Thursday, 31 December 2015

Jaziya : The Intolerant tax on Hindus

For permission to live in an Islamic State the unbeliever had to pay a tax called JAZIYA,  which means substitute money, i.e., the price of indulgence. It was first imposed by Muhammad, who bade his followers "fight those who do not profess the true faith, till they pay jaziya with the hand in humility." (Quran, ix. 29.) The last two words of this command have been taken by the Muslim commentators

to mean that the tax should be levied in a manner humiliating to the taxpayers. As the scholars and divines of the time informed Aurangzib, the books on Muslim Canon Law lay down that the proper method of collecting the jazia is for the zimmi to pay the tax personally; if he sends the money by the hand of an agent it is to be refused; the taxed person must come on foot arid make the payment standing, while the receiver should be seated and after placing his hand above that of the Zimmi should take the money and cry out, "0, zimmi! pay the commutation money."

Women, children below fourteen, and slaves were exempted from the tax; blind men, cripples and lunatics paid only when. they were wealthy; monks were untaxed if they were poor, but if they belonged to rich monasteries the heads of these religious houses had to pay. The impost was not proportioned to a man's actual income, but the assesses were roughly divided into three classes according as their property was estimated at not more than 200 dirhams ("the poor";, between 200 and ten thousand dirhams ("the midcle class"), and above ten thousand ("the rich"). Money-changers, cloth-dealers, landowners, merchants, and physicians were placed in the highest class while artisans,—such as tailors, dyers, cobblers, and shoe-makers were counted as "poor". This last class paid only when their professional income left a margin above the cost of maintaining themselves and their families. Beggars and paupers naturally escaped the tax.

 The wise statesmanship of Akbar abolished the tax and removed an invidious badge of degradation from the majority of his subjects (.1579). A century afterwards Aurangzib reversed this policy.

By imperial orders the jaziya was reimposed on the "unbelievers" in all parts of the empire from 2nd April, 1679, in order, as the Court historian records, to "spread Islam and put down the practice of infidelity." When the news spread, the Hindus of Delhi and its environs gathered together in hundreds and stood on the bank of the Jamuna below the balcony of morning salute in the palace-wall, and piteously cried for the withdrawal of the impost. But the Emperor turned a deaf ear to their plaintive wail. When next Friday he wanted to ride to the Jama mosque to attend the Public Prayer. the whole road from the gate of the Fort to the mosque was blocked by a crowd of Hindu suppliants, whose number was swollen by all the shop-keepers and craftsmen of Delhi city and the cantonment bazar, out for a demonstration. The crowd did not disperse in spite of  warning ;

and the Emperor after waiting vainly for an hour ordered elephants to be driven through the mass of men, trampling them down and clearing a way for him. The Hindu protest continued for some days, but in the end the Emperor's firmness triumphed and the subject people ceased to object. A temperate and reasoned letter from Shivaji  urging the impolicy of the new impost and appealing to Aurangzib to think of the common Father of mankind and the equality of all sincere beliefs in God's eyes, met with no better success.

In levying the jaziya, Aurangzib was deaf to the pleadings of pity and political expediency alike. In Mughal Deccan, particularly in Burhanpur, the tax could be realised only by force. But Aurangzib was inexorable and ordered the Prefect of the City police to chastise every defaulter. This had the desired effect, and a strict collector like Mir Abdul  increased the yield of the tax from Rs. 26,000 a year for the whole city to more than four times the amount in three months for half the city only (1682).

 When a minister wished to oust his rival from favour, he had only to complain that the latter had excused some Hindus from paying the poll tax and the Emperor would plainly tell the lenient revenue minister, "You are free to grant remissions of revenue of all other kinds ; but if you remit any man's jaziya—which I have succeeded with great difficulty in laying on the infidels, it will be an impious change (bidat) and will cause the whole system of collecting the poll-tax to fall into disorder."

Again, when the enforced levy of this tax scared Hindu traders away from the Mughal territory in the Deccan and caused scarcity of grain in the camp of the Imperial army, Aurangzib vetoed his general's proposal to suspend the jaziya in that locality. His soldiers might starve, but should he jeopardize his soul by violating the Quranic precept to take jaziya from the infidels ?

This is an extract from Sir Jadunath Sarkar's book  History of Aurangzib : based on original sources Vol 3

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