Why were the Jati Panchayats formed during 16th and 17th centuries? Explain their functions and authority.

The Jati Panchayats formed during the 16th and 17th centuries for each ‘Jati’ or caste present in the village. They were formed during this period because of the following reasons –

• The decisions of the village panchayats could vary from case to case specifically in conflicts between lower castes and state officials or the local zamindars. In such cases, the Jati Panchayats could step in and aim towards a more amicable solution.

• Petitions from the archival records present in western India notably Rajasthan and Maharashtra hints towards discriminations. These petitions were usually filed by the lower caste peasants of the rural society against extortionist taxes or demands for unpaid labour (begar) as imposed by the superior castes or state officials. The Jati Panchayats tried to work against such discriminations.

• Collective petitions have also been discovered where a group of lower caste peasants have appealed against the morally illegitimate demands from upper castes like excessive taxations during times of disaster like drought or flood. These demands would have endangered the peasant’s survival and the Jati Panchayats could aid them.

The functions and authority of Jati Panchayats were as follows –

• The Jati Panchayats resolved civil disputes between members of different castes in Rajasthan.

• Land dispute cases were also mediated by them.

• They also decided on whether marriages were being performed as per the norms of the involved caste group.

• The ritual precedence of people during village functions were also determined by them.

• Except for criminal cases, the state respected the decisions of the Jati panchayats.