History of Land Rights in Assam- Evolution through the Ages

Updated: Jul 6, 2021


History of Land Rights in Assam

INTRODUCTION

Although land laws may not be considered an essential part and parcel of everyday legal practices, the knowledge of land laws and land rights by extension, is important as the intricacies of these laws vary from state to state and are highly subjective depending on the topic to which they pertain to.

Let us understand and learn about the history of land rights in Assam.





ORIGIN OF LAND RIGHTS IN ASSAM


The Assamese history of land rights, is the summation of chronicles, of the conflux of people from the North, the East, the South and the West. It is also the conflux of the Indo-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman cultures.

The Ahom Kingdom was unwavering and unfettered from the 13th Century till the 19th Century, up until the Burmese Invasion in 1821, which was later succeeded by the British overtaking administration of Assam from 1826


The history of Assam has been extracted from several sources. The Medieval Kingdom of Ahoms prepared and preserved certain literary and historical documents or chronicles, called the BURANJIS, written in the Ahom and the Assamese language. These chronicles can be summarized into the following points-


  • In ancient times, people had led nomadic lives

  • Survival of the fittest and sustenance dominated other goals of living

  • The primary method of survival was hunting

  • This was gradually replaced by shifting or JHUM cultivation

  • This was later succeeded by the Permanent Settlement of Cultivation

  • Security and Protection for permanent cultivation had become primary requirements

  • This led to the formation of communities to serve purposes of security and protection, and a leader was chosen to fulfil these duties

  • The leaders were changed from time to time


In the later part of this civilization, several communities joined together to form a Kingdom, which was led by a King, who was considered to be the absolute owner of all the lands within his territory.


Since the concept of ownership was not prevalent in ancient times, it was later brought into existence with the heralding of Kings and Kingdoms. The Ahom Kingdom allowed no private rights over land in their Kingdom.


LAND RIGHTS UNDER AHOM ADMINISTRATION


History of Land Rights in Assam

However, there were practices whereby the Ahom King used to gift land to certain categories of people and institutions. Such grants of lands were free and devoid of any future transactions.

The following divisions were made under the Revenue-free lands, also known as the Lakhirajdars granted by the King-



1. DEBOTTAR Lands

Lands were granted by the King to be dedicated to religious idols.


2. DHARMOTTAR Lands

Lands that were granted by the King for religious activities or religious institutions


3. BRAHMOTTAR Lands

Lands which were granted by the King to be gifted to the Brahmins, priests, or the Highly-learned.


The above three land grants of Debottar, Dharmottar and Brahmottar was also referred to as "Absolute Proprietary Rights of the Lakhirajdars", which implied complete exemption of land revenue.


During the Ahom rule, the whole male population was divided into KHELs. Each Khel consisted of 1000 to 5000 people and, each Khel was further sub-divided into GOTEs. Each of the GOTEs consisted of, earlier 4 members and later of 3 members. The members of the Gotes were referred to as "PAIKs" or "RAIYATs".


These Paiks or Raiyats were to necessarily serve the Ahom kingdom or administration in rendering a particular service, with one Paik from each Gote serving in rotation.


Through rendering service to any of the High officers in the administration, the Paiks received in return, 3 puras or approximately 2.7 acres of land, which was referred to as 'GA-MATI'- rent-free land for cultivation of crops, and it was utilised by the remaining 2 or 3 members of each of the Gotes in a Khel.


The land rights of the service rendering Paiks were often referred to as "Occupancy Rights of the Paik", which implied land granted instead of service provided to the Ahom kingdom or administration.


EFFECT OF BRITISH COLONIZATION ON LAND RIGHTS IN ASSAM


Land rights of Assam under British Rule

When the British came to Assam, their Commissioner,