The Story of the Raiyat *

According to our scriptures this world is like a strange tree which has its roots above. It grows from the top and spreads its branches downwards; which means it is not standing on its own, it is hanging from above.

Reading your 'Raiyater katha' (The story of the raiyat) it seems to me that our politics is of a similar kind. At the time of its birth the Congress party was found to have struck its roots among those who rule us ' both for its sustenance and existence it was dependant on the same higher sphere.

Those whom we call gentlemen appear to have decided among themselves that politics consisted in their sharing the power of ruling this country with its rulers. All its fights, truces and treaties were to be conducted with lectures from the podiums and writings in the pages of newspapers and the weapon to be used was the King's English ' sometimes it was an incessant whining for some small pittance and sometimes it was the heated expression of some anger. And when this whirlwind of voluble verbosity is creating airy bubbles in the upper atmosphere those who are the sons of the soil are being born and dying as they have done for generations ' they are ploughing their fields, weaving their cloth, feeding both men and beasts with their flesh and blood and lying full length they are bowing before the temple of the very god who loses his purity by their mere touch, they are laughing and crying in their mother tongue and with all kinds of indignities pouring in on their head like a heavy shower they are striking their forehead with their hands and saying, 'It's all our fate!' Between those politicians and the common people of our country there is an immeasurable distance.

Today that politics has turned its face in another direction just like a lady feeling hurt and offended in her love turns her face away from her lover, telling her friend, 'No, I won't look at those black clouds any more'. So long it was a time for courtship and love tryst, but now the relationship has soured and is threatened by separation. The style has changed but the game goes on. Previously we said very emphatically, 'We want', now we are saying equally emphatically, 'We don't want'. We however hasten to add that we want to improve the conditions of our villagers. In other words, we want to say that they are our own people and the rulers are not. But we exhaust all our energies, both vocal and physical, in noisily shouting 'we don't want'. What we want we utter in a very feeble voice. What little money we are able to collect is spent in organizing the political fracas of our gentlemen and what remains for the welfare of our villagers is only some noise. That means, from the beginning of our modern day politics we have been practicing what may be called an unidentifiable patriotism, precluding from it the people of our country.

Those who supply money for the practice of this kind of hollow patriotism are either zamindars or factory owners and those who supply noise are legal practitioners. The villagers have no place among them; that means in this ghostly world what we call our country is not to be found. They have no power, either of making noise or of money. When civil disobedience is launched they may be needed only to die stopping to pay their rents; those who live from hand to mouth are also called sometimes to shut down shops and markets to make a hartal successful. The purpose of all these is to display our unfriendly political stance before our rulers. 

Thus the matter relating to the raiyats always remains postponed. First let the throne be in place, the crown be made, the scepter be brought in and Manchester be pauperized ' only then we shall find the time to attend to the problems of the raiyats. In other words, politics will come first and the people of the country would come later. This is the reason why, like a tailor making a dress, we are busy fashioning the form of our polity. It is very easy because we do not need any living creature to take the measurements. What we have to do is only to send to the tailor a ready made sample borrowed from abroad where the people of those countries made their dress after a lot of experiments keeping in view their physique and their climate. We know the name of the dress ' it has been crammed right from the pages of learned treatises ' because in our factories the name of the product comes long before it is actually produced. They are democracy, parliament, the constitutions of Canada, Australia, South Africa etc, all of which we can imagine with our eyes closed ' because we do not have to take the trouble to take measurements from a living human being. To enjoy this ease we say that we should have swaraj or self-rule first, the people for whom it is meant will come later. Everywhere else in the world people are evolving their self-rule themselves according to their nature, capabilities and needs whereas we are the only people on earth who will have their swaraj on an auspicious first day of January chosen from the almanac and then we will somehow impose it on the people of our free country. Meanwhile there is malaria, there are epidemics, famines, moneylenders, the zamindar, the policeman, the marriage of the daughter like a mill-stone around the neck, the last rites of the mother, taxes of various kinds and above all baring its fearsome jaw there is the rapacious lawyers' court of law.

