Agrarian social structure refers to all those settlements and groupings of people who earn their livelihood primarily by cultivating land and by carrying out related activities like animal husbandry. Agricultural production or cultivation is obviously an economic activity. However, like all other economic activities, agricultural production is carried out in a framework of social relationships. Those involved in cultivation of land also interact with each other in different social capacities. Some may self-cultivate the lands they own while others may employ wage labourers or give their land to tenants and sharecroppers. Not only do they interact with each other but they also have to regularly interact with various other categories of people who provide them different types of services required for cultivation of land. For example, in the old system of jajmani relations in the Indian countryside, those who owned and cultivated land had do depend for various services required at different stages of cultivation on the members of different caste groups.
- All these interactions are carried out in an institutional set-up. The most important aspects of this social or institutional framework of agriculture are the patterns of land ownership and the nature of relationships among those who own or possess land and those who cultivate the lands. Agricultural practices and the land ownership patterns in a given society evolve historically over a long period of time. Those who own land invariably command a considerable degree of power and prestige in the rural society. It is these sets of relationships among the owners of land those who provide various forms of services to the land-owning groups that we call the agrarian class structure.
- Agrarian social structure in a given society evolves overa long period of time. It is shaped historically by different socio-economic and political factors. These historical factors vary from region to region. Thus, though one can use the concept of class to make sense of agrarian structures in different contexts, the empirical realities vary from region to region.
- The traditional Indian “rural communities” and the agrarian social structures were organized within the framework of “jajmani system”. This was a peculiarly Indian phenomenon. The different caste groups in the traditional Indian village were divided between jajmans (the patrons) and the kamins (the menials). The Jajmans were those caste groups who owned and cultivated lands. The kamins provided different kinds of services to the jajmans. While the kamins were obliged to work for the jajmans, the latter were required to pay a share from the farm produce to their kamins. The relationship was based on a system of reciprocal exchange.
- However, those who participated in this system of reciprocal exchange did not do so on equal footings. Those who belonged to the upper castes and owned land were obviously more powerful than those who came from the menial caste groups. The structure of agrarian relations organized within the framework of jajmani reinforced the inequalities of the caste system. The caste system, in turn, provided legitimacy to the unequal land relations.
- Over the years the jajmani system has disintegrated and rural society has experienced profound changes in its social structure. The agrarian class structure has also changed. These changes have been produced by a large number of factors.
Evolution of land tenure system
- The agrarian policies of the British colonial rulers are regarded as among the most important factors responsible for introducing changes in the agrarian structure of the sub-continent. In order to maximize their incomes from land (which was collected from the cultivators in the form of land revenue), they introduced some basic changes in the property relations in the Indian countryside.
- These agrarian policies of the colonial rulers had far reaching consequences. In Bengal and Bihar, in parts of Chennai and United Province they conferred full ownership rights over the erstwhile zamindars that were only tax collecting intermediaries during the earlier regimes. The vast majority of peasants who had been actually cultivating land became tenants of the new landlords. Similarly, they demanded revenues in the form of a fixed amount of cash rather than as a share from what was produced on the land. Thus, even when bad weather destroyed the crop; the peasants were forced to pay the land revenue.
- These changes led to serious indebtedness among the peasantry. They were forced to mortgage their land in order to meet the revenue demands. In the long run it led to peasants loosing their lands to moneylenders and big landowners. The big landowners and money lenders emerged as a dominant class in the countryside while the ordinary peasants suffered In the new agrarian class structure that emerged during the colonial rule, peasants had no motivation to improve their lands and work hard. As a result the agricultural production declined.
Land Revenue Systems during British Rule
- After gaining control of Bengal in 1757, the British thought that they would retain the administration established by the Nawabs of Bengal but would use it to collect an ever – growing amount for themselves. However, the rapacity and corruption of the Company’s employees, and their continual interference in the administration led to complete disorganization, and was one of the main of the terrible famine of 1769 – 70, in which it was estimated that one – third of the population of Bengal died.
- From 1772 therefore, a new system was introduced and this was the system of farming of land revenue. Under this system the right of collection of land revenue was given on a contract basis. The contractor who offered to pay the highest amount from a certain district or sub-division was given full powers for a certain number of years. Obviously, such contractors (they were called revenue farmers in those days), would try and extort as much as possible during the period that they held the contract; it would not matter to them if the people were ruined and the production in the later years declined. After all they would have made their profit Extortion and oppressions were the obvious results of such a system. Furthermore, many of the contractors had offered to pay very large amounts, and later found that they could not collect so much, even with great oppression. Finally, the system also led to corruption. As with many government contracts even today, profitable contracts on very easy terms were given to the friends and favourites and benamidars of men in power, leading to loss to the government.
