Weaker Sections : Modes, Models and their Existence

When we think of the weaker sections and their way of living we have in mind such groups as backwards of low social standing, lower levels of income, lack of literacy and occupying inferior occupational status in society. The evidence as a result of agrarian tensions, rural indebtedness, practice of bonded labour, disabilities arising out of untouchability and lack of mobility on the part of poor agricultural labourers. The liberation of the weaker sections of the society is essentially linked with their freedom from bondage to the economic system of the villages over which monopolistic control of the dominant castes and maintained the exploitative relations between feudal lords and their slaves, e.g., share croppers, bonded labourers and landless labourers, etc., who were economically, socially and educationally too weak to protest and seek alternative livelihood.

Classification of Society-

Above situation regarding the product of weaker sections in the society did not come at a time. It is well known that our Indian society was classified primarily, on the basis of distribution of works to enrich the society as a whole from the early Regvedic age. The Vedic concept of four varnas was a sort of division of work, only to maintain the dignity and status of the varnas on equal basis. Regveda had proclaimed the character of equality “No one is superior or inferior, All are brothers, All should strive for the interest of all and should progress collectively.” Atharvaveda articulated the minute principals of substantive equality thus: “All have equal rights in articales of food and water”. Regvedic system of chaturvarna is further referred to in Ramayana, Mahabharata, Gita and Unisadas, etc. Whatsoever the sacred notions and ideal goals of lives have been behind this chaturvarna system which was based on division of labour, was ultimately divided the labourers recognition of birth and clan inspite of virtues, abilities and good deeds. This notion gradually took momentum day by day and the fundamental human rights of labouers of our Indian society was uprooted. The king’s danda was also to be applied for the observance of to follow the directive. In their own way the eics and puranas lent support to caste norms, whose essence lay in its institutionalized unequality. The Brahamanas, the Kshtriyas and all those who could by virtue of their power, resources and positions, join the elite groups and had no role in primary productive activities, benefited from the system.  Privileged ruling elite groups were enjoying unequal wealth, power and prestige in relation to the mass of people.

Literary Source-

The idea of population, in relation to certain social groups, was first elaborated in Dharmasutras of Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhyana and Vasistha, then in the Smrtis of Manu, Visnu, Yajnavalkya, Narad, Brihaspati and Katyayana, etc.   Although they were the  backbone of the Indian economy and the burden of the whole society was on their shoulder but they could not get their reward to lead a happy and prosperous life equally to those of higher privileged class.

Buddhist text Vinaya Pitaka   gives us clear information regarding the evolution of the caste system in Indian society. It relays the evidence that a man can criticize another man keeping in view of his caste, name, deeds, and crafts, etc. Here we find the two categories, i.e., Vena, Nisada, Rathakar and Pukkas, etc. are put in the category of lower caste and brahmanas and kshatriyas were put in the higher caste. Higher caste is supposed to be a privileged class who led a very hard life. In Apastamba Dharmasutra,  it is informed that lower varnas may get birth in higher varnas in next birth by following the principle of svadharma in previous life. Here, the team svadharma means to perform ones duty properly allotted to ones own caste.

According to Arthashastra-

Kautilya’s  Arthashastra also reveals that people will get heaven and everlasting happiness by following the principle of svadharma. Manusmriti states that the people will get salvation by following the svadharma (varna dharma), properly. But those who do not follow the principle of varna dharma are supposed to suffer a lot. In Apastamba Dharmasutra  it is stated that persons of higher varnas born in lower vernas in their rebirth, if they do not follow the principles  of  svadharma. In Manusmriti we find the description of the bad.

Results regarding the non following of svadharma of chaturvarna. Dharmashastra’s have also given a directive to kings and monarchs to compel the people to follow their varna dharma. In Apastamba Dharmasutra, it is stated that kings had enough power to give order for punishments to their subjects who violated the principles of  svadharma. Gautama Dharmasutra also attests the same. Kautilya’s Arthashastra gives certain directives to kings and monarch to maintain the principles of svadharma amongst their subjects. Here, kings are supposed to control the traders, commerce, industries, mines,etc. and employed the blacksmiths, carpernter, potters,etc. in their deeds allotted to them. The report of the Megasthanese and Strabo also attest the same information.

Keeping in view of the evidences revealed from Dharmashastras, Arthashastra and foreign records, etc.,it seems that from the beginning of the 6th century B.C. to the downfall of the Mauryan empire , large number of sudras and the weaker sections existed in the society. The number of craftsman during Mauryan period as mentioned in the Kautilya’s Arthashastra are as follows.

Weavers, washerman, fisherman, ferrymen, farmers, cowherds, churner, watchman, snake catcher, magician, hunters, animal slaughterers, gold smiths, iron smiths, tailors, carpenters, tailors, chariot makers, rope makers, makers of articles of toilets, dancers, actors, singers, musicians, rope dancers, servants, female mendicants, maiden, female slaves of couresans, sweepers, dust washers, worhmen, dealers of perfumes, dealers of flowers, dealers of liquid, dealers of cooked food and grains, dealers of wine, dealers of meat, vinters, venders of cooked meat, professional story tellers, and cooks, waiters, bath-attendents, shampoors, bed preparers, toilet attendents or water server, etc.

Economic Structure-

The existence of occupational groups shows that the economic structure of the society was based on agriculture, arts, crafts and labour,etc. According to Arhtasastra the vast majority of the population lived on agriculture and a considerable number on different arts and crafts and other trade and commerce and had to work hard. Bhagvatisutra, the contemporary text of Arthasastra illustrates that a section of the people both males and females earned their livelihood by serving the government and the royal and rich ,aristocratic families in different capacities, such as government officials, palace- staff, servents and maids respectively.