For all these reasons, I am afraid, in our politics your Raiyater katha will be totally out of context. You are not joining those who are harnessing the horse behind the coach ' not only that, you want to know before harnessing it whether the horse has been fed and has enough strength. Don't you have someone among your friends who can advise you, 'First make it draw the coach and at some auspicious moment you will reach your destination and you will find enough time thereafter to enquire whether the horse is still able to move or it is alive or dead'? You ought to know that in the current politics the time table is ready and the main thing is to get on the coach with your portmanteau. The coach will of course reach no destination, but that is not the fault of the time table; everything would have been right if the horse did its duty rightly. You are prone to argue; in the face of so much enthusiasm you want to pause and say that the horse doesn't move has been the basic problem for a long time. You are very careful and a man of traditional wisdom; therefore you want to know the state of the stable first. But the men of current fashion in their enthusiasm are restless to get on the coach; drawing a similarity with the house-on-fire they are saying, 'We have to reach without any delay and that is the most important thing. It is sheer wastage of time to enquire about the condition of the horse. It is necessary to get on the coach first.' Your Raiyater katha is the story of the horse which may as well be called the story of the root cause of its problems. 

But there are reasons to worry because at present some stout young men have directed their attention towards the raiyats. From the very beginning they have begun to flex their muscles. It is clear that they have found something exotic to imitate. When with a lot of fanfare our mind becomes patriotic it is found that the things which inspire it have 'Made in Europe' stamped on them. Their circumstances have made the Europeans feel a natural urge to experiment with socialism, communism, syndicalism etc. But when we say 'we shall do good to our raiyats' we do so only borrowing some stock phrases from the Europeans. During my recent visit to eastern Bengal I found that some small transient literary groups have sprung up like prickly weeds. Each of them is flying a flag with a bloody message. They are saying, 'Crush them, trample them all under your feet'. In other words let the world be free of zamindars and moneylenders. As if sins could be wiped out by force, as if darkness could be beaten up with a club! The wives for their own safety want to do away with their mothers-in-law by force, but they forget that as mothers-in-law they in their turn will be much worse oppressors of their daughters-in-law. According to our scriptures liberation from the mortal bondage cannot be achieved merely by putting an end to one's life, the bondage has to be uprooted from our inner nature. The Europeans are aggressive by nature. It takes time to uproot sins from within; they cannot wait and so kill people from without.

Imitating the English, as children play with their dolls, once we had started to play a mock game of parliamentarian politics. Because at that time what engaged our attention most was the political ideal of Europe. The European literature of that time that captured our mind glorified people like Mazzini and Garibaldi. Now there a different act of the drama is being played. In the Lanka episode (Lanka kanda) of the Ramayana it was the heroic king who won because the heroine had to be rescued from a monster. But in the epilogue of that epic (Uttar kanda) it is the villain who wins by vilifying the king who in shame has to banish the queen to please his subjects. In times of war the king was important, but now the commoners are prevailing. The theme of our ballad was our victory against the enemy who had invaded us from outside; now the theme of our song is the victory of the courtyard over the citadel. We cannot say that we fully understand the origin and nature of the movements like Bolshevism, Fascism etc that are emerging in the West today, but this much we realize that brute force is gradually becoming entrenched in the society. As clever imitators some of our countrymen have readily started to think that brute force is the most important thing. The world had once sunk under muck and God in His incarnation as a boar (Baraha avatar) raised it with the help of His tusks; these people want to do it with the help of their clubs. They have neither any time nor courage to ponder that the inequality between the high and the low cannot be removed by force. It is rooted in the very psyche of man. If the man who is on the lowest rung today is raised up tomorrow he will equally press upon the man at the bottom. The regimes of the Tsar and the Bolsheviks are two faces of the same monster. It is nothing but insanity to dance wildly in joy after transferring the boil on your left hand to your right hand. Those who are very robust may become insane because of rush of too much blood to their head, but those who are weak and anemic will develop hysteria from the same cause. So when I came to know that in our literature attempts are being made to propagate slogans like, 'Cudgel the moneylender', 'Crush the zamindar into pulp' I realized that the source of these bloody slogans is not their own organism. It is an example of the Bengalis' exceptional capability of imitation highlighted by bold colors. Outwardly it is very exuberant but within it is lifeless. 

