief merchants of Gujarat negotiated between the English and the Governor of Surat, Mustafa Khan, over a dispute related to a debt. A year later the English still considering themselves oppressed by Mustafa Khan threatened to leave Surat altogether. The Gujarati merchants complained bitterly to the Governor, informing him that the English constituted some of their best customers. The Governor backtracked, and asked the merchants to come to some agreement with the English. As a result, the English got considerable concessions, and guarantees of better behaviour in the future on the part of the Governor. It is no less important that the guarantees were provided by the merchants, not by the Governor. In 1649, the Dutch seized two ships belonging to the emperor Shah Jahan, and held them to ransom, demanding redress to several complaints they had. The Governor employed the Gujarati merchants to negotiate with the Dutch. The Gujarati merchants were worried that if Shah Jahan heard that his ships were seized, he would retaliate, and the merchants would suffer in the ensuing war. Thus an agreement was quickly reached with the Dutch. In July 1616, the judge of the Surat customs house allegedly perpetrated some violence on the chief bannian. In retaliation, all the merchants closed their shops and left the city after lodging a complaint with the Governor. The Governor brought them back and the judge was dismissed. During Aurangzeb’s regime, during the late 1660s, a particular Qazi was acting towards the banias in a very tyrannical way, and was likely forcibly converting them to Islam. All the heads of Surat’s Vania family, numbering some eight thousand, deserted Surat. From Broach, they petitioned the emperor Aurangzeb. The tanksell [mint] and custom house of Surat were closed, no money could be procured either for house expenses or trade. Thus, the people of Surat were all stranded. Aurangzeb soon gave a reassuring reply to the merchants which was to the satisfaction of all concerned merchants. pp. 121-122, 
Nor was the mercantile influence limited to Gujarat. In the court of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan in Bengal, the house of Jagat Seths (Oswal Jain merchains originally from Nagaur in Marwar) also enjoyed great prestige and exerted immense influence in the court of the Bengal Nawabs and in the Mughal court during the 1717-1767. Manik Chand of this house was the right hand man of Nawab Murshid Quli in all his financial reforms and in his private affairs, and had a stature equivalent to that of the governor. pp. 28-29, . After Manikchand’s death in 1714, his nephew Fatehchand succeeded him. In 1717, Murshid Quli Khan placed Fatehchand in charge of his mint at Murshidabad. pp. i-xiii, . A few years after his [Manikchand’s] death, the chief of the English factory at Cassimbazar declared that Fatehchand had the sole use of the mint and not another banker or merchant dared to buy or coin a rupee’s worth of silver. pp. 28-29, . The English repeatedly attempted to obtain the right of coining rupees; however, they were informed ``that while Fatehchand is so great with the Nawab, they can have no hopes of that grant, he alone having the sole use of the mint, nor dare any other Shroff or merchant dare buy or coin a rupee’s worth of silver.’’ p. 43, . He was the treasurer of the government and the private hoards of the Nawab were deposited with him. pp. 28-29, . The Dutch has described him as ``greatest money changer of Hindustan’’. Very soon, the House of Jagat Seth monopolised financial operations in Bengal and Bihar. The Dutch records inform us that all money changers in Bengal and many in Bihar who were not connected with the Jagat Seths were brought to bankruptcy. The Jagat Seth House decided the premium the Shroffs would charge on different variety of coins in Bihar and Bengal. Fatehchand could regularly provide the Nawab’s government enormous sums of money. Thus he could induce the government to initiate regulations for the rate of money exchange that would favour his House. The English and the Dutch unsuccessfully lobbied through leading amirs to obtain the use of the mint. The House was allowed to be the only purchaser of all the bullion imported to Bengal. All government collections including the land revenue remitted by zamindars and amils, proceeded through the House of Jagat Seth. The House was also entrusted the task of remitting the annual tribute to Delhi. It was therefore, functioning as the State Bank of Bengal. pp. i-xiii, . It was commonly said at the Nawab’s durbar, including by other eminent members such as Haji Ahmed, Alivardi’s brother, ``Fatehchand’s estate was deemed as the king’s treasure.’’ p. 64, . By the end of the eighteenth century the entire revenue of the eastern provinces was sent as a Hundi drawn by Jagat Seth on his agents in Delhi p.29  The servants of the English East India Company also separately obtained private loans from the House of Jagat Seth. Whenever such employees defaulted their loans, Jagat Seth would insist that the Company pay on their behalf. He usually got his way because the Company needed his services at the Durbar. The Calcutta Council realised that if they were to trade in Bengal, ``Futteh Chand must be satisfied’’ and that ``The House must be kept in temper.’’ pp. i-xiii, . In fact, during one such dispute between the British and the Jagat Seths, Haji Ahmed and Rai Alamchand informed the British, ``The Nawab [Shuja-ud-daulah] has such a regard for Futtichund that it is out of our power to serve you in opposition to him.’’ So they just advised the English to make up the dispute with Fatehchand as well as they could. p. 67, .
In the seventeenth century, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had personally honored the firm's head, Manek Chand, for his large loans to the government. . Mughal emperor Farrukh-siyar issued a firman bestowing the title of Seth on Manikchand p. 26, . One privilege which was said to have been conferred by the Farrukh-siyar on Manikchand’s family at the time, a privilege they shared with the Nawab’s family alone, was the right of wearing gold ornaments on the feet. The emperor is said to have presented Manikchand’s wife with a golden ornament, which was, and still is, held in the greatest veneration by the female members of the family. p. 27, . Whenever a khillat (dress of honour) was sent to the Nawab, a similar distinction was conferred on Fatehchand (Manikchand’s son). In 1722, Fatehchand received the title of Jagat Seth from the Mughal emperor as a hereditary distinction. The emperor presented Fatehchand a fine emerald seal with his title of Jagat Seth engraved upon it desiring that he would preserve it and hand it down to is posterity. p. 50, . Fatehchand had once restored Murshid Quli Khan to the Mughal emperor’s favour after he had incurred the emperor’s displeasure. pp. i-xiii, . The Jagat Seths were influential even with the Durrani dynasty of Afghanistan, likely because of their influence in the Mughal court, and also of the pre-eminent position they enjoyed in the trans-national Islamic trade (Afghanistan was the hub of the transnational trade route traversing central Asia to north India.) When the Afghan invader Ahmed Shah held his court in the Dewani-am in Delhi in 1757, the most honoured man in his durbar was the representative of the House of Jagat Seth. Note that it was the House of Jagat Seth that could stand as security for the amirs from whom the invader could extort money. pp. I-xiii, .
