Begar system in H.P.

Begar system in H.P.

BEGAR: Forced Labor in Addition to Land Revenue


  • Definition: Begar is a Persian word, referring to the unpaid exploitation of labor.
  • Nature: It involves compelling individuals to work against their will.

Historical Context

  • Origins: Initially tied to cultivation, requiring individuals to provide labor during the state or government’s times of need.
  • Evolution: Developed into a social practice, extending to Zamindars and eventually, under Sanad, to fulfill obligations to British authorities.
  • Activities: Encompassed tasks beyond land cultivation, often involving carrying loads and meeting state obligations.

Types of Begar

  1. Athwara Begar:
    • Personnel Begar to the ruler.
    • Compulsory unpaid labor for various purposes.
    • Includes services at the ruler’s darbar, supplying firewood, grass, and cultivating the ruler’s land.
  2. Sanad Begar:
    • Arranged by hill chiefs for British authorities.
    • Tasks included carrying luggage, round development, public works, and collection of grass and fuel.
  3. Batrawal (Hallah ke Begar):
    • Equitable system for public works.
    • Tasks like carriage of stones, wood construction, and repairs in state buildings.
  4. Jaddi-Baddi (Hela-Mela):
    • Occasional Begar for special reasons or occasions (marriage, death, ruler’s installation).
    • Personal tribute reflecting respect for the ruler.
  5. Begar during Tour:
    • Providing labor for carrying loads and camp arrangements during the chief’s territorial visits.
    • Equitable and not frequently imposed.
  6. Political and High Begar:
    • Involves carrying loads and camp arrangements for state officials during their visits.
    • Paid form of labor in some states.
  7. State Guests Begar:
    • Provided when a chief visits a state.
    • Labor for carrying luggage and arranging the chief’s tour and camp.
  8. Geonsar Begar:
    • Villages carrying officials’ bundles on their tours.
  9. Road Begar:
    • Repair of roads and bridle tracks by begaris in their respective territories.
  10. Shikar Begar:
    • Beating jungles for game, disapproved by settlement officers.
    • If engaged, individuals had to pay for the labor.
  11. Religious Begar:
    • Involves labor related to ceremonies and festivals of local deities.
    • Considered a religious obligation, contributing to community celebrations.

Nature of Begar 

Historical Significance

  • Pre-British Era: Chief’s goods transported by subjects from one village to another.
  • Land Possession: Begar linked with land possession; an integral part of the revenue system.
  • Revenue Payment: People preferred paying revenue and dues in the form of labor due to a lack of cash.

Begar under British Government

  • Recognition: British government acknowledged and incorporated the Begar system.
  • Quota Requirement: Hill chiefs, when reinstalled, had to furnish a quota of begaris in proportion to their revenue.
  • Increased Burden: Intensified during the construction of Shimla-Tibet road and the growth of Shimla as a British hill station.

Social Implications

  • Social Structure: Integral to the social hierarchy involving land, labor, and living.
  • Influence on Classes: Rich and strong often escaped Begar obligations, burdening the poor and lower castes.
  • Exemptions: Brahmins, certain Rajput classes, officials, and influential individuals exempted; Bania families could commute Begar to cash.

Corruption and Idleness

  • Corruption: Bribes given to officials for exemption, leading to corruption within the society.
  • Idleness: Begar fostered idleness as laborers received no compensation for their work.

Cultural and Religious Influence

  • Cultural Acceptance: Deeply ingrained belief that Begar was part of their destiny.
  • Religious Backing: Supported by the philosophy of “Karma,” accepted by both rich and poor.

Economic Impact

  • Economic Dependency: Integral part of the economic system of hill states.
  • Adverse Effects: Small peasants adversely affected; Zamindars mitigated impact by sending substitutes.
  • Employment Hindrance: Hindered employment opportunities, making individuals quasi-permanent laborers.

Reform and Abolition

  • Stokes’ Initiative: Samuel Evan Stokes initiated efforts against Begar, forming an informal vigilance committee.
  • Wage Increase: Representation to authorities resulted in doubling wages for Begar coolies.
  • Abolition: Due to efforts led by Stokes, the system was abolished in Shimla in 1921.

Social Movements

  • Agrarian Movements: Movements like Dhum, Pajotha, and revolts targeted the Begar system.
  • Socio-Economic Structure: Begar had become a fundamental pillar of the socio-economic structure in hill states.