Dharmasutras also tells us numerous information regarding the slaves who were employed for the family works. Their economic condition was to be determined from the respective occupations and social status.The division of their labour was made on a system of hereditary caste probably weakened the growth of economic progess of the society. It seems that agriculture was the most natural and necessary pursuit deligently carried on by the vast majority of the people.

Position Of Weaker’s in Mauryan Period-

In the Mauryan period we find many agricultural farms in which a large number of slaves and labourers were employed under the agricultural superintendent(Sitadhyaksha) . This officer provided the agricultural tools and techniques and other means of the farming. It is informed that carpenters, black- smiths and other craftsmen were employed in agriculture. Megasthenese tells us the detailed information of such officers who were managing the land and agricultural works and employing craftsmen for the better agricultural yield.From the description of the Strabo, we find shepherds and hunters in category of the weaker sections of the mauryan society, who led a nomadic life and protected the agriculctural crops from the wild animals and birds. They got their wages in terms of grains for their livelihood. These nomadic castes were also engaged in catching the snakes and other wild animals for their livelihood. It is clear that keeping in view the economic prosperity in the Mauryan period, a large number of slaves, tribes, craftsmen and other labourers were employed in agricultural products which was similar to the organizations of Greece and Rome.

During the mauryan period the position of the weaker sections was avery critical one. It is also learnt that generally the people of these sections earned their livelihood by the menial labour and had no tools and means for agricultural works like seeds and bulls,etc. In these circumstances they were bound to get these facilities from the monarchs and the kings. On the cost of these facilities received from the kings and monarchs, these weaker sections were simply entitled to get 1/4th or 1/5th of the total agricultural products. It is also revealed from the Kautilya’s Arthasastra that these weaker sections were bound to give the maximum production of the crops to kings. It is further referred to in Arthasastra that labourers and artisans such as gold smiths, carpenters, rope-makers, snake- catchers, etc. were bound to pay fines for their negligence in works.

In Kautilya’s Arthasatra68, lower craftsmen were directed to pay the taxes within time to the king properly and the agricultural lands allotted to the peasants were not a permanent allotment. State had power to reoccupy the allotted lands of those peasants who did not pay the taxes properly and also of those whose production of grains were not satisfactory. In these circumatances peasants were terminated from the lands allotted to them and Vaidehaka or Grama- Bhritaka was supposed to take the charge of the above agricultural lands snached from the peasants. The peasants of the new inhabitants were bound to perform the duties without payments.

The above evidences attest the fact that these slaves and other weaker sections were bound to do hard work for upper caste people without wages. The officer-in- charge of the tax- collection from the weaker sections during Mauryan period was known as Gopa, who kept the records of the number of agriculturists, cattle breeders (Pasupalaka), traders (Vaidehaka), craftsmen (Karuka), slaves and other labourers. The miserable condition of the cattle breeders revealed through Kautilya’s Arthasatra, that they had to face the capital punishment  alongwith physical punishment for the missing of even a single cattle.

Thus the emergence of a large number of weaker sections were the result of different occupations like agricultural labourers, crafts, industries, and other income oriented occupations to collect the revenue by means of taxations,etc. to have a good treasure. Utility of good treasury was to organize a big and strong army to fulfil the mission of ‘vijigisu’(victorious). From the beginning of the Mauryan period, northern India was fully disturbed by foreign invasions and internal conflicts, because of the disintegrated states and their powers. Position of the internal law, order and peace was not maintained by the monarchs. Every state had its own enemies and there was internal conflicts amongst themselves. These infightings encouraged the foreign invaders to win over them and to disturb the peaceful life in Aryavarta. Kautilya had a mission to establish a strong and powerful empire to face the internal as wellas external enemies to maintain peace. His mission of establishing an empire in Aryavarta was to be fulfilled by a strong, able and skillful emperor. For this purpose, the term vijigisu(victorious king) is mentioned at several place in Arthasatra who could unite the whole of northern India under a single umbrella. The imagination of the vijigisu was to defeat small neighbouring states to buildup a big empire which could face the foreign enemies and to protect the interest of Indian sub-continent,. During the period of our discussion this mission was not possible for vijigisu without a big army and to organize a big army was not possible without a good treasure and good treasure was not possible without revenue collection which was not possible without taxation on crafts, industries, trade, commerce and agriculture production, etc. And above production was not possible without labourers.


As discussed above, we find a large number of weaker sections from the beginning of the Mauryan period who by and large became the source of income by the producting a lot to pave the way of collection of revenue taxes for a big treasure. Kautilya in his Arthasatra  put in to the top priorty to treasure(Artha) by highlighting its importance in an individual’s life and also in a strong state. As the time passed on, these labourers of different occupations led a very hard life though they proved themselves as the backbone of the Indianeconomy during the Mauryan period. They produced a lot to fulfil the mission of vijigisu. But this trend of taxation and hard attitudes of the privileged class gave birth to a large number of the weaker sections which distinguishes from the higher privileged class. Later on, this trend of social organization gave birth to the feudal system in Indian hierarchical society.

From the beginning of the emergence of these productive class, we find a new trend of the privileged and exploitative class. With the result of these two classified groups (higher and lower) one was to serve the society by his hard labour and production where as other was to enjoy a luxurious life on the production of lower labour class. Being backbone of Indian economy they were educationally, economically, socially and politically remained backward and their standard of life was nothing. Their mode of life was like a modern labourer and they were supposed to exist only for the privileged class and not for themselves. Their labour, ability, talents, etc. was for the luxurious life of privileged class and they were remained backward and weaker through out the ages.