The Jagat Seths in fact fuctioned as the de facto Nawabs of Bengal. They could easily replace Nawabs who were sub-optimal for their economic and social interests. They could even replace entire regimes with others. For example, Manikchand helped Murshid Quli Khan procure his confirmation of subedar after the death of Aurangzeb. pp. 13-14, . When Murshid Quli died, he had chosen his grandson, Sarfaraz, to succeed him. But Fatehchand did not exert his influence at Delhi to obtain an imperial firman for Sarfaraz, Murshid Quli’s grandson. Fatehchand supported Murshid Quli’s son, Shujauddin, which enabled him to become the Nawab in 1727. Shujauddin was naturally even more generous in his favours to Fatehchand. pp, i-xiii, . As soon as he became the Nawab, he made Fatehchand his confidential adviser p. 61, . After Shujauddin’s death, Sarfaraz succeeded him, but Fatehchand supported Alivardi Khan. This, in turn, enabled Alivardi Khan to defeat and kill Sarfaraz. Subsequently, Fatehchand helped Alivardi get the firman of subedarship from the Mughal emperor. After Alivardi’s death, when his grandson Siraj-ud-daulah succeeded him, he could not obtain the imperial firman for sometime. And he suspected that the Seths were using their influence against him pp. 157-158, . Subsequently, the House of Jagat Seths originated the conspiracy that culminated in the defeat of Siraj-ud-daulah in the battle of Plassey. Jean Law wrote, ``The path which led to the Battle of Plassey had its beginning in Murshidabad and not in Calcutta and it was the Seths who placed the feet of the English in the path.’’ pp. i-xiii, . The inhabitants of Murshidabad firmly believe to this day that the Seths advanced large sums of money to the English prior to the battle of Plassey and that the rupees of the Hindu banker equally with the sword of the English colonel contributed to the overthrow of the Muhammadan power in Bengal. p. 155, . Nick Robins has attributed the ouster of Sirau-ud-daulah primarily to the Jagat Seths: ``The Jagat Seths were unrivalled in north India for their financial power. Known as `banker of the world’ (jagat seth), this Marwari family had built up formidable economic resources on the back of its control of the imperial mint and extensive money lending. They wielded this financial clout at the Bengali court and were judged to be `the chief cause of revolutions in Bengal’ by a French commentator at the time.’’ p. 70, .
Towards the end the of the direct and indirect Mughal regime, the control of the merchants on the state was substantial. As Karen Leonard puts it, ``It is abundantly clear that by 1750 it was bankers who controlled access to the actual collection of land revenue, through provision of credit or cash. They, rather than officials of the Mughal or any other ruler, were the people to deal with. The amount of interest set and the securities demanded by bankers were more critical economic conditions than the revenue demand fixed by a territorial ruler. Most of the evidence for this state of affairs is from the eighteenth century and seemingly linked to the practice of revenue farming. Bankers provided the funds which enabled talukdars ('contractors') to gain their positions as tax farmers, and bankers sent their own agents into the countryside to collect from the land given to them as security or mortgage.’’ .
It is therefore unlikely that such influential merchants could be extorted or economically exploited. The merchants could refuse loans to the Muslim state and its nobility in specific instances in which they felt that the investment would not be profitable. For example, in 1702, when Aurangzib’s rule appeared unstable, and he sought an interest-free loan of half a million rupees from the "sahukars of the Imperial camp", to enable him to pay the arrears of salary of his troops accompanying him in the Deccan, the usurers politely refused . Even a despot like Aurangzeb was forced to accept their refusal. Then again, in the late eighteenth century, bankers (who in the Durrani regime were mostly Hindus) were not willing to finance Afghan ruler Shah Shuja's campaign unless he pledged valuable collateral p. 34, .
Note that there are three widely cited incidents concerning extortion, both of which revolve around Shantidas Jhaveri. Two of these incidents played out during times of political crisis, both took place during succession battles – the first in October 1627 following the death of Jahangir, Shah Jahan who was then a mere claimant to the throne needed money to finance his army. As described by Nathenial Mountney , an English factor of Ahmedabad, Shah Jahan locked the gates of the city (Ahmedabad) for two days so that the Baniyas couldn’t escape till they had paid him his demand of 20 lakh rupees. Nathenial Mountney also raises a doubt as to whether the extortion was authorized by the Prince or not. Nonetheless, the important point here is that Shantidas was in the city but was able to privately retire himself p.103, . Here we see an interesting phenomenon, that even during times of political crises when no one was spared , Shantidas who for his wealth would have been the perfect target to extort money was able to hide himself and thus be spared. The second incident was similar and took place in 1657, Shah Jahan’s serious illness ensued that a war of succession took place among his sons, Murad Baksh who was then in Gujarat was successful in borrowing a large sum from Shantidas Jhaveri. Shantidas then went to Delhi, was “honoured with an auspicious audience” and was able to receive a Farman from Murad himself which would enable him to recover his loan from the government. The story doesn’t end here, now since Aurangzeb captured Murad , his farmans were rendered worthless, he made fresh attempts to recover his loan and he was able to obtain a farman dated 10-8-1658 from Aurangzib to repay Shantidas the amount Murad owed him p.104, . Thus Jhaveri was able to receive repayment farmans, not once but twice. In the third instance, when Hakim Sadra was the governor of Surat, he cornered the available supplies of pepper and extorted money from the mercantile community of Surat and also imprisoned Virji Vora (another important Oswal Jain merchant). When emperor Shah Jahan heard of this incident he summoned Virji Vora to the court to explain the case after which Vora was set free and Sadra was removed from office, p.58, . Thus, while the smaller merchants may well have been at the receiving end but those with political patronage like Shantidas Jhaveri and Virji Vora had enough ways to protect themselves.
