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Land system in Bengal

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Land system in Bengal
par: Fr&re Godefroy, c.s.c.
M.A. Universite St-Joseph, 19Ul
Biblioth6que Champlain
University de Moncton
UMI Number: EC56977
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The system of land tenure is undoubtedly a subject of tne greatest importance for the economic life of any country; it is
a subject which must at all times engage the attention of the legislators of a country if they are desirous of avoiding general
dissatisfaction and social upheaval. There i3 indeed no more favourable ground for the apread of communistic doctrines than
long established grievances maintained for generations by the ostracism of the well-to-do classes at the expense of the poorer
Bengal, one of the provinces of India, is situated north of
the Bay of Bengal. The population is a little over 50,000,000;
out of the total population only 3i millions live in to#ns and
the rest live in villages and have only the land as a means of 1ivelihood. Outside Calcutta and the colliery districts around
"sansol, the other towns are simply market towns where the cul­
tivators flock for their exchanges; the interests f of the people
of those small towns are therefore the same as those of the cul­
tivators. These little towns are in no way industrial centres. The
pressure of population on land is very great;;the density in the
ijoaKhali district ( where there are no industries whatsoevery* is
1124 people per square mile.
The area of Bengal is 74,703 square milesjbut of this amount
about 26 million acres are under cultivation; this works out to
an average of two acres of land for each cultivator. The chief crops in the plains are rice, jute and sugarcane. In the hilly district of Darjeeling in the north, tea is the chief crop;but it
is grown mainly by imported labour under European planters.
One special feature of Bengal is that it is entirely depen­
dent on the South-West monsoon. This periodical wind brings in -
-2from the- Bay of Bengal vapour which causes heavy precipitation
all over the
Gange tic
plain. The average rainfall in bengal
ranges from 80 to 120 inches a year; the coastal districts of
Chittagong, ^oakhali and Bakerganj receive slightly more than
the Western districts.
In Bengal, the system of land tenure in its present form
dates from the Permanent Settlement of 1793 which sanctioned to
a great extent what the Mughals. and the Pathans had kept of the
original Hindu system; it is therefore fairly accurate to say that the system we have to-day of landlords and tenants is of
the greatest antiquity snd that in spite of all the vicissitudes
through which the country has passed^ there has been a very real
continuity in the land system ; it is therefore quite possible
that such an ancient system of land tenure might have developed
certain defects and might not; answer any more the needs of
modern, times.
In fact, it is the opinion of many that the defects of the
system have assumed such dimensions that fee whole thing will
collapse if reforms are not effected very soonyand^it is very
probable, that the system has endured up to the present day. only
on account of the reluctance that the British administrators
have always felt for revolutionary changes. The British India
Act of 1935 ^in introducing provincial autonomy in Bengalhas considerably altered the position; the Government of the country
has virtually passed into the hands of an elected Assembly
which is largely dependent on rural votes-and the agitation for
agrarian reforms -which was already strong has thus, received a
fresh, impetus; in fact, the present chief minister, Mr.Fazlul
Huq, has solemnly premised radical changes in that field and everytning indicates tnat he is soon to fulfill his promise.
Already, he has enforced the Bengal Debtors Act which has insti­
tuted special boards all over the country for the. Settlement of
agricultural debts; this law goes so far in affording relief to
-3the indebted farmerB / that it has been branded by the opposition
as a confiscation pure and simple.
The reform of a land system that has been in existence for
150 years is not a simple thing and should not be done in a hurry; so / the present ministry^, very appropriately appointed a
Comission presided over by Sir Francis Floud assisted ty very
experienced officials and representatives of the vested interests^
to study the present system and to frame recommendations. Their
report has just been published and contains a mine of information
on the subject; it is now quite possible that the Assembly will
be called upon to vote a law embodying the main recommendations
of the commission.
The problem, therefore, is of the greatest actuality and is
likely^very soon,to divide the country into two warring camps.
The problem has been very much aggravated by 'the conmunal questionand^,though this question is not mentioned in the report or in
other works on the subject, everyone feels that it is unfortunate­
ly at the root of this problem as it is of many others; and no
exposition of the subject is complete -without a word on the Hindu-Moslem question. The friction between the two communities
is not a new thing/but it has acquired a special virulence J
during the past ten years and it is now permeating every sphere
of activity in the country. What has the communal question to do
with the land system of the country ? The answer to this question
is simple enough. Generally speaking^ the landlords and other tenure holders are Hindus. They form the well-to-do and middle
classes of Bengal and, though not actually cultivating the lands
on account of caste prejudice, they possess however the superior
rights and they receive rents from the actual tillers of the ooil who belong^in great majority^ to the Mohamedan couiaunity or
to the depressed Hindu classes. As might te expected therefore,
at the first mention of reforms in the land system^two different
schools of thought sprang up and engaged the attention of the
-4intelligentia. 'forks on the subject have been hitherto rather
scarce; but are nov/ beginning to appear alternately from either
camp. The first shot in this little war over the land question
was fired ty Khan Bahadur Azizul Haque in his book,"The Man
Behind the PIough" which is a very severe indictment of the present system. For the first time^he has approached the subject
"from the point of view of the Bengal peasant, half starved and
ill-clad, a hapless victim to many miseries of human life."
