Problems of Peasant Protest in Early Medieval India
The early medieval socio-economic formation was marked by a grossly unequal distribution of land rights and also of the agricultural produce. A large number of landlords were not directly engaged in cultivation but lived on rent, mainly in kind, collected from the cultivators. They also exploited the labour of the peasants for various purposes, including construction and transport. Since trade and handicrafts were languishing and metal money was not much in use in day-to-day transactions, it was difficult for the peasants to go to the market to seek relief.
How did the socio-economic formation characterised by an unequal distribution of land arise? We can identify three processes. The practice of assignment of land revenues or of plots of land for religious pui^oses was the most important of these. Although epigraphic records indicating such grants for administrative or other services are not so common, land assignments were undoubtedly made for services other thari religious. The second process related to the transformation of the village headman and other functionaries into landed magnates. Thirdly, in certain cases, specified imposts levied from the peasants were earmarked for the maintenance of fiscal and administrative officers. In course of time, these officers seem to have acquired permanent control not only over these imposts but also over th^ land wNch was the source of such income.
What led to the wide prevalence of the practice of assignment of land and revenues? In all probability it was the outcome of bitter social conflicts, though we can make only very general statements. The earliest passages which refer to the kali age in the Puranas date to the last quarter of the third and the first quarter of the fourth centuries. A good part of their descriptions of the kali age becomes conventional in later times. But the passages, when they occur first, cannot be dismissed as figments of imagination. They show that peasants were oppressed with taxation, and the vaisyas and the sudras refused to
» formerly Professor of History, Delhi University