Poverty in India

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Quotes about poverty in India.




  • The Sultan requested the wise men to supply some rules and regulations for grinding down the Hindus, and for depriving them of that wealth and property which fosters disaffection and rebellion. ... The people were brought to such a state of obedience that one revenue officer would string twenty khiits, mukaddims, or chaudharis together by the neck, and enforce payment by blows. No Hindu could hold up his head, and in their houses no sign of gold or silver, tonkas or jitals, or of any superfluity was to be seen. These things, which nourish insubordination and rebellion, were no longer to be found. Driven by destitution, the wives of the khuls and mukaddims went and served for hire in the houses of the Musulmans.... The Hindu was to be so reduced as to be left un- able to keep a horse to ride on, to carry arms, to wear fine clothes, or to enjoy any of the luxuries of life. .... I have, therefore, taken my measures, and have made my subjects obedient, so that at my command they are ready to creep into holes like mice. Now you tell me that it is all in accordance with law that the Hindus should be reduced to the most abject obedience.I am an unlettered man, but I have seen a great deal; be assured then that the Hindus will never become submissive and obedient till they are reduced to poverty. I have, therefore, given orders that just sufficient shall be left to them from year to year, of corn, milk, and curds, but that they shall not be allowed to accumulate hoards and property."
    • Tarikh-i Firoz Shahi, of Ziauddin Barani in Elliot and Dowson, Vol. III : Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, 8 Volumes, Allahabad Reprint, 1964. p. 182 ff.
  • There was no middle state. A man must be of the highest rank or live miserably.
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6
  • Most towns in Hindustan are made up of earth, mud, and other wretched material; that there is no city or town (that) does not bear evident marks of approaching decay. (...) In eastern countries, the weak and the injured are without any refuge whatever; and the only law that decides all controversies is the cane and the caprice of a governor.
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • India survived only by virtue of its patience, its superhuman power and its immense size. The levies it had to pay were so crushing that one catastrophic harvest was enough to unleash famines and epidemics capable of killing a million people at a time. Appalling poverty was the constant counterpart of the conquerors’ opulence.
  • One has only to read Bhimsen’s graphic account of the miserable conditions in the Deccan as a result of Qurangzeb’s ruinous policies. The author who was a witness to the dismal situation and saw matters from close quarters writes, ‚All administration has disappeared. During the governorship of Shaista Khan and Jai Singh and others, there was not such a bad management ….. Now-a-days, the business has gone beyond its limit, the country has been desolated, nobody gets justice ….. the ryots gave up cultivating; the Jagirdars did not get a penny. The mansabdars have been reduced to extreme point of poverty; how can they keep troops?‛
    • Nuskha-i-DilkushÁ, pp.232-33. Bhimsen, Nurkha-i-DilkushÁ’, tr. Jadunath Sarkar, ed. V.G. Khobrekar, Bombay, 1972. in Bhatnagar, V. S. (2020). Emperor Aurangzeb and Destruction of Temples, Conversions and Jizya : (a study largely based on his court bulletins or akhbārāt darbār muʻalla)