Shortly afterwards, Rai Bahadur M. N. Gupta published a very scholarly history of the land system in his book^Land System
of Bengal." Though the author claims to be impartial,his book
is largely a brilliant defence of the Permanent Settlement and
of the present position of the landlords.
The writer of this papery who has had a certain amount of
experience in the matter, and who has consistently studied the
land system of Bengal for the past twelve years^proposes to
study the claims of both schools of thought.
I shall first present the land system in its present form,
examining successively the claims of the State, those of the
landlords, the position of the cultivators, the incidence of
rent and Government revenue, and^finally^the attitude of the various coumunities of Bengal towards land.
In the second part, I propose to discuss the advantages
and disadvantages of the system.
- In the third^I shall examine what reforms should be effected
to improve the situation of all concerned.
In most countries,there
are three -oarties
interested in the
1 raid: the state, the landlords and the cultivators. In some countries the state has not claimed for itself any proprietary
rights over the land hit has left those rights in the hands of
landlords who let out the land to farmers by various forms of
contracts. In some other countries,especially in these modern days the state has claimed entire proprietary rights over the
land and has determined under which conditions and, how many acres
of land can be held by cultivators.
It is the opinion of m. N. Gupta that, in Bengal^ the state
has always / from the most ancient times y claimed a part of the produce of the land but has left the actual ownership of the -/
lands in the hands of landlords called zemindars.
This opinion however, is not accepted by everybody'and,Azizul
Haque in his book "The Man Behind the Plough" goes to great lengths to prove that during the Hughs! period, the present day
landlords were mere tax callectors employed by the Emperor and
paid from the collections. Many English jurists, .and among them,
Sir Ashley Eden,have always maintained that the rights conferred
on the zemindars were not those of absolute proprietorship; but
that the Government prescribed a fixed rental to be adjusted by
itself according to recognised rules and stringently forbidding
any other exactions on the part of the landlords. On this all important point,there has been such a diversity of opinion^that
it is possible for opponents to cite any number of authors in
favour of their respective points of view. The latest pronounce­
ment on the subject is that of the Royal Commission for Land
Hevenue^whose report has just been published; it is of interest
to note that the members have no hesitation in saying that^in
Bengal, the zemindars never had an absolute right of property -
-6over the soil previous to the coming of the linglish'and y that
English administration never intended to give them such rights
by any of the numerous legislations on the subject.
The arguments of the advocates of absolute right of property
over the soil for.the zemindars^, are mostly based on what is known as the Permanent Settlement'and it is'necessary at this
atage to explain what it was. When the East India Company received
the**dewaai>-of Bengal from the titular iiknperor at Delhi, they tried various methods to collect the land revenue. It is an ad­
mitted fact that/previous to their coming there had been a period
of anarchy during which the cultivators were greatly harrasse.d.
The Company tried the direct method of collecting from the culti­
vators^ but this failed disastrously; in the entire absence of
maps and records of the areas and rent of the different holdings
and: in a country without any means of communications, water­
logged for four or five months in the year, how could the collectors
proceed ? There was really only one alternative left to the Company; it was to collect the revenue through the zemindars who
had hereditary connections with particular areas. The difficulties
were not over however once this question of policy was settled.
There remained the question of assessment and the period of the
Settlement. Lord Cornwall is came to India in 1786 with orders
from the Directors to study the situation in all its aspects .and
also-with orders to give full consideration to the claims of
persons who had a certain degree of proprietary rights in certain
areas. The Company was at that time heavily involved in wars in
other parts of India and the necessity for an increased revenue
was not unknown to the Directors ; in fact, Lord Cornwall is seemed
to have linked together the question of a higher assessment and
a permanent Settlement. The total land revenue at that period was 16£ millidns rupees and Lord Cornwall is held the view that
the assessment could be carried to 22 millions provided the /
-7Government would, solemnly assure the zemi ndars tnat the State
would never afterwards increase that assessment and that all
future profits resulting from an extension of cultivation or
fro.ii an enhancement of the tenants' rents would be the exclusive
property of the zemindars.
