The Restoration of the Peasantries

With especial reference to that of India

by G.T. Wrench

Chapter 8

The Village System

THE form of cultivation of the soil by peasant-owners is by no means defunct in western civilization. It is in the United States and England that it is insignificant. In France, Germany, Italy, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Rumania, and Bulgaria it still forms an important and, in many countries, a major part. Its unique story in Denmark will be related at the end of the chapter.

"India's 700,000 villages, with their 250 millions of people," writes their stout champion, Sir Daniel Hamilton, in New India, "are India's foundation stones, and most of them are as shaky and unsound as they can be. The rayat [ryot: peasant] is India's key man."

Unsound the present-day ryots are; nevertheless they still have amongst themselves many relics and assets upon which a sound foundation might be built. Let us review these assets as they were in the past, and as relics in the present day.

The peasants still largely preserve their dominant ideas. Mr. W. H. Moreland in The Agrarian System of Moslem India, 1929, contrasts these ideas and those of the present day in the two words "duties" and "rights." Questions of rights are a recent development in Indian agrarian history, and "belong almost entirely to the British period: in Moslem India, as in the India of the Hindus, the agrarian was a matter of duties rather than rights ... It was the duty of the peasants to till the soil and pay a share of their produce to the State."

The duties or functions of the peasants were based upon the fundamental unit of their agrarian association; that of the large or joint family. The character of the joint family is, of course, well-known, but its leading features may here be summarized. It consists of an elder man as the head, his wife, his sons, their wives and children; or it may be larger owing to the association of two or more such families due to brothers of the elder generation living together. The links of the family are males of close blood-relationship.

The wives join, the daughters leave the family at marriage. The men of the family pursue the same kind of work. It is this common pursuit and common blood which constitute the family's strength as a social unit and which enables it to perform many co-operative functions automatically, which under the western idea, if not left to chance, have to be undertaken by the State. It is this co-operative character which gives to each Indian agrarian a home of a kind, which can now scarcely be comprehended by a western society, in which the dominant idea of each for himself has so broken up the family that the word "home" may mean a cottage, a room or a flatlet, in which one lives alone. The term home is applied to both, but its significance is widely different in each case.

The joint family supplies each individual with a home, in which there are other individuals to love or it may be hate, to share work with and pleasure with and so have a human basis to life, which seems to be dehumanized by progress. It gives also to the people a close interest in common inevitable things, birth, marriage, children, death, the order of domestic rank and authority, all things that spring instinctively from human association, in which the mutual interest makes individuals accept each other and not shun each other, as is the tendency of the relative isolation of the members of the small western families.

This large family system was the unit of the wider village system, without which that system would not have been possible, without which, indeed, the sectarianism of caste might have overweighed the village associative spirit. The village committee or panchyat (literally a meeting of five) is an association of the different components of the village. As far back in time as the Code of Manu, perhaps three thousand years ago, the formation of village committees by members of various castes was laid down, and in recent times, Brahmin, Vaishya, Sudra, and Moslem have sat and decided on village affairs in mutual fellowship.

The village organization in India has been much weakened under the British. As Mr. C. F. Strickland said in a recent article in The Times, wherever Asiatic countries "have for many years enjoyed the benefits of a regular and 'legal-minded' administration, the old spirit of unity has decayed." It is only in China that it is "strong and lively." Nevertheless there are still some striking survivals in India. On these and their originals Mr. John Matthai has written a well-arranged book, Village Government in British India. Mr. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar's Corporate Life in Ancient India is essential for Sanskrit scholars.

In harmony with his subject, Mr. Matthai devotes a special chapter to each separate function of the system. The way in which these functions were carried out give one practical manifestations of the core or heart of the people and offer one practical possibilities of reviving continuity at the present day.

Mr. Matthai at the outset distinguishes a town and a village of approximately the same size by noting that a town, being mainly industrial, has a municipal council, whereas the village has traditional hereditary functionaries, who "have survived in recognisable form almost everywhere." These functionaries are the headman, the accountant, the watchman, the schoolmaster, the superintendent of tanks and water courses, and so on. There is also the village council or panchyat. This and the functionaries carry out public work. The construction and repair of public buildings and wells, the distribution of the irrigated and common land, the administration of village co-operative societies, are matters "in which village communities even now show a perceptible amount of common life and purpose."