  • I had been astonished, since I left Bicholim [eight miles north of Goa], to find the roads crowded with troops of people, carrying such heavy burdens on their heads that I could not look on them without deep compassion. I asked my servants why these poor folk carried such heavy weights over the difficult mountain roads, which we, even without loads, could scarcely surmount. I was told that these people were of the same cooly caste as the carriers of my palanquin and my baggage; that they had no other occupation but that of carrying heavy burdens; and that they dwelt on the coast near Goa, and gained their living by taking dried fish, coconuts, arrack, and other comestibles, to sell in Bijapur. They were paid 2½ ecus a load, however great the weight. I marvelled how these poor creatures could earn enough to live on, and stand such heavy fatigue for the twenty-five to thirty days that each trip lasted. I might certainly have been told that it was scarcely enough for their food and upkeep in so long a journey and might well have believed it, had not my daily experience led me to know otherwise. These people did not spend their small wages, but kept them for their families on their return. I had eight of these coolies, six for my palanquin and two for my luggage. I gave each three rupees, which is 1½ ecus, to take me to Bijapur, without being obliged to give them any food. I found that they provided themselves, before starting, with a little rice and dried fish, which cost them hardly anything in their own country. This lasted all the journey, with what they find in the villages, where they are given fruit and milk, and some millet, from which they make flour. This is soaked in cold water and made into flat cakes, which are baked over a fire on iron plates supported by three stones. In certain places they find caste-fellows, who kindly cook them some herbs in oil or butter, which they eat with these pancakes. Their greatest support, however, is tobacco, which they are always smoking, so that they devoured more smoke than anything else. Besides water, they drink toddy, conjee [kanji], and arrack. Toddy is a kind of wine, which they extract from palm-trees. It is the colour of milk, has a pleasant taste, rather like white wine, and is very refreshing. Conjee is only boiled water with a little rice in it, which is given them on arrival in any village. There is always a house which keeps this drink ready on the fire for passers-by who, in the heat and sweat they are in, would probably die if they drank cold water. Arrack is a spirit made out of toddy, which they distil, as we do brandy. They mix with it a red root called canja [ganja, the hemp plant]; the infusion intoxicates them so much that they become like lunatics and out of their senses, when they drink it to excess, though it gives them strength and vigour, if taken in moderation and only as a refreshment.
    • Bijapur, state of coolies, Abbe Carre, The Travels of The Abbe Carre In India And The Near East 1672 to 1674, Charles Fawcett ed., Asian Educational Services 1990, vol. I pp., 226-227 quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume III Chapter 2
  • An important order in the reign of Aurangzeb describes the Jagirdars as demanding in theory only half but in practice actually more than the total yield. Describing the conditions of the latter part of the seventeenth century Mughal empire, Dr. Tara Chand writes: “The desire of the State was to extract the economic rent, so that nothing but bare subsistence. remained for the peasant.” Aurangzeb’s instructions were that “there shall be left for everyone who cultivates his land as much as he requires for his own support till the next crop be reaped and that of his family and for seed. This much shall be left to him, what remains is land tax, and shall go to the public treasury.”
    • Tara Chand, History of Freedom Movement in India, I, p. 121. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7


  • The conclusion that the decay noticed in the early 19th century and more so in subsequent decades originated with European supremacy in India, therefore, seems inescapable. The 1769-70 famine in Bengal (when, according to British record, one-third of the population actually perished), may be taken as a mere forerunner of what was to come. (...) During the latter part of the 19th century, impressions of decay, decline and deprivation began to agitate the mind of the Indian people. Such impressions no doubt resulted from concrete personal, parental and social experience of what had gone before. They were, perhaps, somewhat exaggerated at times. By 1900, it had become general Indian belief that the country had been decimated by British rule in all possible ways; that not only had it become impoverished, but it had been degraded to the furthest possible extent; that the people of India had been cheated of most of what they had; that their customs and manners were ridiculed, and that the infrastructure of their society mostly eroded. One of the statements which thus came up was that the ignorance and illiteracy in India was caused by British rule; and, conversely, that at the beginning of British political dominance, India had had extensive education, learning and literacy. By 1930, much had been written on this point in the same manner as had been written on the deliberate destruction of Indian crafts and industry, and the impoverishment of the Indian countryside.
    • Dharmapal: The Beautiful Tree, Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century. (1983)
  • India has always been considered a most wealthy and opulent country, more favoured by nature than any other in the world, a land literally flowing with milk and honey, where the soil yields all that is necessary for the existence of its happy people almost without cultivation. The great wealth accumulated by a few of its native princes, the large fortunes so rapidly acquired by many Europeans, its valuable diamond mines, the quality and quantity of its pearls, the abundance of its spices and scented woods, the fertility of its soil, and the, at one time, unrivalled superiority of its various manufactures: all these have caused admiration and wonder from time immemorial. One would naturally suppose that a nation which could supply so many luxuries would surpass all others in wealth.
    This estimation of the wealth of India has been commonly accepted in Europe up to the present day; and those who, after visiting the country and obtaining exact and authentic information about the real condition of its inhabitants, have dared to affirm that India is the poorest and most wretched of all the civilised countries of the world, have simply not been believed.…all these beautiful fabrics are manufactured in wretched thatched huts built of mud, twenty to thirty feet long by seven or eight feet broad. In such a work-room the weaver stretches his frame, squats on the ground, and quietly plies his shuttle, surrounded by his family, his cow, and his fowls. The instruments he makes use of are extremely primitive, and his whole stock in trade could easily be carried about by one man. Such is, in very truth, an exact picture of an Indian factory. As to the manufacturer himself, his poverty corresponds to the simplicity of his work-shop…
    I should class the inhabitants of the Indian Peninsula in the following manner. The first and lowest class may be said to be composed of all those whose property is below the value of 5 pounds sterling. This class appears to me to comprise nine-twentieths, or perhaps even a half, of the entire population…
    I place in the second class all those whose property ranges from 5 to 25 pounds sterling. This class, I should say, includes about six-twentieths of the entire population…Thirdly, I may reckon together those Hindus whose property varies in value from 25 to 50 pounds sterling. They comprise about one-tenth of the population…The fourth class comprises those whose property varies in value from 50 to 100 pounds sterling, and I should say it forms three-fortieths of the population…In the fifth class I should include all those whose property varies in value from 100 to 200 pounds sterling. It comprises about one-thirtieth of the whole population…The sixth class may be said to comprise individuals whose tangible property varies in value from 200 to 500 pounds sterling, and it represents, I should say, about one-fiftieth of the population…The seventh class may be said to be composed of those whose property varies in value from 500 to 1,000 pounds sterling. I should say only one-hundredth part of the population belongs to this class…The eighth class includes those whose properties range in value from 1,000 to 2,000 ponds sterling, and it comprises one two-hundredths of the population…
    • Dubois, Abbe, Hindu Manners, Customs And Ceremonies, Clarendon Press, 1968. quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter2