Sir John Shore and the local revenue expert^ who could realise how incomplete were the data on which to base an agree­
ment that was to last for ever, were against a Permanent Settle­
ment and were proposing a short term Settlement with the zemin­
dars. Lord Cornwall is however .could not agree with them on this
" A
point and was of opinion s that a short term Settlement was not
a sufficient, inducement to the zemindars to extend cultivation
and to improve their estates.
Hie views of Lord! Cornwall is prevailed with the Court of
Directors and in their dispatch of the 19th September, 1792, they
made.the land revenue permanent for ever and the assessment was
fixed at 22 millions. The measure was put into execution in March, 1793, and has been since then called the Permanent Settle­
ment . It is this measure that has governed the relations between
the state and the landlords in Bengal for the last 147 years.
The advocates of the system claim that the zemindars were
declared at the same time proprietors of the soil and that the
permanent character of the settlement was gjiven as a return for
an advance payment of a much higher assessment than would have
been justifiable by the circumstances. For these two reasons they assert that the Permanent Settlement lias the sanctity of a
treaty between the landlords and the British Administration. The
opponents,however prove just the contrary. A more moderate view
^eems uo be that the Permanent. Settlement was s imply a recogni^n
oion that the iiast India Company as sovereign power and the zemindars had a jioint interest in that share of the produce of
the land which had always been the traditional property of the
State. Biey were actually given some sort of proprietary rights •
but these rights were always limited by those of their tenants.
Moreover it was made clear to the zemindars at the time of one
Permanent Settlement that the state reserved to itself the ri^rt
to enact legislations from time to time to protect the tenants
from all sorts of exactions.
By far the greatest portion of Bengal is thus permanently
settled with zemindars who consider themselves the real proprie­
tors of the soil and who are responsible to Government for the
payment of land revenue. The temporarily settled parts of Bengal,
formed mostly by alluvial accretions in the beds of rivers and
in the Sunder ban section of the Gangetic plain are administered
directly by Government and are in charge of the Khas Mahal depait-ment.
In the beginning the zemindars had tenants under them who
cultivated the lands and paid a fixed annual -rent,'but in the
course of time/numerous intermediate tenures were created betwee n
the landlords and the cultivators. In some cases these subtenures have betfome so numerous as to constitute a regular maze
of rent-receivers that complicate the administration. In the
Bakergunj district, it is not ra/te to find as many as seven or
eight intermediaries and some say it may go x even to forty.
Generally however, the number of sub-tenures is three or four .At
the top of the list is the zemindar whose estate may be very
extensive or may be small. Some estates contain thousands of acres and pay lakhs of rupees in Government revenue; and some other estates / more particularly in the district of Chittagang
contain as little as nine or ten acres and pay only a few rupees
in land taxes.
In the bigger estates, the zemindars invited well -to-do/men
to settle certain vacant portions of their estates; these people
were called taluqdars'and were under obligation of paying rents
to the zemindars; in their turn these taluqdars established -
settlers the best they could and received rents from them., borne
of the settlers thus established ty the taluqdars,soon found that
they had more land than they could actually cultivate and'they invited in their turn some tenants and this they became howl^dars
under the taluqdara. Ihe actual cultivators of the land called the
"raiyats" continued in many eases this sub-infeudation.
The reasons why the zemindars sub-divided their estates in
taluqs are obvious if we try to visualize what the conditions in
Bengal were at the time of the Permanent Settlement ; the communi­
cations were so difficult that it was utterly impossible for one
particular zemindar to collect all his rents when his estate ex­
tended over a vast tract of country,{but the reasons why a cultii
v&tor sublets his holding are somewhat different; for instance/
when he takes to some other avocations and still does not want to
sss: sever his connection with his ancestral property, he sublets
it to another man for a rent somewhat higher than the one he pays
to his immediate tenure-holder. When this infeudation is carried
through many stages,the last one has generally to pay a high rent
that leaves him very little for his subsistence.
The raiyot is primarily a man who cultivates the land and pays a rent representing a fraction of the produce to the landlord.
During the Mughal period and for a long time during the first stages of British administration,the cultivator had only the right
to till the soil and nothing else; he had no right to the trees^
even when he had planted them ; and he could not modify in any way
the aspect of the lancLand still less construct a brick wall or
a brick house. In most cases, his rent could be enhanced by the zemindar under certain conditions, though the amount the zemindars
were to pay to Government were never to be increased. It was in­
tended ty the Permanent Settlement to give the same fixity of rent
and security of tenure to the tenants as had been granted to the
zemindars; but unfortunately f there had been up to that time no fixed
rate of rent but only a customary rent called"pargana" rate; this
-10rate of course, was not sanctioned, ty any form of contract and
nothing more precise than this was fixed by Lord Cornwallis^who
intended to correct this defect gradually ty introducing supple­
mentary legislation. His successors,however, were $ very busy with
wars in other parts of India and they left the Bengal peasant to
the tender mercies of the zemindars. However, various acts were
passed after 1793 which were intended to improve the lot of the
tenants and to render their tenure of the land more sacure 'hit it
is really only since 1938 that the raiyots were given full proprie­
tary rights over the lands they are cultivating, .before that date^
the rights of the cultivators to their lands were of divers kinds;
some had occupancy rights and others had not and could have teen
expelled at will ty the zemindars; very few lands were transferable
without the consent of the zemindars. The result was a great variety
in the market value of lands of equal size and fertility end one
had to be very careful before haying a piece of land. Since 1938 /
however, all this is changed and all the raiyots' rights of various
descriptions are equally safe.
