Perspective in Local History
Sirajul Islam, Bengal Land Tenure, K.P. Bagchi & Co., Calcutta, 1988, pp.134, Rs. 80.
Sirajul Islam's book deals with socio-economic transformation in the rural society following the Permanent Settlement till the end of the 19th century. The author has based his study on village level records and made an important contribution in the innovation of sources and method of treatment.
According to Sirajul Islam, the origins of the multi-tiered tenurial society can be traced back to the mid-18th century when zamindari as the key institution started disintegrating and subordinate landed interests of various types assumed significance. Even before the Permanent Settlement jotedars had emerged as a stronger party than zamindars. A major shortcoming of the Permanent Settlement was that it ignored powerful intermediate landed interests and backed only zamindars. It failed to satisfy the expectations of zamindars as well by not allowing suspension or remissions of land revenue, during famines, and made their estates liable to sale in default of land revenue thereby depriving them of their traditional status by reducing them to a mere contractual relationship with the state. The results are well known to all: powerful zamindaris crumbled within a decade. The Raja of Burdwan tried to preserve himself by regulating the intermediaries as Pattnidars and by creating a zamindari within a zamindari. It soon involved him in legal conflict with the colonial government as it was considered to be a violation of the Permanent Settlement. The persistent insecurity of land revenue which gave rise to Paitni tenure further led to the creation of second and third degree land rights. The irregularities continued to persist as failure of one link to pay disrupted all others. The crisis came to the surface in 1818-19 when unpaid arrears accumulated. The government ultimately recognised all intermediate Pattni rights, though the reason of low cost advanced by Sirajul Islam appears to be somewhat simplistic, the main consideration being political expediency (pp. 9-24). The legalisation of Pattni tenure led to rapid multiplication of tenurial rights in various parts of Bengal, which was a new element in the agrarian structure, though the author contends that it was an outgrowth of local customs and usages (dastur-rewaz) (pp. 27-29).