  • …the peasants are more oppressed than formerly [and] frequently abscond.
    • Dutch factor, Wollebrand de Jongh Geleynssen on Gujarat in 1629. in in Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707,Oxford University Press 2003, quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume III Chapter 2
  • Guru Nanak proceeds to describe how the oppressors shaved off the maidens, their ‘heads with braided hair, with vermillion marks in the parting’; how ‘their throats were choked with dust’; how they were cast out of their palatial homes, unable now to sit even in the neighbourhood of their homes; how those who had come to the homes of their husbands in palanquins, decorated with ivory, who lived in the lap of luxury, had been tied with ropes around their necks; how their pearl strings had been shattered; how the very beauty that was their jewel had now become their enemy – ordered to dishonour them, the soldiers had carried them off. ‘Since Babar’s rule has been proclaimed,’ Guru Nanak wrote, ‘even the princes have no food to eat.’
    • Guru Granth Sahib, quoted from Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • If farmers become weak the country loses self-reliance but if they are strong, freedom also becomes strong. If we do not maintain our progress in agriculture, poverty cannot be eliminated from India. But our biggest poverty alleviation programme is to improve the living standard of our farmers. The thrust of our poverty alleviation programmes is on the uplift of the farmers.
  • Preferably, the government should have anticipated that after it unilaterally declared a complete lockdown (first phase), millions of informal workers would suddenly lose every way of earning their livelihoods and would be rendered penniless. This would inevitably trigger a mass exodus among the poor informal sector workers, forcing almost one-third of the 1.3 billion people who are living a hand-to-mouth existence, to gather on the streets and trek back home with their belongings. The state also took two days to announce a paltry sum of Rs. 1.7 lakh crores as economic relief to the informal workers who have been turned refugees overnight. This is only 0.5% of the national income if existing budgetary allocations are taken into account. This is an insidious form of assault on the well-being and physical and mental security of the poor population of India, especially so when they are already outside the social security net because they do not fall within the organized sector.
  • No doubt, extending the lockdown was necessary, but so was making transportation and other arrangements for the poor. [...] The COVID–19 episode in India has proved that, to date, the voices of the poor are unheard in the decision-making and policies that affect them the most. Further, data and evidence regarding them are least likely to be considered by the government when framing policies.