At the origin, the cultivators had no other form of contract
than a mere verbal promise of the landlord that they would not be
disturbed as long as they paid their rents,' tut in the course of
time, as disputes arose on the subject of boundaries, extent of
rights and amount-of rent, Government asked the zemindars to re­
cognize formally the rights of their tenants by giving them docu­
ments in the nature of title deeds called"pattas"; the cultivators,
in great majority, refused these"pattas"as they implied on their
part the giving of corresponding documents called "katulia.ts tt ; the
law soon became a dead letter and the greatest confusion continued
to exist on the subject of the rights of the tenants. It is not
out of place to mention here that the Christian Missionaries were
at all times the* champions of the cause of the poor harassed pea­
sants. Incidentally, in that part of Bihar called Chota Magpur the
protection that the famous Father Lievens gave to the aborigenes
-11against unscrupulous landlords, was the determining cause of that
vast movement towards the Catholic Church,which made Chota Nagpur
the most prosperous mission field in India.; in the space of twenty
years almost 200,000 people became Catholics.
As a result of the protestations from different quarters, Government ordered the preparation of complete records of rights
for the different classes of interests in the land; hit it is
really only at the end of the last century that cadstral survey s
operations were started in the Chittagong district (1890) and later
in the district of Bakerganj. The reports of these survey opera­
tions as well as the observations of the officers in charge ; contain
very valuable informations on the unbelievable complications into
which the system had teen allowed to develop fcy constant subinfeu­
dation. Major Jackf in his report of the Settlement of the Bakerganj
distric^has justly remarked that the system was "the most amazing
caricature of an ordered system of land tenures in the world."
The system being unique in the world,/ it will not be out of
place to give an idea of the manner in which were recorded the rights of that multitude of intermediaries between the zemindars
at the top and the actual cultivators at the bottom. I have inclu­
ded specimens of a set of records of rights (pages u-di) illustra­
ting an ordinary case in the permanently settled part of the dis­
trict- of Noakhali; I have also attached a section of a Survey map.
All these records being exclusively in Bengali, many Bengali terms
have to be used when there is no iiinglish equivalent. Each record
bears at the top the name of the district as for instance Noakhali •
and,the name of the police station, Noakhali; then,the name and
number of the village i.^. West Badaripur, number 126. We have then,
the tauzi numfcer / T /hich is the numter under which the rent is en­
tered in the Government accounts. In all cadastral surveys^there
is the name of a pargana or region;hit this name does not corres­
pond to any reality to-day; it is simply the old names which were
used in a more or less precise acceptation before the country was
finally surveyed. These parganasyteing inconveniently extensive
and not always forming a compact area were unfit for the purposes
of survey; new unite were introduced under the name of mourn or
village. Each record bears a number. Then comes the name under which the tenancy is locally known and this is likely to prove a
puzzle for many. .For instance .it may be a zemindari, a taluq, a
howla, a jote, etc; the first superior right will be called zemindari ^nd^, in order to distinguish it from other similar zemindaries^ the name of the founder or any other name / under v/hich it is
locally known^ is added to it; and so^ we have zemindari Go lam Kader
Chowdhuri. Immediately underneath the name of the tenancy, we have the nature of the right of the owner of the tenure recorded. In the case of record number 1, the tenure recorded being
the first in the hierarchy his ri^it is absolute. The remaining
portion of the record :
the details of the tenure and is -
divided into two parts. The top portion contains the name of the
superior owner and the lower, portion shows the name of the person
holding the second right. In the case of a zemindar,his superior
landlord is the State and this is why we see the words "Emperor
of India" at the top of the first column. On the rigjit side, in
the column for remarks, we-read that this zemindar has some other
lands in village number 74 covered by record No. 2 of that village
and that for the lands in both villages, he has to pay Government
a revenue of Rs20,356/12/-.
In the lower column we have the name and address of the zemindar a certain Mr. Majubali Chowdhury who lives at Begumganj.
