« PreviousContinue »
This is an inevitable consequence of the law of subdivision; but it is remarkable, how constantly this terminates, after two or three generations, in a separation of cousins, and a division of the inheritance into two or more shares, no longer to be held in common : and it is still more remarkable how this universal custom is rudely set to rights by the progress of disease, by fever, cholera, small-pox, and other scourges, which clear off whole families, and cause the inheritance to revert to the hands of a single member. If on the one hand, numerous instances may be found of families branching out, till they seem to weigh down the minute holding on the other, cases as frequent will occur, where father, and uncles, with their offspring, have all been swept away, and the patrimonial inheritance has reverted to a single individual, with it may be the surviving female relations all dependent upon his exertions for bread.
The jumma or holding will naturally be divided between a homestead, or beeta, with, it may be, some garden land attached to it, and the outfield in the plain, with its early or late rice, or both. The possession of a garden seems to confer no small pleasure on the possessor, the term including land on which mangoe, date, jack, cocoanut, betelnut, or other fruit trees grow, as well as bamboos, and land on which brinjals, hemp, and common vegetables may be planted, and cows may be tethered to pasture in the rains. On a garden like this, very little care is expended, except it be a date garden. The blossoms come forth, and the fruit is formed and ripens, with none of the digging, manuring, and watering, which in any climate are essential to rich produce, and cannot be dispensed with even under the powerful sun and fertilizing rains of Bengal. The over-crowding of fruit trees, their injury from insects and birds, their want of pruning, the entire absence of the commonest rules of scientific gardening, must be familiar to any one who has ever studied a Bengali village. Half the fruits are in consequence stunted in growth, damaged by insects, and injured in the gathering. But it is something for the ryot to have a garden which is growing while he is sleeping, or working elsewhere, and which gives him the useful bamboo, applied to so many common purposes, and which yields fruit, without previous expenditure, to relieve the monotony of his regular fare, or to increase his resources and earnings,” when sold at the weekly haut. The main question relative to outfield and infield will, of course, be the average amount of rent. We have said that few ryots know the extent of their holdings in actual beegahs. This is the case, in many instances, where the land has never been measured, when it will be loosely stated at twenty or thirty beegahs; but where it has been measured, the ryot unluckily knows its extent but too well. There is
in every pergunnah a variable rate of assessment, but one well understood. In pergunnah Insafnuggur it is one thing; in pergunnah Zalimpore it is another. There is, we say, a general understanding, expectation, or regular consent, given or implied, that it shall not be enhanced without some very special
And the question to which we now come, and which is one of the last importance, is, what is the usual average, and is it a fair one ? On this point, custom and opinions vary so much, in different places, and according to the different views of payers and receivers, that it is with some difficulty, and after a great deal of research, that we have arrived at a definite conclusion.
The large rent paid by shopkeepers, or mere householders in marts, bazars, and the principal stations of districts, should no more be taken as a criterion of the average, than the return of à crop of sugar-cane, or of indigo sown for seed only, should be taken as the average of the produce of the land. Where wealth accumulates, and the commodities of the country are collected together, ground naturally rises in value, just as it does in the Chitpore bazar, or within two or three streets of St. Paul's. We have known as much as eleven rupees ground-rent paid for a beegah of land, by a shopkeeper in a thriving bazar, and three and four rupees for a shop with a single house attached to it: the two latter not covering more than eight cottahs in extent. A regular assessment of one rupee and four annas for each shop in a long line of shops, built nearly on the same model, and taking up about the same space, is not immoderate. The mudi, the dealer in brass pans, and the cloth-seller, harassed by no processes, exposed to no vicissitudes of climate, can well afford to pay such a rate as this. Even in villages, a higher rate on the homestead and the garden, is universal. It may be as low as Rs. 2, or as high as Rs. 3-8 or Rs. 4, but the average may be taken as Rs. 2-8 or Rs. 2.12. Such a rate, in itself, is nothing intolerable. Those who follow a profitable occupation, such as sugar-baking, oil-pressing, weaving, the carpenter, the blacksmith, the potter, and others, whose existence and trades are essential to the rice-growing community generally, can save this amount from their yearly earnings : and the ryot who looks to the land alone, can afford to pay it from the returns of his riceland, if this latter be not too highly assessed. But this, as we have just said, is the very gist of our enquiry. What is a fair rent for the land which yields one splendid crop, or two average crops in the year? We find that rent for this land varies from as low as 8 annas a beegah to Rs. 2-12 and even Rs. 3, which is pretty much the same as saying that rent in England ranges from eighteen shillings or one pound an acre to fifty and
fifty-five shillings. In Bengal the extremes are rare. The land may be too sandy, or too low, or too sterile, or impregnated with salt, or culturable only after a rest for a year or ten months, and in these cases, a rate of from ten to fourteen annas is quite as much as it can bear. If rich and loamy, it may well bear from eighteen annas to Rs. 1-4. But repeated investigation has satisfied us, that a ryot holding a jote of twenty beegahs, composed of homestead, high land, and deep land, pays on the whole a higher rate than this. Were the whole of the twenty beegahs assessed at no more than a rupee per beegah, we should have little to say in favour of a reduction. But when the homestead pays Rs. 2-8 or Rs. 3, the deep rice land Rs. 1-8, Rs. 1-12 or Rs. 2, and the lighter soils from twelve annas to Rs. 1-2, as we have found that they do pay repeatedly, it is clear that the ryot has a burden laid on him, which it requires constant exertion, without intermission from sickness, litigation, or any other cause, as well as a succession of favourable seasons, to enable him to support. In round numbers one rupee a beegah, or Rs. 1-2, and perhaps Rs. 1-4 in very favourable localities, would be a fair and equitable assessment. But we find in some pergunnahs, that Rs. 1-4, and in others that Rs. 1-6, and Rs. 1-12, or Rs. 2 are the regular rates. Add to this occasional cesses, with an increasing family, and the families of other shareholders increasing as well, and it is very conceivable that the ryot has no easy task to perform. We have found zeminaries where the best soils were taxed at no more than Rs. 1-2 a beegah, and the worst as low as eight annas. We can point to others where the same soils are taxed respectively at Rs. 1-4 and Rs. 2-8. The difference between the condition of the cultivator, in each instance, is almost as easy to compute as the difference of the above sums. If, as Mr. Macaulay said in 1851, the varying abilities of Collectors can be read at a glance in the very faces of the ryots, if all is peace and plenty where the screw has been loosened, and the land returns to jungle where it has been drawn tight, it is not nearly so rhetorical to say that the character of the Zemindar can be discovered in ten minutes' conversation with a small knot of villagers who will speak truth under the village tree. But taking a number of instances together, the hard master and the lenient, the soil that lies too low and that which lies too high, with the general run of the seasons, with the earnings of the ryot from the land, and his extra resources, if any, we do not think it too much to
that a reduction of the assessment on the cultivators of from four to eight annas a beegah, in two-thirds of the zemindaries, would improve the condition of the cultivators generally, without at all impairing the position of the receivers of rent. But we are
well aware that it would be mere folly to expect such a desirable reduction to be voluntarily made by the most " catholic” body in the world. The remedies for the ryot which we propose, will be of a different kind.