Section B: Apathy to farming and trade-benefits and financial autonomy for merchants
While the Muslim rulers displayed extreme apathy to farming conditions, they tried their level best to maintain a positive climate for trade and commerce. At times they went out of their way to persecute the peasants for merely professing the religion they did not like. Firuz Shah Tugluq, in consequence of a revolt in Katehar, perpetrated so many atrocities on the hapless that the latter fled, and stopped tilling the lands. RC Majumdar points out that, ``For five years, not an acre of land was cultivated, no man slept in house; and the deaths of the three Sayyids was avenged by that of countless thousands of Hindus.’’ p. 20, .
In general, the Muslim rulers were interested in the land and its tilling to the extent that they provided the revenues they wanted. Thus, many among the influential nobility of Akbar showed no compassion to the peasants and enhanced their revenue payments arbitrarily p. 368, . Historians in 1634 have documented that oppressive jagirdars sustained no loss after devastating their jagirs as they would be assigned other jagirs after the original ones had been ruined p. 368, . Bernier has documented that jagirdars, governors and revenue contractors reason as follows: ``Why should the neglected state of this land create uneasiness in our minds? And why should we expend our money and time to render it fruitful? We may be deprived of it in a single moment, and our exertions would benefit neither ourselves nor our children. Let us draw from the side all the money we can, though the peasant should starve or abscond and we should leave it, when commanded to quit, a dreary wilderness.’’ p. 368, . During the reign of Jahangir, Xavier has documented from Agra in 1609 that the peasants were ``so cruelly and pitilessly oppressed’’ that ``the fields lie unsown and grow into wildernesses.’’ p. 371, . The condition of the peasants deteriorated during the reign of Shah Jahan. p. 372, . Bernier has written about the times of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, that the Mughal authorities exercised "a tyranny often so excessive as to deprive the peasant and artisan of the necessaries of life, and leave them to die of misery and exhaustion." p. 30, . Ancient Hindu kingdoms, in contrast, mandated that utmost care be taken of agricultural land. The late Smriti law provides the following clauses for the encouragement of agriculture: 1) ``A heavy fine of a hundred panas was the penalty for destroying or otherwise injuring agricultural implements, dams, roots, fruits and flowers.’’ p. 592, . 2) ``Cultivators, taking leases of fields, were fined on a sliding scale for neglecting cultivation. On the other hand, a person turning fallow into arable land, or cultivating a field when the owner was unable to do the same, or was dead or was unheard of, was entitled to the enjoyment of its produce (less an eighth part) for a period of seven or eight years.’’ p. 593, .
As to how, the Muslim rulers were mindful of the needs of the Indic merchants, we note:
- Moneylending was an important occupation of Hindu merchants. Recall that Barani has written about the era of the Delhi Sultanate: " The wealth and riches of the Multani merchants and the shahs [money lenders] were from the interest realized from the old maliks and nobles of Delhi, who borrowed money from them to the maximum limit, and repaid their debts along with additional gifts from their [lands]" p.109, . Thus, the Afghan nobles of Delhi fulfilled their repayment obligations to the Multani merchants. The Mughal state also extended its full protection to the creditor. Several records exist on litigations on recovery of debts including from Sayids of Lahore. The creditors of course had to bribe the officials and in general had to pay 25% of the debt they recovered to the Mughal officials. . The important point to note is that usury has been forbidden in Islamic tenets; so Muslim rulers were willing to disregard their religious tenets to further the interests of their allies. Rather than attesting to the religious tolerance of the Muslim rulers, many of whom unleashed atrocious religious persecution on common Hindus, this reveals the value that the Muslim rulers attached to the services offered by the Hindu merchants and money-lenders.
- During the era of the Delhi Sultanate, while the private property of even the nobles was looked upon with suspicion, the possessions of the traders were scrupulously respected.In fact, Sultan Firuz Tughluq severely reprimanded the vile informers who maliciously directed the attention of the Sultan towards the growing wealth of some bankers or traders.It is no wonder then , that the class of merchants (Vaisyas) as a whole were literate and prosperous , and held much land free of rent. p.157, . Ala ud Din Khilji introduced some measures of confiscation, which excluded the property and wealth of the Hindu bankers and (primarily Multani) traders p. 157,  On the other hand, the same Firuz Shah Tughluq was exceptionally brutal towards the peasants and commoners. RC Majumdar points out that during Firuz Shah Tughluq’s invasion of Odisha, nearly 1 lakh people had taken refuge on an island near the lake Chilika. ``The Sultan converted the island into a basin of blood by the massacre of the unbelievers,’’ and ``no vestige of the infidels was left, except their blood.’’ p. 93, . Similarly, during the Sultan’s campaign in Katehr against Kharku (a rebel), he ``perpetrated almost a wholesale massacre of the Hindus. Indeed, the massacre was so general and indiscriminate that one historian has remarked: `The spirit of the murdered Sayyids themselves arose to intercede’. … Before returning to Delhi, Firuz left a positive order to devastate Katehr annually for the next five years, and appointed an Afghan to execute this bloody work. The Sultan himself annually visited the region during the next five years in order to see that his ferocious order was duly carried into effect. The result was, as a contemporary chronicler has observed: `In those years not an acre of land was cultivated, no man slept in his house, and the death of the three Sayyids was avenged on countless thousands of Hindus’.’’ p. 96, .
- During the Mughal era, the merchants, particularly those of Gujarat, were left strictly alone by the upper level of the administration in matters concering only business interests. They were completely autonomous in commercial matters. They regulated production standards, holidays, interest rates and also their own membership. Most importantly, artisans and employees were left to negotiate on their own with the Mahajan or individual merchants. This provided significant advantages to the merchants as they were in a stronger position as compared to the artisans and the employees p. 131, . Taking advantage of the helplessness, poverty and illiteracy of the Hindu artisans in Gujarat, who had to depend on the advance payments from the merchants for the purchase of the raw material, the Gujarati merchants exploited them by making advance payment p.22, .