The Permanent Settlement in Bengal
- In 1786 Lord Cornwallis was sent out to India with orders to clean up and reorganize the administration. Cornwallis realized that the existing system was impoverishing the country- its agriculture was in decline. Furthermore, it was failing to produce the large and regular surplus that the Company hoped for. And it was also becoming difficult for the Company to get the large quantities of Indian goods that it planned to export to Europe, because, as Cornwallis observed the production of silk, cotton, etc. all depended on agriculture. When agriculture was decaying, handicrafts could hardly be prosperous. And both the London authorities and Cornwallis were agreed that much of the corruption and oppression originated in the fact that the taxation had the character of an uncertain, arbitrary imposition.
- It was decided therefore, that the land-tax would now be permanently fixed: the government would promise never to increase it in future. Several effects were expected from this measure. It would reduce the scope for corruption that existed when officials could alter the assessment at will. Furthermore, now that the state would not demand anything extra if the production increased thus it was hoped that landholders would invest money in improving the land as the whole of the benefit would come to them. Production and trade would increase, and the government would also get its taxes regularly. Finally, Cornwallis believed that even if the land tax was fixed government could always levy taxes on trade and commerce in order to raise more money if it was needed. In any case, the land revenue was now fixed at a very high level – an absolute maximum – of Rs. 2 Crore and 65 lakhs.
Settlement with Zamindars
- The Nawabs of Bengal had collected taxes from the Zamindars. These Zamindars were usually in control of large areas: sometimes entire districts. They had their own armed forces, and were termed Rajas. But there were also Zamindars who held smaller areas, and either paid directly to the State, or paid through some big Zamindar. The actual cultivation was carried on by peasants who paid the Zamindars at customary rates fixed in every sub- division (or Pargana). Oppressive Zamindars often added extra charges called Abwabs on top of the regular land revenue rates.
- By 1790 British rule had greatly confused this picture. Some Zamindars were retained – others were replaced by contractors or officials. The old customary rates were ignored and every abuse permitted if it led to an increase in the revenues. By the time Cornwallis arrived on the scene, the situation was one of the complete confusion. The new Governor – General belonged to the landed aristocracy of Britain and was in favour of a settlement that gave the right of ownership to zamindars.
- To understand this you must bear in mind that there must have been about four or five million cultivating families in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa at that time. Collecting from them would have involved the preparation of detailed records of all their holdings, and the calculation of a tax on this basis. This would take several years and a large staff to execute. In addition it would give great opportunities for corruption. It was obviously much simpler to collect the revenue from a small number of big Zamindars – and this was the arrangement made under the Permanent Settlement that was introduced in Bengal and Bihar in 1793. Every bit of agricultural land in these provinces therefore became part of some Zamindari. The Zamindar had to pay the tax fixed upon it if he did so then he was the proprietor, the owner of his Zamindari. He could sell mortgage or transfer it The land would be inherited by heirs in due course. If however, the Zamindar failed to pay the tax due, then the Government would take the Zamindari and sell it by auction, and all the rights would vest in the new owner.
- Ram Krishna Mukherjee said that this was no less a social revolution. It changed the whole structure. There were many new people who became land owners. Land was made into commercial commodity. This commercialization did not help either Indian agriculture or peasant. Most landlords were traders and merchants who did not have any interest in development of agriculture. Even then commercialization changed the social structure of Bengal and other areas, where this system was implemented.
- Zamindari system changed many things but it had negative impacts. Banerjee and Iyer said long after independence that these areas remained backward in agricultural terms. They were lagging behind compared to other areas in all terms. Zamindari system was tyrannical to the peasant It has less production and it did not in prove agriculture.
The Position of the Cultivators
- The actual cultivation of the land was, of course, carried on by the lakhs of peasants who were now reduced to the status of tenants of the Zamindars Cornwallis had also decreed that the Zamindars should issue written agreements (called pattas) to each cultivator, and these should specify what the tenant was to pay. He apparently believed that this would prevent oppression by the Zamindars. In practice, however, no such pattas were issued, and the peasants were wholly at the mercy of the Zamindars.
- This was not accidental. As we have noted earlier, the permanent assessment was the largest sum that could be got from the land It was a heavy and oppressive assessment. According to the estimate of a knowledgeable official John Shore, if a piece of land produced crops worth Rs.100, then Rs. 45 went to the government, Rs. 15 to the zamindar and only Rs. 40 was left to the cultivator. Such oppressive taxes could only be collected by oppressive methods. If the zamindars were not allowed to oppress the peasants then they would not be able to meet the demands of the State. By regulations made in 1794, 1799 and 1812, the zamindar could seize, that is, carry away the tenant’s property if the rent had not been paid. He did not need the permission of any court of law to do this. This was a legal method of harassment. In addition to this the zamindars often resorted to illegal methods, such as locking up or beating tenants who did not pay whatever was demanded. The immediate effect of the Settlement was, therefore, to greatly worsen the position of the actual cultivators of the soil in order to benefit the zamindars and the British Government.