The village self-governing community, which Munro and others sought so carefully to preserve, is not defunct and is still capable of restoration. Indeed its restoration has powerful advocates, as we shall see in this chapter. One may here be quoted. The Royal Commission on Decentralization in India of 1909 concluded: "We are of the opinion that the foundation of any stable edifice which shall associate the people with the administration must be the village as being an area of much greater antiquity than administrative creations such as tahsils, and one in which people are known to one another and have interests which converge on well-recognized objects."

The method of election of the village panchyat, as might be suspected, differs from that of public bodies under the western system. In the west each vote is individual and, by the secret ballot is made the secret of that individual. The general associative principle, based on the large family system, alters all that. Under it the people gather together and talk and argue as in a family, until a general associated opinion emerges, which is accepted by all. There is, therefore, no voting, and no majority rule. The panchyat, when assembled, comes to its decisions in the same way. It hears evidence and discusses until a common opinion emerges, which all accept.

Mr. Matthai, after an introductory chapter, begins with one on the first function, that of Education. The village schoolmaster was one of the regular hereditary functionaries of the old system. He had his recognized place and was paid by the land, which was the general paymaster, that is to say he was given a piece of land rent-free or/and, he was given, what Mr. Matthai conveniently terms "grain-fees," that is to say his share in the produce of the village. Some such schoolmasters still exist and belong to the ancient hereditary class of "gurus." There are to-day also quite modern teachers, who come to the villages with a view to making a living and start "venture schools." These teachers may be "gurus" who have not found a place in their own villages, or they may be University graduates or failed graduates, who have not been able to get official or urban employment.

A stronger urban influence is the official education in the hands of District Boards and other agencies. It is interesting, however, to learn that the Government has become fully aware that schools set up in villages by the District Boards will not flourish until they are injected with the old communal village interest. To effect this, the Government has introduced village committees in connection with schools under the management of District and Local Boards. They have, in fact, tried to engraft the old upon the new rather than replant the old. Without a radical change of principle, it is difficult to imagine what else they could do. "The degree of success attained by these schools," writes Mr. Matthai, "varies in the different provinces. There is a widespread tendency among inspecting officers to lament the so far discouraging achievements of the village committee system," but "in one province at any rate, namely the Central Provinces, it has justified in a large measure the expectation of its founders and the cause of its success. Here is a proof that in India local institutions of the kind do not altogether fail where a sufficient degree of genuine responsibility is laid upon them, but they flag and droop where the forms of local autonomy are emptied of real responsibility and power. The unanimous testimony of imperial and provincial reports attributes the success of village school committees in the Central Provinces to the power given to them to utilize the fee collections of the school. This amount of financial responsibility, apparently small but in a village not to be lightly regarded, has acted as a strong force in stimulating interest in local matters."

The next function of the village taken by Mr. Matthai is that of Poor Relief. In the words of the Report of the Indian Famine Committee of 1880: "India has a poor law, but it is unwritten; it is owing to the profound sense which is felt by all classes of the religious duty of succouring, according to their means, the indigent and helpless who have claims on them as members of the family, the caste, or the town or village that in ordinary times no State measures of relief are needed."

The relief of the poor then is another automatically performed function, which is possible when a group of people is co-operative. Something of the same effect was produced by the co-operative spirit of the Middle Ages in Europe. "Up to the end of the Middle Ages poverty had never been a problem. On the land everyone had a status which gave security; in the towns the merchant guilds and then the craft guilds took care of the unfortunate or sick members; and the very few people who moved about the countryside could always count upon the monasteries for relief. Poverty was of so little importance that it was regarded as a divinely ordered institution which gave the charitable a means of acquiring merit through almsgiving." (Milner.)

The poor relief of the village system has, like so much else of the humble agrarian's system, been grievously injured by the urban influence and its dominant idea in practice. It is not, however, altogether dead, for land is still set aside for the purpose of poor relief, cesses still put upon village artisans for the maintenance of their unfortunates, and a part of the crops set aside for the poor.

