In Catastrophe by Munshi Pramchand, the main character (a woman named Bhungi) "lived in Pandit's village... [who] had the full authority to make her do any sort of odd job." He was described as the "owner of the village" for whom "she was obliged to work without pay" whenever he wanted her to.

What did it mean for him to be the owner of the whole village? Was this a "normal" arrangement?

  • What country, culture and time period is the work set in? Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 14:37
  • We have a History site where you could ask about societal norms at the time. Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 14:49

1 Answer 1


It is likely that the Pandit was a member of the Zamindari aristocratic class.

Historically they were administrators rather than outright owners of land, but were co-opted by the British regime as revenue collectors and to enable this they were made the possessors of the land.

The position of the Zamindars changed, the zamindars were earlier the administrators of the villages but now they became hereditary land owners in practice and were supposed to invest in their lands in order to maximize the productivity and keep the profits. If a peasant fails to pay the tax, he was replaced by another peasant on the land. The system worked with the hope that as the zamindars were kept in such a profitable position they would become much more loyal to the British. It was easy for the Britishers to collect revenue from few zamindars rather than millions of peasants.

Zamindars were made owners to those lands in which they had been previously collecting revenue, they could transfer, lend and mortgage their land and no rights were given to the peasants just to gain the loyalty and support of the zamindars.

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