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the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com                                    

Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India

 

Revenue system of British and Mahatma Gandhi

 

When I entered on the Kaira struggle I had no notion that I was attacking the whole revenue system. I felt that I was attacking what in my opinion was a grave injustice to the people. At the same time I confess that I would not have hesitated to enter upon the struggle even if it had meant an attack on the whole revenue system. War had ever been present before me and I know that as a law-abiding citizen and still more as a lover of the British Constitution I should at least hesitate to embarrass the Government if I cannot actively co-operate in the prosecution of War. I have tried to do the latter so far as as I could. But should anybody allow the War to cover injustice? Should not the Government refrain from defying honest public opinion? I do not say the people’s verdict be accepted in the Kaira matter. But I do say that where there is a sharp difference of opinion, arbitration should be resorted to. It is no pleasure to me to use adjectives for Talatis or for that matter anybody, but I know that it would be prudery in private matters, and a shirking of a painful duty in public matters, to shun adjectives where they describe material facts. I wish you really knew them as I have come to know them. You will then probably use stronger language than I have done. Give me the committee I have asked for and I will show you what their estimates are worth and incidentally show you also what they are. But here the fault is not theirs; the system under which they are working makes them so. 1

They set about the work by sympathizing with Sir Sankaran over the difficulties of dealing with “so complex and specialized a subject” as the Land Revenue system. I respectfully submit that this is a highly misleading statement. There is nothing complex and specialized about the Land Revenue system except in so far as the administrators have made it so. Sir Sankaran has left ‘the complexity and specialization’ to the specialists and merely dealt with the main principles which even a layman can easily understand. I had to undergo the torture of going through the bewildering Revenue Rules and their amendments made from time to time, which, I would full grant, can only be remembered and recalled, as occasion may require, by specialists. But those rules are really devised not for the relief of distress but for ensuring a scientific, rigorous and regular collection of land-tax levied almost to the highest margin. And I would freely admit further that it will tax even the great ability of Sir Sankaran Nair if he had to find out how best to collect revenue from cultivators who can ill afford to pay. But not much ability was required to understand the simple problem whether there was failure of crops in Kaira in the year 1917, and whether the damage done by the excessive rains was such as to entitle the ryots to relief by way of suspension.

The Bombay Government’s note frightens the laymen . . . and in this category must be classed the Secretary of State and the Parliament by authoritatively saying that the resolution submitted to the Legislative Council and referred to by Sir Sankaran was “thoroughly impracticable”. The impracticability consisted in the Hon’ble Mr. Kamat proposing that “the expert agency of the agricultural department” should find the anna valuation. The Government ask the reader on their mere ipse dixit to consider this very practicable suggestion as thoroughly impracticable. The Hon’ble Mr. Kamat suggested a comparatively independent though still Government agency, to do the work instead of an interested Government agency, viz., the circle inspectors, and other officials in the lower ranks whose very promotion depends upon their ability to make full collection of the revenue even by “coercive” measures. In further proof of Sir Sankaran Nair’s “misconception of fact and policy”, the Government criticize his acceptance of my testimony “based on the mere statement of interested cultivators”. As the framers of the note claim to be specialists having an intimate knowledge of the Revenue Department, I find it difficult to characterize this passage. I can only say that they have been ill-served by their subordinates. If the cultivators, whose statements I accepted, were interested in one way, the circle inspectors, as I have already shown, were far more interested the opposite way.

The note omits, however, to mention that I did not rely upon the evidence of interested cultivators but checked their statements, in some cases, where it was possible, with my own eyes, in all cases with the evidence of disinterested and respectable men who were not concerned for their own sake in securing a suspension of the revenue collection. I thus applied a threefold test and I venture to say that, when the same evidence was given in thousands of cases by thousands of men and women, it was impossible to question that testimony, and the Government, in order to support the interested statements of their officials and in order also to be able to collect the revenue which they wanted, were obliged to discredit not only the testimony of the villagers concerned but that of practically the whole of the Kaira population. Any authority, in any shape or form responsible to the people, would have recoiled from any such imputation. Under our system, however, the word of the Government has come to be regarded with superstitious awe and it has to be accepted as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth even though large masses of people require to be damned for that purpose. The Government summarily reject Sir Sankaran Nair’s appreciation of the past economic situation of the tract. I challenge the framers of the note to go through the villages of the district, and find out for themselves from the dumb testimony of the dilapidated buildings in the villages and say, with hands on their hearts, what evidence those buildings bespeak.

