Asiatic Mode of Production in South Asia: An Empirical Study

Tripta Wahi

Any mode of production is a unity of both the processes of production as well as the social relations of production. The actual processes of production are defined by the knowledge system/s pertaining to any sphere/ field of production, while social relations of production signify control over the means of production, labour and the final product. We may also note that the two aspects work in tandem, but they also contain an inherent potential of conflict. The potential of conflict is situated in the very nature of its two components; the processes of production, through accumulative experience, have an inherent tendency/capacity for growth and change while, social relations of production, that is, the property relations, tend to resist change. Over time accumulative knowledge of the forces of production tend to outgrow the existing social relations of production. It is when the forces of production outgrow the existing property relations that they undermine and transform the existing social relations. It is against this backdrop that we proceed to examine the issue under discussion.


Land and water are/were two essential components for agrarian production. This may seem a rather naïve way of introducing a subject that is at the centre of an international debate and polemics. But perhaps the naivety of this statement can be the best introduction to the subject under discussion. When we begin to examine and seek information on water as a parallel component to land in our study of the agrarian history of the subcontinent, we are confronted with new issues and dimensions unnoticed otherwise,` revealing layers upon layers of water rights hidden from the view.


We propose to look at water as a parallel component to land in agrarian production in South Asia to explore the political economy of irrigation and water relations in agrarian production and their import both for the state and the society in pre-colonial India.


(i) Both land and water are different in nature. While land is by and large a fixed entity,1 water is in a constant flux. Further, while the land once cleared and developed could be regarded largely as a constant natural resource for agricultural production, water on the contrary is/was a constant variable and, thereby, a factor of instability in agricultural production. Variability of water produced a constantly fluctuating agricultural landscape2 and stability in agriculture was in direct proportion to human intervention in water.3 As the pre-modern states and societies within the Indian sub-continent depended primarily on the agrarian surplus, irrigation was at the core of their organization and existence.


(iii)  For understanding the Asiatic Mode of Production, we have to look at the relationship between irrigation, state and society in the pre-colonial India. In this article this relationship is being explored with regard to two modes of irrigation, namely, canals and wells. These two modes have been chosen as they represent almost two ends of the scale in irrigation. Different sources of water require different scales of organisation and resources, technologies, structures of organisation and forms of labour for creating irrigational mechanisms and also involve different systems of usage, distribution and control. These features stand out conspicuously when dealing with two ends of the scale.


(iv)  While canals deal with running surface water, and usually huge volumes of water and cover large areas, the wells are field-specific and their source of water is underground. The role of the state and the society individually and in interdependence and interaction is distinct in each one of these two modes of irrigation and yet there is commonality in terms of right to water, labour appropriation and socio-economic and political consequences both for the state and the society.


(v)  It is noteworthy that while the structures of organisation, forms of labour, mechanisms of usage, distribution and control emerge more clearly from the canal irrigation, rights to water stand out in sharp relief from the field-specific mode of irrigation.


(vi)  There is centrality of irrigation both for the agrarian production as also for the structures and mechanisms of appropriation of the surplus produce. The state itself was deeply involved in creating and controlling irrigation facilities. Indeed the water rights defined the nature of the state.


Canal Irrigation


For primary data for the canals the paper confines itself largely to the region covered by the British Punjab,4 which encompassed more than two subahs of the Mughal empire, namely, Lahore, Multan and parts of Delhi.


(i)    There was a great deal of irrigation from canals in the pre-colonial Punjab.5 Indeed, there were canals all over the region, notwithstanding Babur’s observation that there were no canals in Hindustan.6 There is plenty of evidence to show that all rivers, streams and nullahs, perennial or seasonal, large or small, had canals. It can be safely asserted that topography and gradient permitting, canals were made on all running surface water. The British carried out an extensive survey of all the existing canals in the region with a view to working out their future course of action regarding canal irrigation. They even recorded remains of the abandoned canals. The exhaustive British survey forms the initial and main basis of evidence to work on the theme under discussion. However, invariably this evidence gets corroborated and supplemented by information from a variety of other sources from the earlier periods of the history of the region.


(ii)  There were two types of canals, namely, perennial and seasonal. The perennial canals by definition had a constant supply of water whereas the seasonal canals worked for a few months in a year. The duration of the seasonal canals being operational synchronised with the optimal flow of the source of their running water.7 The seasonal canals are described as inundation canals in the British sources and by modern historians, but to avoid confusion between the actual sailab (inundation) and the channelisation during the period of optimal flow of rivers etc. of the water through human intervention,8 it has been preferred to call them seasonal canals. While the seasonal canals could be located anywhere on the river, they tended to be concentrated in the middling courses of the rivers. Their operations were directly linked to the fluctuating flows of the rivers. Thus, for instance, of the main fifteen seasonal canals in the Multan district, the Diwanwah, Mahmudwah and the Bahawalwah on the Satluj worked from April to October, while the Sardarwah and the Sultanwah were operational from April to November and the Kabulwah and the two Jumwah Doobabs worked from April to September. On the river Chenab, three canals were operational from April to October and four from April to September.9 Operation timings of these and such other canals were linked to the volume of flow of the rivers/streams on which they were built. The volume of flow of the Indus rivers is at its lowest from October to March while in the pre-monsoon months their flow gains from the melting snow of the Himalayas10 and the river water begins to get diverted by the bunds to the canals whereby it is conducted inland. The seasonal canals existed equally on the non-perennial rivers, but they were more dependent on precipitation as these rivers did not originate in the snow-clad Himalayas. Numerous canals on the Ghaggar and the Sarswati are an instance in point.11


The perennial canals could cover short or long distances, but water was nearly always available in those canals. The constant supply of water was due to their head-works/embankments being usually located in places where rivers debouch from the hills. The submontane region with so many streams and nullahs having a constant supply of water, was full of perennial canals; such canals covered short distances in between numerous streams. Thus, for instance, canals from the two perennial streams in the Dera Ghazi Khan region represent such a phenomenon.12 Making canals covering much longer distances required far greater technical expertise, management and resources. Several such canals are known to have been built in the Punjab several centuries prior to its annexation by the British. Two large canals were built by Firuz Shah Tughluq in the thirteen-fifties and at least one by Akbar and Shahjahan each. All these canals subsequently fell in disuse and were reconstructed, extended and/or remodeled by the subsequent rulers at different points of time. Firuz Shah Tughluq built an extensive network of canals in the Sirhind and Hissar region, the dry belt in the Satluj-Jamuna interfluve, and linked these to two perennial canals with one each from the rivers Satluj and Jamuna.13 Akbar not only revived Firuz Shah’s canal from the Jamuna, but also built a new canal on the river Ravi. As stated earlier, the Firuzi canals were rebuilt by Akbar; Shahjahan too had them repaired and extended.14 Shah Jahan also revived the Firuzi canal on the Jamuna and brought it further to Delhi.15 The Shah Nahr on the Ravi, with its head-works at Madhopur, was built during Shah Jahan’s reign. Running through the upper Bari Doab, it brought water to Lahore.16 Ali Mardan Khan also made a perennial canal on the river Tavi; it was brought from Sodhra to Ibrahimabad, a town that he had founded and named after his son.17 There were four more perennial canals on the Ravi; they could well be branches of the same canal. They all started from Shahpur but had different destinations, namely, Lahore, Pathankot, Batala and Biar Pati Haibatpur.18 There was also a perennial canal from a branch of the river Aik; this served the Sialkot region.19 Seasonal or perennial, these canals kept on falling in disuse and kept on getting revived periodically. Shah Jahan’s Shah Nahr was rebuilt by Ranjit Singh as the Hasli Canal,20 while the Khanwah, attributed to Akbar’s period, was revived by the British in the eighteen-forties.21


The names of the canals invariably indicate their origin. To cite a few examples, the Bahawalwah canal goes back to the Daudpotras of Bahawalpur, Kabulwah presumably owed its origin to the Kabul rulers who held sway over Multan for some time, the Dewanwah was made by Dewan Sawun Mal and the Shah Nahr by the Mughal rulers.


(iii)   The construction of canals required technical expertise, planning, knowledge of the river regimes, topography of the area and its gradient, besides financial outlay, organisation of labour and the actual work of construction. By any standards the making of a canal required well-established state structures to carry out the work. However, there were notable exceptions where canals were made by private individuals/ groups of individuals or villages/communities.


In the British sources while there is a good deal of information on the maintenance of the canals, there is very little information on the processes of construction of the canals by the earlier rulers. This abundance of evidence on the maintenance of the canals is due to the fact that when the British assumed power in the region they also assumed the role of their predecessors in maintaining the canals. Till they established their own structures, they used the existing system, ‘native’ as they called it, with some improvisations. The near total absence of information on planning and construction of canals by their predecessors may be due to the fact that they constructed new canals entirely on their own without having to fall back on their predecessors. Nevertheless their surveys of the existing and abandoned canals occasionally convey some good insights in the planning processes. Also as scattered pieces of information spread over several centuries, from different sources and contexts, are pieced together and analysed, there emerges a fairly coherent picture of the structures and processes of canal-making in the pre-Colonial times.


(iv)  In the Mughal times, improvement and expansion of agriculture was the responsibility of the Sipah Salar22. This presumed expansion of irrigational facilities. The Subahdar was, in any event, the custodian of water-related structures.23 Decision to make canals presumably could emanate from him. However, it was Akbar who took the decision to rebuild Firuz Shah’s canal.24 This may be due to the fact that the canal fell within the Subah of Delhi and that the Sarkar of Hissar had been conferred on his very young son Salim. In any event, the long perennial canals in view of the hugeness of the project, must assume decision-making by the rulers themselves. However, relatively smaller canals are known to have been built by powerful individuals/groups/ communities/groups of villages. Numerous examples of such canals are available from the districts of Dera Ghazi Khan, Bannu and Muzaffargarh.25 In fact, the region had water lords.


(v)   Rebuilding a canal may or may not involve any survey, but making a new canal would necessarily involve topographical and gradient survey. Such an exercise would involve experts to work out where to situate the head-works, particularly of the perennial canals and also the route to be followed in terms of feasibility and desirability; local knowledge would be an integral part of the entire exercise. In the eighteen-forties when the British were carrying out a survey with a view to supplying water to the eastern Majha region, they discovered that they had been anticipated on the ‘very best line of country’ and ‘in the most favourable direction, by the traces of an old canal.26 The opinion that the old canal followed ‘the very best line of country’ indicates that the survey for the decayed canal had been carefully carried out. Any lacunae in the survey could lead to catastrophe as it happened in the case of the Nahr-i-Bihisht during Shah Jahan’s reign.27


(vi)  The work of making a canal involved several agencies and structures at multiple levels. It is evident from Akbar’s sanad concerning the reconstruction of Firuz Shah’s canal on the Jamuna that a skilled maimar (architect/mason), the superintendent of construction and the faujdars, all worked in unison to make the canal.28 Such co-ordinated activity of various agencies and structures of the state at multiple levels would be essential for any canal-making exercise, even seasonal canals; for seasonal canals small political units/chiefdoms could undertake this activity, but much bigger states and extremely well-coordinated and cohesive activity in different places at different levels was a given pre-requisite for the canal system that was of the magnitude of the canals of the fourteenth century or of the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries.


In a huge network of canals drawing water both from the Satluj and the Jamuna and linking it up with the entire Ghaggar system of rivers, Firuz Shah Tughluq himself was incharge of the operations and he was thus acting as the chief engineer of this immensely huge undertaking.29 He was desperately keen to get a constant supply of water in the region of deficient precipitation without a perennial river. It is quite remarkable that prior to his decision to draw water from the rivers Satluj and Jamuna, Firuz Shah Tughluq had attempted to cut through a mountain to ensure a constantly flowing stream in the region.30 He did not succeed in his enterprise. Firuz Shah Tughluq, as he a lost control over large areas in his sultanate, created huge and numerous irrigational facilitated elsewhere, so as to bring new areas under cultivation to yield revenues for the state.


Perennial canals covering long distances were far more difficult and complex to make than the seasonal or short distance perennial canals.31 Perennial canals covering long distances had invariably to negotiate difficult terrain and opposing streams and torrents on the way. Thus, for instance, the Shah Nahr had to cross the torrents Chakki and Jena on the way.32 Technical aspects and the execution of the project could only have been handled by the state. In fact due to inadequacy of water reaching Lahore, the entire terrain of the canal had to be revisited and reviewed.33


(vii)   Constant maintenance and vigil of the canals, including regulation of water supply, were essential components of the canal system. For both types of canals annual desilting was essential; the Himalayan rivers because of the poor rock formation of the mountains, always carried a heavy sediment with them. This affected both the headworks34 and the canals, including the subchannels. Hence a systematic annual desilting was the norm. This was undertaken during the winter months when there was a much reduced flow of water in the rivers. Even during the operational season, a constant vigil was maintained on the canals for any repair that might be needed in the eventually of any bund getting damaged. We may keep it in mind that the bunds were semi-permanent structures and, therefore, vulnerable to damage with a strong and heavy flow. The stoppage of breaches required a constant vigil.


On the Multan canals, the annual repair, clearance, the stoppage of breaches and all other expenses were borne by the ‘public’ and this was so on almost all canals when the British assumed power.35 While the labour was provided by the villages using the canal water, the management was done by the state agencies. Within the villages using the canal water, work of desilting was carried out locally, but for the mouth the labour was requisitioned from villages;36 the same norm was applicable to the main channel. However, where the canals were the property of private individuals/groups etc., their maintenance was also undertaken by the self-same agencies.


