Feudalism in Pakistan
Introduction:- The Zamindarana Nizam or Feudal system is a phenomenon that has affected Pakistan’s history time and again; sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. There are many salient features of the Feudal system in Pakistan. They are large landholdings by joint families; Lambardari of the local landlord family, work done by peasants or mazeras, complete rule of the landlord in the vicinity and often its surroundings too, debt bondage and sometimes absentee landlordism.
The Pakistani feudal system is compatible with the European medieval feudal system where a large proportion of the production of the subsistence farmer would go to the landlord as homage. The Indian caste system is also similar to the hierarchy of the medieval European feudal pyramid expect for the fact there a person from a lower rank could be promoted to a higher rank by proving his worth unlike India where a Pandit’s son will grow up to be a Pandit and a Shudra’s son is deemed to be a servant for the rest of his life. There are also some similarities with the Japanese feudal system.
In this research we will delve into the intricacies of the matter and will ascertain the reason for the phenomenon of feudalism and its effects on Pakistani society in general. The European Feudal Model:- We have to see the similarities between the Indian Feudal Model and the European feudal model because a lot of people confuse one with another. It will also be easier to study the Indian feudal system because it was a forerunner of the modern Pakistani feudal system. The European feudal system was based on homage to one’s feudal lord because of the fact that he protects the plebian from external threat by serving in the military.
If we want to study the European feudal model we have to grasp the idea of the King, the Lord, the vassal and the peasant. The King was the sovereign barring exceptions in some cases, all the feudal barons and others were knighted by the King so that they would pledge allegiance to the King. Pledging allegiance to the King meant that many of the feudal lords were required to serve in the military. As a result the profession of an Army Officer up till world war two remained largely a feudal profession.
Almost all Earls, Dukes, Viscounts and Barons served in the army or Navy as officers; a tradition that continues to this day as we can see both the sons of Charles, the Prince of Wales serving in the military. Another way how an ordinary man could work up the hierarchy was by proving himself in battle. Once the man would do so, he would be awarded with land by the King called “fief”. This would make him a landowner and he would then be required to swear an “Oath of Fealty”, the literal meaning of fealty is fidelity. Once the feudal pledged allegiance to the King he was made head of his area.
The entire medieval Europe fell into some sort of a pyramid of hierarchy; with the head of everything being the Pope and the Clergy. The Pope was responsible for a lot and he would often appoint Prices in an around the area of modern Italy. Cesare Borgia is one such example of people appointed by Pope Alexander the Sixth, his father. The Church was known for its nepotism and this is why the Great Schism or the Western Schism and the Protestant Reformation took place. The Church’s corruption knew no bounds at times. Alexandre Dumas once said that “Christianity assumed a pagan character”. This is exactly what he was talking about.
The Church has absolute power. Then came the Monarchs, then the Knights and Vassals, the business people were next and finally there were the peasants and the serfs. This has a lot of similarities with the Indian caste system. There were basically four Varnas. The Brahmins were the highest and they were the equivalent of the Clergy of those days, then there were the Kshatriyas who were a lot like Knights of the European feudal model and Samurais of the Japanese feudal system, then were the Vaishyas who were the traders, the businessmen and merchants, finally there were the Shudras who were sort of like the peasants.
The feudal system in history has been a way of keeping the oppressed down. Both systems show a clear indication of exploitation. While Brahmins and Kshatriyas were landowners, the Vaishyas were confined to doing business only and the Shudras were made to serve the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas in the most demeaning and despicable of ways. They were confined to cleaning jobs, acting as servants and laborers. The Mahar are a lower community of India. They were called the untouchables. One of their leaders B. R. Ambedkar was the Chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Committee.
He was the author of several books and was very aware of the fact that he was from an oppressed community and made provisions to make India into the secular and tolerant state that it is today. Some people may disagree with this statement but I beg to differ. The Union of India has done a lot to protect the rights of its lower castes ever since independence and this is where people like B. R. Ambedkar needs to be given credit. Unfortunately in Pakistan, people from lower castes often try to hide their identity and being from a lower caste is still considered a stigma, particularly in the Punjab.
Here the Kshatriya tribes who are almost exclusively Muslim have not let go of their Hindu approach. They still believe in Mazera and Kammi system. They are not sent to school and are forced to work for their landlord families generation after generation. It is a shame what Pakistan has become today. Pakistanis embrace modernism thinking that it is an American phenomenon but they have no clue whatsoever how much of an equalitarian society the United States is today. While India has let go of their former hatred, Pakistan continues to be an insolent, third-rate godforsaken society.