To meet the rent as above described, the ryot or tenant proprietor cultivates his land in one of the three following ways: 1, by his own thews and sinews : 2, by the labour of hired servants : 3, by the system of barga.
By far the greater part of the rice crop is sown and grown by those to whom the holding belongs. The ploughing, crushing, and harrowing, the casting of the seed, the weeding during the rainy season, the cutting and carting, are most frequently all done by the holders of the jote. Hired labour is, obviously, an indication of some advance in civilization, or of some substance and well-being. It is the frequent resource of men who have taken service under Government, or under Zemindars, or who have some other means of livelihood, or who with an under tenure, comprising one or more villages, retain in their own hands a small home-farm. The third method of cultivation is very frequent. The proprietor having neither the skill, nor the time, nor the muscle, to sow and plough himself, calls in a person whom he terms the bargadar. This person brings his own plough, bullocks, and seed, and his own person, and goes through all the agricultural operations, which commence in April and end in December. Having done this without any advances from the proprietor,—who does not always give one-half the seed, as stated by Mr. Wilson in his glossary,--the bargadar, at harvesttime, gets for his pains, just one-half the crop. The arrangement suits the convenience of both parties. The tenant is saved the exertion of cultivating, and can follow any other business. The bargadar, who may work in one village this year, and in another the next, is saved anxieties about leases, exactions, bonuses, and payments of rent, &c. In the very worst of seasons, he has lost nothing beyond his seed and his labour. But of the three methods of cultivation, the most frequent as well as the most successful, is the first. We have heard ryots admit that, if a man wanted careful ploughing, sowing, and planting, the young plant to be well weeded, and the surplus water to be regularly carried off, with a first-rate crop at the end of all, there was nothing for it but to do everything himself. We have heard from Englishmen many philanthropic complaints of indifferent agriculture, coarse implements, perfunctoriness in the manual operations, and bad crops. We are ready to admit that the tools are primitive, that the ryot is often lazy, and that there is little change in the system of cropping from one year to another ; but the charge of bad results, for common, and not unusual crops, we entirely deny ; nay, we are fully prepared to go further, and show that, not in any part of England itself, with all the elaborate ploughs of modern invention, are there to be shown such specimens of finished and successful husbandry. We have seen, this year, soil crushed, smoothed, and weeded, till it more resembled a suburban garden on the South-western railway line, than a common piece of rice land in the plains of Bengal.
There may be a field for improvement or experiment in the various crops, other than rice, which are sown and cut from the commencement to the close of the cold season. A knowledge of the best system of rotation, and of the best and simplest ways of manuring and irrigating such crops, is what the ryot has not got, and what it would be well to give him; fruit trees and vegetables, if properly looked to, would become more valuable. And there is little doubt that as railways are extended through eastern and northern Bengal, there will be many more induce. ments to the ryot to cultivate those productions, which find a ready sale only in large stations and prosperous cities. But, with all this, a very large surface of ground will ever remain fitted for rice cultivation alone. This must be the case until scientific men shall discover some means of draining off the accumulation of water of the rainy seasons, which the thousand natural outlets of the country have yet failed to do; or some article of general consumption be found, which possesses the peculiar faculty of growing in from six inches to six feet of water, and which, with a fair chance given it, will beat Neptune in a race for life or death. On the other hand, we are ready to admit that there may be several places, where by cutting a canal and letting the water run off into some deep river, having its exit in the Sunderbunds, a good many acres of land might be saved from annual inundation, and bear crops of rice, instead of jungle with a broad blade. But such places are suited to engineering and not to agricultural triumphs; and we must again repeat our conviction that persons intending to teach the ryot some parts of his trade, would be rather surprised to find how very much they had yet to learn. His knowledge of seed-time, and of harvest, and of the general water-shed of his part of the country, is hardly susceptible of improvement; while the pains and labour, though unwilling, with which considerable patches of ground are cleaned and smoothed for the reception of rice plants, dibbled in by rows, with the hand, after being grown in a sort of nursery, as well as the results of these diverse operations, would be worthy of all praise in an agricultural show in England.
We must now say a word or two on the implements, by which these gratifying results are attained. Most readers must have seen a Bengali plough at some time, or have seen its print.