JĀGĪRDARĪ, a feudal system of political and revenue administration based on jāgīr, lit. fief or grant of land received from the sovereign or a vassal owing fealty and obedience to him. Sikhs who, after the fall of Sirhind in early 1764, started occupying territory, did not automatically take to the jāgīrdārī system in vogue since the Sultanate and Mughal periods. Heads of various Sikh misls and lesser sardārs or commanders had under them vast tracts of land, but their holdings were not jāgīrs in the sense that they were owed to no sovereign above them. As the legend on the coins first struck by the Sikhs in 1765 signifies, they considered themselves part of the collective body called the Panth -- Panth which derived its sovereignty from the Gurū (and God) . According to anonymous author of a contemporary work, Haqīqat-i-Binā wa Urūj-i-Firqā-ī Sikkhāṅ, even he who had only two horses and acquired a single village as his own jāgīr did not owe allegiance to anyone else. Stray instances however are not lacking of the chiefs of Sikh misls giving jāgīrs to persons serving them in civil or military capacity, but jāgīrdārī as a system of service jāgīrs or revenue-free land grants in lieu of salary for services became a distinctive feature of the Sikh revenue administration only under Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh (1780-1839). According to figures given by Henry T. Prinsep, Origin of the Sikh Power in the Punjab and Political Life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1834), over 42 per cent of the total revenue from land was alienated by the Mahārājā in favour of all kinds of jāgīrdārs. Some of the jāgīrdārs of the former chiefs were also taken into service and paid through jāgīrs. Most jāgīrs, other than some dharmārth jāgīrs which were given in perpetuity, were temporary, usually for the lifetime of the grantees. The jāgīrdar was given the right to collect revenue either in cash or kind as it might suit the convenience of the cultivators. A fixed part of the revenue, normally 12.5 per cent was payable to the State. Judicial powers, both civil and criminal, were vested in the jāgīrdār, but he could not interfere with traditional proprietory rights of the cultivators. Conditions of grant were laid down. For instance, in the case of military jāgīrdār, the portions for personal service and for the maintenance of a specified number of horsemen were distinctly mentioned. Though one and the same person could be asked alternatively to perform civil or military duties, distinction between civil and military officers was generally clear. Thus while Avitabile was essentially a civil administrator, Ventura was a military commander. Instances were also there of a jāgīr granted to more than one person with their individual shares severally fixed. This was a legacy from the old pattīdārī system.
Next in importance to service and subsistence jāgīrs were the dharmārth jāgīrs or land grants for charitable purposes. These grants made both by the sovereign and the vassal chiefs, and even by subordinate jāgīrdārs, were usually permanent. As a rule, a jāgīrdār could make further grants of a permanent nature only if he held his own jāgīr permanently, which was rare, most jāgīrs being for a life-tenure. Most dharmārth grants were therefore also for the grantees' life, but since the grants were normally attached to institutions of permanent nature, they were almost always renewed by succeeding rulers, chiefs and jāgīrdārs and thus tended to be permanent. Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh as well as his predecessors, the misl chiefs, made liberal dharamārth grants without discrimination on religious basis. Temples, mosques, takīās, ḍerās, khānaqāhs, serāis as well as gurdwārās, and Udāsīs, faqīrs, Brahmaṇs as well as Sikh saints were equally the beneficiaries.
The Jāgīrdarī system under the Sikh rule did not affect the basic system of land tenures. The bulk of the cultivators continued to be peasant proprietors of their holdings, paying land revenue direct to the State in case of Khālisā lands and to the fief-holders in case of jāgīrs. Tenants were divided into two broad categories : muzāri'-ān-i-mustaqil or maurūsī and muzāri-'ān-i-ghair-mustqil or ghair-maurūsī, the former preponderating. Those who brought forest land under cultivation were treated as muzari'ān-i-maurūsī or occupancy tenants and could not be ejected at will.
Harī Rām Gupta