- The Mughal rulers constructed several new routes of commerce and communication and meticulously maintained the long-established ones. Niccolao Manucci has noted that since the time of Humayun to Aurangzib many more rest houses have been built upon the royal highways throughout the realm, from one end to the other. p. 39, . Quoting from , we see that, ``In order to meet the demands of the large volume of inter-regional and foreign trade, there was a need for a network of routes and a developed transport system. It is to the credit of the Mughals that we find an elaborate network of routes linking all the commercial centers by the beginning of the 17th centuries. The Mughal Emperors constructed new routes of commerce and maintained the long-established one. Abul Fazl towards the close of the 16th century, records that there were no less than seven routes that were frequented by the merchants between Kabul and Turkistan or Bukhara (the principal Emporium of Western Turan during Mughal period and 5 routes between Kabul and Hindustan, commonly used for transport.’’ loc. 2189-2198, . Further, Abul Fazl states that the emperor (Akbar) made Khyber pass the safest route by widening the road and building a series of caravanserais. loc. 2207, . The Mughal emperors also tried to pacify the Afghan and Baluch tribes by offering them economic incentives for keeping the roads safe. They also offered many administrative positions to tribal leaders. loc. 2207, . Abul Fazl mentions, "The gracious Sovereign cast an eye upon the comfort of Travellers and ordered that in the serais on the high roads, refuges and kitchens should be established, and the articles of food should be in readiness for the empty-handed travellers.’’ loc. 2236, . Akbar also raised contributions from his nobles for the purpose of building caravanserais loc. 2242, . William Finch describes Kabul as ``a great and faire citie .....with two castles and many sarayes’’ loc. 2248, . Jahangir and Shah Jahan continued this policy of building sarais and caravanserais for the welfare of the travellers and the merchants. loc. 2269, . To quote , ``Many other Bridges and Caravansarais at either end of the Khyber route were built during Shah jahan's time under the supervision of his engineer Ali mardan Khan, and some along the roads leading to Badakhshan through the Hindu Kush mountains. Alexander Barnes who traveled from Kabul to Balkh described about the network of Caravansarais, built by the Mughal Emperors across the mountains to Balkh. Thus by the 17th century the Mughals had a system of communication between the most distant provinces which enabled them to have favorable conditions for trade and economic development throughout the entire region location.’’ loc. 2248-2269, . Next, when the Afghan and Baluch tribesmen were found harrassing the caravan merchants traveling to Kandahar, Akbar unleashed his army on the unruly pastoralists, tens or thousands of whom were killed or enslaved and exported for sale in foreign markets p. 40, . Specifically, in 1585, Akbar anexed Kabul in his dominion. Immediately he received complaints that Yusufzais were molesting and plundering caravans of traders and travelers on the way from Kabul to Hindustan and vice versa. Abul Fazl has written that Akbar realized that the backbone of tribal resistance was in the Yusufzai and Mandar countries. He further stated that in a short time Akbar cleared Swat, Bajaur and Buner of the evildoers. A large number of tribesmen were killed and many were sold as slaves in the markets of Central Asia and Persia. loc. 3243-3253, . It is worth noting that the Afghan and Baluch tribesmen were almost all Muslims by then, while the transnational caravan traders in the territory ruled by Akbar were Hindu in considerable numbers p. 105,. Akbar had few qualms in harshly suppressing his co-religionists to secure the interest of the merchants. At times, the Mughals would negotiate and offer economic incentives to the pastoral tribes or grant administrative positions to clan leaders, to keep them off the caravan traders. At other times, they would take clan leaders hostage `to ensure good behaviour on the part of the followers’. They also mandated that the local administrators compensate the traders for goods stolen in their territory. Finally, they enlisted bands of highway police, radars, to patrols the roads and ensure the safety of the traders. p. 40, .
- The enormous influence wielded by the Awadhi moneylenders and bankers [mostly north Indian trading castes, but there were a few Brahmins and Kayasthas also in the trade], during the rule of the Nawabs of Awadh, has been noted by Major General WH Sleeman, the East India Company Resident of Awadh in . He notes that the banker of Morowa, Chundun Lal, was the only one whose family lived in a burnt brick house in the city of Morowa (even the Nawab’s officers did not live in such a home). Sleeman points out that neither government servants, nor landlords dare harm these bankers, who are needed to provide credit and exchange to everyone. Chundun Lal, like others of his kind was disposed `to abuse the confidence of government officers and in collusion with them, to augment his possessions in land at the cost of his weaker neighbours.’ p. 269, . So powerful were the bankers of Awadh, that continuing further, Sleeman narrates, ``Rajah Rambuksh [a powerful talukdar of Awadh] of Dondhea Kheera is in the same predicament. He tells me that a great part of his estate has been taken from him by Chundun Lal, of Morowa, the banker already mentioned, in collusion with the Nazim, Kotab-od Deen, who depends so much on him … he [the Nazim] is obliged to conciliate him [Chundun Lal] by acquiescing in the spoilation of others; that he has already taken much of his lands by fraud and collusion, and wishes to take the whole in the same way; that this banker now holds lands in the district yielding above two lacs of rupees a-year, can do what he pleases, and is everyday aggrandising himself and family by ruin of others … they [the bankers] are apt to do much mischief in the districts where their influence lies, for the Government officers can do little in the collection of revenue without their aid; and as the collection of revenue is the only part of their duty to which they attach much importance, they are ready to acquiesce in any wrong that they may commit in order to conciliate them.’’ pp. 280-281, 
Section C: Apathy to natural and artificial famines and responsiveness to calamities befalling merchants
