Rediscovering India by Dharampal

Community Living  

Friends this chapter describes how the village community lived and impact of new land revenue system on farmer & skilled craftsmen.

As stated in the beginning, the community (geographical, or based on occupation, or kinship) seemed to have been from very ancient times the primary units of organization in India. The kinship organization is still so very much with us, despite the vitiation of its forms and norms especially during British rule that little requires to be said about its existence in the eighteenth century. But as little is known about the geographical, or occupation groups some reference may be made to them here.

The most prominent of all groups and the most prevalent, and to an extent somewhat better known, was the village community. Its forms seemed to vary not only between widely separated areas but also within particular areas, themselves. The two more prominent and compact forms were the samudayam villages*, especially in the Tamil speaking areas, and what cam to be known as the bhai-chara village in the areas of the present Uttar Pradesh. But even where such compact forms did not exist, it appears that in most areas the village community as a whole had the final say not only in matters which concerned the village as a whole but also with regard to any transfer, or alienation of village land or other sources from one party to another.

In samudayam villages of course and perhaps similarly in the bhai-chara villages, the total land and other resources completely vested in the community while simultaneously the individual family had a hereditary claim on its own shares of such resource. Whether every family in the village was represented in the samudayam community is not clear from the records of the British period. It is possible that only part of the village was represented in the community dealing with land management, and that the rest were represented in the community only in matters of more general interest; or quite possibly, which however seems improbable, many had no representation in such wider communities at all. It may be worth mentioning here that what is known as the bees-biswa panchayat (i.e. a council of all sections of the community) has continued to exist at least in parts of Rajasthan, and perhaps elsewhere, till very recently.

In whatever way such communities might have been constituted, the introduction of the new concepts of property and the laws which were enacted to support the implementing of such concepts made the survival of such communities impossible. For a time some of then may have stayed in some vitiated state but ultimately, they gave way to landlordism, to the absolute rights of individuals, and to the alienation of such rights to all and sundry. Henceforth over-stepping the community, money and the practice of buying and selling became the ultimate sanction in all spheres. The result consequently was the accumulation of wealth and land into fewer hands, the conversion of the small peasant and cultivator into a temporary tenant or a state of never ending indebtedness.

A similar phenomenon began to operate amongst other occupation groups too, especially amongst the skilled craftsmen. From a state of self-employment, through various fiscal and other devices they were reduced to an employee status, or the status of contractual labor as happened on a vast scale amongst the weavers of India. Through such devices and interference their earning capacities got much reduced and in time all this had a deteriorating impact on their know-how, tools, and technologies. If any group cohesiveness still remained amongst these occupation groups, this continued more at the level of kinship and ritual, than of techniques or craftsmanship.

But such a development in India was again in line with eighteenth and nineteenth century British thought and practice. The idea of any combinations of ordinary people was anathema to the British ruling system at this period. Various statues got enacted in Britain during this period against combinations, the full force of the state was opposed to them, and whatever combinations or trade or craft unions emerged in Britain during the nineteenth century, such emergence was after great struggle. In fact the British ruling system did not get actually reconciled to their existence even till the end of the nineteenth century.

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