Growing up, I have always had the fortune to visit my grandfather’s agricultural estate. It was mainly vast amounts of lush land in colours of yellow, green, orange and the rare red, situated close to India’s borders. The episodes were boring and I spent most of my time daydreaming about the landscape and about history episodes I found very interesting, such as the Second World War.
Whenever I think of those moments today, I get reminded about the landed gentry in the United Kingdom and zamindars in India and Bangladesh. My maternal great-grandparents were zamindars, so it’s hard to not think about how the two classes are so different from each other, and yet so alike – it’s astonishing, to say the least.
The landed gentry is a social class in the United Kingdom, comprising of land owners. They were not aristocrats (mainly, upper class people in their respective countries) but they were in possession of large amounts of lands, from which they would earn an income. Meanwhile, a zamindar, used to be an aristocrat but the system no longer exists in Bangladesh because of its abolition in the fifties, following Bangladesh’s independence from the United Kingdom.
In addition to that awful abolition, during my great-grandfather Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s tenure as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the abolishment of what could be regarded as the zamindari ‘class’ – it used to divide the society into various segments, such as lords etc., was carried forward with entirely.
Zamindars were aristocrats in the Indian subcontinent and they had control over large amounts of lands, as well as peasants from whom they would collect taxes. During Mughal rule in India and Bangladesh, zamindars were appointed to collect income from peasants and zamindars in Bengal particularly, were people who had lands, or were peasant-owners etc.
The Bengal Presidency, when the British still ruled in the Indian subcontinent, comprised Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh.
Bengal makes up: West Bengal in India and Bangladesh, and the zamindars of Bengal (or the zamindars of the Bengal Presidency) were enormous in Bengal’s villages. They became prominent, during British colonial rule in India and Bangladesh, all because of the opportunities provided by the British in the two countries, which at the time was the one singular state of India; the British Raj was truly one of the greatest empires in the world.