Page images

either to buy or to sell—and once in two or three months he will as certainly go to visit his relations. The extent to which intercourse is kept up amongst members of families connected by marriage, or between blood relations, in a circle of eight or ten miles radius, is very remarkable. So common is it to meet men who are either going to spend two days with a relation, or who have just returned from their visits, that an excuse of this kind is constantly given in all our law courts by men who are unable to account for their being present at any particular transaction, in any other way, on any credible ground. On such visits, we may be sure, all the little household cares and interests are thoroughly talked over and discussed, the Hindu adds fish, or pulse, or vegetables to the cooking-pot, and the Mohammedan slaughters a fowl or two-and it is pleasant to think that this constant interchange of amenities often remains uninterrupted for two or three generations; although it is well known that there is another side to the picture, and that of all the feuds which are brought to light by our forensic annals, there are none like the feuds of relations, which from whatever cause, or whatever be the resources and position of the litigants, are carried on over a series of years, with an animosity and a perseverance that fiends might emulate.

Before proceeding to consider what remedies can be applied to ameliorate the condition of the labouring classes, it would be unfair not to note a few matters in which that condition is owing, not to a heavy rate of assessment, nor to the extra cesses of the Zemindar, nor to inoperative revenue laws, but to their own carelessness and extravagance. Recklessness in expenses connected with marriage, is no good reason why the ryot should be in debt. A foolish love of display leads him to spend his savings on silver ornaments for his children, while the practice holds out temptation to robbery and murder. An absence of all pluck whatever withholds him from striking one blow against dacoits, who come from the same pergunnah, breathe the same air, live on the same food, and are as great cowards as himself. From a neglect of the most obvious sanatory precautions, or a disregard of the commonest rules, the luxuriance of his garden is not repressed, the tank is not cleaned out, the stagnant pool of water finds no outlet, and disease and squalor are visible in the faces of himself and his family. No one thinks of combining with his neighbour for anything which is not immediately productive. A few shovels-full of earth in the dry season would repair the village road, or the narrow embankment which goes right across the plain, and serves at once for the landmarks of neighbours, and for intercommunication during the rainy season; and three trunks of trees, neatly laid together, with a wattle on the top and some earth, would make an excellent bridge over a deep ditch at the outskirt of the village: but men and women tramp through the water up to their middle, because these simple repairs are not executed, and because the ryots roar to the Hindu Jupiter, instead of getting out of the mud themselves. Some of these evil habits may be cured by advice, enlightenment, and education. But kind advice is not volunteered by the landlords and men of substance, from whom it would come with effect : and vernacular education, however commenced with the best intentions, must fill a wider area, and proceed on a more comprehensive basis, before we can hope that ryots, spread over a large tract of several districts, will really feel its effects.

As to the evils of marriage-expenses, though they may not recur, like bad seasons, every two or three years, they plunge the agriculturist or day labourer deeply into debt once in his life. They are as disproportionate to the circumstances of the married pair, as the expenses of funerals have till lately been in England. What an absurdity it is that a man, whose earnings are not six rupees a month, should spend sixty or seventy rupees on one evening's entertainment! Of course the habits of centuries are not easily broken. There is the example of their betters, the fear of reproach, and the necessity of living and doing as their neighbours and relations have done. But, is Bengal the only country where false shame, habit, and a desire of keeping up appearances, oblige householders to spend beyond their incomes ?

Some of these causes, added to the unhappy failing, already noticed, of combination only for illegal or evil purposes, undoubtedly operate to keep the ryot where he is. And we have not forgotten that it is the precise position of his affairs which in the various opinions of Missionaries, Planters, Zemindars, and officials of Government, is still a matter for long discussion and doubt. While in the darkest picture drawn hitherto, the phrases employed to designate this condition, are those of “poverty and 'wretchedness," “ beggary” and “abject, and pitiable servitude," the brightest terms on the other hand do not get beyond those

tolerably or decently well off.” Our own opinion is that the ryot, generally, is indigent without becoming bankrupt; that though, from the unexampled fertility of the land, and the climate, and the peculiar organization of society, and the general cheapness of the necessaries of life, he does not often suffer from hunger or cold, he is yet debarred from the hope of rising in the social scale, or from making those accumulations by earnings in trade or in agriculture, which men in less favoured countries are still able to make : that part of his condition is owing to cowardice, ignorance, vice, extravagance and immora

of being


lity, which can be removed, if at all, only by the general progress of knowledge : and that part again arises as certainly from a deficiency in the laws, or in their administration, or from a weak executive and other defects, which it is in the power of the Government to remedy; and that finally his position as a tenantholder of land is by no means so secure as it ought to be, as it was the intention of Lord Cornwallis that it should be, or as it can even now be made. After this brief sketch of a very large subject, we proceed to the remedy ;-for a few pages descriptive of the social state of the rice-growers, or a few speculations on their moral condition, though all well in their way, should be followed by something of utilitarian theory, or direct and practical reform.

