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and the transfer of their holdings to money-lenders, traders, speculators, and other non-agriculturists, who are rarely or never good landlords, and are often non-resident, has become so prominent an evil--at least locally-that some remedy is loudly called for.
Those unacquainted with Indian society, and its divisions of race and caste, will hardly form an adequate idea of the strong attachment of the peasant classes in North India (I speak of these more especially, as I have so long lived among them) to their ancestral acres-acres derived from a well-remembered (and perhaps once noble) ancestor, or representing an allotment of clan-territory. They will also hardly realize how, in certain provinces or districts, the feeling on all subjects is rather tribal than national, and how the rule of marriage in the "tribe," but out of the "clan," tends to keep up this condition. Moreover, we must remember the influence of the joint-family, with its consequent joint succession of heirs male, which is a universal feature of agricultural society, although it differs in detail from the joint-family of the Hindu law-books. More easily readers in England will realize the hostile feeling, and the bitter, if smouldering and repressed, resentment, with which the money-lender, or the agent of the town investor, as mortgagee or purchaser of shares or holdings, is often regarded in a village. The mere fact that he may be a Hindu of a trading caste intruded into a Muhammadan community, or that (in any case) he is of alien caste to the agriculturist body, is enough to introduce an element of discord into the community life of a village, where that community has at all preserved its solidarity. And there is often a deep-seated grudge and hatred of a more personal kind, because the creditor has made his claim so much larger than the debtor (without accounts or proofs) thinks it should be. The agriculturist broods over the loss which he never fails to attribute to the way in which his repayments have been ignored, or (if in kind) undervalued, and the interest run up. And this feeling is
too often not without some justification, or at least excuse. In the course of my judicial work I have tried more than one harrowing case of murder of a money-lender by a "disinherited" debtor in the village; and I have known serious riots originating in attempts to wreck a moneylender's premises, and burn his books or bonds; the excuse being that he was unjust or fraudulent, and had exasperated the people. Even if these were extreme cases-to be looked on sternly rather than compassionately, the mere fact that communities, whose habits have been fixed by generations of agricultural descent and unchanging tradition, may be broken up; and that proprietors of a dozen generations may be reduced, piecemeal, to working as landless labourers on a pittance barely equal to supporting the family, or perhaps be driven from their home and compelled to leave the district altogether, is a serious evil. In this way the ranks of habitual criminals are only too likely to be recruited, while parties and factions in the different sections of the village become pronounced, and smouldering discontent is ready to break forth into violence at any moment. We may talk as we please about the safe rules of political economy, and about the necessity for letting natural economic laws operate and run their own course, but the ruin of any considerable section of our agricultural races, whether in North India, or any other provinces, would mean a political and an economic loss and danger, the full extent of which it would be difficult to foresee, but the reality of which it is impossible to overlook.
But when the desirableness of a remedy by legislation is considered, it becomes a difficult question to determine what shall be the area to which a law restricting the sale of lands should apply. When the subject of such a law in posse was first heard of in England, I think an impression got about that the intention was to make a general law applicable to all British India. A general law would almost certainly be a failure; to say nothing of the far
wider scope for misconstruction, and the more extended opportunity for agitation by interested opponents, that it would afford. The provinces are so different that, while subjects like the Criminal and Civil Procedure, Police, Excise, and Stamp Law, can be uniformly provided for, it would never do to treat questions of tenure and landcustom on equally broad lines. For one thing, there would be much variety of view on the part of the different local authorities; and a general Act would consequently be hedged about with so many drawbacks, exceptions, and qualifications, that it would rarely be intelligible, and would fail to effect any beneficial result, except perhaps to the pockets of the pleader or revenue-agent. As, however, we now know that a single province is at present to be legislated for, there is no need to pursue the subject.
