T.K. Oommen lists the following five categories.
- Landlords, who own but do not cultivate land, either employing intermediaries or leasing out land.
- Rich farmers, who look upon agriculture as a business proposition, produce for the market and for profit, employ wage labour, and supervise rather than cultivate.
- Middle peasants, who cultivate their own land and hire labourers only for certain operations or at certain points of time.
- Poor peasants, who own small and uneconomic holdings and often have to work as parts labourers or as sharecroppers or tenant.
- Landless agricultural workers who sell their labour and fully depend on the first three categories for their livelihood.
The Indian Communist parties give a fivefold classification.
- Landlords (feudal and capitalist), who do not take part in manual labour;
- Rich peasants, who participate in manual work, but mainly employ wage labour;
- Middle peasants, who own or lease land which is operated predominantly by their family and also by wage labour.
- Poor peasants, whose main income is derived from land leased or owned, but who employ no wage labour.
- Agricultural labourers, who earn their livelihood mainly through selling their labour in agriculture or allied occupations.
Hamsa Alavi adopted the three-fold classification of peasants under the heading of rich,
middle and poor peasants.
In rural areas, classes consist principally of
- (i) landlords,
- (ii) tenants,
- (iii) peasant proprietors,
- (iv) agricultural labourers and
- (v) artisans.
Types of Landlords: Broadly, there were two types of landlords:
- (i) the zamindars/ taluqdars (old landlords) and
- (ii) moneylenders, merchants and others.
Those who held such ownership of tenure rights (in zamindari areas) were often referred to as intermediaries. These intermediaries were of various categories known by different names and found in various regions of U.P., Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Taluqdars were inferior intermediaries whom the large zamindars created out of their own zamindari rights. Jotedars found in some parts of Bengal were substantial landholders who held land direct from the zamindars. They got land cultivated by subletting to the tenants on a 50: 50 share. Similarly, Pattidars held permanent leases at fixed dues under the zamindars. Ijardars on the other hand were those to whom the revenue of an area was hired out on a contract basis.
Another settlement made by the British is known by the name of Ryotwari Settlement. This was introduced in Madras and Bombay Presidencies in the nineteenth century. Under this settlement, ownership of land was vested in the peasants. The actual cultivators were subjected to the payment of revenue. However, this settlement was not a permanent settlement and was revised periodically after 20-30 years. It did not bring into existence a system of peasant ownership. The peasant proprietors, in the past as well as in the present, hardly constitute a homogeneous category. They may be broadly divided into three categories, namely, (i) the rich, (ii) the middle, and (iii) the poor peasants.
(i) Rich Peasants: They are proprietors with considerable holdings. They perform no fieldwork but supervise cultivation and take personal interest in land management and
improvement. They are emerging into a strong capitalist farmer group.
(ii) Middle Peasants: They are landowners of medium size holdings. They are generally self-sufficient. They cultivate land with family labour.
(iii) Poor Peasants: They are landowners with holdings that are not sufficient to maintain a family. They are forced to rent in other’s land or supplement income by working as labourers. They constitute a large segment of the agricultural population.
The creation of zamindari settlement transformed the owner cultivators of pre-British India into a class of tenants. The zamindars resorted to the practice of extracting an exorbitant rent from the tenants. Those who failed to pay were evicted from land and were replaced by those ready to pay higher rents. Similar practice prevailed in estates, which were leased out by the zamindars.
Broadly then there were two categories of tenants in zamindari areas – tenants under zamindars and tenants under lease (tenure) holders during the British period. Tenants under tenure holders were thus sub-tenants. Of course, various categories of tenants under subtenants too had grown up in Bengal. The lowest in the hierarchy were sharecroppers.
Non-cultivating landlords, peasant proprietors and tenants are not the only social groups
connected with agriculture. Along with the swelling of rent-paying tenants there was also a progressive rise in the number of agricultural labourers. The growing indebtedness among peasant population, followed by land alienation and displacement of village artisans was largely responsible for this. The agricultural labourers were and still are broadly of three types. Some owned or held a small plot of land in addition to drawing \ their livelihood from sale of their labour. Others were landless and lived exclusively on hiring out of their labour. In return for their labour, the agricultural labourers were paid wages, which were very low. Their condition of living was far from satisfactory. Wages were generally paid in kind i.e. food grains like paddy, wheat and pulses. Sometimes cash was paid in lieu of wages in kind. A certain standard measure was employed to give these wages. In fact, payment in kind continued alongside money payments. There was another type of labour prevailing in many parts of the country. Their status was almost that of bondage or semi bondage. Dublas and Halis in Gujarat, Padials in Tamil Nadu are a few examples of such bonded labour existing in India. Such labour force exists in some parts even today. The land reform programmes after Independence have done almost nothing to improve the condition of agricultural labourers in India. Of course, the government has proposed to settle them on co-operative basis on surplus or newly reclaimed or wasteland. Bonded labour was legally abolished in India in 1972 and Government, as well as, voluntary agencies are doing serious work in order to locate the bonded labourers and rehabilitate them. There has been considerable swelling in the number of agricultural labourers in the wake of the land reform programmes. Resumption of land by landlords for personal cultivation and eviction of tenants from their tenure have been the factors leading to this trend. The process was further accelerated by the Green Revolution. Large farms, being in conformity with the Green Revolution, has opened the way for greater concentration of land by purchase, sale or through eviction of tenants. In the process the rank of agricultural labourers has further increased. At the same time, there is very low rate of transfer of the agricultural labour population to industry. Hence, there is little likelihood of radical change in the social and economic situation of the agricultural labourers in most parts of the country. The government has, of course, taken some steps towards protecting their interest. Legislation towards abolition of bonded labour and minimum wage structure on the one hand, and employment generating programmes on the other, reflect this concern. Such measures are, however, far from effective. The agricultural labourers hence constitute the weakest section of the rural society.
In rural areas the class of artisans form an integral part of the village community. They have existed since the ancient periods contributing to the general self-sufficient image of an Indian village. Some of these are like the carpenter (Badhai), the ironsmith (Lohar), the potter (Kumhar) and so on. Not all villages had families of these artisans but under the Jajmani system, sometimes a family of these occupational castes served more than one, village. Some social mobility did exist in the pre-British period but, generally, these artisan castes did not experience much change. Due to the advent of the British in India, this relatively static existence of the artisan castes suffered a radical change. Indian economy became subordinate to the interests of the British trade and industry.