The Government then take delight in being able to say that the agitation in Kaira did not have “any considerable effects on the measures of relief actually sanctioned”, and that the result was not to “leave the decision as regards payment of the Government demand to the raiyats themselves”. I can only say so much the worse for the Government and the broken word of their accredited officers, one of whom, in the presence of nearly two hundred people including myself, said that suspension would be granted in cases of poor cultivators and that the question of inability on the ground of poverty would be decided in consultation with the leading men of villages.1 This was confirmed by the Collector of the District. That suspension was confined to the fewest cultivators possible, that the orders of suspension were suppressed from the public for over a month and that they were only discovered when the departmant was at its wit’s end as to what to do, even after having sold the cattle of absentee cultivators, attached and removed their jewellery, imposed chothai fines, attached valuable crops wroth a few thousand rupees for a paltry balance and after the statement of the Commissioners that he did not need, like his ignorant audience, the binding effect of a vow to make good his threat, that he would sell their crops, confiscate their holdings and never restore the names of the contumacious holders, is a tale too thoroughly discreditable to require any further elaboration, and I feel sorry that the new Governor, who has given evidence of his anxiety to hear both sides and to be as impartial as he can, has been, no doubt unconsciously, made a vehicle for passing to the Imperial Parliament a note that is brimful of misleading statements, and innuendoes. I never took advantage of this so-called concession, meaning the orders discovered in June. I merely made use of the knowledge gained at Uttersanda, and, as befits a satyagrahi, stopped the struggle. Had I prolonged it, I would have been guilty of contumacy, incivility to the Government and indifference to the distress of those whom I had the privilege of guiding. 2 

The revenue system in the States is also not free from blame. I am confident that their imitation of the British system has done a great injury to their subjects. The British revenue system may have a shadows of justification if we grant that it is morally right for a handful of Englishmen to maintain their hold over our country in any and every circumstance. There can be no such plea of compelling necessity in the case of the Indian Princes. They have nothing to fear from their subjects as their existence is never in danger. They do not need a large military force; no Prince has got this and the British would never permit it. Still they levy a taxation far beyond the capacity of the subjects to pay. I am pained to observe that our ancient tradition that revenue is intended only for popular welfare has been receiving but scant respect. 3 The figures present a case for overhauling the land revenue system. They demand a scientific study of the relative value of cotton-growing and the growing of grains, and the scientific method of breeding, rearing and feeding cattle. The figures also demonstrate the absolute necessity of cottage industry auxiliary to cultivation. No agricultural country in the world can possibly support a population on less than one acre per head, if the population is to subsist merely or principally on agriculture. 4

It is only gradually that we shall come to know the importance of the victory gained at Bardoli.1 The final decision of the Government of Bombay which it has communicated in its correspondance with Shri Shroff2 is the necessary result of the triumph at Bardoli. It will have its effect on the revenue department in the entire country. And if there is real improvement in this department, if that department is freed from corruption, it would amount to securing three-fourths of swaraj. This is because a foreign government largely depends upon money for its very existence. No one would run the government of another country merely for the pleasure of doing so, certainly not the British. They have withdrawn their settlements from places where they have not earned any money. One will rarely find in another department the chaos that is found in the Indian revneue department. The peasants of Bardoli have shed light on this darkness. However, there is nothing to be cheerful about the letter addressed to Shri Shroff. No great hopes can be pinned on it. Those in authority are experts in giving verbal promises and then violating them in practice; under the pretext of dispensing justice and introducing reforms, theyhave been found to perpetuate their real position and even to strengthen it further. As a result of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, officers have increased their salaries, consolidated their own positions, added to the expenditure of the army and strengthened the roots of their own businessmen. Hence caution will be necessary to see to it that the hopes that the letter from the Government has raised in regard to reforms in the land revenue system are realized. Bardoli has shown the way and cleared it. Swaraj lies on that route alone and that alone is the cure for starvation. 5