Not very long after the time of the thirty officials of our first chapter, the village system of poor relief was rediscovered, as it were, by the British. They found that it could be organized against the chief danger of the peasants, famine. The British, with their characteristic practicality, felt the challenge of this great problem. And here they applied studentship. They set commissions to enquire what exactly was this village system in its service during famine time. And the result was that they found an instrument to which, by applying their superior resources and power of organization, they were able to impart an efficiency which brought the appalling features of famine to an end. It was a fine, perhaps the finest combination of British officials and traditional Indian methods. It was, indeed, a feat with all the quality of the Genro, objective study and applied added power. The British themselves had no doubt of the value of these village organizations with which they had worked. In the Report of the Indian Famine Commission of 1880, they wrote: "For the future progress of the country, the encouragement of the principle of local self-government by which business of all kinds should be left more and more to local direction, is of much moment and nowhere more so than in dealing with local distress, and however great be the difficulties in the way of its early practical realization, it will be well never to lose the opportunity of taking every step that may lead towards it." Such was the result of coming into an exceptionally intimate and urgent comradeship or partnership with the village system.

The next function of the village, dealt with by Mr. Matthai, is that of Sanitation. The village system, it seems, mostly combined the service of scavenging with police work. "This class of village servants have furnished the material in most provinces for the useful body of rural policemen. Their duties are multifarious, of which menial sanitary service forms not the least important part. They sweep the lanes and remove impurities, keep the village meeting-house clean, patrol the village at night, act as messengers to the headman, serve as referees on matters affecting the village boundaries, guard the crops, assist in agricultural operations, attend on Government officials who visit the village, and carry palanquins and torches at festivals. As a rule they are menials of the lowest caste, and take up their residence on the outskirts of the village." Their duties, nevertheless, show what an important part the lowest caste does form in the general village life.

Sir F. S. Lely, writing his suggestions re "Better Government in India" in 1906, with special reference to his own province of Bombay, has some very interesting remarks on the modern government's interference with this system. "Our village sanitary requirements are a constant irritation. The truth is the habits of the people are more cleanly than those of corresponding Europeans, though, following up the old, old mistake, we imagine they are not simply because they are different." He believed that if powers be given to the panchyat, it would have brought in better sanitation on village lines. "I cannot but think legislature in touch with the people," wrote Sir Lely, "would have included in the Village Act optional provisions enabling the Panch, in lieu of contributions and establishments, to compel each and every householder to keep his house clean, both back and front, by private arrangement with one of the village sweepers, and also to give his quota in labour, if he chose, when any public work had to be done, such as cleaning the tank (reservoir), emptying the well, or filling up a hole. This would have been working up from ancient village custom instead of down from a foreign and not yet assimilated institution."

Mr. F. L. Brayne, of the Gurgaon District of the Punjab, is of a different opinion as to his district to that of Sir Frederick Lely of the Bombay Presidency. Brayne found his villages so filthy that in this particular he suspended the admirable principle of his "village uplift," namely to make the villagers themselves first wish to carry out works of betterment, and brought his official authority in to enforce greater cleanliness. It is true that he says that Gurgaon is "one of the most ignorant, backward, and poverty-stricken districts in the Punjab" (1926). But he claims that what he writes is not overrated "for Hindustan proper." It is to be noted that he writes twenty years after Sir Frederick and nearly half a century after the Famine Commissioners and that he is a practical man, writing only of what he himself observes. In that period the authority of the panchyats has weakened owing to the working down from foreign and not assimilated institutions in place of working up from ancient customs, as Sir Frederick recommended. The general weakening of old agrarian methods and the strengthening of urban methods have accelerated since the war and the birth and upbringing of the Reforms. This antagonism and discouragement have led to a great indolence settling down upon the village co-operative spirit. Any village lad of enterprise, instead of putting his energies to the improvement of village life, tends to escape to the place which power patronizes: the town. One has something a little comparable to a feature of our first chapter, that of the migration of more adventurous peasants from the defeated native system to the victorious and more powerful British system.