I am myself a zamindar; so it may appear that I am anxious to protect my own interests. If I want to do so I cannot be blamed ' it is human nature. Moreover, those who want to save their right and those who try to take it away are both activated by the same motive. And in none of them it is exactly noble; it is sheer instinct of preservation of self-interest. Today if those who want forcibly to take away my right become successful, like a cat that becomes wild when let loose in the jungle, those very people will turn into petty predators before the day is over. The object to be preyed upon may change, but the manner in which teeth and claws are used will by no means be as harmless as that of the vegetarian vaishnavas. From the high-sounding words they are uttering today when trying to take away others' rights I am convinced that they are only devout in their professions. But when the time will come for them to do some altruistic acts I shall certainly see their tongues lolling for non-vegetarian food. Because our professions are in our words but our greed is in our mind. So the zamindar who has been born in the psyche of this land will sprout again in full vigor even after he has been thoroughly crushed like a weed full of thorns. Because the soil has not been changed.

By birth I am a zamindar, but by nature my profession is that of an idle dreamer. That is the reason why sincerely I don't want to cling on to land. I have no respect for it. I know that the zamindar is a blood-sucking leech, a parasite that lives on others. We do not labor, without earning a farthing, without taking any responsibility we enjoy wealth and make our body unfit and our mind idle. We do not belong to the class of people who win the right to enjoy luxury by dint of their vigorous efforts. Our tenants supply our sustenance and our servants put it into our mouth ' it is neither manly nor something to be proud of. There is of course a feeling of pride in imagining oneself as a petty king. Rummaging through the old papers from the archive you have broken that pleasant dream. You want to prove that we are no more than hereditary revenue agents of the British rulers. We are receiving commission from the king yet we are calling ourselves kings and our tenants subjects ' what a deception indeed! Isn't it better to give up such zamindari? But to whom? To another zamindar? In the game Jack-the-thief to whomsoever we may pass on the jack it will not stop the thieving jack from doing mischief. Shall I give it to the tenants? Soon it will give rise to ten small zamindars in place of one big zamindar. And I cannot say that there is much of a difference between a big and a small leech in their blood sucking inclination. In your view land should belong to the actual tiller. But how is it possible if it remains a tradable commodity and there is no bar to its transfer? It stands to reason to say that books should belong to the man who reads them. The man who does not read but only keeps them neatly stacked on a shelf deprives the man who uses them in a useful manner. But if there is no bar to the sale of books from a Pataldanga book shop then how is it to be ensured that the man who has a shelf but is not learned will not buy them? In this world shelves are much cheaper than knowledge. This is the reason why books end up in the shelves of the rich and not on the desks of the learned. The picture that is painted by the man blessed by the goddess of learning is ultimately owned by the man who has been blessed by the goddess of wealth. It is not because he has a right but because he has enough money in the bank. In such circumstances some men with a hot temperament but lacking money get excited. They say, 'Kill those moneyed men and take away the pictures.' But as long as the painter has hunger, as long as the paintings continue to come to the market no body will succeed in stopping the paintings from going to the man having a lot of money.

If land is sold in the open market then it will be least possible for the tiller to buy it; most of it is bound to go to the man who does not cultivate but has money. It is also true that the incidence of land transfer will increase with the passage of time, because due to inheritance the holdings will get increasingly subdivided and smaller in size rendering them incapable of supporting the cultivators' families. For poverty cases of transfer of land will increase. This is how small holdings end up being caught in large numbers in the big nets of the local moneylenders. Like grains the cultivators get crushed between two grind-stones. When there is the zamindar alone the cultivators may have some right in their land but when the moneylender steps in to join the former little of that right remains. I have saved many of my raiyats from bankruptcy by stressing on the prohibitions against transfer of land. In the process however I did not deprive the moneylender of his dues; I only compelled him to come to a compromise. Sometimes I found it impossible to save some tenants in this manner. When they realized that crying before me was in vain they cried before God. It is not the subject of this essay to consider whether they will ever get any compensation in the world beyond this world. 

It was the zamindar who saved his raiyats during the time of indigo cultivation when the indigo planter tried to take away their land by catching them in the trap of loans and advances. Had there been no law prohibiting transfer of land at that time the land of the raiyat would have been swept away by the indigo flood. Suppose today for some reason with a view to establish a monopoly in the trading of the agricultural produce of Bengal the Marwari businessmen intend to take away the land of the raiyats. They can easily do it thereby extracting all the sap of Bengal through the operation of their business like an oil mill. There is no reason to think that some of them have not already thought so. If they face obstacles to earn profits from their present business they are bound to seek this kind of channel to invest their blocked capital. Now the question is ' will it be good for the raiyats to dig a canal that will facilitate the inflow of flood waters to drown them?