For an overview of the kind of establishment that was needed for the maintenance of the canals and the regulation of water supply, it may be noted that the British, after considerably reducing the establishment, still had 197 persons for the Hasli canal, (part of the Shah Nahr that was revived by Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Punjab from 1799 to 1839) among whom 130 persons were beldars.37 In the mid-eighteenth century the British had learnt that on the extended Jamuna canal reaching Delhi, a darogha was stationed at every 3-4 kos for purposes of police and the ready repair of accidents and he had peons and beldars under him.38 One thousand armed peons and 500 horse were supposedly maintained on the establishment.39 Under Ranjit Singh even army contingents were assigned to keep vigil on the Hasli.40 That a very close watch was maintained on the use of canal water is apparent from the fact that in 1732 an order had to be issued to the darogas of the Shah Nahr41 to restrain their gumashtas from charging naharana from the village Talibabad in the Batala pargana. Obviously, the gumashtas were not aware of the nature of the grant and they had started demanding the naharana when the new muzarain were settled in the village and the canal water had begun to be used. Hence, the canal establishment was truly functional at the ground level.


(viii)   There was a state establishment for the allocation of water and mir-i-ab was in charge of it. The Ain-i-Akbari tells us that the kotwal in the Mugahal empire was the appointing authority for the mir-i-ab.42 However, Akbar, after virtually reconstructing Firuz Shah Tughluq’s canal, conferred the title of Mir-i-Ab on Muhammad Khan Tarkhan, the superintendent of the work ‘from first to last’.43 He was presumably made the Mir-i-Ab for the entire canal while the appointments made by the kotwals would be at a lower level. The British records show several miri-abs on a single canal.44 The office holder was supposed to be a person of integrity who would allocate water fairly to all.45


Firuz Shah Tugluq also had an establishment to oversee the reach of the water of the canals that were made by him. Some maliks (nobles) were especially designated for that task;46 Afif’s own father and uncle had held this duty.47 It may be safely assumed that the purpose of such an establishment was to regulate the supply of water with the intent of raising accurate naharana. Indeed, such establishments continued through the entire pre-British period in the Punjab. Ranjit Singh, as noted above, even sent army contingents to police the hasli canal. Where the canals were built by the non-state agencies, the distribution and supply of water was regulated by the owners/builders of the canals; the entire system of distribution was worked out to its minutest detail and the British were struck by its accuracy and equity.48


The making of canals found reverberations in the changing social impulse of the region within the reach of the canals. They changed the social dynamics of the region that they covered. The impact of the canals both on the state and the society was immediate and multi-dimensional and it got reflected in the changed landscape as also in the pattern of economic activity encompassing agriculture, horticulture and trade. It got physically reflected in the construction of buildings and beautification of the existing towns as also in the establishment of new towns. Indeed, the entire canal-making exercise was symbiotically linked to the establishment of new towns, centres of administrative power and control.


The canals stabilized,49 expanded and diversified agricultural production. They gave impetus to the production of cash crops and orchards flourished everywhere the canals reached. In and around Hissar-Firuza where only one crop used to be grown, the network of canals led to the growing of two crops.50 Both crops began to yield abundant produce and a variety of fruits and flowers began to be produced. Orchards and gardens were made on a large scale and they were made both by the Sultan and the nobles. Similarly Fathbad was established with a network of canals. With the network of canals for these two newly established centres of power, the entire region got transformed and agriculture improved dramatically both by way of variety and production of high quality cash crops besides expansion of the area under cultivation. The region began to yield such a huge revenue that Firuz Shah Tughluq deemed it appropriate to convene an assembly of the Muslim learned and the divine on the issue of the revenues being generated by the canals.51 The assembled personages gave the opinion that since the canals had been built entirely with the labour and expenditure of the Sultan, he was entitled to haqq-i-shurb, that is, one-tenth of the revenue so generated. Similarly, he founded and brought numerous villages in his imlaq (personal property) by bringing them under cultivation.52 The revenues collected from the naharana and the imlaq went to his personal treasury as distinct from the baitulmal (public treasury).53 Similarly, the founding of Ibrahimabad54 with a perennial canal from the river Tavi by Ali Mardan Khan during Shah Jahan’s reign translated itself into an analogous transformation of the area. He made in it a garden rivaling the Shalimar garden of Lahore, constructed numerous buildings and patronized men of learning. The place became famous as a centre of learning and good handwriting.55 There was a substantial increase in the population of the area and Shah Jahan gave in inam a village to Ali Mardan Khan and his family for the maintenance of the canal.56


When the British took over the Sikh possessions, they found that they could not substantially repair or enlarge the Hasli canal as cultivation extended right up to the brink of the canal.57 With the extension to Delhi of the Firuzi canal on the river Yamuna under Shahjahan, channels reached innumerable villages around the capital city of Delhi and with these channels orchards came up all over the region. We may also recall that Akbar had fruit trees planted all along the banks of the reconstructed Firuzi canal.58 Canals defined the landscape, the social habits and the milieu through prosperity and patronage. The canals, and for that matter all irrigational facilities, also encompassed within their ambit of impact, religious institutions and religious ambience of the region. With the revenues generated by the canal system, Firuz Shah Tughluq bestowed extensive patronage on the Muslim divines and the learned men.59 It is a distinct possibility that the family of the pirzadahas of Dhatrat, from whom the document ‘A Canal Act of Akbar’ was procured in the nineteenth century, goes back to Firuz Shah’s patronage.60


The seasonal canals during their dry period would become easy footpaths for the people to travel by instead of having to traverse thorny and bushy wayfares.61 Further, most canals were navigable for shorter or longer distances. It is remarkable that in the Multan region thirteen out of the fifteen main seasonal canals were navigable.62 Akbar’s clear instructions for the restructuring of the Firuzi canal to Hissar Firuza mention that the canal must be navigable; small boats could ply even on very small canals. These canals thus provided a network of communications to various regions and sub-regions and connected them with larger networks of communications. With the expansion of agrarian production and especially of cash crops, increase in trade would be a natural corollary. The network of canals by being navigable would facilitate trading activity. Trade too would benefit both the state and certain sections of society. Most of all, canals provided some safeguard against famines.


The canals generated huge revenues for the state. Firuz Shah’s personal treasury getting filled with immense wealth accruing from the canals directly or indirectly has been noted above. Increase in agrarian production and greater emphasis on the production of cash crops inevitably enhanced the state revenues and gave impetus to trade. Also there was naharana on the canal water. Increase in revenues came not merely from substantially enhanced agrarian production and the naharana, but also through the ferry tax. With canals being navigable, boats would be a constant source of income to the state. Increase in trade too would generate additional revenues through taxation. It is amply evident that there was a close and multi-dimensional relationship between the state, society and the canals.


The relationship between the state, society and the canals is best summed up in the preamble to Akbar’s sanad regarding rebuilding of the Firuzi canal. We may let it speak for itself :


‘My government is a tree, the roots of which are firm in the earth.. In acknowledgement of God’s mercy in establishing this great empire, my desire, purer than water, is to supply the wants of the poor; and the water of life in my heart is larger than the sea, with the wish to dispense benefits and to leave permanent marks of the greatness of my Empire, by digging canals, and founding cities, by which too the revenues of the Empire will be increased.


 ‘God says, sow a grain, and reap sevenfold. My desire is to reap one-hundred fold that my crown may become wealthy, and the zamindars may obtain double returns.63


Remaking the canal and making water available is the ‘best purpose to which my wealth can be applied’. Akbar, the real founder of the Mughal Empire, goes on to add:


‘For God has said, from water all things were made. I consequently ordain, that this jungle, in which subsistence is obtained with thirst, be converted into a place of comport, free from the evil…

‘Behold the power of God, how he brings to life land that was dead.


Truly a canal is opened…

‘He (Akbar) is such a king, that from the canal of his liberality, the garden of the world is green all the year round…’64


Akbar acquired name, fame, resources and a stable social base in the region. He was also concurrently hoping for a reward after death as is stated in the preamble, ‘The seeds sown in this world are reaped in the next.’65 This perennial canal was extended further to Delhi during Shah Jahan’s reign. It reached thousands of villages around the capital. Except for the ‘reward in the next world’, history is testimony to the fact that the canal yielded all the multi-dimensional results anticipated by Akbar. According to a proverbial expression current in Delhi in the mid-eighteenth century, the net revenue from these canals was reckoned equal to the maintenance of 12,000 horses.66


The material benefits accruing to the state and different sections of society from the making, remaking and maintenance of canals came from the labour provided mostly by the villages on the canal routes. With the exception of Firuz Shah Tughluq, who seems to have partly used slave labour on a large scale, the labour for the canals used to be provided by the superior land-holding sections on the canal route. The labour supplied by the superior land-holding sections would inevitably be comprised of the tillers of the soil and the artisanal, service and menial labour castes, sepi as they were called in the Punjab, who were tied with agricultural production during the period under study. Among those whose labour produced material wealth, only a small section of the tillers of the soil might have had marginal access to and benefit from the canals, the remainder either had no access to or use for the water their labour made available to others. Their labour generated increased surplus through stabilization of agriculture, expansion of the area under cultivation and production of superior /cash crops which supported the state and the dominant sections of society.


Wells and Water Rights



The field specific mode of irrigation, the well*, known by different names in different parts of the Indian subcontinent, was extensively used and still continues to be used within the entire length and breadth of the sub-continent. While the prevalence of well-irrigation and the state policy of encouraging sinking of wells, the history of various technical devices, their dissemination, efficacy and costs and their impact on productivity have received attention from historians, the issue of rights and mechanisms of sinking and repairing wells largely remains a desideratum in historical writing on the subject. This may partly be owing to the fact that despite serious attempts by a few historians,67 water rights have substantially remained outside the discourse of the history of the agrarian system in the subcontinent.68 Also the fact that being field-specific mode of irrigation, the wells may have been assumed to be part of the land system itself. The issue emerged clearly and powerfully when, during the course of my research on irrigation and social relations in the Punjab, I came across a document entitled the ‘Right of Tenants to Sink Wells’.69 The document defined the issue itself.


There were proprietary rights in wells. The ownership of the well belonged to the individual, family, community / communities, authority depending upon who had sunk the well. The wells could also be owned by institutions such as temples. The state-sunk wells belonged to the state. The property in wells was inheritable and alienable; it could be leased, rented, mortgaged or bestowed. Each well had a title plate indicating its ownership. It is precisely owing to the title plate of the well that we have rich epigraphic evidence on the subject. Each well was known either by the name of the individual / caste / community/ authority who had sunk it or by the purpose for which it was sunk. If the wells were sunk outside of the state authority, permission was required for sinking them. The tillers of the soil had no right to sink wells almost till the end of the nineteenth century.


There is varied and substantial evidence to support each one of the points made in the preceding paragraph. It comes from different sources from different parts of the sub-continent and is spread over nearly two millennia. There is a remarkable continuity and convergence in the entire range of evidence from different sources, places and time. The British settlement reports are replete with information on each one of the issues outlined in the preceding paragraph and several additional issues pertaining to wells and irrigation from wells. Once the issue gets defined through the British records, already known and existing evidence acquires a new meaning and yields information and throws light on the rights relating to wells. This is true of all genres of evidence: epigraphic, documentary and literary.


The ownership of the irrigation wells was not subsumed under the land-holding. It was a property in its own right and was distinct from the land rights of a land-holder. An irrigation well owned severally watered several land-holdings and there were defined shares in its water. Even an individually owned well serving only one estate was a property by itself, an entity distinct from the land-holding.70


The British government recorded extensively and meticulously property in wells besides the land holdings during the course of making and revising land settlements in different parts of the Punjab mostly in the second half of the nineteenth century.71 These rights were recorded in view of the litigations that invariably followed any land settlement. In some districts it was noted that while litigation in severally-owned wells was frequent, it was not totally unknown in the individually-owned wells.72


In view of the information in the British records regarding property in wells and the fact that water rights attached to particular plots of land were often enumerated in the deed on the occasion when they changed hands by sale or transfer,73 the information regarding wells in the documents from the earlier period pertaining to grant or sale of land assumes a new meaning. Thus, for instance, in a collection of 52 documents74 from the Mughal and the Sikh periods covering the time span 1695-1857 AD, there are seven documents that deal with the substantial question of grant, sale or lease of land75 as distinct from grant of proceeds from land, their confirmation subsequently or issues relating to or emanating from such grants, sales or leases; one of these seven concerns culturable waste.76 Of the six documents dealing with the developed land, five contain explicit information on the wells, information which is significant from the point of understanding property in wells as an entity distinct from the land in which they stood. Document no.1, coming from Aurangzeb’s reign, dated 1696 AD deals with a certain amount of land being given on ijara, land ‘irrigated by well’.77 The subject matter of the document numbering II, dated April 1711 dealing with the sale of an entire village with ‘valid proprietary and exclusive rights’ records that this sale was ‘with all its rights and including, in full,78 fruit-bearing and non-fruit bearing trees and one pucca well of sweet water’.79 Document no. IV of January 1738, registering the sale of land comprising of the entire village, does not specifically refer to any well but qualifies it with ‘each and every right’.80 However, the document no. V of March 1738 dealing with the grant of a village ‘with all its cultivated and uncultivated and, inhabited and uninhabited land’, adds that this was ‘together with all its fruit-bearing and non-fruit-bearing trees and one pucca well’.81 Similarly, the document no. XXVII of October 1789 records the grant of twenty-four ghumaons of land ‘together with a well, and an orchard’.82 Document no. XLIV of 1823 recording Ranjit Singh’s dharmarth grant goes beyond all earlier documents in terms of information regarding the well in the document. The grant of the land is captioned in Gurumukhi as ‘A well has been granted’.83 The document records that ‘some land together with a well, with a single Persian wheel, named after Amin Chand Thalwala’ was granted in dharmath to the mahant of Pindori.84 This alone validates all the points made in the preceding paragraphs. The fact that land grants / sales were being made ‘together with’ trees and wells is important in the context of the theme under discussion. There were distinct rights in trees and, therefore, the grant of trees was also specifically recorded.85 For the same reason the grant of wells was being separately recorded and one well was recorded with its type and name. From another set of documents coming from Akbar’s period from Vrindavan-Aritha there are similar references; there is one reference to a well by name86 and another to a plot ‘including well’,87 and yet others to trees.88 In a document from the family archives of a madad-i-maash assignee in the village Nandla in the pargana and subah Ajmer, the mention of both the lined (Chah-i-Basta) and unlined well (Chah-i-Kham) would undoubtedly fall within the category of the wells within the Pindori documents.89 From South India too there are records of land being sold with wells. There is a reference to 3000 kuli of land with five water levers being sold by the villagers to Ukkal during the period of Rajendracola Deva I.90


