Sep 25, 2010

Who, and where, is the feudal?

Nawab Mumtaz Ali Bhutto
"Jagirdar" and "feudal" are terms which, in this day and age, are being used ad nauseam to disparage and ridicule those connected with producing the food on which their tormentors fatten themselves. This raises the question of who, and where, is a jagirdar or feudal? During the British Raj, jagirdars and feudals were brought into being on the pattern of the British noblemen who provided the Crown with armies in times of war. In return, they enjoyed complete control over their fiefdoms, including exemption from taxation. The British created jagirs in India, of which the Talpur, Chandio and Magsi jagirs were the major examples in Sindh.
In 1959, Ayub Khan brought about land reforms which cancelled the jagirs without compensation, while the large land holdings of the zamindars (taxpayers) were reduced to 500 acres per family member. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto brought in further land reforms, which reduced the per person land holdings to 125 acres of irrigated land, and double that of un-irrigated land. This is how it is today, and any large land holdings are the sum total of the holdings of family members which have been pooled together under one management. Thus, it is downright absurd to talk of jagirdars and feudals, unless the term is meant to describe a mindset or mentality -- which has nothing to do with land holdings and is not restricted to the rural areas.
The biggest jagirdars and feudals now exist in the cities. These labels must be given to those who have acquired fame and fortune through corruption, crooked business deals and politics based on terror, with no ideology, principles or programme--the sole object being to become a part of every government that comes into power, just to make money. This category also includes bureaucrats, the land, drugs and weapons mafias, bankers, and industrialists and traders.
The most despicable of these are those who have stuffed Swiss and other foreign banks with stolen public funds. There are also those who hunt with the hounds and run with the hare and are today well entrenched at the banquet table of the "reconciliation" government, fraternising, as always in the past, and will do so in the future if given the chance, with the worst of those they condemn as jagirdars and feudals.
What we do have in the backwoods are waderas and zamindars, most of whom, in turn, are totally gutless. They feel no shame in prostrating themselves before a disreputable adventurer who manipulates his way into power, even though they have the political strength to resist and stand for an honest and respectable dispensation. There are, no doubt, rogues in zamindari, as in every other profession.
Be that as it may, the zamindar is indispensable for food production in the country. The two land reforms failed because this truth was ignored. Eliminate the zamindar, by all means, but not unless you have a clean and dedicated civil service to replace him. This so far has been a utopian concept, and is more so now than ever before. Thus, the consequences of the land reforms have been nothing to boast about. On the contrary, only about 25 per cent of the distributed land benefited the occupying hari while the rest was either sold, leased away or abandoned by him, simply because he could not cope with the odds stacked up against him.
Let us now look at how the sumptuous meals arrive on the plates of the city slickers who complain the most, and what role the zamindar plays in feeding them. The land is there, but it has to be cultivated. First comes levelling and development, which is entirely at the cost of the zamindar. Then comes ploughing, which is no longer done with bullocks or a wooden plough, but a tractor has to be rented, for which the hari, more often than not, does not have the money. After this, seed, water, fertiliser and pesticides have to be made available on time. Then comes the harvest, for which labour or harvesters are necessary. And finally the crop has to reach the market.
None of this is possible without the zamindar, who provides funding without interest, money which is recoverable in accordance with the quality and quantity of the crop. The public institutions set up for this purpose are a curse no sane tiller of the soil is prepared to bring down upon himself. Furthermore, let us not forget that the zamindar pays all the taxes--i.e., land revenue, water rates, the masjid tax. He also bears all the cost, every year, of silt clearance in the watercourses on his lands. In the case of hazards, such as the current floods, all the financing done by the zamindar is written off.
Of course, in a normal season, the zamindar gets half the product of the land, even though the days of the hari slaving away in the fields are long gone. With machines doing most of the work these days, the hari does not do more than about forty days' physical work in a year. The rest of the time he supplements his income by doing something else, or is too lazy and simply sits at the local tea shop.
The zamindar protects the hari from the corrupt police, and the irrigation and revenue officials who are supposedly there for the benefit of the cultivator but are in fact a nuisance to him. It is through the influence, contacts and clout of the zamindar, who has to run about in severe heat and dust and often even pay bribes, that cultivation takes place at all. And that is not all: the zamindar has to also solve the personal problems of the hari, such as murders, kidnappings, thefts, breakdown of marriages, elopement of women, disputes between relatives over exchange of women in marriage and fights with neighbours. The hari dare not go to the authorities for solutions and protection under the law, for he will be fleeced and simply live to regret it. The zamindar's door, which always has to remain open, is a one-window operation for him and results have to be produced quickly to the full satisfaction of the hari while he sits at home.
No matter how big a scoundrel a zamindar may be, he has to keep his haris protected and satisfied in order to harvest a good crop and earn their support all around, without which the hari cannot live in the dangerous, lawless and backward rural areas. Thus, only a cretin will believe that, in these times when all venues are open to him, you can crack the whip and subjugate an individual, no matter how dependant or helpless he may be. This can only happen in the cities where you either prostrate yourselves before the overlord or your body turns up at your doorstep in a sack.

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