The next village function is that of Public Works, such as the erection of public buildings, the making and protection of water reservoirs or tanks, the making and care of canals. These being for the common weal were carried out by the common will, that is by free labour. Nowadays Government puts a cess or tax upon the villagers and pays labourers to do the work, which is against the will of the ryots, who "would much prefer supplying the labour to paying a cess." The Indian Irrigation Committee of 1901-1903 recommended that the administration of the cess should be given to local panchyats as the people would then "feel a proprietary interest and pride in their tank." The old spirit of self-government alone would make the reservoir, canal, etc., really live, one might say. Otherwise, if administered by government in a foreign way, the tank or canal becomes uncared for, and itself loses its function with that of the supplanted panchyat. When one realizes that in the Madras Presidency, for example, irrigation by small tanks and canals, which the villagers managed themselves, irrigate "collectively an area equal to that irrigated by all the larger works which have been constructed by the British Government in that Presidency," one realizes that decay of agriculture and village enterprise, which is put down even by such well-wishers of the village as Mr. F. L. Brayne to "a set of customs which are utterly opposed to any progress -- moral, social, physical, or natural," may well have been caused by the disintegration of those same customs and of the traditional village spirit. One can be intimate with the villagers, one can work for them in that truly admirable way which has been Mr. Brayne's great practical achievement, but even then one may miss the first principle of "customs," namely that if the spirit is alive, active, responsible, and reactive, those customs are living, pliant, adaptive. Injure the spirit and the customs partake of that injury and themselves become injurious.

"In the ancient village community, the headman had the principal direction of the arrangement of Watch and Ward," writes Mr., Matthai. "His chief executive assistant was the village watchman, who stood to him practically in the relation of a personal servant." The watchmen acted as police within the village. For outside protection, at the time of the breakdown of the Moghul Empire, a village might enter into an agreement with a robber chief. The British replaced these outer police with their own police and at first linked up the watchmen with the official police. This subjective arrangement aroused the wrath of Munro in 1824. To absorb the watchmen in a British-modelled police, he proclaimed, would be fatal to any true police decency. In its place would be a native official organization to squeeze the people. No system "can ever answer that is not drawn from its ancient institutions and assimilated with them." Various different adjustments of the police have been made since the clear enunciation of Munro. Most of these are infused with his principle that the village watchman must not be placed in direct subordination to the regular police.

Lastly, Mr. Matthai has a most interesting chapter of the village function of the Administration of Justice.

Panchyat justice was informal; it was the effect of a general common sense being brought to bear on the case in hand. A chosen body of men met to arbitrate, conciliate, punish, or come to no conclusion according to how the evidence impressed them. It was not a system, for the joint family spirit is not given to systems. As Mr. Lin Yutang says of another huge joint family people: "The Chinese as a race are unable to have any faith in a system. For a system, a machine, is always inhuman."

In the panchyat, directed by men chosen amongst others by himself, the peasant spoke the truth. In the Adalat or British courts, he did not speak the truth, he tried to build up the best case for himself, or the side for which he was appearing, that he could. As Sir William Sleeman said in his Rambles and Recollections, 1844, it was almost impossible to arrive at the truth in a British court, whereas it was easy to get it from the same men in a panchyat. "I believe there are no people in the world from whom it is more easy to get it in their own village communities where they state it before their relations, elders, and neighbours, whose esteem is necessary to happiness and can be obtained only by an adherence to the truth."

It is the same to this day. Evidence in a British Court is fantastically unreliable. I know no illustration of subjectivity more distressing intellectually in India than that of the legal profession. The profession's ideal is to establish the truth and its actuality is that it creates a mass of untruths, to which judges and magistrates listen day after day, fully aware of the anomaly.

The panchyat, on the other hand, whenever set up "almost instinctively shows a tendency to settle disputes among the villagers." This illustrates particularly well, what I have called the automatic quality of the village system. Where, however, the panchyat is incorporated as part of the judicial system, it wilts and loses its spontaneity. In its free form, it has been set up but rarely in the last thirty years. Government welcomes it, but it must be willing to attire itself in official uniform. With this proviso, the Government in 1915 approved of the very important recommendation of the Royal Commission on Decentralization in India of 1907 for "the constitution and development of village panchyats possessed with certain administrative powers and with jurisdiction in petty civil and criminal cases." The difficulty was to fit them to Government's central authority and this led to Government's decision to decentralize only in part and to "leave the matter in the hands of local Governments and Administrations."