Our reading that land and well rights are treated as distinct entities in all these documents receives unambiguous support from the evidence coming from the reign of Firuz Shah Tughluq (1351-1388 AD). Two of Firuz Shah Tughluq’s letters/orders in the Insha-i-Mahru deal with the subject of grant/its confirmation to two khanqahs. The first one reads ‘the wells of the khanqah and of the neithbourhood of the Nahrwala town, which are related to the khanqah and for various reasons been under the control/right of Sayyid Muhammad were being given/confirmed’ (the khanqah and the wells).91 It was being ordered that all officials of Gujarat, from the wali to the karkun were to regard the khanqah and the wells as under the right/control of Saiyyid Muhammad.92 Similar distinction is made in the next document regarding the khanqah of Kodia where rights over ‘wells and land were granted’.93


There is also ample epigraphic evidence on the ownership of wells and rights in wells. This evidence exists precisely because each well carried a title plate and some of these title plates have been recovered, rescued and deciphered as inscriptions; many of these are from stepwells or otherwise large wells constructed by royalty. But there are a few inscriptions dealing with wells sunk by private individuals/communities, albeit those are also from fairly big wells. A close scrutiny of the entire Epigraphica Indica series is likely to yield more extensive evidence on the subject.


One of the earliest known inscriptions from a well is on a massive stone and it is ascribed to the first century BC.94 It is from Ghosundi in the Udaipur State. But from 644 AD onwards there are numerous inscriptions from Rajasthan pertaining to different kinds of wells that have been used and noted by B.D. Chattopadhyaya. They are given in a tabulated form indicating chronology, sites and types of wells.95 Similar kind of information is available for other parts and dynasties too.96 A few examples may be cited; a Chalukya inscription of the Vikrami Samvat of 998 records the construction of a well97 and some of the Pallava inscriptions give similar and more information about wells.98 There is a remarkable continuity in the inscriptions from wells from the Sultanate and the Mughal periods. One of the earliest inscriptions from the Sultanate period is regarding the restoration and construction of a well by Qutlugh Khan in Bengal ‘in the days of Iltutmish’.99 There is an inscription recording ‘the clearance and re-digging of a well’ in Bayana in Bharatpur state from Balban’s period under the governorship of Nusart Khan; this was done ‘as scarcity of water was causing trouble to the people’.100 The inscription was found in a well when it was being re-excavated.101 From Ghiasuddin Tughluq’s reign there is a bilingual inscription from Petlad in Baroda recording the repair and completion of a well and the grant of 20 kubhas of land for its maintenance.102 There is an inscription which is preserved in the Delhi Museum of Archaeology but which was originally found in a ruined well at Humayunpur near Hauz Khas. The inscription is engraved on a marble slab and records the building of a well named Chahi Khass during the time of Sikandar Shah Lodhi when Munnavar Beg was the governor of Delhi.103 A Persian inscription of 1584 AD from Bhonsara in the ‘Gwalior State’ records the construction of a well by the order of the Mughal emperor Akbar.104 There are several inscriptions recording the construction of big wells by the Kachchwahas, Sisodias and other Rajput chieftains during the Afghan-Mughal period; Bhogidas ki Bavadi105 and the baoli at Joda Raya Simha are two such examples. The latter was built by Purohit Chakrapani and his sons during Salim Shah’s time.106 Among the numerous extant wells, the best preserved example is of a well built by the Muttaraiyar family, a subordinate of Dantivarman. The well is known as Marpidugu-Perunginaru well after the title of the Muttariyar family.107


(iii) While most of the wells were constructed by powers that be, there are several instances of individuals and communities constructing wells of different types. Thus, for instance, the Dabok inscription of 644 AD refers to the individual ownership of the araghatta fields. Also the Kekind inscription of 1143 AD refers to individual ownership of the arghatta fields.108 Four centuries later, a baoli called Kalibaya near Khandela was constructed by one Agrawala Vania Prithviraja of Kolha and his son. The construction work was begun in samvat 1575 (1518 AD) during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi and it was completed seventeen years later (samvat 1592) during the reign of emperor Humayun.109 An inscription built into the wall of a baoli at Gyaspur in Pratapgarh records that the well was constructed by the Banjaras in the samvat 1684 (1627 AD) in the time of Rawat Singha. Together with Nayak Gira of the Banjara caste seven other family names are mentioned and one of them is from Agra.110


For individuals and communities to have sunk wells, permission to sink would have been acquired from the state. Presumably permission would have been acquired from the rulers whose names appear on the title plates of the wells. In the case of the Kalibaya baoli the names of two rulers appear, one of Ibrahim Lodhi during whose reign the construction work was begun and the other of Humayun in whose reign the work got completed. Presumably permission was acquired again from the new ruler with the overthrow of the dynasty in whose rule the construction had begun. Also because it was a huge work, renewal of permission would have been essential with the change of the ruling dynasty. Indeed, no well, particularly of such huge dimensions, could be constructed without the royal permission.




Two of the earliest pieces of evidence on the right to sink wells come from the 7th and 8th centuries from the Pallava charters gifting land to Brahmadeyas.111 Besides the land, the donees were also given the right to sink wells ‘small and big’ in the lands granted to them. The Anabil plates of Sundracola also give the donees the right to sink wells.112 These rights were qualified by certain restrictions.113 Obviously, the state controlled the construction of wells. In fact, there was a double control over the construction of masonry wells. Besides controlling the right to sink wells, the state also controlled the right to the usage of the burnt bricks. While the Tanjavir plate gives the right to use the burnt tiles, Chitrur Plates give the donees the right to the usage of the burnt bricks for houses and mansions.114 In view of these controls, it is not surprising that most irrigational facilities, including the arghattas in Rajasthan emanated from the State. Obviously the right to sink wells rested with the state and it granted that right to others.


The state maintained a close watch and control over the wells through various administrative mechanisms. Thus, for instance, the formal sanction of the village governing bodies for sinking wells (particularly a large well) through the payment of a small cess called ulliya-kuli retained the control of the ruling power.115 In South India there were inspectors of wells called kupa-darskas.116 In Rajasthan there was a tax called kosya, presumably a tax on the kosas or leather buckets used for irrigation.117 Also several cesses were levied on the araghatta fields; sometimes parts of the arghatta fields were earmarked for certain purposes.118 Disputes in wells could receive attention from the rulers themselves; Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s order to stop the sinking of a new well on another’s land is on record.119 At the village level, the panchayats could grant the right to sink wells.120 While a cess was charged in south India for permission to sink wells, in the Punjab a saropa had to be given for sinking a well.121 Even repair of wells was regulated; in some areas shares of repairs were defined,122 in others applications were made to authority seeking permission to repair wells.123 In South India there is ample evidence of village and supra-village bodies supervising irrigation facilities, including wells.124 Firuz Shah Tughluq addressed himself to the entire hierarchy in Gujarat from the wali to the karkun regarding the grant of wells to the khanqah mentioned earlier. In the Multan region of the Punjab, and even elsewhere, the state was fully cognisant of the state of wells in the 19th century and so was it in different parts of Rajasthan. The issue will be discussed a little later.


It is apparent that there were well organised structural mechanisms of controlling even field-specific mode of irrigation. They might have varied in form in different regions and at different times, but the systems of control were maintained by the state throughout the entire sub-continent. These systems of control could have been maintained directly or in partnership with different levels of authority/power/dominant groups as the situation would have required at any given point of time.




The tillers of the soil had no right to sink wells. While it is understandable that they could not have had the means to construct masonry wells but what is remarkable is that they did not have the right to sink even a kachcha125 well which, in greater part of north India was ‘no more than a hole dug in the ground to the depth of a few feet within a diameter of three to four feet’126 with stake/wattle but invariably without it. A kachcha well is sunk down low enough to ensure a good supply of water. The kachcha wells are not renewed or repaired, but have to be cleared out.127 It is significant that the tillers of the soil had no right to sink even a kachcha well which only required their family labour and a small sum of money. Indeed, they were debarred from sinking wells.128 The vital import of this denial of the right to the tiller of the soil and its raison d’etre would emerge in the following paragraphs. Suffice it to say here that the economic irrationality ascribed by Frykenberg to the villagers of lower standing for borrowing money not for improving productivity of land, but for supporting ‘unproductive ceremonials and extravagances’ is poignantly misplaced;129 they did not possess the right to improve the productivity of the soil on their own. In fact, they were penalised for doing so as it would emerge from a judgement of the Agra High Court in 1867.


The right to sink wells was a highly prized right and it was closely guarded by those who possessed it. Sinking wells was one of the privileges of the superior land holding class and the cultivators were debarred from that privilege.130 It is repeatedly underlined in the customary law digests, settlement reports and the tenancy documents from the Punjab that the tenants/cultivaters of the soil did not have the right to sink wells. It was emphatically stated that the ‘right of tenants to sink wells is recognised under no circumstances’.131 In a report of the Law Committee of the Anjuman-i-Punjab, it was noted that in certain adverse circumstances the owner of land could be compelled by the need of securing tenants at any cost, including ‘allowing them to exercise certain rights almost resembling proprietary rights over the land’. The Anjuman unanimously objected to the use of the expression ‘almost resembling proprietary right’ and wished it to be substituted by an expressedly unambiguous statement that the tenants never acquired the right ‘to sell trees or sink wells or transfer the land’.132 It is apparent that the right to sink wells was a proprietary right. In one of the exceptions to the prevailing customs in the common holdings in the Punjab, sinking wells has been mentioned ‘as exercise of one of the powers attending absolute ownership’.133


Control over rights to sink wells gave control over the tillers of the soil and the untouchables. Historic denial of rights in wells underlay untouchability; they were not allowed to draw water from the wells used by the upper-castes. The untouchables were provided with wells much beyond the village boundary limits. Such wells as were specifically located for them were known as parai-kulam in South India.134 Control over their labour followed control over the wells. As for the tillers of the soil, they were denied the right to sink even a kachcha well because rights in land accrued as a consequence of sinking wells. If cultivators’ hold over their land became secure, it would weaken the control of the land-holding sections over them and thereby their control over the surplus.


The British government went in a tizzy following a judgement of the full bench of the Agra High Court in July 1867 whereby the court upheld the eviction of an occupancy tenant on the ground of his having sunk a kachcha well without the prior permission of the landlord.


The case which went through several stages of appeal was finally decided by the full bench of the Agra High Court on 20th July 1867.135 The landlord’s having ejected the tenant for having sunk a kachcha well without his prior approval was upheld by the full bench. It was argued that ‘the act of digging a well or planting trees may not necessarily imply or assert a proprietary right in the land in which the well is dug or the trees are planted, yet by the general law of these provinces, a ryot even having a right of occupancy being prohibited from doing certain acts, such as planting of trees or digging of a well, without his landlord’s consent, makes himself liable to ejectment’136 It was further argued that ‘the beneficial nature of an act is not a justification of it, if it be a breach of contract’. Further, ‘A condition not expressly made between the parties to a contract, may nevertheless be attached to such contract by custom.’ It concluded The court must recognise the law as it is found to exist, so long as it shall not be superseded by positive law’. As for the penalty, it concluded, the unwritten law of the country must be our guide. Were we free to legislate upon the subject, it might seem to us equitable to look to the amount of injury actually caused to the landlord by the act complained of, and to grant him relief and compensation, whenever possible, otherwise than by the ejectment of the tenant. But it is not contended or proved that any other penalty than forfeiture of his holding for such a breach of contract is sanctioned by the law of these provinces.’137 The case was decided with costs. The tenant by sinking the well had challenged the existing social relations of production.


The judgement created furore in the Legislative Council in its meeting held to discuss the Oudh Rent Act. That an act of improvement such as a ‘mere hole dug in the ground’ could lead to an occupancy tenant to lose his land was baffling for the members of the Legislative Council. They regarded the fact of digging of a kachcha well leading to the forfeiture of his occupancy rights as ‘truly extraordinary’.138 They failed to understand the implications of the issue for social relations.


