practice in Malwa, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, from the 5th to the
12th century, it tended to reduce the permanent tenants to the position of
tenants-at-will.
    What adversely affected we peasants in the donated areas was the transfer
of communal rights, presumably from the villagers to the donees. The
boundaries of many ‘gift-villages’ were left undefined, and thus could be
taken advantage of by the beneficiaries to increase the land in their personal
possession. Similarly the right to barren land, jungles, pastures, trees and
water-reservoirs would enable them to tax the peasants for using these. The
transfer of such rights obviously flowed from the theory of royal ownership,
which came to be emphasised in Gupta and post-Gupta times.
    That there existed certain communal rights can be inferred from the fact
that in Gupta times land could not be sold in Bengal without the consent of
the community. Thus the transfer to the beneficiaries of agrarian rights
enjoyed by the village tended to erode peasant rights and created new
property titles.
    These factors may be taken as various modes of extracting surplus from
the peasants for the benefit of either the king and or his secular and religious
beneficiaries. They gave rise to new property relations and a new mechanism
of economic subordination from which there was no escape.
Reaction of Peasants
How did the peasants react to the process of dispossession and
impoverishment? Land grants provide no answer to this question, nor do
most literary texts, which belong mainly to courtly literature. Some texts,
however, indicate two possible forms of reaction. One was to leave the
country—an old practice referred to in the Jatakas. A passage from the 6th
century astronomer Varahamihira quoted in the Subhashitaratnakosha
presents the pitiable plight of desolate villages which contain only the
dilapidated walls of the houses deserted by unwilling peasants on account of
the unwarranted oppression of the fief-holder (bhogapati), whose atrocities
are also mentioned in the Harshacharita of Bana. Similarly the
Brihannaradiya Purana states that on account of famines and oppressive
taxes people in misery migrate