The other side of the record gives ^description and size of the
plots directly held ky the man whose name appears in the lower colurm of the front page. In the case of a zemindar, all his lands
in a particular village may be tenanted; it may happen that he has
no lands in his actual possession, in which case these columns
are left blank and we must now go to the foot of the sage to see
-13the numbers" of the records of all those who have lands under him
and for ?/hich they have to pay him rents. Thus we have 2-9-20-2532-40-45-51-93 etc.
This means that record number 2 contains at the top the name
of the zemindar Majub&li Chowdhury and in the lower portion^ the
nam of 1 a taluqdar-who pays rent to the zemindar and who has in
his turn tenants whose rights'are described in record number 3 to
8. There is a certain, number of these taluqdars end tenants till
we reach number 93 under which are the plots I have selected for
my illustration.
ie see in number 93 that the tenure is called Patai taluk whose superior owner is the zemindar already mentioned, Majutali
Chowdhury; on the right hand side, we see that the rent the zemindar
is to receive for the lands described in this record and also for
certain lands in village 92 covered ty record of rights 29, is •Rs 121/3/-. The names of the two men who have jointly to pay this
amount are given in the lower portion. They are Jogendra Kumar
Dutt and Khirode Chandra Dutti• If the lands for which + hey are
paying rent to the zemindar were held directly by them, they would
be cultivators or raiyots and the numbsr and size of each plot
held ly tilem would be on the back of the page; but the lands are
not actually in their possession but are sublet to some other people whose records are number 94 to 97. The Dutts are therefore
taluqdars which is the second rung of the ladder. Let us now go to
record 97. The name of tenure is Howla Razu Feringhi.
The Dutt brothers' names now occupy the top of the column
preceded by the number of their own record in case we wish to go
beck to the zemindar. On the right hand side, we see that they are
entitled to a rent of Rs 8/9/9 for the lands described in this
record and some other lands in village 81 covered by record No.69.
Azizur Raharnan/the name of the man who has to pay this rent^is in
the lower column. Again this man would be called raiyot or culti­
vator if the lands for which he pays rent were in his actual possesi"-*$ion and cultivated by him; it is even probable that in the be-
-14beginning he or his ancestors were the raiyots paying a rent to the taluqdar and cultivating the land/ but in course of time, he
found it was paying him more to rent permanently his lands at a
higher rent and follow some other avocation and thus we see that
at the verso of his record of rights, no plot is entered against his
name but there is at the foot the number 98 of the record of rights
of his tenant. We now come to the last man who has a right in some
particular plots of land.
His tenure is called raiyoti i.e. cultivator and his right is
permanent, the rent cannot be increased and he may not be ousted
from his property so long as he pays his rent. His property is
inheritable and even transferable. His rent however is quite hi^i;
with the public works cess, it amounts to Rs 51/9/- for 4*86 acres
of land. At the verso of his record of rights is the description
of his plots of land. The plot numbers refer to the survey map a
section of which is attached herewith. ^ow we may do the operation
in the opposite direction to check the results. I am interested in
certain plots of land; I enquire locally^fthe name of the village
where the plots are situated and obtain a survey map of that village with the help of which I can determine the plot numbers.
With the name of the village and the plot numbers I can procure
the record of rights from the record officer of the district; I
learn that the lands are recorded in the name of Lewin Mendes whose immediate superior is Azizur Raharnan; the number 97 to the
left of Azizur Raharnan f s name is the number of his record of rights
I go lack to 97 to find out that the superior owners of Raharnan
are the Dutt brothers; their record number is 93. U-oing to 93, I
find that the superior landlord of the Dutt brothers is Mazubali
Chowdhury the zemindar of the liolanr leader zedindari. I can now describe the land as follows ; In district Woakhali, police station
ftoakhali, in pargana . tfopalpur, Tauzi
189/belonging to zemindari
Cxolam Kader Chowdhury, under Patai taluq khotian Mo. 93, Howla
Razu Feringee record
97, in mouza $ West Badaripur Mo.126,
k ayami rayati, district survey plots 31, 32, 33, 34 having an area
of 2*81 acres covered by khotian No. 98, standing in possession of
Lewin Mendes at an annual rent of Rs 50/-.
I have chosen for illustration a very simple case consisting
of three rent receivers and one cultivator; I trust* one can easily
imagine the complexity of administration when the rent receivers
are seven or eight piled up one above the other. To make the pic­
ture complete* I must add that most of the time the rent receivers
are a legion of co-sharers. It is little wonder that in such con­
ditions the courts have had to deal with a huge volume of litiga­
The Government receives from the zemindars for the permanently
settled areas of Bengal 21£ million rupees yearly and this is substantially the same as fixed ty Lord Cornwall is in 1793. This
gives an incidence of 9 annas per acre, but unfortunately this
incidence varies considerably from one district to another and even
in different parts of a same district;and worse still/the rate of
Government revenue has no connection with the productivity of the
land. In fact, we find to-day that the districts of Western Bengal
which suffer from a deficient rainfall are taxed more heavily than
the more fertile districts of Eastern Bengal.