  • Turn we now to a sepoy on the line of march. We will suppose him in the ranks. We have seen his means of subsistence; we know how he feeds, how he is clothed, and how he can undergo his duties in garrison. Now let the reader patiently follow me a little longer, and I will show him the miseries, the privations, and the fatigues to which he is exposed while marching. Before starting, a sepoy generally receives an advance of pay; perhaps he has it in full, or only half, according to the pleasure of the commanding officer, or the distance he has to go. With this advance of pay he has to clear himself from the station (for probably he has incurred debts), besides paying an advance equal to one half, or altogether, as the case may be, for the means of conveying his goods and chattels, as well as his numerous family, some of whom, particularly the young and aged, are unable to walk.
    Exclusively of all this, he has to provide the means of sustenance for himself and dependants, and that with a total of perhaps two rupees in his pocket, for a journey of about two or three or four hundred miles! How can he do this? Impossible! He must starve and so must his family; at all events, they must from sheer necessity feed themselves upon the most economical plans that they can possibly devise.
    Curry and rice are luxuries they dare not think of. Plain boiled rice is not so expensive, and of that they sometimes do manage to have a treat, about two mouthsful each. Bread or biscuits, or chuppatees (cakes made of rice flour), are quite out of the question. Butter-milk with a green chili after it, and now and then a bit of salt fish by way of a relish, is generally their sole food; and parched peas, or raw chenna (or grain), forms a kind of variety which they chew, resembling the cud of bitter poverty in every sense of the word.
    Upon this sort of diet have they to support nature, and be fit for the duties to which they are called in the camp and on the route. The sepoy has to take his tour of guard once every three days (sometimes oftener), exposed at nights to the damp chilly dew, and perhaps be drenched with rain, being obliged to remain so for hours together during the whole night, and march the next morning without change of clothes, and without any food or other description of creature comfort, save a pot full of that abominable trash, buttermilk.
    On arriving at the next stage, he has no comfortable breakfast, no hot coffee, no dram, nothing except some cold rice and water of the preceding day to satisfy his hunger. All this time he has to carry his pack, firelock, and accoutrements; his chaco, his pouch full of ball cartridges; the body emaciated and rendered feeble from want of proper sustenance; how is it possible for the wretched man to go through all this without breaking down?
    • Extreme poverty of sepoys, Albert Hervey who was in India from 1833 to 1841 in Kaul, H.K., Travellers’ India – An Anthology, Oxford University Press, 1979. quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter2


  • Irrespective of whether you are a freelance humanitarian or a freelance patriot, a fact that is beyond dispute is that the country treats its poor very badly. Across India, in the name of fighting a pandemic, India has beaten up its poor, denied them their livelihood, made them run behind trucks for food, and forced thousands of families to walk hundreds of kilometres to their villages, letting some people die on the way. A few days ago, more than a dozen men travelled inside a cement mixer to escape detection.
  • India’s very definition of comfort is a state of being that is inaccessible to the poor. Often, we pay not for the quality of service, experience, home or education, but for keeping the poor out. Low standards for the poor are embedded in all the cures that India prescribes for poverty.


  • One idea that struck Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316) was that it was “wealth” which was the “source of rebellion and disaffection.” It encouraged defiance and provided means of “revolt”. He and his counsellors deliberated that if somehow people could be impoverished, “no one would even have time to pronounce the word ‘rebellion’.” ...According to W.H. Moreland “the question really at issue was how to break the power of the rural leaders, the chiefs and the headmen of parganas and villages…” Sultan Alauddin therefore undertook a series of measures to crush them by striking at their major source of power-wealth. But in the process, leaders and followers, rich and poor, all were affected. The king started by raising the land tax (Kharaj) to fifty percent....Furthermore, under Alauddin’s system all the land occupied by the rich and the poor “was brought under assessment at the uniform rate of fifty per cent”. ....In short, a substantial portion of the produce was taken away by the government as taxes and the people were left with the bare minimum for sustenance. For the Sultan had “directed that only so much should be left to his subjects (raiyyat) as would maintain them from year to year… without admitting of their storing up or having articles in excess.” ... Maulana Shamsuddin Turk, a divine from Egypt, was happy to learn that Alauddin had made the wretchedness and misery of the Hindus so great and had reduced them to such a despicable condition “that the Hindu women and children went out begging at the doors of the Musalmans.” ....While summing up the achievements of Alauddin Khalji, the contemporary chronicler Barani mentions, with due emphasis, that by the last decade of his reign the submission and obedience of the Hindus had become an established fact. Such a submission on the part of the Hindus “has neither been seen before nor will be witnessed hereafter.”
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7, quoting Moreland, Agrarian System of Moslem India, p. 32 fn., Barani