Central Government, however, laid down seven interesting and distinctive general principles. The first was that the experiments in the creation of these panchyats should be made where the villagers were willing to try. The second was that the form of the panchyat should not be identical in every village but allow for the old variety. The third that the same panchyat should be administrative and judicial. The fourth that any present form of panchyat should be merged in the new panchyats. The fifth and sixth that the panchyat should have control of certain fees, and be permitted a limited right to tax. The seventh that, if financed by district and sub-district boards, some supervision by these boards must be allowed. The whole constitute a remarkable reversion to the wisdom, that only that is beneficial to a people, which comes from its core; or, in the words of Munro, no system "can ever answer that is not drawn from its ancient institutions and assimilated with them."

Mr. Matthai writes from the London School of Economics. Nevertheless he himself confesses in his introduction to a limitation of his book, namely the exclusion of "the whole subject of land revenue," though "in the administration of land revenue, village communities and officers play an important part, both in the collection of the taxes and in maintaining the necessary accounts. This, in fact, is their most important share in village administration. Every other thing they do comes a long way behind it in importance. The subject, however, is dealt with in such detail in Baden-Powell's book, The Land Systems of British India, that it is profitless to attempt a less full and clear account here. Besides, the subject of land revenue in India is so enormously complex that on a short and second-hand study it seems much the safer thing, in spite of its obvious disadvantages, to leave the subject alone as far as possible."

The Royal Commission on Agriculture in India, confined by its terms of reference, follows the same course. Although, as Mr. Matthai says, this is the most important subject, there is nothing about it in the Commission's Report, and "Land Revenue" neither heads a chapter, nor appears in the index. It is the same with the subject of taxation. That neither heads a chapter nor appears in the index. Yet what Munro wrote in 1822 : "the welfare of every class of the community depends so much upon the amount of public burdens and the manner in which they are distributed and levied," is certainly not untrue to-day for the peasantry. It is this which Mr. Matthai, in fact, still singles out as the thing which is of greatest importance to the village communities.

One would have thought, then, that a discussion of land revenue and taxation would have some bearing on the Commissioners' duty to make recommendations for "the promotion of the welfare and prosperity of the rural population." One feels how absolutely the present of the peasantry is set within the ambit of the great centralized money system, which has become as automatic to us of an urban civilization, as once was the village system in its functions. Everyone assumes that the agrarian is but a part of this money system, as unquestionably as that he has to breathe the air. Because of this automatism of habit and authority, it is very difficult to think oneself or to persuade anyone else to think of the agrarian as historically outside that ambit.

As regards Land Revenue, I feel myself unequal to the task of describing it far more than does Mr. Matthai of a School of Economics, or, further, of showing the effect which the English system had upon those varied land systems of India, which are the subject of Mr. Baden-Powell's three substantial volumes. There can be no doubt that such subjectivity was considerable. Munro in 1824 was, as usual, very clear. "The ruling vice of our Government is innovation; and its innovation has been so little guided by a knowledge of the people that, though made after what was thought by us to be mature discussion, it must appear to them as little better than the result of mere caprice. We have in our anxiety to make everything as English as possible in a country which resembles England in nothing, attempted to create at once, throughout extensive provinces, a kind of landed property which had never existed in them; and in pursuit of this object, we have relinquished the rights which the sovereign always possessed in the soil, and we have in many cases deprived the real owners, the occupant ryots, of their proprietary rights, and bestowed them on zemindars and other imaginary landlords. Changes like these can never effect a permanent settlement in any country; they are rather calculated to unsettle whatever was before deemed permanent."

Munro, in brief, stood for the principle which had prevailed for a long series of centuries, the principle which the great economist, Kautilya, laid down in the Arthdsastra: "The rise of a body of non-cultivating proprietors is to be avoided."

As regards the payment of the land tax, it was in the past paid in kind as a produce-share to the king, who was held to be the final owner of the land.

This produce-share, says Baden-Powell in a Short Account of Land Revenue (1907) "became general at a remote period. It is mentioned as a thing long known and established in the 'Laws of Manu.' The share was one sixth, or one fourth at times of war or emergency. It later sometimes rose to a half. The Moghul Emperors fixed one third as a fair rate."

There were many advantages of this plan, writes Baden-Powell: "Being a share of gross production, there was no question of any complicated calculations of the cultivator's profit, or the costs of production, nor about the relative value of the land, or the productiveness of the season. Whatever the land produced, little or much, was heaped on the threshing floor, and the king's officer superintended its division in kind. In a famine year there might be nothing to divide and so revenue relief followed automatically." Being a share of gross production, moreover, the tax entailed an active interest of the king in the peasants' agriculture.