Coming back to the European feudal system, there were instances when the King knighted the people who were close to the king or were in the process of forging close relationships were also knighted so that their status would be elevated to that of any other peer. We can clearly see that in the case of King Henry the Eighth or Henry Tudor. Before he was set to marry Anne Boleyn he knighted her father making him a Viscount and her brother a Baron. The feudal Barons in the middle ages dominated every walk of life.
The German name prefix of “von” usually showed nobility and we can clearly see that all the people who dominated German and Austrian societies before the Second World War had this prefix in the beginning of their name. For example von Mises the economist, von Bismark the statesman, von Manstein the general, von Hindenburg the Chancellor of Germany before Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich came into power. This is clear evidence of how the nobility was dominant in all spheres of life. We will discuss the same about Pakistan but like Europe trends are changing here too and we can see a more fair and equalitarian society.
The Indian Feudal Model:- The first evidence of allotment of lands was in ancient India. Indians of antiquity were very giving to their spiritual leaders, the Brahmins. The customs of gifting lands to Brahmins dates back to Maurya times. The Maurya Empire thrived in India between the 4th to 1st Century B. C. E. The Empire controlled from Paltiputra in Present day Patna, Bihar controlled almost all of India. The special thing about this empire was that it was very sparsely populated. This made it very easy for greedy, licentious Brahmins to encroach land. The situation was ideal and the Brahmin is a very shrewd man. According to R.
S. Sharma of the University of Patna this is when the trend started and was later enacted into the epic of Mahabharata during the Gupta Empire. This indoctrination meant that the Brahmins would later become landowners. Vast estates of land boil down into huge sums of money and with money comes power, influence and authority. Over the course of the next two thousand years the Brahmin consolidated his position by becoming the landlord along with the Kashatriya. Our ancestors, the Kashatriyas had to earn his land and fight with every fiber of his being for every last chunk of land but the Brahmin had his devious ways.
The Brahmin changed the Holy Hindu script and stammered rites for a living. The result of all this was that the Brahmin to this date remains economically well off and continued to rule for centuries to come. Only in today’s world do you see people from lower Varnas such as Laksmhi Mittal or Bajaj strike rich. Otherwise it was always the Brahmin Pandit or the Kshatriya warrior who had control over wealth. It is important to note that the Nehru family is of Kashmiri Brahmin Pandit origin; their scions include Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
The concept was then started off by the Mughals who with their skill in administrative issues decided to appoint tax collectors from area to area. This included people from every religion. The Mughals made no discrimination in religion. There were some smaller kingdoms all over India too as the Mughals did not have a hundred percent control over everything. The Mughals, like the British conferred titles upon their tax collectors. Some of these titles were Mian, Rai Bahadur and Chaudhary. Mian was the title given to the Arian family who were the custodians of the Shalimar Gardens. The family is called Mian family of Baghbanpura.
Mian Muhammad Shafi, one of the politicians of per-partition India and the Judge to whom Jinnah swore his oath to after becoming Governor-General are both from this family. Rai Bahadur was the title given to those families who helped the Mughals succeed in destroying their enemies for example some people from one tribe would given the title for killing people from another tribe who were causing troubles to for the Mughals. Chaudhary literally meant “Lord” and unlike today it was a very rare title back then. It was also customary amongst the Mughals to grant Lordship to Pashtun Generals serving in the army.
The Nawabs of Bhopal and the landlords of Khwaspur near modern day Lalamusa were both handed over to Pashtun generals for the services they rendered to the Mughal Empire. Once the British came to power, they had similar tactics of retaining power. The only difference was that they had different names for their loyalists. They preferred to give the title of “Khan Bahadur”. The British clearly understood the differences between communities of India and did their best to divide us. When people from one tribe rebelled, they were expelled from the army.
They placed tribes loyal to them over others in social standing and even today, the effects of this intrusion and manipulation of history effects our society in a very detrimental way which I will discuss later in the research. Hegemony of feudals in Pakistani society:- There were also stories from history where we can see that the King was not as powerful and that the Feudals were running the show altogether. We see the evolution of the “Magna Carta”, the first bill of rights of man that the western world saw. This Magna Carta was written in the thirteenth century by the Feudal Barons of King John the Second after a series of critical istakes made by the King and now the power lay with the Barons. This is how important the nobility was back in the medieval ages. The phenomenon is still prevalent in modern day Pakistan where we clearly see that almost all of the bureaucrats and politicians hailing from Interior Sindh have remarkably eccentric and ridiculous last names. This is because these are the leaders of their respective tribes. Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Asif Ali Zardari, Muhammad Khan Junejo among many others. Why does not any Sindhi from an ordinary background make it to the top? It is the hegemony of these tribe leaders that keeps them oppressed and downtrodden.