The zemindars in their turn derive their profits from the
collection of rents from the tenants. According to the statistics,
the average incidence of rent for the whole of Bengal is Rs3/6/
tut;, here again/the incidence varies so much from one district to
another that the figure is not of much use to help one to form a
true idea of the situation; moreover, this figure refers to what
the raiyots have to pay y -but the under-raiyots y who are growing in
number/ have to pay not according to the Permanent Settlement but
according to terms of agreement of a more recent date and conse­
quently much higher. It is only necessary to go ljack to the case
T have chosen for illustration to see that Lewin Mendes was paying Es 51/9/- for 4*86 acres; out of this quantity of land
allowance must be made for the house arid out-houses / for cows/; etc.,
and also for a pond which he had to dig to raise the ground for
his homestead site, so that he was cultivating barely 3 acres
of land. I shall discuss in my next point the consequence of such a state of things. Assuming however that the zemindars receive Rs 3/6/ per acre and pay iiovernment 9 annas, it follows
that only one sixth of the rent paid by the cultivators goes to
the provincial treasury while the other five sixths are divided
among the various tenure-holders. The official statistics show
that, after deductions have been for the expenses incurred
for collection, 76 % (per cent) of the rents collected remains
in private hands. Moreover, it is an open secret that most zemin­
dars exact more than their legal dues from the tenants as I shall show in my next point.
Attitude of the various communities in Bengal towards land.
The Hindus.
When the Aryans : invaded India,Bengal was still for
the most part a jungly delta intersected by innumerable rivers
end covered with dense forests
the process'of reclamation
have followed on the same lines as in the plains of the upper
Ganges; we have valuable informs;tion on this process and on the
attitude of the Hindus with regard to land in the Laws of Menu,;:
Opinions vary as to the antiquity of the text of Manu;'Sir William Jones puts it at 1200 B.C.; Schlegel at 1000 B.C. end
Max-Muller puts it as late as 200 B.C.; but the general opinion
is that it certainly preceded the time of Buddha 500 B.C. In the
English version which Professor Murdoch has made ffom the
krit text we read in ch. VII art. 130, "The fiftieth part of
cattle and gold may be taken by the king, an eighth part of
grain or the sixth part of trees, meat, honey^etc
This is -
clearly the origin of our present system of landlords and tenants.
Regarding the attitude of the Hindus towards l?nd and agricul­
ture, we find very interesting texts in Manu ch. V. art. 3^"To
support life, let a trahman acquire property by the blameless
occupations peculiar to his caste and without pain to the body."
Regarding the occupations suitable for Brahmans, he states in
ch. 1. art. 74 k 75, that Brahmwns who are intent in union with
Brahma, and firm in their duties shall live by six occupations,
enumerated in their order. Reading and teaching the Vedas, sacri­
ficing and helping others to sacrifice, giving and accepting gifts;;these are the six occupations for a
Brahman. By
flesh, lac or salt a Brahman falls at once; by selling milk three aays, he sinks to the level of a t>udra. A Brahman should
_ carefully avoid agriculture which causes great pain. Manu divides
the Hindu society into four castes and fixes the duties of each.
The Brahmans whose occupations have already been mentioned, the
Kshatriyas who are soldiers, the Vaisyas who are the traders,
and finally the Sudras whose highest duties are to serve the
Brahmans and in return for these services, they are promised
a higjher caste in their next life.
In presence of the disastrous results of the caste system
for the ' 1 indu Society, many present day reformers have asserted
that there were no castes originally and that these were a, later addition to the Hindu Social system. It is immaterial for
us whether there were castes or not four thousand years ago;but the point is- that the system is flourishing now-a-days and
affects to a great extent the ecomomic life of the country.
The higher castes have still a prejudice against culti­
vating land'but they are very anxious to possess the superior
land rights and to receive a part of the produce, toave
how the Ian (^system of Bengal has developed into innumerable
sub-tenures mostly in the hands of the high caste Hindus; the
statistics show that there are 3£ millions tenures and subtenures in the permanently settled areas of Bengal; there are
therefore between 12 and 15 million people partly dependent on the rents they receive from the land. A great many, of these
people have taken to liberal professions and to clerical jobs
all over the country and those who remain in the villages have
their lands cultivated by means of hired labour. In spite of
all the appeals of the Indian leaders to throw away the tyranny
of the caste system, very little headway is made on this point.