Famines were constant visitors during the Muslim era. There were famines under Jalal ud din Khalji and Muhammad Tughluq. Scarcity followed as a result of Firuz Tughluq's attack on sind. p. 159,  The tradition continued during the reigns of Mughal emperors from Akbar to Aurangzeb. Between the middle of the 16th to the early 18th century, there were famines in Gujarat, Sindh , Kashmir, Deccan, Punjab, Bengal, Bihar, Malwa, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and Marwar. pp. 114-121, . Terrible famines ravaged the territories around Agra, Bayana and Delhi between 1554 to 1556. People died in groups of tens, twenties and more, and there were so many deaths that the dead could not receive their last rites. The common people survived on the seeds of Egyptian thorn, wild dry grass and cow hides. Badauni witnessed cannibalism during this distress. But now he has written that the affected country " was rendered desolate, cultivators and peasants disappeared, and Rebels plundered the towns of the Muslims" p. 113, . Severe famines affected Gujarat during the 1560 s, and 1574 - 5. Families took to cannibalism during an acute famine around Sirhind between 1572-73. In different parts of Mughal Kingdom, men were driven to feed on carrion During a severe famine between 1596 - 1600 p. 114, . In 1597 during a severe famine, the destitute people of Kashmir " having no means of nourishing their children, exposed them for sale in the public places of the city. " p. 114,  The great famine of 1630-32, which affected Gujarat and most of the Deccan, was probably the most destructive of all the recorded calamities in Moghul India. Gujarat suffered the most during this famine. During the first 10 months of 1631, 3 million of the inhabitants of Gujarat died, 1 million perished in ahmadnagar. The cities of Gujarat reduced to about one-tenth of their former state. Parganas of Sultanpur, Nandur, Mandu, Ahmadabad, became completely desolate and peasants had to be brought in from other areas to settle there. Parents sold their children during this famine. People migrated towards the less affected land, but most of them died in the first stages of the journey. The dead bodies blocked the roads. In the first year of the famine, it was mostly the poor who perished, but in the second year some of the more affluent suffered the same fate. People fed on cattle hide and hog-flesh, and sold the crushed bones of the dead mixed with flour. Cases of cannibalism became common. Contemporary accounts refer to parents eating their own children. A woman complained to the qazi of Ahmedabad that her neighbor killed her son with her consent, but then denied her a share in his flesh. The famine was worsened when the transportation of grain was hampered in 1630 by the task of feeding Shah Jahan's army encamped at Burhanpur pp. 115-117, . In 1647, Marwar experienced a famine, so much that the affected parts became almost wholly depopulated and impassable due to mortality and flight of the inhabitants p. 118, . Yet another major scarcity occurred in Gujarat in 1685, leading to a riot in Ahmedabad against the Qazi, who was reportedly in league with the hoarders. The scarcity extended to the whole of the Deccan in 1686. During the same time and suffered from both scarcity and an accompanying epidemic. p. 120,  Famine, pestilence and scarcity visited Gujarat again in 1691 and 1694-95 p. 120, . During 1694-5, the region around Delhi experience scarcity, the worst-affected was the Bagar tract on the North Eastern edge of the Thar Desert. The inhabitants of this region moved to other parts, were forced to eat carrion, sell their children and died in thousands. Orissa also experienced a famine during this period. Gujarat and Marwar experienced drought in 1696-97, so much so that not a trace of grass of water could be found between Pattan and Jodhpur. The same drought and an accompanying plague killed 80,000 people in Thatta alone of Sindh p. 120, . Most of the villages of the Deccan become desolate due to a Great Famine in 1702, people how to migrate from their ancestral homes. Between 1702 to 1704, more than 2 million died in the Deccan famine. Fathers were offering to sell their children for a quarter or a half of a rupee, and yet could not manage to get any food, as there were none to buy those children p. 121, .
Many of the famines and the food scarcities were a direct outcome of Mughal policies. First, everywhere in Mughal India, the bulk of agrarian surplus was appropriated by the state leaving the peasantry with the minimum necessary subsistence, loc. 1328 . Thus, in years of drought and lower produce the peasants would simply have to starve. This is precisely why famines and scarcities have been recorded even in regions with high agrarian productivity, eg, Bengal. Then again, the frequent military feuds taxed the agrarian resources and also destroyed crops in many places. For example, in 1658, the Mughal war of succession caused scarcity of food in northern India. p. 118. Due to this war, the kharif crop of Malwa was destroyed. p. 119, . In Bengal, the imperial armies, while operating in rebel country, almost invariably took ryots captive and laid waste to the cultivated land with the object of weakening the enemy's war effort. p. 82, . In 1663-64 a severe famine visited Dhaka which was accentuated by the officials' exactions and interference with the transport of food grains and the obstructions they put up on the routes p. 119,  , p. 203, . Historian Mclane has noted that ``Bihar experienced a major famine in 1671 which stretched into the northwest corner of Bengal. It is clear from John Marshall's diary entries that neither the Mughal government at Dacca nor local private agency took effective or perhaps any action to relieve the suffering. Great number of Slaves to be brought for 4 an. and 8 an. per peece, and good ones for 1 r. per peece; but they are exceeding leane when bought, and if they eat but very little more than ordinary of rice, or eat any flesh, butter or any strong meat their faces and
hands and codds swell immediately exceedingly. The Mughal kotwal (police officer) recorded over 90,000 starvation deaths in Patna and its suburbs.’’ p. 31,  Similarly, in the rest of the country, in spite of recurring famines the Mughals took no systemic steps for relief, leave alone any adequate protection from it, despite some ad-hoc measures by Akbar and Shah Jahan. p. 735, 
In contrast, the Muslim rulers were exceedingly conscientious and accommodative whenever calamities befell merchants. For example, in 1664, Shivaji sacked Surat, which was a major Mughal port on the Western coast and also the centre of finance. His soldiers looted the property of the wealthy merchants, spanning Indics and Muslims. Aurangzeb to quote Jadunath Sarkar, ``showed his sympathy with the afflicted citizens by excusing the customs duties for one year in the case of all merchants of Surat, and he rewarded the valour of the English and the Dutch traders [who defended the merchants of Surat against Shivaji’s attack] by granting them a reduction of one per cent from their normal import duties on their merchandise in future.’’ p. 73, . Thus even Aurangzeb, who is known for his religious bigotry, appeased merchants, in this case of Surat, who were Indic in considerable fraction.