  • [The peasants have] no possessions or assets from which to pay…[and are] beaten unmercifully and maltreated…They are carried off, attached to heavy iron chains, to various markets and fairs[to be sold], with their poor, unhappy wives behind them carrying their small children in their arms, all crying and lamenting their evil plight.
    • Inability of peasants to pay high revenue demand, Fray Sebastian Manrique, in Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707,Oxford University Press 2003 . quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume III Chapter 2
  • The cities look attractive from a distance... Rich men have gardens... The common people live in huts and hovels.
    • Father Monserrate, (writing at time of Akbar) in Lal, K. S. (2001). Historical essays. New Delhi: Radha.(II.149)
  • [In the seventeenth century John De Laet (1631) summarised the information he had collected from English, Dutch and Portuguese sources regarding the Mughal empire as a whole.] “The condition of the common people in these regions (south and west) is exceedingly miserable; wages are low; workmen get only one regular meal a day, the houses are wretched and practically unfurnished, and people have not got sufficient covering to keep warm in winter.”
    • Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • When any hungry wretch takes it into his head to ruin the kingdom, he goes to the king and says to him: 'Sire; if your majesty will give me the permission to raise money and a certain number of armed men, I will pay so many millions. The king then asks how it is intended to raise the money. It is by nothing else than the seizure of everybody in the kingdom, men and women, and by dint of torture compelling them to pay what is demanded. Such financiers are hateful and avaricious men. The king generally consents to their unjust proposals, as he thereby satisfies his own greed; he accords the asked-for permission, and demands security bonds.
    • Niccolao Manucci. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 4
  • Aurangzeb did this for two reasons: first, because by this time his treasures had begun to shrink owing to expenditure on his campaigns ; secondly, to force the Hindus to become Mahomedans. Many who were unable to pay turned Mahomedans, to obtain relief from the insults of the collectors. ... [Aurangzeb] was of the opinion that he had found in this tax an excellent means of succeeding in converting them, besides thereby replenishing his treasuries greatly...
    • About the Jizya during Aurangzeb's reign. Niccolao Manucci. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1990). Indian muslims: Who are they.
  • “Enormous fortunes,” says Macaulay, “were rapidly accumulated at Calcutta, while thirty millions of human beings were reduced to the extremity of wretchedness. They had been accustomed to live under tyranny, but never under tyranny like this.”
    • Macaulay, quoted in Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage : India and Her Neighbors. , quoting MACAULAY, T. B.: Critical and Historical Essays. Everyman Library. i.528
  • The poorer Natives live in mud houses thatched with straw; the whole Furniture consisting of a mat on which they sleep wrap’d in their Turban unfolded (which with the rag that comes thro’ the Thighs fastened to a string round their middle is all their cloaths) and some earthen pots to boil their rice & currie and a Goblet to hold Water (their only beverage) is the whole Furniture; some may have a brass Bowl from which they pour the Water into their mouth, never put it to the Lip; and the Rice put on a mud frame, fitted in a few minutes to the earthen pot that is to boil it, with a small hole in one side to introduce a few dry twigs which they soon kindle, and with the most frugal attention make the whole heat act on the bottom of the pot, and when sufficiently boiled pour off the water and put the rice on a large broad leaf heaped, and having uttered a short Prayer and set apart a small portion as an offering, and washed their mouth and hands; with the Thumb and two fore fingers of their right hand (their left being appropriate to unclean purposes) they mix the rice with a very small quantity of prepared Currie and throw as much as will ly on these fingers into their mouth without touching their Lips, and a large quantity they devour, having only two meals a day.
    • James Mitchell, in Nair P. Thankappan ed. —, Calcutta In The 18th Century. Impressions of Travellers, Firma KLM Private Ltd., 1984.quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter2


  • The land is overstocked with people; but those in the country are very miserable, whilst the nobles are extremely opulent and delight in luxury. They are wont to be carried on their silver beds, preceded by some twenty chargers caparisoned in gold, and followed by 300 men on horseback and 500 on foot, and by horn-men, ten torchbearers and ten musicians.
    • Nobility and condition of people, Athanasius Nikitin in Major, R. H., India In The Fifteenth Century Being A Collection of Narratives of Voyages To India, Asian Educational Services, 1992, first published 1858. quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume II Chapter 12