As to the depressed-class Hindus, they readily cultivate the
laiid. :
The Mohamecians.
The Pathans conquered Bengal in 1200 A.D. and
were followed in a tout 1600 by the Mughals, another Mohamedan
power. A vast number of mo si em immigrants followed in there
trail to clear new lands and possibly a greater number of low
caste Hindus accepted Islamism. To-day they form a block of
26 millions out of the 51 millions people in Bengal; they form
the vast majority of the population of Eastern Bengal. Though
they have progressed socially and culturally, their standard
o f l i v i n g i s s t i l l very much lower than t h a t of t h e Hindus;
only a small percentage of them are educated and most of thern
are very poor. Their only redeeming factor is that they are
very sturcty and tfaan-KS to their low standard of living, they
can work in conditions of appalling discomfort; they are there­
fore well suited to clear the jungLe and to reclaim new lands
formed by fluvial accretions; they not only form eighty percent
of the peasantry of Bengal, bit they migrate to Burma and Assam
every year at the time of crops; they are indded a land-hungry
crowd and they rush in thousands wherever there is an inch of
ground t o be c u l t i v a t e d . They have a t p r e s e n t very a c t i v e political leaders who are determined to improve their misera­
ble lot.
The Christians.
The Christians form a very small minority in
Bengal'bit-it will not be without interest to consider their
attitude towards the land. The new Christians were all converts
from the low caste Hindus and their condition is practically
the same as they Sudras; they are ra*yots and under-raiyots for
the most part and have to pay sometimes high rents to superior
landlords. Culturally however, their condition has been much
improved by the Mission Schools.
The old Christians were established at the beginning of
the 17th century at the time of the Portuguese invasions. To
discuss whether they were immigrants from Portugal or iroa or
v/hether they were forcibly converted does^enter in the scope
of this paper. The fact is that there are still important settlements of them in many parts of iastern bengal. A rapid
examination of land records in uhittagong, woakhali and Padrishibpur indicates that they ?/ere once upon a time impor­
tant land owners acquiring even superior rights. In the case
I have selected for illustration the Howla is called Raju Feringhee which indicates that the founder of this small estate
was a Christian, jj'eringhee being still now the name given to
the old Christians and Kaju being probably a corruption of Rodrigues. In the woakhali district, the Christians formed compact groups in about half a dozen villages; unfortunately
the river Meghna began to alter its course about 30 years ago
and gradually swallowed^ among others, two prosperous christian
villages; the unfortunate^ village^ who lost their all had
to take to other occupations. In the chitt.agong district, a
good number of the Christian cultivators have been attracted
by the more remunerative work in the Railway Company which has
i t* headquaters in the town itself. In the Barisal district, a
special feature of the Christian settlement of the Padrishibpur
village is that from the time of the Portuguese Mission the M
Church was given the proprietary rights of the lands of the
Christians in an independant taluq called the Padrian taluq.
The total amount of rent due yearly by the tenants of the taluq
is roughly Rs 4000/- out of which 50 per cent goes in u-overnment revenue and a certain amount for the collection charges.
The profit is for the support of the Church; it is not the Christians of the taluq being well treated
by their own priests have remained on their lends much more
than in places where they were under zemindars of other faiths.
There are still in Barisal important Catholic Zemindars who
are the descendants or the successors of a certain Domingo De
Silva who established a very big estate and carried a rice
business that made him immensely rich. After his death however,
family dissensions and extravagant living caused most of the
estate to pass into other hands. The ruins of many palatial
buildings which once belonged to the De Silvns can still be seen in the-northern part of the village of Padrishibour.
It is generally admitted Try economists that the triple system
State, landlord and cultivator- presents many advantages. The land­
lord supplies the capital necessary for the extension and. improve­
ment of cultivation and the peasant supplies the labouit; the state
maintains order in the country and keeps the balance between the
landlord and the cultivator. In advanced countries like England and
Frafla,thi8 system is still flourishing and Lord Cornwall is had the
ambition to lay the foundations of a similar system in Bengal. But
his intentions were defeated by" the many defeats that crept into
the system from the beginning.