Section D: Indigenuous Indic kingdoms or Mughal India – a tale of contrasting preferences between Indic underclass and merchants
During the Muslim era, there were several independent Indic kingdoms in India and in the surroundings. For example, during the reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangzib and right after, in and around Bengal, Tripura, and Koch Behar were definitely independent, as was Buddhist Arakan (which feuded with the Mughals over Chittagong). During this time, the Rajas of Bishnupur, Birbhum and Pachet also lay beyond the direct control of the Mughal power p. 252,  The city state of Barisal also eked out a semi-independent existence in Bengal. The zamindars of Birbhum and Bishnupur in bengal were powerful enough to refuse the summons to attend the court of Murshidabad p. 252, . Further south, the southern Nayaks, the kingdom of Mysore, and the states of Kerala were independent. But, because of the symbiotic relation with Muslim imperialists that the Indic merchants preferred to live under the Muslim rulers, than under Hindu Rajas, the preference of the Hindu underclass was diametrically opposite.
Muhammad Habib points out that, ``The happiest group during the Delhi sultanate were the Hindu bankers (sahs), the transport merchants (tujjar) and Market-merchants (saudagar-i-bazari). Next to them came the well-to-do zamindar's, called Rais, Ranas and Rawats, whose security was guaranteed by the Delhi Sultanate so long as they paid their tribute and performed some specified services’’ p. 223, . Moving on to the Mughal era, this happiness becomes apparent when we study contemporary records left during the reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangzib and right after.
Hamilton (1688-1723) has mentioned, with regard to Bengal: `` The Gentiles are better contented to live under the Mogul laws than under pagan princes, for the Mogul taxes them gently and everyone knows what he must pay, but the pagan kings or princes tax at discretion making their own avarice the standard of equity’’; it appears from the context that Hamilton was referring to Hindu merchants through the terminology of Gentile. p. 387, .
In contrast, for the peasants, Bernier (1658-1688 AD) has pointed out that ``Of the vast tracts of country constituting the empire of Hindoustan, many are little more than sand, or barren mountains, badly cultivated, and thinly peopled; and even a considerable portion of the good land remains untilled from want of labourers; many of whom perish in consequence of the bad treatment they experience from the Governors. These poor people, when incapable of discharging the demands of their rapacious lords, are not only often deprived of the means of subsistence, but are bereft of their children, who are carried away as slaves. Thus it happens that many of the peasantry, driven to despair by so execrable a tyranny, abandon the country, and seek a more tolerable mode of existence, either in the towns, or camps; as bearers of burdens, carriers of water, or servants to horsemen. Sometimes they fly to the territories of a Raja, because there they find less oppression, and are allowed a greater degree of comfort.” p. 205, . The official historian of Aurangzib has essentially concurred with Bernier by mentioning that ``the zamindars of the country of Hindustan, for considerations of policy - for winning the hearts of, and conciliating, the peasants, in order that they may not cease to obey or pay revenue to them - conduct themselves gently in exacting the revenue in the mahals of their zamindari, and do not apply the regulations and laws followed in the imperial dominions’’. Note that this statement has been made in Almagir nama with reference to Kuch Bihar p. 387, 
Section E: Disparity in distribution of wealth – the myth of prosperity
As a result of the above discriminations, there was a huge disparity in wealth distribution during the Muslim regime. We first provide evidences of general affluences of the merchants. Barbosa has written that during the Delhi Sultanate era the traders of Gujarat used porcelain. The people of Rander in Surat had many shelves full of beautiful porcelain crockery in many designs p. 209, . Barbosa also notes that the Gujarati Banias were fond of wearing ear-rings of gold set with many precious stones, some other rings over their fingers and a Golden Girdle over their clothes pp. 216, 217, . Barani has written about the rule of Firoz Shah that the shopkeepers were more prosperous than at any other time. ``The shopkeeper is now the ruler of the market; he buys as he likes, and sells as he likes...The property of shop-keepers, merchants, bankers and regraters has exceeded lacs and reached karor.’’ p. 387, . Muhammad Habib has noted that the profits of the shopkeepers increased during the Delhi Sultanate p. 162, . Next recall that Bernier has noted that during the rules of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, Hindus ``possess almost exclusively the trade and wealth of the country.’’ p. 225, . This clearly suggests that the Hindu merchants prospered throughout the Muslim rule, across multiple regimes. In fact, all the Hindu merchant communities mentioned thus far, namely, Sindhi, Khatri, Gujarati, Marwari were extremely prosperous throughout, this is why they could fund the Muslim rulers and wield influence in their courts. For example, Jain merchants of Gujarat like Shantidas Javeri and Virji Vora had amassed legendary wealths, they were financing Mughals, British and the Dutch, as pointed out by Jain sites . Virji Vora was in fact dealing in more than 12000 tolas of gold p.54, 
In contrast, peasants were extremely poor. Ashraf has written about the era of the Delhi Sultanate, “The peasant usually worked hard and unceasingly, almost day and night during certain seasons of the year. His exacting labour was shared by his wife and other members of the family. In return for all his labour the peasant was lucky if he could obtain a square meal everyday. There are very few and very vague references to the life of the peasants [during the Delhi Sultanate], but it can be asserted with confidence that their lot was miserable and they lived constantly in a state of semi starvation When you have said that people go nearly naked you have practically exhausted the topic of clothing and you can write little about furniture when the possessions of a [peasant] family are limited to a couple of bedsteads and a scanty supply of cooking vessels” p.124, . Indeed, even Amir Khusro, no friend of the Hindus, was constrained to remark regarding the fate of the peasants during the Delhi Sultanate as, ``Every pearl in the royal crown is but the crystallised drop of blood fallen from the tearful eyes of the poor peasant." p. 77, . Dutch observer declared during the reign of Jahangir that the common people live in ``poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe.’’ p. 103, . Also, in Jahangir's reign, an English Factor at Agra proclaimed that ``the Plebians sort is so poor that the greatest part of them go naked in their whole body [save their privities, which they cover with a linen cotton] coverture’’ p. 108, . Bernier states that, ``The country is ruined by the necessity of defraying the enormous charges required to maintain the splendour of numerous court, and to pay a large army maintained for keeping the people in subjection. No adequate idea can be conveyed of the sufferings of the people. The cudgel and the whip compel them to incessant labour for the benefit of others.’’ p. 367, . More importantly, the peasants were starving, driven to cannibalism and selling their family members during famines, in exactly the same periods (16th to 18th centuries) and same regions (Gujarat, Marwar, Sind and Bengal) in which the merchants amassed legendary wealths.