Effects of the Permanent Settlement
- It may seem that the settlement was greatly in favour of the zamindars but we should not forget that they were also now obliged to paya fixed amount by fixed dates every year, and any failure on their part meant the sale of the zamindari. Furthermore, many of the zamindaris were rated for large sums that left no margin for shortfalls due to flood drought or other calamity. As a result, many zamindars had their zamindaris taken away and sold in the decades immediately after the permanent Settlement. In Bengal alone, it is estimated that 68 percent of the zamindari land was sold between 1794 and 1819. Merchants, government officials, and other zamindars bought these lands. The new buyers would then set about trying to increase the rents paid by the tenants in order to make a profit from their purchases. Raja Rammohan Roy remarked that “Under the permanent settlement since 1793, the landholders have adopted every measure to raise the rents, by means of the power put into their hands”.
- However, many zamindars still found it difficult to pay the amount demanded by the British. One such zamindar, the Raja of Burdwan then divided most of his estate into lots or fractions called patni taluqas. Each such unit was permanently rented to a holder called a Patnidar, who promised to pay a fixed rent If he did not pay, his patni could be taken away and sold Other zamindars also resorted to this: thus a process of subinfeudation commenced.
- Gradually the population of Bengal increased; waste and jungle land came under cultivation. Rents also increased On the other hand the tax payable to government was fixed so the position of the zamindars improved and they were able to lead lives of indolence and luxury at the expense of their tenants. Only in 1859 did the State take some step to protect the rights of tenants: a law passed that year bestowed a limited protection on old tenants, who were now termed occupancy tenants.
- The task of fixing the tax, or settling the revenue was a difficult task. The revenue was to be fixed on thousands of fields in a sub-division or district, and to fix it in such a way that the burden on each such field is approximately equal. If the burden is not equally distributed then the cultivators will not occupy the heavily assessed fields, and cultivate only those with a light assessment.
- Now, in fixing the assessment of a field the revenue officer had to consider two things: one was the quality of the soil – whether it was rocky or rich, irrigated or dry etc.; the other was area of the field It followed therefore, that this system depended on a survey and classification of land according to it. Thus one acre of first class rice land should pay the same amount regardless of whether it was located in this village or that one.
- Munro usually fixed it by estimating what the usual product of the land was – for example – 2600 lbs. of paddy per acre. He would then claim that the State share of this amounted to one third or two – fifths of this, and thus calculate the amount that the cultivator had to pay the State. This, of course is the theory of Ryotwari – in practice, the estimates were largely guesswork, and the amounts demanded so high that they could be collected with great difficulty, and sometimes could not be collected at all.
Effects of the Ryotwari system in Madras and Bombay
- The Permanent Settlement had established a few big zamindars in a position of dominance over the mass of the peasants. The social effects of the Ryotwari settlements were less dramatic. In many areas the actual cultivating peasants were recorded as the occupants or ryots, and thus secured the title to their holdings. However the tax was so heavy that many peasants would have gladly abandoned at least some of their land and had to be prevented from doing so. It was also possible for non – cultivating landlords to have their names entered as the occupants (or owners) of particular holdings, while the actual cultivation was carried on by their tenants, servants or even bonded labourers. This was particularly the case in irrigated districts like Thanjavur (in Tamil Nadu) where many of the ryots held thousands of acres of land. There was no limit to the amount of land that a ryot could hold so there could be great difference in wealth and status between one ryot and another. However, money- lenders and other non – cultivators were not much interested in acquiring lands because of the heavy taxes that came with them. Hence the small peasants, oppressed though they might be by the tax – collector did not have to fear expropriation by the money – lender or landlord.
- Shekhar Bando Padhyaya said this was not so sound a system as it has propagated and mostly poligar (Palegars) became Ryotwars.
- In opinion of B.R. Mishra, despite different system of revenue, there was collective land in all the village and there was common land also.
- Baden Powell has supported this argument but said that land revenue system was arbitrary as in the central provinces, there was no logic for Zamindari system.
- Under the reformed Ryotwari system that gradually developed in Bombay after 1836 and Madras after 1858 the burden of the land revenue was somewhat reduced, and land acquired a saleable value. The purchaser could now expect to make a profit from owning land: the State would not take it all as tax. One result of this was that money- lenders began to seize the lands of their peasant debtors and either evict them or reduce them to tenants. This process led to considerable social tension, and caused a major rural uprising in the Bombay Deccan in 1875.
The Mahalwari System
- The aggressive policies of Lord Wellesley led to large territorial gains for the British in North India between 1801 and 1806. These areas came to be called the North -Western Provinces. Initially the British planned a settlement on the Bengal pattern, Wellesley ordered the local officials to make the settlement with the zamindars wherever they could, provided they agreed to pay suitably high land revenue. Only if the zamindars refused to pay, or if zamindars could not be found then only the settlements was to be made village by village giving the preference to the Mokuddums, Perdhauns, or any respectable ryots of the village. Ultimately, the settlement was to be made permanent, as in Bengal. In the meantime, however, every effort was made to enlarge the revenue collection. The demand in 1803-04 was Rs.188 lakhs and by1817-18 it became Rs. 290 lakhs.