  • The common people (live in) poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe… their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking…
    • Pelsaert,Jahangir’s India. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • The utter subjection and poverty of the common people-poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe. Nevertheless, the people endure patiently, professing that they do not deserve anything better; and scarcely anyone will make an effort, for a ladder by which to climb higher is hard to find, because a workman’s children can follow no occupation other than that of their father, nor can they intermarry with any other caste. ... There are three classes of people who are indeed nominally free, but whose status differs very little from voluntary slavery-workmen, peons or servants and shopkeepers. For the workmen there are two scourges, the first of which is low wages. Goldsmiths, painters (of cloth or chintz), embroiderers, carpet makers, cotton or silk weavers, black-smiths, copper-smiths, tailors, masons, builders, stone-cutters, a hundred crafts in all-any of these working from morning to night can earn only 5 or 6 tackas (tankahs), that is 4 or 5 strivers in wages. The second (scourge) is (the oppression of) the Governor, the nobles, the Diwan, the Kotwal, the Bakshi, and other royal officers. If any of these wants a workman, the man is not asked if he is willing to come, but is seized in the house or in the street, well beaten if he should dare to raise any objection, and in the evening paid half his wages, or nothing at all. From these facts the nature of their food can be easily inferred… For their monotonous daily food they have nothing but a little khichri… in the day time, they munch a little parched pulse or other grain, which they say suffices for their lean stomachs… Their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking… Their bedclothes are scanty, merely a sheet or perhaps two… this is sufficient in the hot weather, but the bitter cold nights are miserable indeed, and they try to keep warm over little cowdung fires… the smoke from these fires all over the city is so great that the eyes run, and the throat seems to be choked.
    • Francisco Pelsaert. Jahangir’s India. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7 and in quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume III chapter 2
  • Peons or servants are exceedingly numerous in this country, for everyone – be he mounted soldier, merchant, or king’s official – keeps as many as his position and circumstances permit. Outside the house, they serve for display, running continually before their master’s horse; inside, they do the work of the house, each knowing his own duties. The tziurewardar[?] attends only to his horse, the bailwan, or carter, to his cart and oxen; the farrash, or tent-pitcher, attends to his tent on the way, spreads carpets, both on the march and in the house, and looks after the diwan-khana or sitting room; the masalchi, or torch-bearer, looks to his torch, and lights lamps and candles in the evening; the sarwan, or camel-driver, looks to his camel; and there are two or three mahawats or attendants to each elephant according to its size. The tsantel, or messenger, a plume on his head and two bells at his belt, runs at a steady pace, ringing the bells; they carry their master’s letters a long distance in a short time, covering 25 to 30 kos in a day; but they eat much postibangh or opium regularly, so that they do not feel the continuous work or fatigue. They run on with dizzy head; they will not as a rule answer anyone who asks where they come from or where they are going, but hurry straight on. These messengers may bring their masters, who hold official positions as governors, into great credit, or disgrace, with the King, because letters on important official business are sometimes delayed, and if the news they contain should reach the King first from some other place, whether nearer or more distant, the officer will be blamed for negligence, and dismissed from his post. There are many more servants in the crowd, whom it would take too long to enumerate; in the houses of the great lords each servant confines himself strictly to his own duties, and it is like life on the Portuguese ships, where the chief boatswain, if he saw the foremast fall overboard, would not disgrace himself by going forward or on to the forecastle, though he could save the mast by doing so.
    For this slack and lazy service the wages are paid by the Moguls only after large deductions, for most of the great lords reckon 40 days to the month, and pay from 3 to 4 rupees for that period; while wages are often left several months in arrears, and then paid in worn-out clothes or other things. If, however, the master holds office or power, the servants are arrogant, oppressing the innocent, and sinning on the strength of their master’s greatness…
    Whatever he may deal in – spices, drugs, fruit, cotton goods, cloth, or anything else – the shopkeeper is held in greater respect than the workman, and some of them are even well-to-do; but they must not let the fact be seen, or they will be the victims of a trumped-up charge, and whatever they have will be confiscated in legal form, because informers swarm like flies round the governors, and make no difference between friends and enemies, perjuring themselves when necessary in order to remain in favour. Further, they are subject to a rule that if the King’s nobles, or governors, should require any of their goods, they must sell for very little – less than half price; for to begin with, they must give great weight for small coins, the difference being 20 per cent; then 9 per cent is deducted for dasturi [commission]; then clerks, overseers, cashiers, and others all know very well how to get their share; so that in such circumstances the unfortunate shopkeeper may be robbed in a single hour of the profits of a whole month, although they bear the general cost.
    This is a short sketch of the life of these poor wretches, who, in their submissive bondage, may be compared to poor, contemptible earthworms, or to little fishes, which, however closely they may conceal themselves, are swallowed up by the great monsters of a wild sea.
    …the pen which has described bitter poverty, clothed with the woeful garment of sighs, the foe of love, friendship and happiness, but the friend of loneliness wet with the daily dew of tears, – that pen must entirely change its style, and tell that in the palaces of these lords dwells all the wealth there is, wealth which glitters indeed, but is borrowed, wrung from the sweat of the poor. Consequently their position is as unstable as the wind, resting on no firm foundation, but rather on pillars of glass, resplendent in the eyes of the world, but collapsing under the stress of even a slight storm.
    • Francisco Pelsaert. Jahangir’s India. quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume III chapter 2
  • The land would give a plentiful or even an extraordinary yield, if the peasants were not so cruelly and pitilessly oppressed; for villages which, owing to some small shortage of produce, are unable to pay the full amount of the revenue-farm, are made prize, so to speak, by their masters or governors, and wives and children sold, on the pretext of a charge of rebellion. Some peasants abscond to escape their tyranny, and take refuge with rajas who are in rebellion, and consequently the fields lie empty and unsown, and grow into wilderness. Such oppression is exceedingly prevalent in this country.
    • Wives and children of defaulting cultivators sold, Francisco Pelsaert quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume III Chapter 2