The remark of Mr. Campbell, that different rights in one and the same subject can exist together, and be retained by different persons, without clashing, has always appeared to us very sound, as well as explanatory of the puzzling question, to whom does the land belong in India? To the Government, the Zemindar, or the Ryot? It seems to us no invasion of the rights of the two former parties, to say that the ryot is entitled, by the common law and custom of the country, as well as by the intent of the legislature, whether carried out or not, to retain his holding of twenty or thirty beegahs, without fear of dispossession, so long as he continues to pay the rent, which consent, or custom, or good law has fixed upon it. There can be no question that while he performs his part of the contract, he may grow what crops he pleases, cut his bamboos, cultivate his date trees, and add another and another house to the cluster which forms his family nest. If he wishes to quit, he is bound to give notice to the landholder : and if he alienates any part of his property, his successor must be duly entered on the records of the zemindary. The whole tenor of our revenue laws in Bengal proper has been to increase the value of land, provided that the proprietary right of government, that is the right to revenue, be duly secured; and there is a similar safeguard vouchsafed to the right of the Zemindar, which is the right to rent on a certain area. There is to be no check to the currency of estates in the markets, provided that in alienation, or transfer, or division of inheritance, the lien of the government on the land shall not be imperilled; and there is no legal right of interference in the agricultural business of the ryot on the part of the Zemindar, provided that this latter person has due security for his rent. Thus the government look to the land for revenue, the zemindar for rent, and the ryot, we regret to say, for little more than sustenance. But let the land-holders clamour as they may about vested rights and heavy burdens, and corresponding


privileges, it is indisputable that to them there is something remarkably attractive in that. virtual possession of the land which the ryot holds, and which our quaint English maxim tells us, is nine points of the law. Those who have watched the proceedings of rich and influential Zemindars, are aware that to obtain possession of the actual ryot's tenure is one of the dearest objects they have at heart. The motive may be pardonable or even praiseworthy. The Ze- . mindar may want some lands for a pleasure garden, or a dwelling house, or a factory, to be held by him for the simple security that, in all changes of proprietorship, his possession may be maintained by mere payment of rent. Without such possession, no man could lay down his walls and terraces, or erect his granaries, or build his vats. Again, the motive for taking land may be the far different one of establishing a rival bazar, or getting a pied à terre in a village, so as to annoy an adversary, and gradually, by influence and intimidation, acquire the whole of the hamlet. But in most cases, the tenure is usually taken in the name of some dependent, under the universal but shameful system of secret trusts, which the missionaries so rightly condemn. No one would wish to restrict Zemindars, any more than any other individuals, from acquiring that title to land, which is essential to mercantile enterprise, to the improvement of their estates, or to their mere luxury or convenience. We may go a step further, and say, that no hindrance ought to be placed in the way of men openly acquiring any rights in land, which are to be parted with, even though they should turn their acquisitions to purposes of enmity and avarice. Our argument at present is not with the defective state of the law, under which any man who buys the ryot's tenure in a few acres of land, may set up a new bazar, drive the old established one out of the field, hail unwilling purchasers to his own shops, and finally ruin his rival. Nor is it with the state of society in which a powerful individual, acquiring in the name of some ready unscrupulous dependent, one single holding in a village, manages in the course of a few years, like a Triton among the minnows, to swallow up the surrounding tenures and become lord of all. Our argument is simply this. If the tenure of the Zemindar, or of the middle man, were quite sufficient, why should rich men descend and purchase the tenure of the ryot ? A Zemindar, whatever be his rent-roll, his name, or his influence, when he makes such purchases, becomes a ryot in fact and in law. His own name or that of his favourite servant is entered in the records of the zemindary. He is liable to have his holding measured for definition of boundaries, or assessed, by a regular law-suit, at the pergunnah rates. It must be admitted that a man would not

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

place himself in this position, if he had not some object to gain thereby, which he could not gain otherwise. A Zemindar would not so eagerly seek the liabilities of a ryot, were he not convinced that a ryot's position and title conferred, for some purposes, what even a zemindary could never give. It may be easily conceived that the great man Munshi Dunga Fasad, with his influence, his skill in the management of estates, his extensive and accurate knowledge of the Regulations, his wonderful knack of ever keeping on the windy side of the law, his ample resources, and his fertility in devising shifts and expedients, is in a very different position as holding a ryot's tenure to that of Kinu Mundul, the humble agriculturist, who knows nothing of law exeept from the summary suit against him, which was decided er parte, and from the memorable bond case brought by the money lender, which he lost in the Moonsiff's court. The former knows the exact value of the rights which he has purchased, can defend, improve, fortify and assert them in court and out of it. The latter, though fully sensible of their inestimable value to him and his family, may, from mere weakness or want of skill, be unequal to the retention of his lawful position. Why then should not the legislature step in, and assure to the small cultivator by all the authority of law, that position, which all men value, but which only those who command wealth, exercise ingenuity, and understand the Regulations, are now able to keep ?

And this question brings us to a very excellent little work by the late Mr. Francis Horsley Robinson of the Bengal civil service, in which we have found a practical solution to the question above put. Mr. Robinson, however men might be found to disler from his views, is admitted to have had a complete knowledge of the working of the revenue in the Agra presidency, as well as a comprehensive view of Indian revenue generally. No one can doubt his earnestness, his independence, and his intimate knowledge of the feelings, habits, and conditions of the peasantry. And applying his knowledge of the principles which are admitted to have worked admirably in the Doab of Hindustan, with some necessary modifications, to the system of Bengal proper, Mr. Robinson, in the work published very shortly before his death, has left behind him some excellent suggestions on this important subject, as follows:

“ It seems that the amount of assessment cannot, in justice, be touched. The Government, with a view to reclaim the country, by giving full scope to the enterprise of proprietors, limited their assessment in perpetuity, and they are at this moment reaping the full benefit they expected from the sacrifice, in the complete cultivation of the country, the increase of its wealth, and a constant

« PreviousContinue »