We do see a sort of connection of these nobles with their German pre world war counterparts. They were all extremely dominant in their societies and controlled the military, the bureaucracy, the foreign affairs, almost all the intellectual discourse, the food production and pretty much everything else. Absentee Landlordism:- This is a phenomenon by which a peculiar landlord from a peculiar rural area of Pakistan remains absent during the entire course of the cultivation and harvest of his crops in order to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the urban areas of Pakistan.
These landlords do not contribute to their land; some of them embark on political careers or take up important bureaucratic jobs. As a result they have little or almost no input on the growth of their crops. There are people that are part of the feudal gentry who leave their country estates and farmlands comprising of hundreds of acres just to live a lavish life in Lahore and other cities playing polo and consuming ridiculous amounts of alcohol. When their crops are harvested they get the largest share of the profits while their mazera gets nothing but some money to barely make ends meet.
Societal deterioration of Urban Pakistan:- According to Ayesha Siddiqa, the author accredited with writing “Military Incorporated”, feudal system is still alive and kicking in Pakistan and even Pakistan’s urban elite are trying to copy the life styles of the feudals. She says and I quote “the decadent lifestyle of the old Nawabs and the feudal elite by holding huge parties, mujrahs and flaunting money” in their newly built farmhouses. The tragedy of our country is that we try to copy whatever culture we think is superior.
Our Anthropology teacher first introduced us to the phenomenon of “Cultural Diffusionism” where traits of dominant cultures are slowly assimilated into weaker cultures. Unfortunately for Pakistani society, we are ready to accept any culture that has more to do with ostentatiousness than modesty. Moreover, Nawabs and Thakurs were more powerful in areas like Balochistan or Uttar Pradesh. Nawabs of Punjab for example Nawab Sir Fazal Ali of Gujrat and Nawab Sir Hayat of Wah were mostly installed by the British.
It is sad to see North Punjabis and other Pakistanis trying to emulate their lifestyles because of their own inferiority complexes. The word “khandaani” has been thrown around so much and is uttered by every single menial who has a few nickels in his pocket. Pakistani society is a complete and utter shambles and the feudal archetype is to be held accountable in this particular case. Pakistan Army Officer Corps and its deterioration because of differences in background:- Pre-partition Pakistan Army also shows a clear discord between army officers of feudal background and army officers of ordinary backgrounds.
In a story narrated by my father, a former Pakistan Army Armored Corps officer there was a clear discord and hatred between both the parties within the Armored Corps back then. There were two syndicates that we formed one lead by former Lieutenant General Sahabzada Yakub Khan, a landowning aristocrat and the son of the Nawab of Rampur who opted for Pakistan army after partition; The other by Lieutenant General Gul Hassan Khan a man of humble background from Pabbi, Nowshera District.
Both Generals were from PAVO Cavalry (Frontier Force) and Probyn’s Horse respectively with the former filled with people from elite backgrounds and elitist principles and the latter being the complete opposite of that. My father told me that before the 1970s if you were serving in the army as a cavalry officer you had to be a part of one group or the other or else you had no future in the army and were constantly harassed by both parties. So the officers picked their sides, all except one General Zia-ul-Haq did so.
As a result young Zia a staunch mullah, was thrown out of three army regiments before settling into one dominated by elitists, the Guides Cavalry (Frontier Force). There he was welcomed by Lieutenant Colonel Pir Israr Shah who felt sorry for poor Zia. The day Colonel Shah left poor Zia was once again bullied and harassed by fellow officers especially by former NWFP and Punjab Governors Lieutenant Generals Fazl-e-Haq and Ghulam Jilani, both personally appointed by General Zia later so that he would show them who’s boss.
The result of these dissensions was that Zia did his best to purge out the “elitist” from Pakistan Army and this policy very slowly and gradually took its effect. Coming back to Gul Hassan and Sahabzada Yakub Khan, There were implications that Bhutto wanted Gul Hassan as the future head of the Army, part of the reason why the competent Sahabzada resigned as Commander of East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh). He was replaced by A. A. K. Niazi, a genuinely incompetent officer.
As a result of all of this, Pakistan Army failed to protect East Pakistan from Indian onslaught in the 1971 war. All because our officers failed to unite as one and let go of their backgrounds. What a pity! Perhaps this was why it was so hard to get any work done in any military office back then. There was too much politics surrounding every issue. One party would do whatever it was in their capacity to make the other one look bad and not caring about the duties that their state entrusted upon them.