The basic problem is this ' the raiyats are very simple; they are illiterate, weak and extremely poor. They don't know how to protect themselves. None is more dangerous than those among them who know it. Nobody knows better than me how dangerous can be a raiyat who thrives on other raiyats. The devil himself is present in his various forms in the various modes of their operation through which they gradually fatten themselves into a zamindar. They don't feel any qualm of conscience in committing forgery, instituting false civil and criminal cases, arson and looting. Repeated imprisonments harden them into expert criminals. Like big businesses in America gobbling up small businesses the more powerful raiyats by hook or by crook misappropriates the small holdings of weak raiyats and become zamindars. In the beginning they themselves cultivated their lands, sold their crop in the market carrying it in their own carts drawn by their own bullocks; except their cunning character they were in no way different from other raiyats. But as the extent of their landed property grows bigger and bigger they begin to use clubs in place of their fingers. The outer limits of their bellies bulge out; they need a dumpy bolster behind their back, by conducting false civil and criminal cases they become prosperous and there is no end to their blustering and bullying. Small fries can escape through big nets but small nets do not spare even the smallest fry, all of them get caught. And these smallest fries are the small raiyats.

In this connection one thing needs to be borne in mind ' the real skill of the litigant is seen in his capability to turn the unfavorable provisions of law in his own favor. To hit back with the same law which is likely to hit one is the lawyer's masterly trick like that of a master wrestler. Many master wrestlers are engaged in this job. So long as the raiyat remains poor in both cunning and money he is likely to fall in deep waters even where the law is in his favor. 

It is neither pleasing to say nor to hear that the raiyat should not be allowed to use his land in the manner he would like. In a sense full freedom also includes the freedom to cause harm to one's own self. But such freedom suits him who is not immature as a child. To prohibit someone who is a mature person to walk along a road which is used by motor cars is nothing but an unlawful restriction; but if we do not prohibit an immature person to use that road we would be guilty of inconsiderate action. From my experience I would like to say that to give the raiyat the right to transfer his land without any restriction is to give him the right to commit suicide. In course of time he will have to be given that right; but will it last long if it is given now? In commenting on your monograph I only express this doubt. 

I know it well that the zamindar is not without greed. Wherever there are restrictions on the right of the raiyat over his land the zamindar gets ample scope to exploit the raiyat. In our society there is a time limit within which daughters are to be married and that time limit gives the party of the groom a scope to squeeze the parents of the bride. These cases are similar. But there are no reasons to feel elated at the prospect of the zamindar's ultimate loss as a result of gradual transfer of land to the moneylenders. To the raiyat the grip of the moneylender is more remorseless than that of the zamindar - even if you don't agree on this point, you must admit that it would be an additional grip.

It is very much true that the rent payable by the raiyat should not be enhanced. The revenue paid by the zamindar to the government will remain fixed forever whereas, like a sentence in which putting commas and semicolons but no full stop are allowed, the enhancement of rent payable by the raiyat to the zamindar will be allowed under certain conditions but cannot be totally stopped is indeed inequitable. In fact it acts as a great disincentive to the improvement of the land. Hence it is harmful not only to the raiyat but also to the country as a whole. Moreover, the bar on felling of trees, erection of pucca (brick-built) houses, digging of ponds etc can by no means be supported. 

These are small issues; the most important thing is ' no law can protect the man who cannot protect himself. And this capability is to be found not in any stray process but in the whole way of life. It is inherent not in law or in the charka (spinning wheel), or in khaddar (home-spun cloth) nor in the right to vote in the Congress party bought with four annas (quarter of a rupee). If we can infuse our villages with life in its full vigor in a comprehensive manner only then their vitality itself will find out the power of self-protection. 

How it is to be achieved? Over this question I have been pondering in my mind and through my work for quite some time. I don't know whether I shall be able to give the right answer, because it takes time. No matter whether I succeed or fail in this, the fact remains that a simple answer has got to be found out. And the answers to all other incidental issues will be found in that answer. Otherwise all ad hoc measures will be wastage of time and who knows if the one for whom they are meant will at all remain so long alive. 


More by :  Rabindranath Tagore

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