But while the objections to a "general" Act may be dismissed, there is a danger in the opposite direction. It is possible that a too restricted scope for the experiment may still find advocates. The long and careful inquiry which has preceded the introduction of the new Land Bill has naturally shown that, even in one province, the evil has affected some parts more than others. The evils attendant on alienation are only locally acute-under a variety of conditions, physical, climatic, and racial. Fortunately, this fact can be allowed for without incurring the evil of a too restricted application of the law in the first instance.
To apply the law only to certain limited areas would surely encourage the money-lenders to leave the "closed districts, and transfer their business to the nearest district where there was no restriction. And if that were done the agriculturist would suffer. It is not the object to deny the land-owner all power of borrowing, or to drive the moneylender away for the normal functions of the latter are often essential to the working of a perfectly solvent village community. As the Pioneer* well puts it, "The scheme contemplates nothing more than a moderate contraction of
* Pioneer (Mail), October 13, 1899.
credit, and makes adequate provision for the satisfaction of debts within this narrower margin of credit. Applied to a whole province, it may reasonably be expected to have this effect, as it is beyond the power of the money-lenders to boycott a nation." But they might easily "boycott" certain limited localities set apart by law as if they were plague-spots.
In applying the law to the Panjâb only, but to the whole of that province, the Government are certainly well advised; and all the advantages of any further localization that may be needed-without the disadvantages-can be secured in another way. It will be in the power of Government to exempt any person or class of persons, any district or part of a district, from the operation of the whole Act, or any of its provisions.
Under these conditions no province could have been more suitable for selection than the Panjâb. It may be of some interest to explain why this is so. In the first place, it is no disparagement to other countries in India to say that the Panjâb contains many of the hardiest and best elements of the whole agricultural population. Here (as I have already had occasion to note) the villages are in the "joint" form, and consist of aggregates of tribal, or of family, holdings, and the personnel is bound together by ties of blood or of custom, and acknowledges a certain solidarity. Moreover, in most cases the tribal stage of society has hardly passed away. In some parts we have perfect tribes with their clans, septs, or other subdivisions all complete; and village social life, as well as the customs of land-allotment, or distribution of shares, are based on a tribal constitution. Even when the whole organization of a tribe does not survive, the original tribal condition of races like the Jat, Gujar, Awān, Ghakar, and Rājput, is not doubtful. We find marked distinctions of tribal, rather than local, custom everywhere acknowledged. In no part of our dominions would it be more disastrous to have the agricultural village system broken up, and "shares" bought up by alien classes of money-lenders and speculators.
There is a peculiar appro
And there is another reason. priateness in applying the first (and necessarily tentative) law to the Panjâb, because here more perhaps than in any part of India the idea of a limited power of alienation is, in principle, familiar, and the object of the law is most likely to be properly appreciated. The conditions of village life and of family or tribal association have accustomed the land-owners to regard their holdings as, in some measure, what I may call (at least in a non-legal sense) a "trust,”—as something which they may enjoy and profit by during life, but which they should hand on unimpaired to their descendants. They are quite familiar with the idea that ancestral land is inalienable except in the case of real necessity; they are equally familiar with customary restrictions which are designed to prevent family lands passing beyond the circle of the male agnates. They also observe rules of preemption which—whether generally efficacious or not-have always aimed at excluding strangers; so that if land is sold it should go to a relative, or, at least, to a co-sharer of the same section, or, failing that, to one of the same community. These circumstances certainly afford a primáfacie prospect of success; and it is not from the population of the Panjâb that any real or intelligent opposition will come. Opposition (from interested sources) can of course be manufactured (to order) throughout India, on any subject whatever.
I said that this proposal was no new thing. For many years past local officers have reported on it, and have sometimes drawn sad pictures of the local condition of things, while giving expression to grave warnings of evil to come. No surprise, then, can be felt at the introduction of the present measure in the Legislative Council of India. The Bill itself is the result of cautious and minute consideration of the subject, and is in form and substance just what is wanted. It is short, simple, and perfectly clear. The text has been published (and will for some time continue to appear) in the Gazette of India, and is