The disparity is best articulated in Mclane’s study of Bengal during Mughal and post-Mughal times. We quote him: ``Many Europeans commented upon Bengal's prosperity. Francis Bernier wrote after two visits between 1656 and 1668 that Bengal was "the finest and most fruitful country in the world" although he admitted "strangers seldom find the air salubrious." Thomas Bowrey, a factor for the English East Company in Bengal in the 1670s and 1680s, said it "is one of the largest and most Potent Kingdoms of Hindostan ... this Kingdome is now become most famous and Flourishinge." Robert Orme, in 1752, thought Bengal "is the most fertile of any [province] in the universe." Whenever other parts of India experienced dearth, Europeans assumed Bengal could send food since it normally exported sizeable quantities of rice, sugar, and clarified butter. Bengal appeared fertile and productive because it provided at favourable prices large quantities of goods desired in other parts of India, Asia, and Europe. However, virtually no one claimed that the general population of Bengal was well-off or that the bullion used to purchase its goods was broadly distributed.’’ pp. 29-30, . Mclane went on to elaborate: ``Apart from rare anecdotes, we have only indirect evidence of how Bengal's growing wealth was shared. Bengal's marginal advantage in international trade was, after all, a function in part of the low wages paid to its artisans and low prices paid to the peasants who grew rice, sugar, cotton, mulberry leaves, and other items. Bengali textile artisans were said to have earned one sixth of what their counterparts in France received. Weavers usually would not undertake a contract without an advance, perhaps because they were too poor to do so. It is possible that population growth absorbed much of the new wealth of the late seventeenth century, limiting the opportunities of common cultivators to share it. In addition, Mughal officials assigned to Bengal may have siphoned off a major portion of the new currency. As the margin between the formal claim of the state and the money in circulation widened, Mughal officials found means to divert large sums to their personal treasuries, despite imperial regulations designed to limit this. Members of the imperial ruling family assigned to Bengal, such as Shah Shuja, Shaista Khan, and Azim-ud-din, and other officials as well, accumulated extraordinary fortunes while in Bengal, partly through extortion and unauthorized exactions, partly through monopolistic trading practices, and partly through the administration of their personal revenue assignments.Reports of uncertain reliability said that Shaista Khan (nazim 1664-78 and 1679-88) personally accumulated Rs. 9 krors 20 in eighteen years, Khan Jahan Bahadur Khan (nazim 1688-89) removed Rs. 2 krors in one year, and Prince Azim-ud-din (nazim 1697-1712) removed Rs. 8 krors in 1706 after his first nine years.This suggests that these nazims personally accumulated Rs. 19 krors or the equivalent of over half Bengal's jama in those years (Rs. 1.13 krors X 28 years = Rs. 36.68 krors).’’ pp. 31-32, 
Ramesh Chandra Majumdar has also written in detail about the plight of the common people of Bengal during the medieval times. He has affirmed that during the Mughal period Bengal was gradually being impoverished due to drainage of wealth outside: "In the first place, a huge amount of money had to be sent to Delhi every year as revenue. Secondly, the Subadar and the important officials were all non-Bengalees, who used to come from Delhi, and when they retired they carried away with them the large sums of money acquired by them, both honestly and dishonestly, during their period of service. During Murshid Quli Khan's time, a crore of rupees on an average used to be sent to Delhi every year as revenue. Shuja-ud-Din used to send a crore and 25 lacs a year. During his rule of 12 years a total sum of Rs. 146278538 was sent to Delhi. Shayista Khan had saved 38 crores in 22 years and Azim-us-shan, 8 crores in 9 years ; and all this money was taken away to Delhi from Bengal." p. 177, 
Ramesh Chandra Majumdar has continued: ``even with the necessities of life very cheap, the distress of the presence and the common man [in medieval Bengal] was appalling. This was due to many reasons, one of them being the unjust oppression and extortion of the government officers.... Manrique, a foreign traveller, has recorded that on failure to pay rent a Hindu had his wife and children sold by auction. The Government officers used to outrage the modesty of the women of the peasants, and the peons oppressed the people in various ways. There was no remedy for such oppression to the poor peasants who comprise 90% of the population. Another cause of the distress of the people was the plunder and ravages of the soldiers during war, so much so that villagers on both sides of the route of an army, on hearing of its approach, left their villages and took shelter at the distance. The victorious soldiers indulged in looting even after cessation of hostilities. After the surrender of Pratapaditya the victorious Mughul general told the former's son Udayaditya; "The Mughul General Makki is ransacking your country, and you are filling his bags with gold. I am keeping my army restrained and not even a mango or a jackfruit is sent to me. Well, tomorrow I will teach you a lesson." Under orders of the general his army and cavalry marched for the capital town, Jessore, at midnight, and ravaged the town in a manner as never happened before in other expeditions. The general himself has recorded his exploits in the matter. The inhabitants of the southern coastal region were always panicky and in fear of the constant danger of pillage by the Portuguese pirates. These pirates used to ransack the countryside, burn villages, molest the women, and carry off men, women and children, who were loaded in boats like animals and then sold as slaves. Between 1621 and 1624 AD, the Portuguese captured 42,000 people from various places of Bengal and brought them as slaves to Chittagong. Many of them used to be employed by them for household work. The soldiers on expeditions by land also captured men and women on the way and sold them as slaves. Even in times of peace the common man in the countryside had to give begar (free labor) to Government officers. On the whole, there are no reasonable grounds for thinking that the common people were happy in the middle age, but it is likely that they were better off than now in respect of the bare necessities of life." pp. 186-187, 
During this time, Fray Sebastiao Manrique, has noted about Dhaka in 1640 that the wealthy Khatri merchants in Dhaca hoarded such large quantities of money at their homes, that they could not be counted, had to be weighed p. 156, . Nick Robins mentioned about Bengal in the middle of the eighteenth century that ``Indeed Asian trading houses such as those headed by Jagat Seth and Amirchand (Umichand), were often far richer and better connected than the Company.’’ p. 70, , and that ``The Jagat Seths were unrivalled in north India for their financial power. Known as `banker of the world’ (jagat seth), this Marwari family had built up formidable economic resources on the back of its control of the imperial mint and extensive money lending.’’ p. 70, . At the peak of its commercial prosperity, the Jagat Seth house, known to be the largest family firm of the 18th century, commanded roughly 140 million rupees p. 200, . The Indic merchants became so prosperous because, both literally and figuratively, a part of the Muslim loot was siphoned to them as rewards of collaboration in setting up the regime and maintaining it. Indeed, one great source of profit to the Jagat Seths was the receipt of revenue of Bengal and other payments made to the Nawab. It appears that they were entitled to receive 10 percent on all these payments and Scrafton estimated their profits from this source at 40 lakhs a year. p. 151. .