This system, then, does stand quite outside the ambit of modern finance. It shows, moreover, that payment of the tax in money is not relative to the agrarian. When the agrarian principle dominated, the king's officer took the tax in kind.

This simple system did not, however, pursue an uninterrupted course from the ancient Hindu period, through the Moghuls, to the British. The Moghul law, as given in the Futawa Alumgerree, had two forms of tax, one for the faithful, and one for those not of the Moslem faith. That for the faithful was the Khiraj Mookassimah and was in fact payment in kind. The other for the non-Moslem was the Khiraj Wuseefa and was a tax, and if possible a money tax, levied on the land. Akbar made this a cash assessment for ten years and based it on the average price of grain for the previous nineteen years. It could not always be levied. "When a providential calamity happens to a crop, which could not be prevented, such as an inundation, conflagration, excessive cold and the like, there is no Khiraj," was the ordinance. Some flexibility of agrarian necessity had to be given to it, but the absolute flexibility of the Hindu method was taken away from it by the introduction of money. Money related the tax to other things and circumstances not agrarian. It weakened the peasant by a partial separation from the soil. It was as if the Herculean Money uplifted him from the soil like a humble Anataeus and weakened him, but as yet not mortally for the uplifting separation was not complete.

Payment in kind the peasant understood and trusted. It depended upon things which were under his eyes and the skilled control of his own hands, and upon the king's officer, whom he knew, and upon his own panchyat, but when once he began to pay in a substance which he did not himself cultivate, he became subject to the unknown forces of unseen masters, who themselves controlled that substance.

Akbar "softened the novelty of his system by leaving it optional with the cultivators to give grain or cash as they preferred" (Baden-Powell). As the Moghul Empire declined, so did the method of taxing the agrarian, until with increasing anarchy it degenerated into "what could be extracted from the cultivator without reducing him or his cattle to semi-starvation." The increasing difficulties of an enfeebled government led to the farming of the revenue. "The Revenue Farmer, or Zemindar as we may now call him, was at first carefully appointed and watched, but as Treasuries grew empty, they, the bankers of their time, were the only persons who could be looked to for money. They naturally felt that they were indispensable and enlarged their pretensions accordingly ... The Zemindars, in fact, did just as they pleased, and made the villagers pay whatever they demanded or whatever they could extract from them."

Such was the degenerate mode of taxation of the peasants when the British began to build up their power after the ruin of that of the Moghul. It may be recalled that it was the form of taxation in certain Native States, upon which some of the officials of our first chapter reported upon as so disliked by the peasants in comparison with the honest British method. In some parts of India the tax was paid in kind, but in others it was paid in cash. In Bengal and other parts of the Moghul Empire, writes Baden-Powell, "the Land Revenue had for generations past been levied in cash payments; its assessment (often by contract for the year) was determined by no known principle. All traces of a share in the produce and a valuation of that share in money had long disappeared."

The confusion of the essential relation of the food-producing agrarian and the non-food-producing classes in this period was due not only to the decadence of the Moghul governments, but also to the making of the peasants' tax a money tax. The essential thing about the relation between the productive and non-productive is that the peasants shall deliver a portion of the soil's produce, which the others must have to live. This was done under a Hindu custom by a direct payment of the soil's produce, a payment in kind, which linked the two classes together. Money necessarily led to a separation, and made the whole relationship subject to all sorts of outside influences. Baden-Powell says that the payment of the tax in kind has many disadvantages as well as advantages. The disadvantages do not seem very great, as he states them. They are that "unless actively supervised, the peasantry conceal or make away with grain, and local collectors, on their part, cheat both the peasantry and the treasury." Two pages later he describes the evils that came from the Moghul system. In this case also there was pilfering. In the first case he does not say whether the townspeople were ever actually starved because the peasantry cheated the revenue officers, but in the second case he does say that the revenue officers sometimes nearly starved the peasants. They became adepts at "squeezing and letting go. It was only a few rapacious tyrants and short-lived Revenue-officers who habitually transgressed the rule of not killing 'the goose who laid the golden eggs.' " On the whole there seems to be little question that the peasants were much the less dangerous oppressors to the townsfolk than vice versa.