Indeed, primary proprietary rights existed in water. In some areas in the Punjab it was held that ‘property exists essentially in water’.139 The land-holdings were known by its water, and the estates irrigated by wells, were defined by the nature of their wells.140 In fact, superior rights in land accrued as a consequence of rights in water.141


It is evident from the judgement of the Agra High Court that the act of sinking a well was deemed as an assertion of proprietary rights in land. In fact, superior rights in land and/or its produce accrued as a consequence of sinking and/or repairing wells. Although the tillers of the soil did not have the right to repair and sink wells, yet there is ample evidence to show that they did repair/sink wells. Presumably they did it with the permission of the malik or the ruler of the day. Under whatever circumstances the hereditary cultivator sank/repaired a well, the fact of his having done so gave him some rights in the land which were qualitatively different from and were superior to his right to hereditary cultivation. Not only were such cultivators allowed to remain in ‘undisturbed enjoyment of their holdings’, it was understood that by allowing a cultivator to sink a well at his own cost, the proprietors ‘tacitly permitted him (cultivator) to get a title to cultivation even against themselves’.142 Sinking a well could make him a joint proprietor of the land in which the well was sunk.143 All kinds of exceptions to the existing rules and usages were permitted where a cultivator had sunk a well.144 With the sinking of a well the cultivator apparently became a proprietor.145 It is noteworthy that those hereditary cultivators who had repaired/sunk a well invariably went beyond seeking the occupancy rights in the Punjab when the British made their first regular land settlement in the early eighteen fifties; they sought malkiyat rights. Even when the entire question of occupancy rights in the Punjab was reopened by Edward Prinsep,146 and he reversed three-fourths of the occupancy tenancies from the earlier settlements, 1253 occupancy tenants were raised to the superior status of proprietorship.147 This was done with mutual consent from both sides owing to the tenants having repaired/sunk wells. After repairing wells, even some untouchables acquired superior rights under Prinsep’s settlement. Under Maharaja Ranjit Singh new tenures such as chakdar, siledar, taraddakar, adhlapidar, kasurkhawar developed arising out of sinking and repairing wells in the lands belonging to others. These tenures gave them rights in land and/or its produce.148 The nomenclature of these tenures is derived from the well itself; chak is the wooden frame at the bottom of the well and the siledar is derived from the word for brickwork of a pucca well.149 There were nuanced differences between and within these tenures depending upon the circumstances and conditions under which a particular well was sunk, but all these tenures were inheritable and alienable.150 It would be worth examining whether such tenures developed in other regions too where the state towards the end of the eighteenth century was attempting to get the trading communities, as in the Punjab, to invest money in repairing and sinking wells.151 It is quite remarkable that even after the landlords had acquired indefeasible proprietary rights in land under the British, they were apprehensive that by sinking wells the cultivators would acquire superior rights in land. They put up stiff resistance to the attempts by the British government to give hereditary tenants right to sink wells. In the Punjab, they were not agreeable to tenants being given the right to sink wells unless they ‘put the proprietors’ name on the title-brick or sign a written agreement with the proprietor to prevent the possibility of the latter ever losing his right of property’.152 As late as 1911 in the United Provinces they were demolishing the masonry wells constructed by the tenants153 notwithstanding the fact that the tenants had been granted that right by the British government.


Tight control over the right to sink and repair wells was an essential component of the social relations defining access to means of production with the aim of controlling and meticulously regulating the release of the productive forces.154 This introduced a fundamental contradiction between the interests of the ruling powers to enhance their resources and simultaneously uphold the social relations which controlled and regulated the release of productive forces. The nature of the state in the last resort would be defined by its policy on water rights.


With the centrality of irrigation and of water rights in agrarian production and generation of surplus, it is not surprising that water was an essential component in the system of revenue assessment and classification of cultivable land under the Mughals, a part of which the Mughals had inherited from their predecessors. Akbar’s classification of cultivable land into, polaj, parauti, chachar, and banjar was based upon continuity or intermittence in cultivation; the polaj land was under continuous cultivation with successive crops and was never allowed to remain fallow while parauti was left out of cultivation for sometime so that it could recover its strength.155 The chachar land was that land that had remained follow for three or four years while the banjar had remained uncultivated for five or more years.156 Water/irrigation was the basic criterion underlying this classification based upon periodicity of cultivation. For the chachar and banjar categories excessive rains and inundation are explicitly given as causes for the land falling out of cultivation both in the river belts and the submontane regions. It is apparent that these two categories of land are dealing with inundation (sailabi) and rain-based (barani) cultivation; both sailabi and barani were unirrigated lands. As distinct from the chachar and the banjar categories, the polaj and the parauti were under continuous/nearly continuous cultivation and continuity and stability in agriculture was in direct proportion to human intervention in water. It may be safely inferred that irrigation underlay the basic classification of cultivated lands for calculating ‘proportionate dues of sovereignty’ under Akbar. Within the irrigated territories, that is, the polaj and the parauti, there were soil related subcategories.157 The Mughals had inherited these categories from their predecessors, the Sur dynasty.


Indeed, water as an independent and parallel component to land in calculating ‘the dues of sovereignty’ has been explicitly enunciated in the Ain VII on Khazandar. We may quote Abul Fazl for that –


‘And because the conditions of the royal state and prerogative vary in different countries, and soils are diverse in character, some producing abundantly with little labour, and others the reverse, and as inequalities exist also through the remoteness or vicinity of water and cultivated tracts, the administration of each state must take these circumstances into consideration and fix its demands accordingly.’158


That water and irrigation formed an integral part of the system of revenue assessment is apparent, but how they were factored in assessment awaits research. It is a distinct possibility that administrative / fiscal units / rates could have revolved around specificities of water/irrigation. It may not be out of place here to mention that the two divisions of Birun-i-Panjnad (Outside of the Rivers) in the Subah Lahore159 make sense only in relation to water related factors. Separated by a large physical distance, with one located to the west of the river Indus and the other to the east of the Satluj, these two divisions could not have formed one administrative unit;160 their nomenclature suggests that they represented one category in relation to running surface waters of the Indus system of rivers of the Subah of Lahore. Under Ranjit Singh well was taken as a unit of revenue-yielding capacity of the land that it cultivated. There are numerous documents extant from Ranjit Singh’s period which refer to grants of wells of varying values as dharmarth or for other purposes.161


Indeed, irrigation, through its implications for agrarian production and generation of surplus, had wide and multi-dimensional ramifications for the socio-political structures, politics and polity of any region/state. Even a brief study of irrigation on the river Ghaggai in the first half of the nineteenth century reveals that there were disputed claims by different villages, zamindars and chiefs over waters of different streams and torrents, over right to construct bandhs or embankments at different points on the river and/or to make cuts/channels at different points.162 There were rights even over the superfluous water and winter freshets. These rights were both defined and contested and they generated tremendous social tensions between villages and chiefs and invariably led to violence and even loss of life. Disputed claims and their resolutions reveal arena of social tensions and conflict and the nature and role of different institutions and levels of authority within that. Dynamics of larger political situations had direct bearing on these contestations and their resolutions; fluid political situations accentuated contestations leading to emergence of newer rights, while larger and more stable political entities invariably intervened to determine, regulate and also change these rights. History of each region and sub-region awaits study with water as an essential component in it.


At the higher political level, the politics of revenue assignments to the ruling elite would be influenced by the level of development of irrigational facilities or their absence; assignees with less developed irrigational facilities are known to have paid a great deal of attention to developing irrigation works in their assignments. In fact, the state itself would have had a great stake in creating and improving irrigation facilities.


It were not only the Delhi-centric big and powerful states that devoted attention to canal-making; this was the accepted norm everywhere within the subcontinent. Several centuries prior to Akbar (1556 -1605 A.D.) and from a different part of the subcontinent, is a Tamil poet’s advice to a Pandya king on the subject of canal-making.


On great king, if you crave wealth in the next world

and yearn to vanquish other kings who protect this world

and thus to become the greatest among them

hearing songs of praise to your glory,

listen to me to learn what deeds guarantee these rewards.

Those who give food give life to living beings

who cannot live without water.

Food is first for all living things, made of food,

and because food is but soil and water mingled together,

those who bring water into fields

create living beings and life in this world.

Even kings with vast domains strive in vain, when their land is dry

and fields sown with seeds look only to the sky for rain.

So Pandya king who makes dreadful war, do not mistake my words:

quickly expand watery places that are built to bring streams to your land!

For those who control water reap rewards

and those who fail cannot endure.163


Akbar’s preamble to the sanad quoted above is reminiscent of the Tamil poet’s advice to a Pandya king given several centuries earlier. It is remarkable how the two concur in their concerns; both show people-centric concerns, but in the last resort the interests of the rulers/state underpin their views on bringing ‘streams’ to the fields. While one views ‘control over water’ essential for survival of political powers, the other eyes ‘hundred-fold’ increase in agrarian production and consequent increase in the imperial revenues. Indeed, rulers have always been deeply involved in large scale irrigational activities and structures, systems and rules concerning their use have been in place for centuries before Akbar. As long back as Kautiliya’s time, the Head of the Department of the settlement of the countryside was meant to ‘cause irrigation works to be built with natural water sources or with water to be brought in from elsewhere’.164 There were rules governing any one walking out of the joint building of an irrigation work and165 there were different water-rates for different kinds of irrigation facilities.166 Not only was the administration supposed to keep record of water-works, but their regular inspection was also mandated.167 Indeed, there are specific regulations given in The Arthasastra regarding control over ownership of irrigation works, usage of water, damage to the works or to the fields through which they pass, nature of revenue obligations for those making irrigational works, rules concerning renting, mortgaging and sale of these facilities and punishment for violation of those rules.168 If from the Arthasastra we get insight into the systems, structures and rules concerning irrigation, from the Kaushiksutra we get a glimpse of the rituals and ceremonies connected with the opening of a canal. When ‘a canal was opened gold plate was laid at the mouth of the channel… and a frog was tied..169. Indeed, information is forthcoming from all genres of sources, regions and times. It is squarely staring us in the face to be picked up, studied and integrated within the discourse of the history of the Indian subcontinent.


The centrality of irrigation both for the state and the society is writ large on the face of Indian history, but what is not so apparent is the nature of water rights. In fact, the nature of rights of access to water is hidden from the view; there was inequitable access to water in the pre-colonial times and this was an essential component of the social relations. In the Asiatic Mode of Production tight control over water held back release of the productive forces which alone could have created conditions for changes in social relations of production. It did happen in the Punjab under Ranjit Singh; he allowed everyone, including the cultivators, to release forces of production so as to increase the revenue of the state. He gave access to right of water to the tillers of the soil. Earlier Guru Tegh Bahadur had created a revolutionary situation whereby he had generated a movement for sinking well by the cultivators in the sandy parched region of the Satluj-Jamuna interfluve. He was executed by the Mughal state for challenging the existing social relations although under religious pretext.


Irrigation, Labour and Artisanal Productions


Labour constitutes the first and the main condition for the creation of any material structure and so did it for making irrigation structures during the period under study. Here we intend to discuss the theme specifically with regard to canal and well irrigation in the pre-colonial Punjab.


We begin by examining the labour requirements for the construction, operationalisation and maintenance of canals and wells in the pre-colonial Punjab. We then proceed to enquire into the mechanisms through which the labour was mobilised and controlled. Finally we examine the systems and degree of remuneration of the labour so rendered.


All these dimensions of labour when woven together lead us to the central law of motion of any society, that is, the generation of surplus. Irrigation expanded, stabilized, diversified and intensified agriculture with inherent implications for the generation of surplus and its appropriation and its significance both for the state and the society.


The Punjab was regarded as the land of wells in the centuries preceding the British rule.170 There were three types of wells in use in the region to a larger or a smaller degree and these were the dhenkli, charas and the rahat. Of these three, the dhenkli was the simplest device for lifting subsoil water. It is/was a single lever system with a bucket tied to one end of the long pole and weight on the other; the pole is swung backward and forward by manual labour.171 The charas, though mechanically simpler than the dhenkli172, supported bigger structures and systems. It was a rope and leather bucket/bag system, the rope of which rested on a pulley on the well. The rahat or the Persian wheel, as it is commonly known through its English nomenclature, was the most complex system of lifting water. This was a system of double–gearing mechanism which rotated the wheel on the well on which hung one or more chain/s of pots which lifted the water from the well.


All these well types had certain labour requirements in common, but each type had its own specific requirement too. Common to them all is/ was the labour for digging wells, but the scale, size and the quality of labour required for each type varied extensively. Similarly, the ropes and buckets were common to them all, but their quality, quantity and sizes varied enormously.


The dhenkli was a small shallow well usually with a diameter of 3’5’ and not more than a few feet deep. Hence the labour requirement for digging this type of well was very limited. These were usually kachcha wells, but occasionally these were lined with stake/wattle, but invariably without it; these wells are not renewed/repaired, but have to be cleared out.173


The digging of the charas and the rahat required actual sinking of the well to much below the water level. The digging and sinking of both types had far greater labour requirements with specialised expertise. Making these wells required diggers, sinkers/divers besides carpenters for chak-making, that is, the wooden base on which the cylinder of the well (gola) rested. These wells were pucca wells and hence brick-makers’ and brick-layers’ labour formed an integral of the labour that went into their making, but when the gola was made of wood instead of masonry, their labour was limited only to the masonry work on the surface of the well.