- Such enormous increases provoked resistance from many of the big zamindars and rajas, who had been almost independent in the earlier period Many of them were therefore driven off their lands by the new administration. In other cases the old zamindars could not pay the amount demanded and their estates were sold by the Government Increasingly, therefore, it became necessary to collect revenue from the village directly through its Pradhan or Muqaddam (headman). In the revenue records the word used for a fiscal unit was a Mahal and the village wise assessment therefore came to be called as Mahalwari settlement. It was however quite possible for one person to hold a number of villages, so that many big zamindars continued to exist. Furthermore, as in Bengal the confusion and coercion that accompanied the collection of the very heavy land tax created fine opportunities for the local officials, and large areas of land were illegally acquired by them in the early years. Meanwhile, the Government found that its expenditures were always exceeding its revenues, and the idea of a permanent settlement was dropped.
Effects of the Mahalwari Settlement
- One of the early effects was that the areas under the control of the big Taluqdars were reduced The British officers made direct settlements with the village zamindars as far as possible, and even supported them in the law courts when the Taluqdars brought suits against them. But the so-called village zamindars were supported only because it was planned to extract the highest possible revenue from them. They were freed from Taluqdar’s claims only to subject them to a full measure of government taxation.
- The result was often the ruin of the village zamindars. One officer reported that in many villages of Aligarh: “the Jama (land revenue) was in the first place considerably too heavy; and in which the Malgoozars revenue payers seem to have lost all hope of improving their condition or of bearing up against the burden imposed on them. They are now deeply in debt, and utterly incapable of making any arrangements for defraying their arrears”.
- The result of this situation was that large areas of land began to pass into the hands of Money-lenders and merchants who ousted the old cultivating proprietors or reduced them to tenants at will. This occurred most frequently in the more commercialized districts, where the land revenue demand had been pushed to the highest level and where the landholders suffered most acutely from the business collapse and export depression after 1833. By the1840s it was not uncommon to find that no buyers could be found to take land that was being sold for arrears of land revenue. As in the Madras Presidency the tax in these cases was so high that the buyer could not expect to make any profit from the purchase. Overall therefore, the Mahalwari settlement brought impoverishment and widespread dispossession to the cultivating communities of North India in the 1830s and 1840s, and their resentment expressed itself in popular uprisings in 1857. In that year villagers and Taluqdars all over North India drove off government officials, destroyed courts and official records and papers, and ejected the new auction purchasers from the villages.
The nationalist leadership during the struggle for freedom had mobilized peasantry on the promise that once the county was liberated from colonial rule, they would introduce changes in the land relations. This process was initiated immediately after independence. The central government directed the state governments to pass “land reform legislations” that would abolish the intermediary landlords, the zamindars, and grant the ownership rights to the actual tillers of the land Some legislation was to also grant security to the tenants. The states also fixed an upper ceiling on the holding size of land that a single household could possess. The surplus land was to be surrendered to the state and was to be redistributed among those who had no land.
The term land reform has been used both in narrow and in a broad sense. In the narrow and generally accepted sense land reform means redistribution of rights in land for the benefit of small farmers and landless people. This concept of land reform refers to its simplest element commonly found in all land reform policies. On the other hand, in a broad sense land reform is understood to means any reform is understood to mean any improvement in the institutions of land system and agricultural organization. This understanding of land reform suggests that land reform measures should go not only for redistribution of land but also undertake other measures to improve conditions of agriculture. The United Nations has accepted this notion of land reform. The UN definition says that the ideal land reform programme is an integrated programme of measures designed to eliminate obstacles to economic and social development arising out of defects in the agrarian structure.
In the present context also, by land reforms we mean all those measures which have been undertaken in India by the government to remove structural obstacles in the agrarian system.
Objectives of Land Reform
There are no universal motives behind land reforms but some common objectives may be found everywhere:
- Social justice and economic equality are the major objectives behind land reforms. The ideal of equality has become part of people’s consciousness in the modern world. Particularly in a traditional hierarchical society, the idea of equality has emerged as a revolutionary force. It also subsumes the elimination of the worst forms of discrimination and poverty. The ideology of equality and social justice has been expressed in terms of programmes like land reforms and poverty alleviation.
- Secondly, nationalism has been another motivation behind land reforms. Most of the developing countries in the world gained independence mainly after the Second World War. Thus, the achievement or national independence has been associated with the removal of institutional structures created during the colonial rule. Such structures may include the ownership of large estates by persons of alien nationality or various forms of land tenures imposed under the colonial rule. The abolition of zamindari in India is an outstanding example. Zamindari, a form of land settlement established during the British rule was a symbol of colonial exploitation. Naturally, it was always a target for the leaders of India’s freedom struggle. Accordingly, its abolition became the goal of the first phase of land reform measures after independence.
