Social Reforms of Akbar
Despite his multifarious activities Akbar found time to undertake several social reform measures for wedding out the evils of both the Muslim and non-Muslim societies. His principle of religious toleration did not, however, make him blind to certain evils in the Hindu society.
Mughal Emperor Akbar abolished all inland customs and taxes on trades and professions. The removal of these impositions while gave economic relief to the people by bringing down the prices, free movement of goods produced indirectly a sense of oneness among the people.
In 1562 Akbar prohibited the age-long custom of enslaving the prisoners of war, selling their wives and children, etc. This pernicious custom followed during centuries past was abolished saving many innocent unfortunate people from being reduced to slavery.
In 1563 Akbar was hunting near Mathura. He noticed that a tax was being realized from the people who had gathered there on pilgrimage. Akbar had no idea of the tax that was realized from pilgrims from all places of Hindu pilgrimage. On inquiry Akbar was told that it had been the custom of every Muslims ruler to realize pilgrim tax from the Hindus at every place of Hindu pilgrimage. The tax was not a fixed one. It was determined arbitrarily according to rank and wealth of the pilgrim. Akbar found that the pilgrim tax was morally wrong both because it was imposed on people who came “in search of the light of God” and because it was not uniform but arbitrary, variable according to the whim of the collector of the tax. He abolished the pilgrim tax all throughout his empire.
Akbar also abolished jizya, the poll-tax which was imposed on the non-Muslims, for its imposition, to his mind, hindered emotional integration of his subjects into one united brotherhood. There was considerable opposition to the abolition of this tax from an influential section of the court on both religious and financial grounds. But Akbar stuck to his order.
From 1581 several reform measures were undertaken in quick succession. In the same year on his way to Kabul expedition Akbar passed an order from Sirhind that a census of population should be taken. The Jagirdars, Siqdars, Daroghas of all provinces were to record the number of the people, their trade, occupation, income, and also the residents, i.e. not permanent inhabitants of the area. The good inhabitants were to be classified from the bad. It is difficult, in absence of detailed evidence, the extent to which this order for census was actually executed in those days when there was lack of proper communication, conveyance etc.
In 1582, an order was passed appointing a number of officers to regulate the transactions of sale and purchase of a certain number listed articles.
In the same year (1582) a very important proclamation was made liberating all the slaves in the empire.
The governors of the provinces were ordered not to inflict capital punishment without Akbar’s confirmation. This had the effect of stopping random hanging or killing of accused persons under orders of the governors. Small birds and creeping animals were prohibited to be killed. Sarais were opened throughout the imperial territories. People were induced to give something to charity once a week or a month or a year. To encourage this, charities were instituted in the Palace. Public hospitals were also established.
Akbar was against child marriage which was prevalent both among the Hindus and the Muslims. Orders prohibiting marriage before the age of 12 and between cousins though permissible under Muslim law were passed by Akbar. Later the lowest age for marriage was raised to 16 for the boys and 14 for the girls. Akbar seemed to have possessed a very modern mind. Consent of the parents of the boy and the girl to be married and also their mutual consent were made obligatory before marriage was performed. A token marriage tax at varying rates was realized.
He gave up hunting on Jumma Days (Fridays). He even remarked “It is not right that a man should make his stomach the grave of animals”. A decree was passed by him recommending that his subjects should refrain from eating meat on the day of his accession as thanks-giving to Almighty in order that the year may pass in prosperity. Badaoni deplored Akbar’s certain orders by observing that he “promulgated some of his new-fangled decrees. The killing of animals on the first day of the week was strictly prohibited, because the day is sacred to the Sun, and during the eighteen days of the month of Fawardin, the whole month of Aban (the month in which his Majesty was born) and on sacred days to please the Hindus”.
It has to be noted that Akbar’s emphasis on secular studies was not liked by orthodox school of thought but there was no intention on Akbar’s part to destroy Arabic literature. The Imperial Library in fact, contained a great many works in Arabic. Akbar not only widened the curriculum of studies but also threw open the gates of educational institutions which had hitherto before been exclusively reserved for the Muslims. For the first time under him Hindu and Muslim children sat side by side in the same educational institutions. Sialkot was a famous seat of learning during his time. Such was Akbar’s fervor for education that Abul Fazl wrote in appreciation that “All civilized nations have schools for education of youths, but Hindustan is particularly famous for its seminaries. A big college was founded at Fathepur on the hill, the like of which few travelers can name”. A number of Madrasahs flourished in Agra and that of Gujarat was especially famous. Besides the Madrasahs and educational institutions set up by Akbar and the nobles, there were many private schools.
Akbar took special care for the education of his sons. Mirza Abdur Rahim and Qutb-ud-din Khan, both known for their liberal outlook, were amongst the tutors of Salim. Shaikh Faizi and Sharif Khan were the teachers of Murad. Monserrate taught Murad the Christian doctrines. Sayyid Khan Chagtai was Danial’s tutor. Abul Fazl and a Brahmin Pandit were engaged to give lessons to Akbar’s grandsons. Female education was also encouraged. It was customary for Muslim nobility to send their daughters to schools. Princess Gul Badan wrote the famous Humayun-Nama as a contribution to Abul Fazl’s Akbarnama. Salima Sultana was a poet of repute in Persian and Maham Anaga, Akbar’s chief nurse was also an educated lady.
One of the most memorable reforming steps taken by Akbar was against the inhuman practice of Suttee. Jajman, a cousin of Raja Bhagawan Das died prematurely. His widow was unwilling to become a Suttee, i.e. to burn herself in the funeral pyre otter dead husband but her step son Udai Singh and other relations almost forced her to agree to become a Suttee. As the news reached Akbar he hurriedly appeared in the scene and taking the risk of being misunderstood by his Rajput relations intervened and got those who were forcing the widow to become a Suttee, arrested (Akbarnama). In another case Akbar intervened to persuade the young widow of Birbhadra of Panna not to immolate herself in her husband’s pyre. Although Akbar did not pass any formal decree against the practice of Suttee he thoroughly discouraged the practice.
Akbar recognized the social evils of intoxicants, drinks or otherwise, but he also realized that it would be impossible to enforce total prohibition and he made a compromise. He permitted wine-taking by only those whom doctors would certify it to be necessary. Excessive drinking, disorderly behavior after drinking or to booze were made punishable. The names of the purchasers of wine had to be recorded in the shop at the time buying wine.
To meet the problem of beggary Akbar set up dormitories called Khairpura for the Muslim beggars, Dharampura for the Hindu beggars and Jogipura for Jogis where free food was served to them at the cost of the state.
Akbar recognized the evil of gambling but it was so wide spread that he found it impossible to suppress the evil. Gambling brought ruin to families, resulted in strife, yet it was almost universal. Akbar set up a state bank from which loans might be taken by the gamblers and every gambling den was made liable to pay a fixed charge.
The social measures that Akbar had introduced give us an impression of a new world or modernism.