The water-lifting devices of these wells too had certain labour requirements in common, but the charas and the rahat had their specific requirements too. The rahat had a chain of earthen pots for drawing water while the charas used a big leather bucket/bag for that purpose. The rahat, therefore, needed kumhar’s (potter) labour for its water-drawing mechanism, while the charas used chamar’s labour for the same. For the weight that the leather bucket carried in the charas, it was likely to have been a multi-layered bag/bucket.174 The leather worker’s (chamar) work of making the leather bucket involved not merely the stitching of various layers of leather together, but also the processes of removing these hides from the body of the dead animals and then converting the hides into leather through various processes and stages of preparation.175 All types of wells required the labour of rope-makers. The charas used a big thick rope, while both thick and thin ropes were used in the rahat; the thin ropes were used for tying pots to the sides of the wheel on the well whereas the side ropes were thicker; the dhenkli needed only a small rope of medium size.176 While in the charas the carpenters’ (tarkhan) labour was confined only to the chak-making, the rahat depended heavily on the carpenter’s labour. Its double-gearing mechanism involving the making of three big wheels and their interconnecting devices which were made entirely of wood. Therefore, the carpenter’s labour formed a prominent component of the rahat system.177 If the gola of any well was made of wood, it then increased the carpenter’s labour manifold. The leather work for the rahat included blinkers for the bullocks going round the well. Besides all this skilled labour, unskilled labour was needed for putting pressure from above for the actual sinking of the cylinder of the well when the earth was dug under the chak.


The skilled labour was further needed for maintaining apparatuses of various types of wells. The tarkhans repaired wheels of the rahat while the potter constantly supplied earthern pots for replacement. The mochi replaced pair of blinkers while the churha in Lahore region provided two raw hide ropes annually.178


The working of the three types involved varying degrees and intensity of human labour. The dhenkli, while easy on labour for its making, is/was labour intensive in its working; not only is the pole swung backward and forward with manual labour, each bucket of water is emptied manually. In the charas system both human labour and animal power operated in tandem in the process of drawing water. There were two persons involved in the process along with a yoke of bullocks; while one man guided the movement of bullocks for lifting the water up, the other actually pulled out and then emptied the water into a trough/channel and then put the bucket back.179 The filled leather bucket/bag was very heavy and it required heavy labour and it was hazardous activity for the person involved in moving the bucket/bag out of the well. In the rahat only one animal driver was needed since the water-lifting mechanism in the rahat was linked to the double–gearing mechanism and that was rotated with the use of animal power whereby the pots automatically got filled with water and then emptied themselves in the trough. While in the Persian wheel system the animal power is used for lifting water, 180 the system does not eliminate the use of human labour. Indeed, indirectly it increases human labour for the irrigating device; it gets shifted to looking after the animals and their needs. Besides tending the animals, procuring fodder for them and storing it for some part of the year, cleaning dung and maintaining the animal sheds, human labour also went into producing fodder where pasturage was not easily available. Invariably producing a crop of turnips for fodder was a distinctive feature of the well-irrigated lands. Occasionally, as in the Dera Ghazi Khan, production of fodder assumed the form of the well-estates being bigger than what could be irrigated by a well so that some area could be reserved for producing fodder.181 All these labour ingredients, although not apparent on the surface, formed an integral part of the labour requirements of the rahat system.


Labour requirement for the canals


There was extensive irrigation from canals in the pre-colonial Punjab notwithstanding Babur’s assertion that there were no canals in Hindustan.182 There were seasonal as well as perennial canals in the region.183 Canals worked on the principle of diverting water from its natural course to an artificially created channel to a particular destination. From the main canal the water is led to smaller channels and then to the feeder channels with their own subsidiary mechanisms of diversion, control and distribution.


The construction work involved making of massive structures at headwork (mund) for diverting water184 to an artificially created / naturally existing channel, digging a channel, as and where needed, making outlet, towards marked destination, particularly of perennial canals. In the large perennial canals, the head works consisted of massive dams (bunds)/ embankments made of stones/boulders and wood; heavy boulders and huge tree trunks would need to be transported to the location of the head works besides construction of the bund itself. Similarly such bunds were made on a smaller scale for the seasonal canals. The fact that abandoned channels could be/were being used partly may give the impression that minimal digging was required for the canals. But we do know that several months were spent in deepening the Shah Nahr to ensure a sufficient supply of water to Lahore and when that too did not work, another span of time was spent in re-routing it.185 A huge digging activity was involved in it. We have an explicit reference to the deepening of the Chittang nallah for using it as a canal channel.186 Further, the seasonal canals were all made at a certain angle to the river187 and, therefore, practically most of them had to be made by digging channels. Digging the channels for canals went beyond simple digging activity since it also involved firming up the sides of the channels and working out appropriate levels while digging to ensure a proper flow of water.


In the long perennial canals there was invariably considerable extra labour involved. Since these canals covered long distances, they usually had to cross streams/nullahs flowing in the opposite direction and, therefore, aqueducts had to be made involving big labour; aqueducts over the hill torrents Jena and Chakki for the Shah Nahr are examples of huge extra labour.188


The headworks, which were massive, were maintained amidst great engineering difficulties.189 Since they were not masonary, they were vulnerable to constant damage with a strong flow, particularly during the rainy season; hence they heeded to be constantly repaired.190 Even the headworks of smaller and seasonal canals were liable to constant damage and so were the small diversionary structures for smaller/feeder channels.191 Further, these headworks had to be invariably relocated, sometimes almost with annual regularity due to changes in the courses of rivers/streams of the Himalayan rivers which were prone to constantly shifting their courses.192 Similar repairs were essential for the aqueducts too.


The second aspect of the maintenance which was essential for keeping the canals functional consisted of annual desilting both of the main canals as well as the subsidiary feeder channels. Since the Indus rivers bring and carry heavy sediment load with them, the canals begin to silt and could/would fall in disuse within a short span of time if not regularly desilted.193


Another aspect of the maintenance pertained to annual strong growth of various descriptions of grasses and jungle on the canal bounds during the rainy season; they had to be cleared annually to admit of repairs and access to the banks.194 By any standards keeping the canals functional in the pre-British times was highly labour intensive. Indeed, the working of the canals hinged upon the organisation and control over labour for continuous repairs and desilting.


Drawing water from canals in several areas was done through the water lifting device called the ‘charkhee’. These charkhis were ‘Persian wheels sunk into the streams or canals instead of into wells.195. Hence the entire labour of the Persian well system got added to the labour of the canal system in those areas.


Labour for Canals


Having outlined the labour requirement, we now proceed with the procurement of labour for digging canals. The first explicit references come from a document issued by Akbar in 1568 AD pertaining to the restructuring/revival of Firuzshah’s perennial canal from the river Jamuna.196 The first reference comes from Akbar’s policy of ‘ensuring sufficient supply’ of water to those who had ‘aided’ in excavating the canal.197 The second reference contains an order about any future exigency requiring labour. It is significant that the order is addressed to all the shiqdars, chaudharies, muqaddams and the ‘Rayats whether of the Khalisah or of the other parganas ‘to render necessary assistant in labour, & c should it become necessary to construct a bund or any other work on the canal and this assistance was to be given ‘without any delay’.198 With such a clear mention of the various categories there is no room for doubt that the same sections of the rural society had aided in procuring labour for excavating the canal for which they were being allocated sufficient supply of canal water as mentioned above. It is apparent that besides the superior landholding sections, who had been incorporated in the revenue system at the village level, a section of the peasantry too was mobilisers of labour for the canal work. Obviously the labour was being organised systematically pargana-wise going down to the village level; shiqdar could have been overall in charge of the larger area unit through which the work was being done.


It takes us to the next logical step of attempting to understand as to which sections of the village society could have been mobilised for rendering labour as demanded by the state. It can be safely asserted that labour could not have come from the families of the rural aristocracy or the well-off peasantry who were asked to arrange it. The labour would have most certainly come from the menial/service castes including the artisanal groups known as sepis/sepidars (craftsmen) in the Punjab most of whom belonged to the untouchable castes. Further, the tillers of the soil could have been mobilised for rendering such labour since from the tenancy documents we do know that the resident cultivators were subject to extra labour obligations in the form of begar from which the paikashts were exempt.199 It is pertinent to note here that in the absence of any right of access to create water structures on their own for irrigation, the tillers of the soil were under the total control of the land-holding castes/ classes.200 It is thus only the sudras and the ati-sudras whose labour could have been mobilised for excavating the canal under discussion.


The canal that was reconstructed by Akbar in the 1560s was part of a large network of canals constructed in the mid-fourteenth century by Firuz Shah Tughlug.201 Given the fact that the region was sparsely populated in the early fourteenth century, it is highly improbable that local labour could have been mobilised or at least could have sufficed for the immensely huge network created by Firuz Shah Tughluq. In all likelihood he used his army of slaves for the purpose besides, of course, the traditional labour from the existing caste system in the region and from the adjacent hills. We do know that he owned about one lakh slaves for whose organization he had created a separate department.202


Turning to another labour-source for digging canals, the British ethnographic sources list the od tribe and the beldars as canal diggers. From the Ain-i-Akbari we do know that the beldars were workers for laying foundations, building walls and battlement and digging ditches in the fortresses.203 From the 18th and 19th century sources we do know that they were part of the workforce engaged in repairing damage to bunds/ embankments including the headworks of the canals.204 The od community which is still engaged on the work of digging, was a vagrant community, ghumantaru jan jati, as they call themselves.205 Regarded as the ‘professional navvy’ of the Punjab206, the od community prides itself in canal-digging, including subterraneous canals.207 The beldars on the other hand, given their background of laying foundations and repair work of canals, including head works, and the fact that they were largely concentrated in the hilly and submontane region of the Punjab,208 where headworks for perennial canals were situated, probably worked on the headworks for perennial canals. On the other hand, the od community did the work of canal digging. We may note that this is one area of work where references to the work of women and children occur directly. While the men dug, the od women carried the earth to their donkeys, which they owned, and the children drove the donkeys to the spoilbank.209


Besides digging, the transportation of heavy boulders and wood logs to the site of the headworks, involved heavy labour. In the Kangra region, the state sponsored and constructed kuhls, that is, gravitational channels through the diversion of water-shafts/streams, forced labour for transportation has been recognised.210


The maintenance of canals, which involved constant repair of bunds, including headworks and annual desilting, was done through properly defined systems and regulations. Usually the labour was provided by the villages using the canal water and the management was done by the state agencies; for the annual desilting there were fairly defined areas of responsibility and labour provision.211 As with the canal digging under Akbar, only the labour of the sudras and the ati-sudras would have been provided by the zamindars etc. for desilting. However, the repair work would have involved constant vigil and labour with some technical expertise for repair. On the Jamuna canal reaching Delhi, darogahs with watchmen and beldars were stationed at regular intervals of 3-4 kos for watch and repair purposes; these were obviously under the imperial control.212 Under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the responsibility of keeping the headworks on the Shah Nahr in order rested with the villages under Sujanpur, near where the headworks were situated.213 Labour here too came from the lowest castes /classes.214


In the Derajat region where the canals were privately owned and where the water-lords still existed as a separate class, there were several sub-systems of repair of bunds and for desilting. Thus, for instance, in the Bannu district in the Derajat, the land holders having no right in canal water, obtained a share of canal water in return for doing a proportionate amount of canal labour and a half as much more than the shareholders who supplied the water.215 The land holders, of course, mobilised the labour that was under their control. In the areas where the Khans had their share in the canals, there was a separate group of canal workmen known as wakoos. The wakoos contracted to keep the canals in order for which work they received a part of the Khan’s land irrigated with the canal water.216 Through their labour on the canals they thus acquired cultivating rights but not without certain financial and revenue obligations both to the Khans and to the state.217


It is apparent that for the maintenance of canals there existed multiple levels, layers and modes of labour control and mobilisation linked to the nature of political authority and social organisation in the region and its sub-regions. Under Maharaja Ranjit Singh a serious attempt was made to take over the work of the maintenance directly under the state control; a cess called hasil-cher was levied on the land holders as part contribution towards the cost of desilting canals by the state.218


Labour for Wells


Digging wells, by its very nature, was a localised and limited activity and the labour for that was inevitably organised by those who were getting the wells sunk. Digging a shallow well, like the dhenkli, was a simple task, but digging deep wells for the charas and the rahat systems required expertise and was also a hazardous activity. It would take several months to dig such a well since it was done in co-ordination with preparing the gola and sinking it by stages. Once the spring level was reached, pieces of the chak were placed, joined and put in the well and the gola was sunk over it.219 The sinking of the gola required a heavy pressure from above and the labour for that would be procured locally. Subsequently to reaching the water level, digging was continued beyond it for 14’-15’ by the tobah (diver) and just this exercise could require 20 men on the job.220 Under water for long duration at a time with earth being dug from deeper levels and becoming much heavier with water, the process of lifting it to the ground surface became that much more difficult and hazardous. Once the gola was sunk fully, the installation of the mechanism of drawing water would take place.