- Thirdly, the urge for democracy in contemporary world is another factor behind land reform programes. The idea of democracy has become a moving force in political power. The goal of liberty and justice can be achieved only in a democratic society. In this manner, even the poor and the deprived express, their grievances and articulate their demands in a democratic way. Thus an environment for reforms is created.
- Finally, land reform is taken as a means to increase productivity of land. It is thus considered one of the key issues in economic development in agricultural societies. It has been adopted as central programme for agricultural development. The basic issues of agrarian reorganization are resolved through effective implementation of land reform measures.
Land reforms in India
Land reforms in India got underway both in political factors as well as in organizational mobilization of peasantry. The political factors were associated first with British rule and later with the growth of nationalism. It created a situation in which undertaking land reform measures became a compulsion for the government. Thus, some agrarian legislations which attempt to protect the rights of tenants date back to the middle of the nineteenth century.
The poverty of the people and extreme exploitation of the peasantry by zamindars and moneylenders attracted the attention of political leaders during the freedom struggle. It became an important plank of the programme of the Indian National Congress. A major programme of agrarian reform was presented in 1936 at Jawaharlal Nehru’s initiative and Mahatma Gandhi’s approval. In his presidential address at Faizpur Session of the Congress, Nehru asked for “the removal of intermediaries between the cultivator and State” after which “cooperative or collective farming must follow.”
Almost around the same time, pressure was being created by the increasing number of peasant struggles in different parts of the country. The All India Kisan Sabha in its meeting at Lucknow in 1936 demanded the abolition of Zamindari, occupancy rights for tenant’s redistribution of cultivable waste land to landless labourers and others. In fact, between 1920 and 1946 several peasant organizations emerged which expressed the grievances of the middle and poor peasant. The Kisan Sabha Movement led by Swami Sahajan and Saraswati, the Kheda Agitation of 1918, the Bardoli Satyagrah of 1928, and the Tebhaga Movement of 1946-47 in Bengal were some of the major peasant struggles of the pre Independence days. Agrarian discontent and injustice had spread throughout the country. These grievances were expressed in widespread conflicts between peasants and landlords. But if seen in the context of their goals, these peasant struggles produced positive results. The pressure created by the long drawn struggles compelled the Government to work out plans for the redressal of the complaints of peasants. In this sense, independence assumed historical importance for the land reform programmes that began just after the independence.
Shortly after the independence ample emphasis was put on land reforms as part of the national policy to transform iniquitous agrarian structure. The strategy adopted was to introduce land reforms through land legislation. It was broadly indicated by the Government of India and enacted by the state legislatures.
The primary objectives of land reforms after Independence were :
- To remove motivational and other impediments which arise from the agrarian structure inherited from the past, and
- To eliminate all elements of exploitation and social justice within the agrarian system so as to ensure equality of status and opportunity to all sections of the population.
Programmes of action to achieve these objectives :
- The abolition of all forms of intermediaries between the state and the tiller of the soil.
- Conferment of ownership rights on the cultivating tenants in the land held under their possession.
- Imposition of ceiling on agricultural land holdings.
- consolidation of holdings with a view to making easier the application of modern techniques of agriculture,
- Rationalization of the record of rights in land.
Abolition of Intermediaries : The British rulers introduced three major forms of land settlements- Zamindari, Raiyatwari and Mahalwari – to gain maximum revenue from land Under the Zamindari system the rights of property in land were given to the local rent gatherers. These persons were called Zamindars and belonged generally to the upper castes of the community. This new settlement turned the actual cultivators into tenants. This structural change in the land system created a class of intermediary between the State and the actual tillers of the soil. Under the Raiyatwari system no intermediary owners were recognized. The actual tillers of the soil were given transferable rights in their lands. But under this system also influential Raiyats emerged as powerful landholders. In the Mahalwari settlement too, a class of intermediaries had emerged.
These intermediaries had no interest in land management and improvement Moreover, while the Zamindars were required to pay a fixed amount of revenue to the Government, there was no limit on collections from the actual cultivators. Numerous illegal cesses were imposed from time to time. The Zamindari system allowed a high level of absenteeism. Thus, the system was not only unjust but it was also characterized by acute economic exploitation and social oppression.
It was against this background that abolition of intermediary interests became the first target of land reforms during the early years of the independence. This measure, undertaken all over the country, essentially sought removal of all intermediaries Like Zamindari, Jagirdari and others. It brought cultivators into direct relationship with the State. It conferred permanent rights in land to these actual cultivators. Accordingly, by 1954-55 almost all States abolished intermediary tenures through several land reform legislations. The abolition of intermediary tenures represents a remarkable transition to a modern agrarian structure.