It may be claimed that the payment of the agrarian tax in kind is antique and finished. Has not Baden-Powell said that in many parts of the Moghul Empire, when taken over by the British, revenue had for generations been levied in money and "all traces of share in the produce had long disappeared"? But the method is by no means dead, for the same author writes: "The collection in kind is still largely practised in India. In many Native States (especially in the Hill country and in the more primitive districts) the State is still paid in grain; and in some British districts (very commonly e.g. in the Punjab) where the land has passed into the hands of the landlord class, what was once the State share, and is now the landlord's rent, is taken in kind."

Here, then, is another root to which the present-day peasantry could be linked up to recreate continuity. I am fully aware that every kind of objection can rush into a reader's mind. I am aware that there are two sorts of agrarian crops, the subsistence crop grown for the subsistence of the village, and the money crop grown for the outside market. Clearly the first, the subsistence crop, is in history the more ancient, it is the one to which payment in kind belonged, and is therefore the one to which it is particularly fitted. There is no reason to think that payment of this tax in kind would be impossible to-day. If it was possible in the past, it is, with modern accessibility, certainly possible to-day.

But, essentially, it needs re-thinking out objectively, leading to a transvaluation of values in the sphere of economics, which, I suggest, is possibly of supreme importance. Payment of taxes in kind, namely in products of the soil, relates economics at the outset to foods. With such taxes, the nation starts to be wealthy actually in terms of food, i.e. in the quality and amount which it receives of them through this payment in kind.

Economics, finance, currency, consequently all take upon themselves a different character and direction. The ship of state and state-finance is seen to have a different rudder, which, though its small-scale movement is separate from the bulky movement of the great vessel, nevertheless determines the direction of that movement.

Through payment of taxes in kind, then, money and finance receive that for which many economic reformers of the day are groping, namely a primary initiation of national economics in things that are vitally necessary to men and without which they could not exist. It may, indeed, be questioned whether there is any other way by which this relation, this initiatory consecration, can be achieved.

Such a primary linkage is certainly attained by payment of taxes in kind on the part of the class which carries out subsistence farming, according to the customary methods of their own countries; for example, in England by mixed farming. The adoption of payment in kind would, I believe, have a particular and unique effect in bringing national finance actually to earth, and to forcing it to start, as does almost all else that is human, from the creative soil itself.

The revival of payment in kind by the peasant or subsistence-farmer is not, therefore, without promising clarifying effects upon the revaluation of economic values. But, apart from this, its revival has for its justification the claims of peasant tradition. Payment in kind is essentially the method of payment relative to the subsistence-farming peasant, and it is the only way by which he can be placed and preserved outside the ambit of the money system.

[The danger of peasants coming undefended within the ambit of the money system has been shown recently in the Nyasaland Protectorate. A Committee was appointed by the Governor in 1933 to enquire into the cause of the exodus of working males from Nyasaland which "brought misery and poverty to hundreds and thousands of families ... the waste of life, happiness, is colossal." One half of the young able-bodied is said to be abroad working chiefly in the mines of neighbouring countries. The chief reason is that these agrarians have to get something to which they are unaccustomed, namely cash for the cash payment of the hut or poll tax. This, says the Report, is the "omnipresent and overwhelmingly important cause of the exodus." Like trouble and like cause are reported from Swaziland, Bechuanaland, and Basutoland, and also from the Belgian Congo. They form striking examples of the effect on peasants of what seems natural enough to an urban: a money tax.]

With purely money-crops grown by the agrarian, a money tax seems more congruous. It is the growing of money-crops which takes agrarian India into "the vortex of world prices and markets and whether she likes it or not can never get out of it," as Mr. Brayne fatedly expresses it. The danger is much lessened by a combination with subsistence farming. In West Africa, for example, where the peasants cultivate such money-crops as cocoa, their subsistence farming enables them to carry on throughout a slump or period of depression, though they forego their luxuries.


Next chapter

Table of Contents
1. British and Native Systems of Government in India
2. Conflicting Dominant Ideas
3. The First Agricultural Path
4. The Second Agricultural Path
5. The Degradation of the Peasants
6. The Ascendancy of the Town
7. The Degradation of the Soil
8. The Village System
9. The Restoration of the Peasants

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