Beth was an obligation to render personal service in return for certain cultivating rights.
Those, who rendered this service for rulers and zamindars were known as bethu (service tenant).
The bethu occupied and tilled land which in fact belonged to the Raja or Zamindars.
He cultivated a portion for his subsistence and the remaining portion he cultivated on behalf of the Raja or zamindars who received the profits. In addition, he had some responsibilities for carrying loads.
The ruler naturally did not receive land revenue from the land cultivated by the bethus.
What did Bethu’s receive for his living from his/her masters?
The Bethus received from the state or his master:
- Food two or three times a day
- A suit of clothes once in a year
- A house to live in
- A few bighas of land to cultivate for his own profits
Thus, bethus rendered services as a part of their being given right to cultivate the land of their masters and it may be regarded as one of the worst forms of begar.
The bethus consisted of different classes such as:
1. Class I Bethus (employed by the State and Jagirdars): Those who were directly under the state and worked in the Basa (crown estates or khudkasht) land and produce of which was given to the ruler or state. The bethus employed by the jagirdars also fall under Class I category.
2. Class II Bethus (employed by the zamindars): Those who worked in the fields of zamindars. These bethus were in better place than those employed by the state, because the bethus under the zamindars were in closer daily contact with their masters whereas the bethus under state had indirect contact with their master, through the servants of the state.
3. Class III Bethus (Indebted Bethus): Indebted bethus who had taken loans from their masters and in return they agreed to work and supply goods in lieu of interest and the principal amount in their case was not liquidated. Indebt bethus, in some cases, worked for generations and even then they remained under debt. Thus, it was a kind of agricultural serfdom under which the individual and his children after him often remained in permanent slavery.
The bethus descended from father to son by a right of inheritance as long as they cultivated well and rendered services to their masters. The bethus of all kinds were worst sufferers and were treated like beasts by their masters of various categories such as a ruler, jagirdar and zamindar.