How Feudal was Indian Feudalism?
SEVERAL SCHOLARS have questioned the use of the term feudalism to characterise the early medieval socio-economic formation in [ndia.1 But the points raised by Harbans Mukhia2 deserve serious attention. He rightly suggests that, unlike capitalism, feudalism is not a universal phenomenon. But in our view tribalism, stone age, metal age, advent of food producing economy are universal phenomena. They do indicate some laws conditioning the process and pattern of change.
Tribalism may continue or be 'followed by different forms of state and class society, but it appears universally. Tribal society has many variations. It can be connected with any of the modes of subsistence such as cattle pastoralism, other types of pastoralism, hoe agriculture, plough agriculture, etc. The advent of agriculture requires cooperation and settlement at one place, and creates a lasting base for the tribal set-up. Many tribal societies practise 3hifting cultivation or swidden cultivation. But an advanced type of agriculture produces substantial surplus and creates dents in tribal homogeneity. Conditions appear for the rfse of classes based on status and wealth and above all on the large-scale exploitation of the bulk of the kinsmen by a few people on top. In such a situation the tribal system gets heavily corroded.
Similary, although the tribal society is organised on the principle of kinship, this organisation could have large variations. Some form of organisation, inherited from the band society, would be developed further in the tribal stage. Cooperation in production efforts would be needed; division of labour would be required. But this could be* on the matriarchal basis, patriarchal basis, on the basis of a combination of the two, and in fact could rest on an organisation based on all kinds of kinship combinations and permutations. Marriage practises and laws of 'property' inheritance might differ from one tribal society to the other, and may differ ^yen in the same tribe. But, in spite of these variations, tribal society has been found on a universal scale. Therefore the concept of tribe is useful even for the understanding of social formations known from written texts.
*Professor, Department of History, Delhi University.