Q. Give a brief account of Women in Agrarian Society in Mughal India.

Q. Give a brief account of Women in Agrarian Society in Mughal India. [10 Marks]


  • The production process often involves men and women performing certain specified roles. Women and men had to work shoulder to shoulder in the fields. Men tilled and ploughed, while women sowed, weeded, threshed and winnowed the harvest.©
  • With the growth of nucleated villages and expansion in individuated peasant farming, which characterised medieval
  • Indian agriculture, the basis of production was the labour and resources of the entire household. Naturally, a gendered segregation between the home (for women) and the world (for men) was not possible in this context.
  • Nonetheless biases related to women’s biological functions did continue. Menstruating women, for instance, were not allowed to touch the plough or the potter’s wheel in western India, or enter the groves where betel-leaves (paan) were grown in Bengal.
  • Artisanal tasks such as spinning yarn, sifting and kneading clay for pottery, and embroidery were among the many aspects of production dependent on female labour.
  • The more commercialised the product, the greater the demand on women’s labour to produce it. In fact, peasant and artisan women worked not only in the fields, but even went to the houses of their employers or to the markets if necessary.
  • Women were considered an important resource in agrarian society also because they were child bearers in a society dependent on labour.
    • At the same time, high mortality rates among women – owing to malnutrition, frequent pregnancies, death during childbirth – often meant a shortage of wives.
    • This led to the emergence of social customs in peasant and artisan communities that were distinct from those prevalent among elite groups.
  • Marriages in many rural communities required the payment of bride-price rather than dowry to the bride’s family. Remarriage was considered legitimate both among divorced and widowed women.
  • The importance attached to women as a reproductive force also meant that the fear of losing control over them was great. According to established social norms, the household was headed by a male. Thus women were kept under strict control by the male members of the family and the community. They could inflict draconian punishments if they suspected infidelity on the part of women.
  • Documents from Western India – Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra – record petitions sent by women to the village panchayat, seeking redress and justice.
    • Wives protested against the infidelity of their husbands or the neglect of the wife and children by the male head of the household, the grihasthi.
    • While male infidelity was not always punished, the state and “superior” caste groups did intervene when it came to ensuring that the family was adequately provided for.
    • In most cases when women petitioned to the panchayat, their names were excluded from the record: the petitioner was referred to as the mother, sister or wife of the male head of the household.
  • Amongst the landed gentry, women had the right to inherit property.
    • Instances from the Punjab show that women, including widows, actively participated in the rural land market as sellers of property inherited by them.
    • Hindu and Muslim women inherited zamindaris which they were free to sell or mortgage.
    • Women zamindars were known in eighteenth-century Bengal. In fact, one of the biggest and most famous of the eighteenth-century zamindaris, that of Rajshahi, had a woman at the helm.
  • References to women workers can be found in paintings also. For e.g. paintings have been found with the following scene:
    • Women carrying loads. (Migrant women from neighbouring villages often worked at such construction site)
    • The construction of Fatehpur Sikri –women crushing stones
    • A woman spinning thread©

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