Sinking well was a regular trade of its own.221 Abul Fazl had classified the chah-kan (well-diggers) into three graded categories.222 However, the wells could also be sunk with family labour223 and it is noteworthy that in a work propounding ideal life for a Sanatan Sikh, digging a well is recommended ‘If the Guru gives strength’.224 The wells could be sunk with family labour only if the water level was not very deep, as was the case in the khadir of the Jamuna or any other river.225 The odes were well-sinkers too and they needed around 9-10 persons of their community for a fairly deep well.226


The maintenance of the wells included cleaning the wells periodically and replacing and repairing the wood work, ropes and the leather items in use. While cleaning would be done by the divers, the repair would be done by the tarkhan (carpenter), kumhar (potter), chamar and churha (outcastes) locally. Daily tending of the animals and cleaning of the animal shed would be done by the churahs. For working of the wells different levels of labour would be required and the sources would vary. The dhenkli would be operated with family labour, while for the charas and the rahat, labour from outside the family would be used; this could be provided by the regularly kept family servants for the purpose or could be drawn from the menial and service castes residing in a secluded habitation within the village. The scale of labour on the rahat depended on the quality of the well and the quality was determined by how many yokes of oxen and ropes and pots were operating in the well; the kamil chah (perfect well) could have eights yokes of oxen. The churahs, who were on the lowest rung of the sepi system, performed the work on the wells during the cold winter nights.227


System of Remuneration


Remuneration for the labour includes the wages as well as the criterion for calculating the wages. There are four categories discussed above whose labour created and maintained the canals. Since the labour drawn from the villages on the canal route was mobilised through the agency of the land-holding sections, remuneration for such labour would inevitably be integral to the system/s of traditional payment at the village level. For remuneration, the share of the sepis was fixed in the produce at the time of two harvests; it is unlikely that there was any extra payment for their work on the canals. The tillers of the soil are likely to have rendered begar. However, as far as the state was concerned, it provided food/ subsistence rations for the duration of the period of work on the canals.228 As for the slave labour arguably used by Firuz Shah Tughluq, there is no question of remuneration since the slaves were owned by the Sultan. But the question that needs to be raised is as to who these slaves were and from where did they come. They could be prisoners of war as it is well known that prisoners of war were always enslaved everywhere and we do know that Sri Lankan prisoners of war were used as labour for irrigation works in South India.229 We also know that slaves were available in the market and people were also forcibly captured and enslaved.230


As for the wages of the beldars and the Ods, the basis for calculating their wages was not the days spent on performing their jobs, but specific units of work. For their work on the fortifications, the unit of calculation for the beldars was work per gaz231 and according to the Od community itself, their work has always been measured by the amount of earth that is dug out. It is remarkable that in the 1940s-50s they were receiving 1½ to 2 rupees per thousand mounds of earth they dug out. In the earlier centuries too presumably at least part payment would have been made in cash since otherwise it would not have been feasible for them to own their own mules and instruments of work. As for the beldars, their wages as given in the Ain-i-Akbari are in money.232 It is probable that for their work on the canals too they received cash payment particularly when they formed part of the Mughal state system of watch and repair on the canals.233


However, under Maharaja Ranjit Singh there was no system of cash payment for repair work on the mund of the Shah Nahr/Hasli. This responsibility rested with the villages of Sujanpur for which work they were exempt from paying the naharana for the canal water. The British government found this arrangement ‘unfair’ for the state since the labour for repair was rendered only by the lowest castes/classes, but the benefit of exemption accrued to all those who did not render any labour for the repair work.234 Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s important administrator Diwan Sawan Mal had also attempted to introduce the system of desilting by organising the labour for desilting himself and instead of the labour, a cess called hasil-cher (literally in lieu of labour) was levied by him on the villages that used to supply labour for desilting.235


For the wells, the unit of remuneration is not given by Abul Fazl, but according to the Od community, the wages were calculated according to the size of the inner circle. However, the wages of the tobahs were calculated either by the day or by the job.236 They were also fed by the person getting the job done. They had to be given goat’s meat before starting the work and gur (jaggery) during the course of their work; their food was regarded as a heavy item of expenditure for digging wells.237 It stands to reason that since they worked in and under water, their charges varied according to season with winter charges being higher than the summer charges.238 However, it is important to note that the tarkhans, kumhars, mochis and the chamars were not paid by the unit of work or by the day or by the job. They were part of the sepi system whereby they had the obligation to render service to the land holding sections and they were given a fixed amount of grain and some other items for the entirety of their work for the wells, agricultural implements, including plough, and items of household needs; they received specified shares of the produce twice in a year at the harvest time. Suffice it to say that rates of payment for different artisanal groups were different within the well irrigated areas depending upon whether they were rahat or charas and within the rahat, the different categories of wells. In the kamil chah, the sepi received sugar cane juice and gur besides grains since such wells always produced high quality cash crops.239 However, specialised repair of gearing wheels usually got paid and calculated separately.240 Some sepis got more than the others, but they all got remunerated in kind and this was tied up with agriculture and was aimed at sheer subsistence. With the churah, who probably rendered the maximum manual labour, his dependence was so complete that he was given a roti twice a day. Control over their labour was so complete that certain categories, including the chamars, had no right to change their residence from one village to another.241


There are a few notable points that emerge from the information given above. First, excepting the chahkan, all other workers received their wages within the sepi system, that is, the artisanal production system of the village and almost always in kind. A few rare instances of cash payment for the repair work, for a specific portion of the charkhi are found, but nothing beyond it. In the areas producing sugar cane, sugar cane juice and gur (jaggery) formed part of the payment in kind. It is remarkable that in all the areas producing cash crops (and these are all irrigated areas that produced high quality cash crops), both the skilled and the unskilled labour still got remunerated in kind for the creation, working and maintenance of the irrigation structures. It is true that they got higher amounts of payment in kind, for irrigation labour, but they still received nothing beyond their wages in kind. The lowliest of the lowliest, the chamars, who maintained the animal base and the leather work for irrigation lived in condition of complete poverty and bondage. Going further, the churhas who rendered the maximum unskilled labour and were regarded as regular begarees, lived in abject servility and under total control of the higher castes. Thus the labour that created and sustained and operated the irrigation structures gained only by way of some extra remuneration of grains and some small items of cash crops.


Irrigation provided material conditions for stabilization, diversification and intensification of agriculture.242 Significantly, irrigation provided a degree of security against famines, which were of common occurrence throughout Indian history and which had serious repercussions both for the state and the society; fall in revenues and the population, both human and animal, always followed any serious famine. As pointed out earlier, Ranjit Singh’s state could not recover from fall of revenues for four years after the great famine of 1834-5.243


Further, with the expansion of area under cultivation, double-cropping and production of cash crops as a consequence of irrigation facilities, material conditions got created for the generation of surplus over long spans of time and in newer areas. It happened through all modes of irrigation on a larger or a smaller scale, but with large networks of canals such as the one created by Firuz Shah Tughluq, the results were immediate and visibly transformative.244 This network of canals metamorphosed the region with deficient rainfall and with no perennial river, into an area yielding a huge surplus in a short span of time. This transformation got physically reflected in flourishing urban centres, forts, architectural monuments, big trading activity, gardens, orchards, a big variety of fruits and flowers in the region;245 Shah Nahr also produced similar results but in a different region.246 Well-irrigated areas were the best manured and looked after agricultural lands anywhere and they too produced similar results but on a smaller scale.


Making canals which immediately and in the long run generated enormous surplus was of vital political importance for the ruling powers/ states that made them. Huge revenue from his network of canals was of critical political significance for the Tughluq sultan Firuz Shah when the Delhi Sultanate had shrunk territorially and when various echelons of the nobility had become very powerful. The new source of big and constant revenue undoubtedly enabled Firuz Shah Tughluq to survive for a few decades. It is significant that Shah Jahan too made canals after a devastating famine and at a time when the incipient financial crisis was becoming manifest in the Mughal empire. Of further political importance is the fact that irrigation structures enabled the state to establish deep linkages with religious establishments too.247 Irrigation, large canals in particular, generated demand for further labour by bringing new areas under cultivation and by producing cash crops; cash crops provided impetus to large artisanal production and trade, which, in turn, created material conditions for urbanization and non-agricultural production. Human intervention in water, thus, emerges as a regulator of population too. It is significant that the ruling powers saw the making of canals as an activity that led to the growth of towns, prosperity and population.248 It is significant to note that the labour of those who made irrigation structures and maintained them generation after generation over a couple of centuries, either had no access to those facilities or else had only marginal or no use for them. It is quite remarkable that the tillers of the soil had no right to sink / repair wells.249 Equally noteworthy is the fact that the lowest castes which were sometimes given tiny plots of land in lieu of their services, had no right to improve the productivity of their tiny plots as they had no right even to their own koora (household rubbish) which could be used as manure.250 The system of control over the use of the household rubbish was an integral part of the social controls. They only acquired some extra grains and some additional items from the cash crops in small quantities for their labour which was instrumental in creating, endlessly maintaining and operating the structures which generated enormous surplus for the State and the socio-economically and culturally dominant sections of society.


To conclude, there were wheels within wheels in the Asiatic Mode of Production which precluded the possibility of change from within. For more revenue, the state/s could and did bring new areas under cultivation within the ambit of the existing social relations both with regard to land and water; newer elements, such as pastoral communities, could be incorporated in the agrarian system within the ambit of the existing social relations. While the forces of production continued to expand, they had no scope to outgrow the existing social relations of production. On the contrary, the release of the forces of production by the state by bringing new land under cultivation by replicating the existing relations of production further strengthened the existing social relations and ensured their longevity. Only in small isolated pockets do we come across a few challenges to it whereby social relations in water underwent transformation. We find one such example in the Satluj-Jamuna interfluve in the late seventeenth century under the leadership of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, who was executed by the Mughal state ostensibly on a religious pretext, but in reality for challenging the existing social relations in water within the Asiatic Mode of Production. This happened in a tiny small part of South Asia, but further researches may yield more such pockets of change within the Indian sub-continent.




1 However, the rivers emanating from the Himalayas were prone to frequent changes in their courses and, therefore, the riverine belt of these rivers accordingly remained susceptible to fluctuations.

2 See, Tripta Wahi, ‘Water Resources and the Agricultural Landscape: Pre-Colonial Punjab’, Five Punjabi Centuries, ed. Indu Banga, Delhi 1997, pp. 280-82.

3 Ibid., p. 282.

4 It covered ten degrees of longitude and seven degrees of latitude, namely, from 69.2°E to 79°E and from 27.4°N to 34.2°N.

5 For a large scale prevalence of canal irrigation in some other regions, see, Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707, Second Revised Edition, OUP 1999, pp. 33, 38-39 and James Heitzman, Gifts of Power : Lordship in an Early Indian State, OUP 1997, pp. 37-47. It is well known that there was extensive irrigation from canals in Kashmir. See Francois Bernier, Travels in the Mogul Empire tr. Archibald Constable, a revised and improved edition based upon Irvine Brook’s translation, Delhi 1972, pp. 396-97, 399, see also p. 454 for channels in Sindh.

6 Memoirs of Zehir-ed-Din Muhammed Babur, written by himself, translated by John Leyden and William Erkine, ed. Lucas King, London 1921, II, pp. 205-6.

7 For flows of the Indus rivers, see, ‘The Indus and its Tributaries’, Mountains and Rivers (21st International Geographic Congress India, 1968 Inde) ed. B.C. Law, Calcutta 1968, pp. 351-52; see also, Tripta Wahi, ‘Water Resources.’ pp. 268-69.

8 For such a confusion, see, for instance, H.C. Verma, Harvesting Water and Rationalizaton of Agriculture in North Medieval India, 13-16 Centuries, Delhi 2001, p. 23.

9 ‘Canals of the Mooltan District’, Selections from the Public Correspondence of the Board of Administration for the Affairs of the Punjab, Lahore 1852, I, pp. 1-13.

10 See, ‘The Indus and its Tributaries’, op. cit. pp. 351-52 and Tripta Wahi, ‘Water Resources..’ pp. 268-69.

11 J.D. Cunningham, ‘Report of the Irrigation of the Gugur and the Sursootee’ Selections from the Public Correspondence of the Administration for the Affairs of the Punjab, 1854-55, II, No.XXIV, pp. 383-469.

12 F.W.R. Fryer, First Regular Settlement of The Dera Ghazi Khan District in the Derajat Division (1869-1874), Lahore 1876, nos. 163-67, pp. 59-60. See also, B.R. Grover, ‘The Extension of the Irrigation System and the Administration of the Canal Works in the Punjab during the Mughal Age, 1556-1707 A.D.,’ Land Rights, Landed Hierarchy and Village Community During the Mughal Age, Collected Works of Professor B.R. Grover, ed. Amrita Grover and et., Delhi, 2005, I, pp. 218-19, 225.

13 Shams Siraj Afif, Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi, the Tughluq Kalin Bharat, tr. R.A.A. Rizvi, Delhi 2008, (reprint), II, pp. 74-75. Yahya ibn Sirhindi, Tarikh-iMubarak Shahi, ibid., p. 199.

14 Foreign-Political Department, 31st December 1847, Nos. 2351-52, NAI, p. 88, No. 5, New Delhi.

15 Sujan Rai Bhandari, Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh, Punjabi translation, Patiala 2000, p. 36; B.R. Grover, op. cit, pp. 227-91. Abha Singh ‘Irrigating Haryana’, Medieval India, ed. Irfan Habib, Delhi 1992, pp. 57-58.

16 Loc. cit.

17 Sujan Rai Bhandari, op. cit., p. 82.

18 Irfan Habib, op. cit., p. 36. Grover, op. cit., p. 219.

19 Foreign-Political Deptt., 4th-11th August, 1849, Prog. No. 87, ‘Canals in the Rachna Doab’, No.18., NAI, New Delhi; see also, Grover, ibid., p. 220.

20 R. Napier’s Report on the Shah Nahr or Hasli Canal, ibid., pp. 39-48.

21 Foreign-Political Dept., 21st February 1851, Nos. 148-69, NAI, New Delhi.

22 Abul Fazl, Ain-i-Akbari, tr. M. Blochman, The Asiatic Society, 2010 (reprint), II, Ain I, p. 39.

23 Loc. cit.

24 Lieut. Yule, ‘A Canal Act of Emperor Akbar with some notes and remarks on the History of the Western Jumna Canal’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1846, Vol. XV, pp. 214-25.

25 See, for instance, Fryer, op. cit., p. 59, no. 165; Edward O’Brien, Land Revenue Settlement of the Muzaffargarh District, Lahore 1882, pp. 13-17, S.S. Thorburn, First Regular Settlement of the Bannu District, Lahore 1879, pp. 94-98.