Tenancy reform : Use and occupancy of land of another person on a rental basis is known as tenancy. Tenancy in land has been a widespread practice in different parts of the country. Different forms of tenancy such as the share cropping system, the fixed-kind produce system, the fixed-cash practice have existed both in the Zamindari and Raiyatwari settled areas. Under the system ,the small fanners and landless people lease-in-land for cultivation from rich landowners. These landless cultivators pay rent in kind produce or cash to the landowners in return for land. They are known as tenants (local names are: Adhiars in Assam, Baragadars in West Bengal, Bataidars in Bihar, Warmadars in Tamil Nadu, Kamins in Punjab etc.). These tenants have weak socio-economic position and lack security and protection. They may be evicted any time by the landowners. Thus, they have been tenants- at will for all practical purposes.
In view of large scale prevalence of tenancy, reforms were introduced to rationalize the rights and obligations of various classes of tenants. Tenancy reforms laid emphasis on three major aspects of the problem :
- Regulation of rent
- Security of tenure; and
- Right of purchase for the tenants.
These steps have been taken to improve the condition of cultivating tenants. They have been protected against rack-renting through the regulation of rent. Security of tenure for tenants has regulated eviction from land by the landowners. The tenants have also been conferred ownership rights over the lands cultivated by them as tenants. Over 124.22 lakh tenants have got their rights protected over an area of 156.30 lakh acres till September 2000.
Ceiling on Landholding : The basic objective of fixation of ceiling on landholdings is to acquire land above a certain level from the present landholders for its distribution among the landless. It is primarily a redistributive measure based on the principle of socio-economic justice. The disparity in landownership in India is a well known fact. While nearly one-fourth of rural households have no land at all there were a large number of landholders owning thousands of acres each on the eve of independence. Thus, fixation of ceiling on agricultural holdings has been used as a means to correct this imbalance.
Legislations imposing ceiling on landholdings formed the second phase of land reform package in the independent India. This process began during the Second Five Year Plan in most states. Almost all the states have legislations restricting the size of holdings which a person or family can own. However, the permissible size varies according to the quality of land. Acquisition of land in excess of the ceiling is prohibited. Land rendered surplus to the ceiling is taken over by the state and distributed among the weaker sections of the community.
Though land ceiling laws have been passed within the broader framework suggested by the Central Government, there are differences among various state laws. In all the Acts there are a variety of exemptions from the ceiling. The ceilings fixed are also different. While in most states, the ceilings fixed are vary high, in others ample scope is left for manipulation by the landowners. The process of taking possession of surplus land its distribution among the landless is, rather slow.
The total quantum of land declared surplus in the entire county since inception till September 2000 is 73.49 lakh acres. Out of this, only about 64.84 lakh acres have been taken possession of and 52.99 lakh acres have been distributed The total number of beneficiaries of this scheme in the country is 55.10 lakh, of whom 36 per cent belong to the Scheduled Castes and 15 per cent to the Scheduled Tribes.
Consolidation of Holdings: The fragmentation of landholdings has been an important impediment in agricultural development. Most holdings are not only small but also widely scattered. Thus, legislative measures for consolidation of holdings have been undertaken in most of the states. Major focus has been on the consolidation of the land of a holder at one or two places for enabling them to make better use of resources. Attempts have also been made to take measures for consolidation in the command areas of major irrigation projects.
Land Records : The record of rights in land has been faulty and unsatisfactory. The availability of correct and up-to-date records has always been a problem. It is in view of this that updating of land records has now been made a part of land reform measures.
Nonetheless several states have initiated the process of updating the land records through revisional surveys and settlements. Steps have also been taken to computerize these records. A centrally sponsored Scheme on Computerization of Land Records has been launched with a view to remove the problems inherent in the manual system of maintenance and updating of land records.
However, progress in this respect has been poor. The Five Year Plan documents say that “in several States, information regarding tenants, sub-tenants and crop-sharers has not been obtained yet” It has further been highlighted that large areas of the country still do not have up-to-date land records. The main reason behind this has been strong opposition of big landowners.
Though the legislations were passed by all the states, only in some cases they produced desired effects. It has been argued that only in those parts of the country where peasants were politically mobilized that the land reforms could be effectively implemented. While the zamindari system was abolished in most parts, the ceiling legislations had very little effect.
- The process of agrarian reforms is inherently a political question. The choices made by the Indian state and the actual implementation of land reforms were determined by the politics of the new regime rather than by the theoretical superiority of a particular position. The Indian state chose to reorganize agrarian relations through redistribution of land but not in a comprehensive and radical manner. Joshi described it as sectorial or sectional reforms. The Government of India directed its states to abolish intermediary tenures, regulate rent and tenancy rights, confer ownership right son tenants, impose ceilings on holdings, distribute the surplus land among the rural poor and facilitate consolidation of holdings. A large number of legislations were passed by the state government over a short period of time.