The terrific pressure of land revenue, which furnishes a large part of the total, must undergo considerable modification in an independent India. Even the much vaunted permanent settlement benefits the few rich zamindars, not the ryots. The ryot has remained as helpless as ever. He is a mere tenant at will. Not only, then, has the land revenue to be considerably reduced, but the whole revenue system has to be so revised as to make the ryot’s good its primary concern. But the British system seems to be designed to crush the very life out of him. Even the salt he must use to live is so taxed as to make the burden fall heaviest on him, if only because of the heartless impartiality of it incidence. The tax shows itself still more burdensome on the poor man when it is remembered that salt is the one thing he must eat more than the rich man both individually and collectively. The drink and drug revenue, too, is derived from the poor. It saps the foundations both of their health and morals. It is defended under the false plea of individual freedom, but, in reality, is maintained for its own sake. The ingenuity of the authors of the reforms of 1919 transferred this revenue to the so-called responsible part of dyarchy, so as to throw the burden of prohibition on it, thus, from the very beginning, rendering it powerless for good. If the unhappy minister wipes out this revenue he must starve education, since in the existing circumstances he has no new source ofreplacing that revenue.If the weight of taxation has crushed the poor from above, the destruction of the central supplementary industry, i.e., hand-spinning, has undermined their capacity for producing wealth. The tale of India’s ruination is not complete without reference to the liabilities incurred in her name. Sufficient has been recently said about these in the public Press. It must be the duty of a free India to subject all the liabilities to the strictest investigation, and repudiate those that may be adjudged by an impartial tribunal to be unjust and unfair. 6

In another column will be found my manifesto to the U.P. Kisans.1 I know that H. E. the Governor does not quite like it inasmuch as it goes beyond the relief given by the U.P. Government. But the advice given to the kisans in the manifesto is an honest attempt to express their capacity for payment. I am hoping, therefore, that if the kisans pay according to the suggestion made in the manifesto, the zamindars and the local Government will accept the payments in full discharge of the kisans’ liability. But under the land revenue system prevalent in the U.P. the brunt will in the first instance fall upon the zamindars. I am hoping that the Government will grant proportionate relief to the zamindars who accept the tenants’ terms. 7 The writer belittles village work. It betrays gross ignorance. If the mutts and the revenue offices were extinguished and free schools were opened, the people would not be cured of their inertia. Mutts must be reformed, the revenue system must be overhauled, free primary schools must be established in every village. But starvation will not disappear because people pay no revenue and mutts are destroyed and schools spring up in every village. The greatest education in the villages consists in the villagers being taught or induced to work methodically and profitably all the year round whether it be on the land or at industries connected with the villages. Lastly, my correspondent seems to resent acceptance by us of humanitarian services by missionaries. Will he have an agitation led against these missionary institutions? Why should they have non- Christian aid? They are established with the view of weaning Indians from their ancestral faith even as expounded by Vivekanand and Radhakrishnan. Let them isolate the institutions from the double purpose. It will be time enough then to expect non-Christian aid. The critic must be aware of the fact that even as it is some of these institutions do get non-Christian aid. My point is that there should be no complaint if they do not receive such aid so long as they have an aim which is repugnant to the non-Christian sentiment. 8

I think the suggestion has something in it. Such stocks are necessary in the economic conditions of the country. Ever since the system of collecting revenue in cash was introduced, the stocks of grain in the villages have diminished. I shall not go into the merits or demerits of the cash revenue system; but I do believe the country could have been saved from the present difficult situation if we had continued to stock grain in the villages. Now that the controls are being removed no one will suffer any hardship if the grain is stocked as suggested by Vaikunthbhai and if the villagers and the traders become honest. If the farmers and the traders get a fair margin of profit there can be no high prices for the working class and other people in the cities. What really matters is that necessaries of life should be within the reach of every one. There can then be no question of high or low prices. 9

 

 

References:

 

  1. Letter to James Duboulay, April 9, 1918
  2. Young India, 16-8-1919
  3. Young India, 8-1-1925
  4. Young India, 24-12-1925  
  5. Navajivan, 21-7-1929 
  6. Letter to Lord Irwin, March 2, 1930
  7. Young India, 28-5-1931
  8. Harijan, 6-3-1937 
  9. Harijanbandhu, 28-12-1947 

 

 

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