26 Foreign-Political Deptt., 4th-11th Aug., 1849, R.P. Napier’s, ‘Report on the Shah Nahr or Husli Canal’, No.90, NAI, New Delhi.

27 Abha Singh, op. cit., p. 59.

28 Lieut. Yule, op. cit., pp. 214-17.

29 Sirhindi, Tarikh-i-Mubarakshahi, op. cit., pp. 201-2.

30 Yule, op. cit., pp. 216-17.

31 From all sources cited regarding Firuz Shah’s canals, this is the picture that emerges on the point under discussion.

32 Afif, op. cit., pp. 112-14. Sirhindi, op. cit., p. 206. Due to a huge increase in the number of slaves, the department of slaves (Diwan-i-Bandagan) was separated from the Diwan-i-Vizarat, of which it was originally a part. See, R.C. Jauhri, Firoz Tughluq (1351-1388), pp. 126-27.

33 Foreign-Political Dept., 4th-17th August, 1849, no. 88, ‘Canals in the Baree Doab’, para 6, NAI, New Delhi.

34 Foreign-Political Dept., 28th February 1851, pp. 1-3, Annexure: ‘Detailed Statement of the Canals’. In 1850 four out of ten canals of the Dera Ghazi Khan district required new ‘mouths’.

35 ‘Mooltan Canals’ op. cit., p. 3

36 Ibid., pp. 3-4.

37 Foreign-Political Dept., 4th-11th Aug., 1849, ‘Canals of the Baree Doab’. Letter from Secretary to the Board of Administration to H.M. Elliot, Secretary to the Govt. of India, ‘note’, NAI, New Delhi.

38 Yule, op. cit., p. 222.

39 Loc. cit.

40 J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga, Civil and Military Affairs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Amritsar 1987, document no. 109.

41 B.N. Goswamy and J.S. Grewal, The Mughal and Sikh Rulers and the Vaishnavas of Pindori: A Historical Interpretation of 52 Persian Documents, Simla 1969, Document No. III, pp. 94-95.

42 Ain-i-Akbari, op. cit., II, ain IV, p. 45.

43 Yule, op. cit., p. 25.

44 See, for instance, ‘Mooltan Canals’, op. cit., p. 4.

45 Yule, op. cit., p. 217; Ain-i-Akbari, op. cit., II, p. 45.

46 Afif, op. cit., pp. 75-76.

47 Ibid., p. 76.

48 See, for instance, Thorburn, op. cit., pp. 98-101.

49 Stability in agriculture was in direct proportion to human intervention in water. See, Tripta Wahi, op. cit., p. 282.

50 Afif, op. cit., pp. 74-75.

51 Ibid., p. 75.

52 Loc. cit.

53 Loc. cit.

54 Sujan Rai Bhandari, op. cit., p. 82.

55 Loc. cit. See also Bute Shah, Punjab di Geographical Tawarikh (Geographical Description of The Punjab in Panjabi), translated from the Persian of Bute Shah by Munshi Bahlol in 1850, reprint, Chandigarh 2007, p. 113.

56 Loc. cit.

57 Foreign-Political, 31st Dec., 1847, No. 2351-52, ‘Regarding the Revenues obtained at present by irrigation’, p 42-43.

58 Yule, op. cit., p. 217.

59 Afif, op. cit., p. 75. See also Futuhat-i-Firuz Shahi, op. cit., p. 334.

60 It may be noted that Dhatrat finds a mention in the context of the increased revenues from the region. See, Afif, ibid., p. 75.

61 ‘Mooltan Canals’, op. cit. See also Dera Ghazi Khan Canals.

62 Ibid., Annexure.

63 Yule, ‘A Canal Act of Akbar’, op. cit., pp. 213-14. Italics mine.

64 Ibid., pp. 214-15.

65 Ibid., p. 214.

66 Ibid., p. 222, fn. 3.

* The portion on the wells is substantially a reproduction my article ‘Rights to Sink and Repair Wells and Accruing Rights in Land and its Produce’, Proceedings Indian History Congress, 72nd Session, Patiala, December 2011, pp. 378-391.

67 Notably B.D. Chattopadhyaya, The Making of Early Medieval India, Delhi 1997 and Aspects of Rural Settlements and Rural Society in Early Medieval India, 1990 and David Ludden, particularly his article ‘Patronage and Irrigation in Tamil Nadu : A Long-term View’. IESHR, XVI, No. 3, pp. 347-65. James, Heitzman, op. cit., T.M. Srinivasan’s Irrigation and Water Supply: South India, 200 BC-1600 AD, Madras 1991, is a monumental work on irrigation, but it is not much within the discourse of the agrarian system.

68 Even when ‘brain-storming’ was done to go deeper into the agrarian system, it took into consideration three basic elements : ‘land, labour and lord’. Water as a parallel component to land in the agrarian system escaped their notice. See, Land Control and Social Structure in Indian History, Robert Eric Frykenberg (ed.), pp. viii, xx. Water rights as a distinct entity have escaped even the notice of historians who have otherwise included irrigation as an important component in agrarian production and power structures and relations.

69 ‘Rights of Tenants To Sink Wells’, Selections from the Records of the Office of the Financial Commissioner, Punjab, 1874, pp. 236-240.

70 A few examples would suffice. G. Ousley and Capt. W.G. Davies, Report on the Revised Settlement of the Shah Poor District in the Rawulpindi Division, Lahore 1866, pp. 111-12, no. 283 for shares in wells; S.S. Thorburn, op. cit., pp. 95-97. See also J.H. Morris, Report on the Revised Settlement of the Mooltan Division, pp. 3, 5-6; ‘Mozzuffurghur Settlement’, Selections from the Public Correspondence of the Administration, for the Affairs of the Punjab, Vol. I, no. 2, Lahore 1853, p. 21.

71 See, for instance, ‘Mozzuffurghur Settlement’, ibid., p. 21. Similarly all settlements recorded property in wells.

72 See, for Instance, J.H. Morris, Report on the Revised Settlement of Goojaranwalah District in the Lahore Division, 1860, p. 54, no. 82.

73 Srinivasan, op. cit., p. 163.

74 B.N. Goswamy and J.S. Grewal, op. cit.

75 These documents are numbers, I, II, IV, V, XXVII, XLIV, XLIX.

76 Document No. XLIX.

77 Ibid., p. 78.

78 Italics mine. Ibid., p. 86.

79 Loc. cit.

80 Ibid., p. 103.

81 Ibid., p. 111.

82 Ibid., p. 240.

83 Ibid., p. 312.

84 Loc. cit.

85 Tripta Wahi, ‘Nature of Land Rights in the Pre-Colonial Punjab : A Study of the Tenancy Documents’, The Panjab Past and Present, Vol. XXXVI, Part II, October 2005, pp. 2, 7-8.

86 Tarapada Mukherjee and Irfan Habib, ‘Land Rights in the Reign of Akbar : The Evidence of the sale-deeds of Vrindaband and Aritha’, PIHC, Gorakhpur Session 1989-90, document nos. 9-10, p. 247.

87 Ibid., p. 248.

88 Ibid., document no. 6, p. 246.

89 B.R. Grover, op. cit., p. 234, fn. 9.

90 Srinivasan, op. cit., p. 182. See also p. 163 for the sale of land with trees, well and tank.

91 Insha-i-Mahru, Tughluq Kalin Bharat, Vol. II, S.A.A. Rizvi, (tr.) document no. 4, p. 376.

92 Loc. cit.

93 Ibid., document no. 5, p. 376.

94 Annual Report on the Working of the Rajputana Museum, Ajmer, for the year ending 31st March 1939, no. 4 of the ‘inscriptions inscribed’, p. 4. Henceforth this series would be referred to as ARWRM.

95 ‘Irrigation in Early Medieval Rajasthan’, JESHO, Vol. XVI, Parts II-III, pp. 307-08.

96 See, for instance, Srinivasan, op. cit., pp. 101, 153, 163, 177-8, 183. In fact, the whole work is based primarily on inscriptions connected with irrigation.

97 Annual Report of the Sardar Museum and Sumer Public Library, Jodhpur for the year ending 30th September 1925, p. 2. This inscription was fixed in a well.

98 T.V. Mahalingam, Inscriptions of the Pallavas, Delhi 1988, No. 89, Tandantottam Plates of Nandi Varman II, p. 305, No. 121, Velurpalaiyam Plates of Nandi Varman III, p. 379. See also Srinivasan, op. cit., pp. 177-78.

99 Epigraphica Indo-Moslemica (EIM), 1911-12 ed. J. Horovitz, no. XXIII, p. 25.

100 EIM, 1937-38, ed. G. Yazdani, pp. 5-6.

101 Ibid., p. 5.

102 EIM, 1917-18, No. 2, pp. 17-18.

103 EIM, 1919-20, ed. Horovitz, pp. 8-9.

104 EIM, 1937-38, pp. 22-26.

105 ARWRM Ajmer for the year ending 31st March 1935, Delhi 1936, ‘Inscriptions copied’, No. XIV. See also inscription No. XV.

106 ARWRM Ajmer, ending 31st March 1937, ‘Inscription Copied, Nos. XVII, XVIII, pp. 6-7.

107 Srinivasan, op. cit., p. 178.

108 B.D. Chattopadhyaya, op. cit., pp. 312, 315.

109 ARWRM Ajmer, year ending 31st March 1935. Inscriptions copied : No. X, pp. 4-5.

110 Ibid., no. XII, pp. 5-6.

111 Mahalingam, op. cit., inscription nos. 89 and 121. pp. 305, 379. See also Srinivasan, op. cit., pp. 177, 194.

112 Srinivasan, op. cit., pp. 152-53, 177-78.

113 Ibid., pp. 152-53.

114 Mahalingam, op. cit., p. 448.

115 Srinivasan, op. cit., p. 152.

116 Ibid., Glossary, p. 232.

117 Dasharatha Sharma (ed.), Rajasthan through the Ages, Bikaner 1966, I, p. 330 (d).

118 B.D. Chattopadhyaya, op. cit., pp. 309, 311 and 314.

119 J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga, op. cit., document no. 58, p. 110.

120 R.K. Saxena, Peasant and the State : A Study of 18th Century Rajputana, Jaipur 1999, p. 291.

121 Literally meaning from head to foot; a dress of honour; an installation fee paid for permission to sink a well. Indu Banga, Agrarian System of the Sikhs, Delhi 1978, ‘Glossary’, p. 210; Charles A. Roe, Customary Law of the Multan District, Lahore 1883, pp. lxxxii-iii.

122 V. Venkayya, ‘Irrigation in Southern India in Ancient Times’, Archeological Survey of India Annual Report 1903-04 (reprint New Delhi 2002), p. 210.

123 In the Chaj Doab in the Punjab, the British officer L. Bowring received numerous applications for permission to repair wells. Foreign Miscellaneous H.M. Elliot Revenue etc. of the Punjab 1849, No. 352, p. 53, National Archives of India, New Delhi.

124 One has just to read Srinivasan’s book or even Venkayya’s article to see how tightly controlled irrigation was.

125 A kachcha well as distinct from a ‘pucca’ well which has a wooden frame at the bottom, known as the chak in the Punjab, on which a bricked cylindrical wall is raised.

126 Debate in the Legislative Council following the judgement of the Agra High Court in July 1867: Home: Gazette of India Supplement: July to December 1868, pp. 722-23.

127 E.B. Steedman, Report on the Revised Settlement of the Jhang District (1874-1880), pp. 75-76.

128 Tripta Wahi, ‘Nature of Land Rights in the Pre-Colonial Punjab’, op. cit., p. 11.

129 Frykenberg, op. cit., Introduction, p. xiv.

130 Papers connected with the Question of Tenant Rights in the Punjab : Selections from the Records of the Government of the Punjab, Lahore 1869, pp. 94-95, 107, 276. Henceforth abbreviated as Tenancy Documents. See also Tripta Wahi, ‘Nature of Land Rights’, op. cit., p. 11.

131 T. Gordon Walker, Punjab Customary Law, Vol. V, The Customary Law of the Ludhiana District, Calcutta 1886, p. 91, no. 182.

132 Tenancy Documents, Anjuman’s Comments, No. 5, p. 569. See also T. Wahi, ‘Nature of Land Rights’, op. cit., p. 11.

133 Tenancy Documents, no. 1, p. 132.

134 Srinivasan, op. cit., pp. 177-8, fn. 111, p. 194.

135 ‘Right of Tenants to Sink Wells’, op. cit., p. 395.

136 Loc. cit.

137 Ibid., pp. 397-98.

138 Home : Gazette of India Supplement: July to December 1868, Oudh Rent Bill, discussion in the Legislative Council on the judgement, pp. 720-31.

139 Tenancy Document., p. 286.

140 ‘Mozzoffurghur Settlement’, op. cit., p. 15.

141 Tripta Wahi, ‘Land Rights’, p. 11.

142 Ibid., pp. 9-13.

143 Tenancy Documents, see, for instance, p. 570; Tripta Wahi, ‘Nature of Land Rights’, op. cit., pp. 11-15.

144 Ibid., see, for instance, exception no. 1, p. 133, no. 14, p. 133, no. 32, p. 136.

145 Ibid. Byj Nath’s reply, p. 96.

146 T. Wahi, ‘Nature of Land Rights’, op. cit., pp. 5-6.

147 Loc. cit.

148 J.H. Morris, Report on the Revised Settlement of the Mooltan District, Lahore 1856-7, pp. 6-8, 28, Appendix H. No. 7; A.R. Roe, Report on the Revised Settlement of the Multan District of the Punjab, pp. 40-41, Henry Monckton, Report on the Revised Settlement of the Jhung District, p. 4, nos. 27-28; see also Indu Banga, ‘Ecology and Land Rights in the Punjab’, op. cit., pp. 64-65.

