Use of the term feudalism to describe India applies a concept of medieval European origin, according to which the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants (villeins or serfs) were obliged to live on their lord's land and give him homage, labor, and a share of the produce, notionally in exchange for military protection. The term Indian feudalism is an attempt to classify Indian history according to a European model.
Historians have become very reluctant to classify other societies into European models and today it is rare for Indian history to be described as feudal by academics; it still done in popular usage, however, but only for pejorative reasons to express disfavour, typically by critics. These include zamindar, jagir, deshmukh, chaudhary and samanta. Most of these "systems" were abolished after the independence of India and the rest of the Subcontinent. D. D. Kosambi and R. S. Sharma, together with Daniel Thorner, brought peasants into the study of Indian history for the first time.
The Jharkhand region (now a state) of India was a hotbed for feudalism. Feudal lords ruled the region for decades; semi-feudal conditions still exist. Child malnourishment is common and Jharkhand is counted among the poorest states in India.
The Doraas and deshmukhs ruled the region until the annexation. They held all the land in their fief and everybody used to give their produce, and they use to be given only food barely sufficient for sustenance. The rebellion against feudal lords, known as Vetti Chakiri Udhyamam, from 1946 to 1951 in Telangana region called as Telangana Rebellion illustrates the feudal society in the region. The feudal lords use to reside in high fortress called as Gadi, for entering it they leave their footwear at the threshold of the gadi. The madigas and other backward classes should carry their footwear in their hands if they are passing in front of the gadi or dora.
The Srikrishna committee on Telangana says in its findings that, there is still gross injustice to the land tillers of the region, the villains in this case were landlords of Telangana and not those of other regions.[dead link]
There were a number of feudal states in Kerala in the Middle Ages between the end of Chera dynasty and the British rule.
Several zamindaris were established in the Madras Presidency (present-day Tamil Nadu and adjoining areas) from 1799 onwards. The largest of these were Ramnad, Ganapur and Sivaganga. The zamindari settlement was based on an a similar settlement established in Bengal. The Zamindari settlement of Madras was largely unsuccessful and was wrapped up in 1852. However, a few Zamindaris remained till India's independence in 1947.
The Northern Andhra region was under doras until the Indian Independence. The largest estate was that of vizianagram under the poosapati kshatriya family which was liberal and enlightened.
The feudal lords in Vidarbha region are notorious for their oppressive rule.
- Indian Feudalism by Ram Sharan Sharma
- Saraswatichandra by Govardhanram Madhavaram Tripathi, later adapted into film by the same name in 1968.
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- R.S. Sharma, Perspectives in Social and Economic History of Early India, paperback edn., (Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 2003). Translated into Hindi, Russian and Bengali. Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu translations projected.
- R.S. Sharma, Material Culture and Social Formations in Ancient India, (Macmillan Publishers, Delhi, 1985). Translated into Hindi, Russian and Bengali. Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu translations projected.
- R.S. Sharma, Urban Decay in India (c.300-1000), (Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1987). Translated into Hindi and Bengali
- R.S. Sharma, Early Medieval Indian Society: A Study in Feudalisation (Orient Longman Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, 2003)
- R.S. Sharma, India's Ancient Past, (Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-19-568785-9)
- R.S. Sharma, Indian Feudalism (Macmillan Publishers India Ltd., 3rd Revised Edition, Delhi, 2005)
- R.S. Sharma, The State and Varna Formations in the Mid-Ganga Plains: An Ethnoarchaeological View (New Delhi, Manohar, 1996)
- R.S. Sharma, Origin of the State in India (Dept. of History, University of Bombay, 1989)
- R.S. Sharma, Land Revenue in India: Historical Studies, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1971
- Historiography of Indian Feudalism Towards a Model of Early Medieval Indian Economy, C. A.D. 600-1000, by Vijay Kumar Thakur. Commonwealth Publishers, 1989. ISBN 81-7169-032-7.
- Dora and. Gadi: Manifestation of Landlord Domination in Telengana, I Thirumali, 1992
- Against Dora and Nizam : People's Movement in Telangana 1939-1948, I Thirumali
- "Chillarollu's Defiances in Telangana, 1900-1944" Indian Historical Review, XXII, 1995-1996
- Origin and Growth of Feudalism in Early India: From the Mauryas to AD 650, by Gian Chand Chauhan. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2004. ISBN 81-215-1028-7.