Begar a form of social labour without payment. Its origin goes back to the pre-money era when labour was viewed as an important item of exchange. The land of the king and his men and priests were cultivated by peasants in exchange of some tenurial rights in land granted by the king. When the state became a more elaborate and complex affair in later period, the demesne lands of the ruling classes, particularly of the landlords, were worked by their prajas or subjects gratis. This was considered to be a pious act to give free labour to the priestly classes. Village people always gave free labour in working temple lands also. Such a free labour system is not to be confused with the use of slave and bonded labours. Free labour was given either in exchange of some rights obtained in land or some invisible merit obtained from rulers or from priests. It was a social arrangement made possible under the pre-monetised modes of production and social relations.
Begar was the labour which all subjects had to provide the state for fixed periods during the year. It was unfree because there was no choice about wanting to give labour or not. Since agriculture was backward and most areas were not monetised, only a small part of the surplus could be appropriated through cash or kind. It was for this reason that direct labour services were the predominant form of surplus appropriation by the Hill States. There were basically two types of begar taken by the State; one, the regular labour extracted throughout the year and two, the contributions in labour and kind made during special occasions like birth, death and marriage in the Chief’s family. These types of labour had to be provided by all peasant proprietors and other agriculturalists, exceptions being made for members of the royal family, certain Bramhin and Rajput families and most of the village devtas and divinities. This labour service was taken by the State through its officers and the members of the royal family.
Begar was recognised by the British authorities right from 1815, and all the Sanads granted to these Hill States recorded in detail the types, quantities and other requirements of the labour to be provided by the hill people to the British authority. British records of this period have no mention of the term Beth, or other forms of unfree labour, in the Western Himalaya.