Deshmukh

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Deshmukh or desmukh was a historical title given to a person who was granted a territory of land, in certain regions of India, specifically Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In Marathi, desh means a country (district) and mukh means head; thus, "deshmukh" (Marathi: देशमुख}) means "the head" of a district.[1] The granted territory was usually referred to as the deshmukhi. The deshmukh was in effect the ruler of the territory, as he was entitled to the collected taxes. It was also his duty to maintain the basic services in the territory, such as police and judicial duties. It was typically a hereditary system. The title of Deshmukh provided the titled family with revenues from the area and the responsibility to keep the order. For this reason, Deshmukh is loosely translated as 'patriot' and the name still commands respect today. Depending on the extent of the estate, the title is most equivalent of a count or duke, within the European aristocratic system.

The deshmukh system was abolished after the Independence of India in 1947 when the government confiscated most of the land of the Deshmukh's. Some families however maintain their status as real estate barons, most notably in Mumbai, with hold over properties that were not taken away.

It was similar in many respects to the zamindar and jagir systems in India, and can be considered as a feudal system. Typically taxes collected were to be distributed fairly and occasionally deshmukhs participated in Vedic rituals in which they redistributed all material possessions to the people. However, the title Deshmukh should not be associated to a particular religion or caste. Deshmukhis were given by the Deccan sultanates, Mughal emperors, Nizams of Hyderabad and other Muslim rulers and by Maratha Kings (Chhatrapatis) to Muslims, Marathas, Brahmins, CKPs, Dilliwar Chhatriya kurmis, Reddys and Jains.

Inukonda Thirumali describes the role of Deshmukhs as:[2]

They were primarily revenue collectors; and when (magisterial and judicial) responsibilities were added to their function they became deshmukhs, chiefs of the parganas. Gradually, each of these assignments tended to become a 'watan' i e, hereditary lease. Despite changes in the political authority at the top, this institution survived, since no ruler from above wished to risk disturbing local administration, headed by village officials. This institution was cleeply entrenched in the region with local support and structured in organised 'community' life. The deshmukhs presided over meetings of the pargana community known as 'got sahba' [sic]['got sabha'] which decided and confirmed claims over inheritance, purchase and transfer of watans. The deshmukhs by virtue of local sanction and consensus could not be easily displaced from above.

Barry Pavier describes Deshmukhs as:[3]

These were, in the 1940s, the layer of the very large landowners in Telengana. They owned from 2,000-3,000 acres at the lower end to 160,000 acres (650 km2) at the upper as in the case of the Janareddy family of Nalgonda District. Their origin can be traced to the administrative reforms of Salar Jung I, prime minister of Hyderabad state in the 1860s and 1870s. The reforms abandoned the previous practice, of auctioning off the revenue collection in the government-administered areas to farmers, in favour of direct revenue collection by the State. The 'revenue farmers' were given land in com pensation. Most of them availed of the opportunity to seize as much of the best land as they could. They also received a pension. The deshmukhs were thus given a dominant position in the rural economy which they proceeded resolutely to strengthen during the succeeding decades.

Writing in the nineteenth century, Major W. H. Skyes, the statistical reporter to the Government of Bombay described the Desmukh as:[4]

The Desmukhs were, no doubt, originally appointed by Government, and they possessed all the above advantages, on the tenure of collecting and being responsible for the revenue, for superintending the cultivation and police of their districts, and carrying into effect all orders of Government. They were, in fact, to a district what a Patil is to a village ; in short, were charged with its whole Government.

Deshmukh as a surname[edit]

Notable people with this surname include:

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ J. G. Duff, A history of Mahratta Vol 1, p. 39
  2. ^ Thirumali, pp47
  3. ^ Pavier, pp1413
  4. ^ Report of Land Tenures of the Dekkan, by Major W. H. Skyes, Statistical Reporter to the Government of Bombay, Chapter VII pg9, Parliamentary Papers, Great Britain Parliament, House of Commons, HMSO 1866,
  5. ^ "Deshmukh & Co.(Publishers) Pvt. Ltd.". PuneCityMag. Retrieved 25 August 2009. 

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