149 Loc. cit.

150 Charles A. Roe, Customary Law of the Multan District Regarding Inheritance, the Enjoyment of Property, Land Tenures and Alluvion and Diluvision, Lahore 1883, pp. lxxxii-ix; see also, Indu Banga, ibid., pp. 64-65.

151 See, Dilbagh Singh, The State Landlords and Peasants: Rajasthan in the 18th Century, Manohar 1990, p. 53; R.K. Saxena, op. cit., p. 11.

152 Tenancy Document, pp. 72, 81, 95.

153 Irfan Habib, A People’s History of India 28: Indian Economy, 1858-1914, Tulika Books, 2006, p. 51.

154 Tripta Wahi, ‘Land Rights in the Pre-Colonial Punjab’, op. cit., pp. 7-8, 13.

155 Ain XI, ‘Land and its Classification and the Proportionate Dues of Sovereignty’, Ain-i-Akbari, II, p. 68.

156 Loc. cit. See also, B.R. Grover, ‘Classification of Agrarian Land Under Cultivation’, op. cit., pp. 241-42.

157 Loc. cit.

158 Ibid., ain VII on Khazandar, pp. 58-59.

159 Irfan Habit, An Atlas of the Mughal Empire, Delhi 1982, Punjab; Political 1595, Sheet No. 4A.

160 Ibid., Notes on Sheet No. 4A, p. 8.

161 J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga, op. cit., See, for instance, document nos. 123, 124, 144, 183, 197, 199, 238, 244, 262, 274, 287, 372. All have varying values or contexts. Document no. 287 besides giving the total value, mentions the value of the well for kharif and rabi crops separately.

162 See, Tripta Wahi, ‘Socio-Political Structures in Interaction with a Seasonal River : A Case Study of the Ghaggar in the Mid-Nineteenth Century’, Proceedings of the Punjab History Conference, 39th Session, 2007, pp. 291-95. See also J.D. Cunningham, op. cit.

163 Purananuru, No. 18, lines 13-30, quoted, David Ludden, An Agrarian History of South Asia, The New Cambridge History of India, IV, CUP 1999, p. 78.

164 The Kautiliya Arthasastra, Part II, R.P. Kangle (tr.), Bombay 1963, p. 64, 2.1.20, p, 209, 2.34.8.

165 Ibid., 2.1.20, p. 64.

166 Ibid., p. 173, 2.24.18.

167 Ibid., p. 210, 2.35.3, p. 217, 2.36.45.

168 Ibid., pp. 249, 253, 255-56.

169 Quoted, K.L. Rao, ‘India’s Water Wealth : Its Assessment, Uses and Projections, New Delhi 1975, p. 114.

170 Sujan Rai Bhandari, op. cit, pp. 39, 87; B.R. Grover, ‘Extension and Administration of the Irrigation System under Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb’ Collected Works of Professor B.R. Gorver, Vol. I : Delhi 2005, pp. 223-4, 227-91.

171 Leslie S. Saunders, Revised Land Revenue Settlement of the District of Lahore,(1865-69), Lahore 1873, p. 42, no. 150.

172 Ahsan Jan Qaisar, ‘Agricultural Technology Depicted in Mughal Paintings’, Medieval India 3, ed. B.L. Bhadani, Manohar, Delhi 2012, item nos ‘C’ and ‘D’ pp 84-87.

173 A Gazetteer of Delhi, (1883-4), Vintage Books, Delhi 1988 reprint, pp 104-5.

174 See, Hamida Khatoon Naqvi, ‘Leather Crafts in Medieval India-1206-1803’. Scientific and Technological Exchanges Between India and Soviet Central Asia: Proceedings (Medieval Period) B.V. Subharayappa (ed.), Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi 1985, pp 232-33.

175 Ibid, p. 233.

176 For a detailed description of the components of the two, see the booklet Living Traditions: Local Water and Land Management Systems in the Bagdundra Region of the Mewar Aravallis, Ubeshwar Vikas Mandal Ihar, Udaipur n.d. pp. 5-14, 23-25.

177 Ibid. pp. 6-15; see also, Delhi Gazetteer, op. cit pp. 105-107.

178 Leslie Saunders, op. cit, pp. 61-62.

179 See illustration and description, Ahsan Jan Qaisar, op. cit., pp. 84-86.

180 Invariably there were multiple pairs of draught amials for a single rahat.

181 F.W.R. Fryer, First Regular Settlement of the Dera Ghazi Khan (1869-74), Lahore 1876, p. 10.

182 Memoirs of Zehir-ed-Din Muhammed Babur, written by himself, translated by John Leyden and William Erkine, ed., By Lucas King, London 1921, II, pp. 205-6.

183 Tripta Wahi, ‘Canals, State and Society in Pre-British Punjab’, PIHC, 73rd session, 2013, pp. 272-74.

184 See, for instance, Lt. R. Baird Smith, Agricultural Resources of the Punjab : being a memorandum on the application of the Waste Waters of the Punjab for purposes of irrigation, London 1849, p. 7

185 Muhammad Salih Kamboh, Amal-i-Salih, text along with translation, Muhammad Baqir, Lahore : Past and Present, Lahore 1952, pp. 384-85, see also, Shah Nawaz Khan, Maathir-ul-Umara, tr. A. Beveridge, revised by Baini Prasad, Patna 1979, I, p. 551.

186 Lieut. Yule, ‘A Canal Act of Emperor Akbar with some notes and remarks on the History of the Western Jumna Canal’, JASB, 1846. Vol. XV, p. 215

187 See, for instance, the map of the canals of the Muzaffargarh District, E.O’ Brien, Settlement Report, 1882.

188 See, T. Wahi, ‘Shah Nahr: Its History, Technology and Socio-Political Implications’ PIHC, Cuttack Session, 2013, pp. 288-89.

189 Lt. R. Baird Smith, op. cit., p. 7

190 Loc. cit and T. Wahi, ‘Shah Nahr’ op. cit. pp 287-288

191 T. Wahi, ‘Canals, State and Society in the Pre-British Punjab’, op. cit, p. 276.

192 Foreign-Political Dept, 4th-17th August, 1848, no. 88, ‘Canals in the Baree Doab’, para 6, NAI, New Delhi.

193 When the British acquired power in the Punjab they found that upper portions of the Hasli were already filling up in such a short period. For some information on the Western Jamuna canal, see Major Colvin, ‘On the Restoration of the Ancient Canals in the Delhi Territory’, JASB, 2, 1838, pp 113, 115, 116-7.

194 Colvin, ibid., p. 125.

195 Leslie Saunders, op. cit, p. 42, no. 150.

196 Lt. Yule, ‘A Canal Act of Akbar’, op. cit, pp 213-23.

197 Ibid., p. 216.

198 Ibid, p. 217.

199 See Tripta Wahi, ‘Nature of Land Rights in the Pre-Colonial Punjab; A Study of the Tenancy Documents’, Panjab Past and Present, XXXVI, Part II, p. 4.

200 See, Tripta Wahi, ‘Rights to Sink and Repair Wells and Accruing Rights in Land and its Produce’, PIHC, Patiala, 2011, p. 385, also T.Wahi, ibid, p. 5.

201 Shams Siraj Afif, Tarikh-iFiruz Shahi, the Tughluq Kalin Bharat, tr. R.A.A. Rizvi, Delhi 2008 (reprint), II, pp. 74-75. Yahya Ibn Sirhindi, Tarikh-iMubarak Shahi, ibid., p. 199.

202 Afif, ibid., pp 112-14, Sirhindi, ibid., p. 206, R.C. Jauhri, Firoz Shah Tughluq (1351-1388), pp 126-27.

203 Abul Fazl Allami, Ain-i-Akbari, tr. H. Blochmann, second edition by D.C. Phillott, The Asralic Society, Kolkata, 2011 (reprint), I, Ain 87, p. 235.

204 Yule, op. cit, p. 222, Tripta Wahi, ‘Canals, State and Society’, op. cit, p. 276.

205 This is based on my own field-work with the Od community settled in Sanjay Colony in South Delhi.

206 Denzil Ibbetson, Panjab Castes: Races, Castes and Tribes of the People of Punjab, reprint of the first edition of 1916, Delhi 1981, no. 573, p. 274.

207 Based on my own field work. They maintain that among many other, they have dug the Bhakhra and Indira Gandhi canals. Those settled in Sanjay Colony, quarry in the Bhatti mines and they have also been doing the work of subterraneous digging for the Delhi Metro.

208 Ibbetson, op. cit, Abstract No. 96 showing wandering and criminal tribes, p. 272.

209 Ibid., p. 275.

210 J. Mark Baker, The Kuhls of Kangra, Permanent Black, Delhi 2005, pp. 10910.

211 See, for instance, the maintenance of the Multan Canals, ‘Canals of the Mooltan District’, Selections from the Public Correspondence of the Board of Administration for the Affairs of the Punjab, I, Lahore 1852, No. 1, pp. 34.

212 Yule, op. cit, p. 222.

213 Foreign-Secret, 28th April 1848, nos. 57-66, no. 60, p. 31, NAI, New Delhi.

214 Loc. cit.

215 S.S. Thorburn, Report of the First Regular Land Settlement of the Bannu District in the Derajat Division of the Punjab, Lahore 1879, p. 97, no. 105.

216 Correspondence Connected with Summary Settlement of a tract of Country Trans Indus formerly included in the Dera Ismail Khan District and now comprised partly in that and partly in the District of Bunnoo, Punjab Printing Press, Lahore (British Library, IOR No. V/27/314/480A). Pargana Isakhail, p. 44.

217 Ibid, pp. 10-11.

218 F.W.R. Fryer, First Regular Settlement of the Dera Ghazi Khan (1869-74), Lahore 1876, p. 123, No. 358.

219 Gazetteer of Delhi, (1883-4), op. cit, p. 107

220 Loc. cit

221 Saunders, op. cit., p. 42, no. 152.

222 Ain-i-Akbari, op. cit, Ain 87, p. 235

223 Gazetteer of Delhi, op. cit., p. 107.

224 Prem Sumarag The Testimony of a Sanatan Sikh W.H. Mcleod (tr), OUP 2006, p. 66.

225 Gazetteer of Delhi, op. cit., p. 107. In the khadir the water level is never very deep. See also, Saunders, op. cit., p. 42, no. 150.

226 Ibbetson, op. cit., p. 275 and my field work with the Od community in Delhi.

227 Himadri Banerjee, Agrarian Society of the Punjab (1849-1901), Manohar, Delhi 1982, p. 177.

228 This was always a matter of discussion among the British Officers as to how much food and in which form it was to be given, discussion was invariably in relation to earlier practices.

229 The Chola King Karikal employed about 12,000 captives from Sri Lanka in the construction of irrigation works on the river Kaveri, see, T.M. Srinivasan, Irrigation and Water Supply in South India, 200 BC – 1600 A.D., Madras 1991, p. 85.

230 See, for instance, Yusuf Mirak’s Mazhar-i-Shahjahani translated by Muhammad Saleem Akhtar in his work Sind Under the Mughuls, Karachi 1990, pp. 174-5, 196, passim.

231 Ain-i-Akbari, I, Ain 87, p. 235.

232 Loc. cit.

233 Yule, op.cit., p. 22.

234 Foreign Secret 28th April, 1848, nos. 57-66., no. 60 p. 7, no. 17.

235 Fryer, op. cit, p. 123, no. 58.

236 Ain-i-Akbari, I, Ain 87, p. 236.

237 Saunders, op. cit., p. 42, no. 153.

238 Ain-i-Akbari, I, p. 236.

239 See, for instance, lists of things and quantities given to the sepidars in a kamil well, ‘Agriculture of the Rechna Doab’, Selections from the Public Correspondence of the Punjab Administration 1854-55, Vol. II, Appendices, pp. 88-98.

240 See, for instance, ibid, no. 2, p. 105.

241 T. Gordon Walker, Customary Law of the Ludhiana District, Calcutta 1885, p. 12, no. 25

242 Tripta Wahi, ‘Canals, State and Society’, op. cit, pp. 277-80.

243 Foreign Political 31st December 1847, nos. 2351-2352, John Lawrence’s letter of 22nd Feb. 1847, no. 2. NAI

244 For details see Tripta Wahi, ‘Canals, State and Society’, op. cit, pp. 277-79

245 Afif, Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi, Tughluq Kalin Bharat, tr. R.A.A. Rizvi, Delhi 2008 (reprint), II, pp. 74-75. Yahya bn Sirhindi, Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi, ibid., p. 199. See also, Tripta Wahi, ibid. pp. 277-80.

246 Tripta Wahi,’ Shah Nahr’, op. cit, p. 293

247 Tripta Wahi, ibid, p. 293.

248 Abdul Hamid Lahori, Badshash Namah, original text and translation in Baqir’s Lahore op. cit., Kamboh, Amal-i-Salih, ibid, pp. 383-84. See also, Tripta Wahi, ‘Shah Nahr, : ibid, pp. 293-94.

249 Tripta Wahi, ‘Rights to Sink and Repair Wells’, op. cit., pp. 378-91.

250 Tripta Wahi, ‘Nature of Land Rights, op. cit., p. 8.

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