- However most of the legislations provided loopholes that allowed the dominant landowners to tamper with land records by redistributing land among relatives, evicting their tenants and using other means to escape the legislations. In the absence of concerted political will land reforms could succeed only in regions where the peasantry was politically mobilized and could exert pressure from below.
- S.R. Hashmi, an agrarian economist said that the land reform measure had three drawbacks-
- There were many loopholes in the laws and land owners were sufficiently capable of using these loopholes by the their lawyers. Arun Sinha said, Judiciary had fair representation of land owners and they contributed to its demise.
- The political leadership was not in favour of these measure because on the one hand they feared that this may go against them in elections and on other hand in most cases they themselves were from large land owning families.
- They are not ready to implement them. This was the nature of ‘soft state’ as Gunnar Myrdal pointed out.
- Despite overall failure, land reforms succeeded in weakening the hold of absentee landlords over rural society and assisted in the emergence of a class of substantial peasants and petty landlords as the dominant political and economic group. For example in Rajasthan though the abolition of jagirs was far from satisfactory it made considerable difference to the overall land ownership patterns and to the local and regional power structures. The Rajputs possessed much less land after the land reforms than they did before. Most of the village land had moved into the hands of those who could be called small and medium landowners. In qualitative terms most of the land begins to be self-cultivated and the incidence of tenancy declined considerably. The fear of losing land induced many potential losers to sell or rearrange their lands in a manner that escaped legislations.
- T. Besley and R. Burgers in their studies of 2000 of 16 states said land eading act had no impact either on productivity or on poverty.
- However in few cases the landless labourers living in the countryside most of whom belonged to the ex-touchable castes received land. The beneficiaries by and large belonged to middle level caste groups who traditionally cultivated land as a part of the calling of their castes. While land reforms were supposed to deal with the problem of landlordism, the hold of moneylenders over the peasantry was to be weakened by providing credit through institutional sources initially by credit societies and later by the nationalized commercial banks. According to the findings of an official survey carried out immediately after Independence from colonial rule up to approximately 91% of the credit needs of cultivators were being met by informal sources of credit. Much of this came from moneylenders. Indian state planned to expand the network of cooperative credit societies. With the imposition of social control and later their nationalization, commercial banks were also asked to lend to the agricultural sector on priority basis. Over the years the dependence of rural households on informal sources has come down significantly. The assessment studies on the cooperative credit societies showed that much of their credit went to the relatively better of sections of rural society and the poor continued to depend on the more expensive informal sources. This was explained as a consequence of the prevailing structure of land tenures. The state response was to bureaucratize the cooperative societies. Though in some regions this helped in releasing credit societies from the hold of big landowners, bureaucratization also led to rampant corruption and increasing apathy among those whom they were supposed to serve.
- Yet despite inherent bias of institutional credit against the rural poor, its availability played an important role in making the green revolution a success and definitely helped to marginalize the professional moneylender in the rural power structure. Despite many loopholes, apart from increasing productivity of land, these changes have transformed the social framework of the Indian agriculture. Agriculture in most parts of India is now carried out on commercial lines. The old structure of jajmani relations has more or less completely disintegrated giving way to more formalized arrangements among the cultivators and those who work for them. Some scholars have these changes indicate that capitalist form of production is developing in agriculture and a new class structure is emerging in the Indian countryside.
- R.S. Deshpande in his book current land policy issues in India (2000) wrote globalization has changed very question of land In opinion of ManpreetSethi. In the current context, there is emphasis on productivity and market World bank and MNCs are supporting rich peasants who are not allowing small peasant to get any grants from the government.
- By as (1999) said 149 million hectares or 43% of all land has become polluted and another 34 million hectare land is on the verge of getting polluted. According to By as land question today should not only be concerned with land redistribution rather the environmental protection should be considered.
Jajmani System in Rural Society
- The notion of the jajmani system was popularized by colonial ethnography. It tended to conceptualize agrarian social structure in the framework of exchange relations. In its classical construct: different caste groups specialized in specific occupations and exchanged their services through an elaborate system of division of labor. Though asymmetry in position of various caste groups was recognized what it emphasized was not inequality in rights over land but the spirit of community. Wiser argued each served the other. Each in turn was master. Each in turn was servant. This system of inter relatedness in service within Hindu community was called theJajmani system. Central to such a construction of exchange is the idea of reciprocity (Gouldner) with the assumption that it was a non-exploitative system where mutual gratification was supposed to be the outcome of the reciprocal exchange.
- Inter-caste relations at the village level constitute vertical ties. They may be classified into economic, ritual political and civic ties. The castes living in a village are bound together by economic ties. Generally peasant castes are numerically preponderant in villages and they need the carpenter; blacksmith and leather worker castes to perform agricultural work. Servicing castes such as priest; barber, and washerman and water carrier cater to the needs of everyone except the Harijans. Artisan castes produce goods which are wanted by every one. Most Indian villages do not have more than a few of the essential castes and depend on neighboring villages for certain services, skills and goods.