  • [the people of Hindustan lived] “as fishes do in the sea - the great ones eat up the little. For first the farmer robs the peasant, the gentlemen robs the farmer, the greater robs the lesser and the King robs all.”
    • Sir Thomas Roe (1615-19) Cited in Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, p. 269. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7


  • (The) plebian sort is so poor that the greatest part of them go naked.
    • Salbank in Moreland, India at he Death of Akbar. quoted in Lal, K. S. (2001). Historical essays. New Delhi: Radha.(II.80)
  • The Hindu was taxed to the extent of half the produce of his land, and had to pay duties on all his buffaloes, goats, and other milk-cattle. The taxes were to be levied equally on rich and poor, at so much per acre, so much per animal. Any collectors or officers taking bribes were summarily dismissed and heavily punished with sticks, pincers, the rack, imprisonment and chains. The new rules were strictly carried out, so that one revenue officer would string together 20 Hindu notables and enforce payment by blows. No gold or silver, not even the betelnut, so cheering and stimulative to pleasure, was to be seen in a Hindu house, and the wives of the impoverished native officials were reduced to taking service in Muslim families. Revenue officers came to be regarded as more deadly than the plague; and to be a government clerk was disgrace worse than death, in so much that no Hindu would marry his daughter to such a man. ... [These edicts] were so strictly carried out that the chaukidars and khuts and muqad-dims were not able to ride on horseback, to find weapon, to wear fine clothes, or to indulge in betel. . .... No Hindu could hold up his head. ..... Blows, confinement in the stocks, imprisonment and chains were all employed to enforce payment. "
    • Stanley Lane-Poole : Medieval India, quoted from B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • The resultant effect of [Alauddins] policy was that the people in the villages suffered from extreme financial hardship. The poverty of Indians was noticed in the later period by foreigners.
    • The position of Hindus under the Delhi Sultanate, 1206-1526 by Kanhaiya Lall Srivastava, quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2014). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 390


  • There should be left only so much to the Hindus that neither, on the one hand, they should become arrogant on account of their wealth, nor, on the other, desert their lands in despair.
    • Ordinance by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, quoted in Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • I should say en passant that the peasants have for their sole garment a scrap of cloth to cover those parts which natural modesty requires should be concealed; and that they are reduced to great poverty, because if the Governors become aware that they possess any property they seize it straightway by right or by force. You may see in India whole provinces like deserts from whence the peasants have fled on account of the oppression of the Governors. Under cover of the fact that they are themselves Musalmans, they persecute these poor idolaters to the utmost…
    • Peasants flee land on account of oppression in Mughal India, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. Tavernier, Jean-Baptiste, Travels in India, Ed., William Crooke, Low Price Publications, 2000. quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume III Chapter 2


  • …it is very much uncultivated and even depopulated from the time this King [ Akbar] took it and governs it through his captains, who tyrannise over it…and bleed the people by their extortions…And they say that before this King they were sufficiently provided with food…Now everything is wanting for there are no cultivators on account of the violence done them. - [Father Jerome Xavier on conditions in Kashmir in 1597]
    …the poor labourers desert them [the lands] and run away which is the reason why they are poorly peopled. - [ Father Jerome Xavier’s letter from Agra in 1609]
    The lands are much spoiled which at an earlier period were taken by the Mongores: for they destroy everything with their oppressions. - [Father Jerome Xavier on Gujarat in 1615]
    • Father Jerome Xavier, in Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707,Oxford University Press 2003, p., 371 . quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume III ch 2

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