Thus, rather than the thesis which is recently being reiterated, that is, ``200 years of British rule had reduced India from its glory of one of richest countries in the world to the poorest’’ , it would be more accurate to state that the Muslim rule impoverished and exploited the Indian masses, who were further ruined by the next colonial regime, the British. India may well have had 23% of the world’s GDP before the British assumed power , but its benefit was limited to mercantile classes, the royalty, nobility and the landed gentry. And, far from poverty being unknown in India during the Muslim regime (as claimed in ), in good years, the common people lived hand to mouth almost everywhere, in bad years they starved to death, were driven to sell their family members off and had even had to resort to cannibalism and feeding on carrion.
Section F: Conclusion
Mercantile groups comprise of a minuscule fraction of the population of Indian subcontinent, yet control the bulk of India’s wealth. As Scott Levi points out that in 1965 Marwari financial houses collectively controlled 7.5 billion rupees in assets and Parsi ones controlled 4.7 billion rupees in capital. In 1965 the Marwari and Parsi populations were respectively at most (or barely exceeded) 20 lakhs and 90,000. Similarly, the Ismailis in Pakistan, with less than 1% of the country's population, by 1959 controlled over 50% of the country's industrial assets. The Nattukottai Chettiars dominated the banking and textile trade of South India as early as 1896, with the population of only 10,000 including women, children, and others not directly involved in commercial activities pp. 180-181, . The concentration of the current mercantile wealth in the hands of a minuscule fraction of the population is a result of 1) the same mercantile groups continuing from 1200 years of colonial subjugation, 2) their receiving preferential treatment from the long-standing invading regimes in India, and 3) the devastation the invader-merchant duo jointly perpetrated on the bulk of the rest of the populace. Gurcharan Das, who is extremely friendly to business, has written ``Indian industry originated with the old merchant castes and they continue to dominate till today. 15 of the 20 largest industrial houses in 1997 were of Vaishya/Baniya trading castes. 8 were Marwaris. (Similarly, in contemporary Pakistan, most of the 22 families who reputedly own half the nation’s wealth are Kutchi Memons, the leading Muslim trading caste of undivided India.)’’ pp.176-177, .
In some instances, same families have continued to dominate big business at least since the Mughal times. For example, one of the leading big business groups today, the Lalbhais, are decendants of Shantidas Jhaveri who was a Mughal court jeweller and financier from the times of Akbar. During the British times, the Lalbhais were landowners, jewellers, traders and industrialists, and did even better than during the Mughal times p. 309, . Kasturbhai Lalbhai was the biggest cotton magnate of Ahmedabad during the twentieth century p. 298, , and was known to be paying wages lower than the norm p. 419, . Just as Shantidas Jhaveri was close to the ruling Mughal establishment of Delhi, Kasturbhai was close to many powerful national-level Indian politicians. He was one of the initial donors of Gandhi, and had been close to him since a year or so before Gandhi started championing Khilafat pp. 321, 325, . Motilal Nehru stayed with him during his visits to Ahmedabad p. 328, . Kasturbhai’s nephew Gunottam Huthee Singh married Motilal’s daughter and Jawaharlal’s sister, Krishna (sister of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru) p. 364, . Lalbhai was close to Vallabhbhai Patel as well p. 304, 326, . In 1944, he became a signatory to the Bombay Plan, which ensured that the pre-independence mercantile class continued its control on Indian industry post the transfer of power, and the first five year plan launched by Nehru in 1950 is known to be a direct continuation of this Bombay plan. Even otherwise his influence in the political establishment continued unabated after the transfer of power in 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru had great confidence in his relative Kasturbhai Lalbhai p. 407, . As a member of the advisory committee on fundamental rights, minorities and the administration of tribal and excluded areas in 1947, he played a role in the writing of the Constitution. In 1948 he became the chairman of the Economic Committee of the Ministry of Finance, and in 1952 of the Central Public Works Department industry committee. Later he became the chairman of the national research Development Corporation p. 406, .
The mercantile control on religious establishments have also continued since the Muslim regime or even earlier. Shantidas Jhaveri was a religious head of the Jain community . He used his wealth and status to appoint his friend Rajsagarsuri as the Acharya of his sect despite the opposition of Vijayasensuri. On his part, Rajsagar, remained loyal to his patron and glorified him in several ways after attaining high religious position p.18, . We observe almost an encore centuries later with the Jagat Seths, who became the leaders of the Oswal Jain community, and their priests were honoured above other priests. p. 247, . Similarly, during the modern times Lalbhai’s family has been considered a leader of the Jain Community p. 316, , and acted as a representative of the Jains in the minority subcommittee of Constituent assembly pp. 406-407, .
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