- In rural India with its largely subsistence and not fully monetized economy the relationship between the different caste groups in a village takes a particular form. The essential artisan and servicing castes are paid annually in grain at harvest time. In some parts of India the artisan and servicing castes are also provided with free food clothing, fodder and residential site. On such occasions as birth, marriage and death, these castes perform extra duties for which they are paid customary money and some gifts in kind. This type of relationship is found all over India and is called by different names-jajmani in north, bara balute in Maharashtra, mirasi in Tamil Nadu and adade in Karnataka.
- Oscar Lewis defined jajmani system as that under which each caste group within a village is expected to give certain standardized services to the families of other castes. ]ajmani is more than a relationship between families than between castes. ]ajmani is sort of mutual give and take form of relationship in which one family is hereditarily entitled to supply goods and render services to the other in exchange of the same. The person rendering the services or supplying the goods is known as kameen or prajan and the person to whom the services are rendered is called a jajman. Thus under jajmani system a permanent informal bond is made between jajman and kameen to meet each other’s need for good and services.
Main features of Jajmani System
The Jajmani system is characterized by the following features :
- Unbroken relationship- Under the jajmani system the kameen remains obliged to render the services throughout his life to a particular jajman and the jajman in turn has the responsibility of hiring services of a kameen.
- Hereditary relationship- Jajmani rights are enjoyed hereditarily. After the death of a man his son is entitled to work as kameen for the same jajman family of families. The son of a jajman also accepts the son of the kameen as his kameen.
- Multidimensional relationship- Due to the permanency of relationship both the jajman and kameen families become mutually dependent on each other. The relationship becomes very deep. They often take part in the personal and family affairs, family rituals and ceremonies.
- Barter exchange-Under jajmani system the payments are made mainly in terms of goods and commodities. The kameen gets his necessities from the jajman in return of his services. The jajmani system has gradually decayed in modern society. There are many reasons responsible for it. Modern economic system that measures everything in terms of its monetary value. The decline of belief in caste system and hereditary occupation has given a strong blow to the system. Growth of better employment opportunities outside the village and introduction of new transport options.
Role of Caste in Rural Society
- Caste stands as a pivot of rural social structure. It acts as the most powerful determinant of individual behavior and social order in rural unity. Caste is the determinant of individual status and role. It determines the status of the individual as soon as he takes birth. Hutton says that the system provides him from birth a fixed social milieu from which neither wealth nor property, success nor disaster can remove him unless of course he so violates standards of behavior lay down by the caste.
- Caste also guides the behavior of an individual in his conduct, his association and interaction. It has helped maintain the continuity of social order by preserving its pattern of culture and traditions. It plays a vital role in the process of socialization by teaching individuals the culture and traditions; values and norms of their society.
- It unifies society in a chain by assigning different places and positions to different groups. It works as the basis of division of labor in society which keeps society away from tensions and conflicts arising out of competition for occupation, power and prestige.
- Caste also has a deep influence in the religious lives of rural people. The notion of karma and dharma kept social and economic system intact. Performance of rituals, worshipping of different kinds of Gods and Goddesses and celebration of festivals are determined by the caste system.
- There are some negative aspects according to P.N Bose the caste system has acted essentially to impose that attitude of mind needed to raise men from savagery but to stop them halfway on progress. Caste acts as a barrier to modernization. Modernization essentially needs a change in outlook and mentality along with socioeconomic development. It has hindered development as it imposes strict rules regarding occupation of different people. The society characterized by the caste system is a closed one permitting very little or no social mobility. It acts as a perpetuating force of social inequality and untouchability. lt is based on inequality of status and opportunities which often creates conflict and tension in the society.
Agrarian Changes After Independence In Rural Society :
- In many ways independence from colonial rule in 1947 marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of Indian agriculture. Having evolved out of a long struggle against colonial rule with the participation of the people from various social categories, the Indian state also took over the task of supervising the transformation of its stagnant and backward economy to make sure that the benefits of economic growth were not monopolized entirely by a particular section of society. It is with this background that development emerged as a strategy of economic change and an ideology of the new regime.
- However at the micro-level the structures that evolved during colonial rule still continued to exist. The local interests that had emerged over a long period of time continued to be powerful in the Indian countryside even after the political climate had changed. According to Daniel Thorner, the earlier structure of land relations and debt dependencies where a small section consisting of few landlords and money lenders were dominant continued to prevail in the Indian countryside. The nature of property relations, the local values that related social prestige negatively to physical labour and the absence of any surplus with the actual cultivator for investment on land ultimately perpetuated stagnation. This complex of legal economic and social relations typical of Indian countryside served to produce an effect that Thorner described as a built -in depressor.