Whereas in England the landlord invests much money for the improvement of his estate, in Bengal the Permanent Settlement be­
came synon}/mous with non-interference on the part of the zemindars
owing to the fact that there were generally many intermediaries between the zemindar and the actual cultivator. The immediate tenure
holder above the cultivator has not generally the capital or the
incentive to undertake improvements, and even if he had both,he could not easily obtain an enhancement of the rent as a return for
his outlay. On the other hand, the State has always been reluctant
to adopt a liberal policy in matters of agriculture as the benefits
of such a policy go into private hands. The result is that improve­
ment of agriculture is nobody's concern. It is needless to say that
in a country like Bengal where agriculture is the main source of
revenue^ the State cannot remain indifferent to agriculture. The first defect of the present system is the sub-infeudation that has
been going on even below the status of the cultivator. These nume-»
rous grades of tenure-holders have been imposing an iron frame on
the expansion of agriculture; they have been complicating the ad­
ministration of the country and have been responsible for an enor­
mous volume of litigation. Another evil of sub-infeudation has been
what is now called absentee landlordism. Many of the zemindars,
having no direct connections with the cultivators did not deem
it necessary to live in the villages where their influence would
have been helpful; most of them appointed managers for their estates and flocked to towns where life was more confortable.
With the passing generations, this estrangement from the land, on
the part of, the zemindars^ became more marked and at present many
zemindars seem to have no other function to fulfill than to spend
in luxury and ease the unearned profits which are extracted by
all sorts of means by their agents from the poor starving ten­
It is undeniable that the agents of the zemindars exact more than their legal dues from the tenants and this is one of
the curses of the system. In some districts there is a list of
seven or eight extra items which tenants are made to pay for;
for instance they are made to pay for the upkeep of the zemin­
dari agents, for the cost of the stationery of his establishment,
for the cost of printing the forms of his rent receipt and for
the salary of the zemindar's lawyers. In many places the farmers
have to give free of charge milk, vegetables, fish end other eatables on the occasion of a feast in the zemindar's family.
Some zemindars contribute a small sum monthly for the support
of a school or a dispensary and then collect from their tenants
a special tax amounting to three or four times the sum given to
the school or the dispensary; these illegal exactions continue
under different pretexts in all the districts as in testified
by the Collectors in their annual reports. There seems to be no
remedy against this evil; the fanners submit to it lest some­
thing - worse happen to them. It is now 150 years since these
exactions were made punishable by law but they have persisted UD
to the present day. There is no doubt that with the spread of
education, among the masses and the .development of a sense of -
— £3solidarity among the cultivators^ these exactions will tend to
decrease; but so deep are the roots struck ty the system that
most cultivators do not even find the energy to protest against
these additions to their legal rent, although every* cultivator
may obtain for a few annas a certified copy of the record of rights prepared by the Survey department showing the legal rent.
Tt must be admitted that as a result of the Permanent Set­
tlement^7' the Government Revenue was paid very punctually by the
zemindars according to the hi^ier assessment made by Lord Cornwall is•but this very : regularity of the revenue was the cause that the Government Officers were not in touch with the
cultivators. They little realized the difficulties of the poor
peasants and discla_imed all responsibility for relief measures
in case of natural calamities; so frequent in a country entirely
depending on the monsoon for its food.crop. For the same reason,
there was on the part of the Administration no real desire to
determine the rents of the tenants. At the time of-the Permanent
Settlement, nothing more precise than a pargana or customary r
rate was fixed and in the course of time.when it became impossible to discover what v/as the customary rate, it was decided
that a "fair and equitable " rent should be asked hf the land­
lords. The Government left to the Courts the task of deciding
what was for each area a fair and equitable rate; in the absence
of documents and village maps the Courts were unable to come
to uniform decisions. At last when at the end of the last century^
regular survey operations were -started they' revealed extraordiaary conditions. Unfortunately the evil customs had. lasted
so long that in many cases they had acquired the force of law
and the peasants will have to carry on under these handicaps until a strong hand imposes a radical reform.
A very serious result of the Permanent Settlement is that
the Government Land Revenue has always remained, at 22 millions
or about for the last 150 years and that all the increase in
rents, paid by the cultivators owing to extension of cultiva­
tion or enhancement of rents has gone into the pockets of the
zemindars. At the time of the Permanent SettlementJ the net
profit of the -zemindars was calculated at 10% of the gross
collection whereas at present according to official st&tistics^the zemindars and other tenure-holders appropriate to
themselves 76%-of the gross income from the land. It is im­
possible however to know the real amount collected illegally
by the .zemindars/but it is considerable. This enormous in­
crease of the profit of the zemindars has not bene/fitted the country as a whole. The budget has always shown a deficit
and the nation-building services have been starved because
the Government revenue was inelastic. The country has yet no
schools worth the name, no decent roads and very few hospitals ;
agriculture is left to the fancy of illiterate cultivators.
The cultivators are starving in a country which is one of
the most fertile in the world. Something has to be done be­
fore the traditional patience of the bengali farmer comes to
an end. In their own interest, the zemindars should read the
signs of the times and submit to certain reforms. Certainly
the Permanent Settlement is not the only cause of poverty in
Bengal^ hit nothing can be done to reorganize the country unless the land system is first modified.
Tn its present form, the land system has developed so
many defects that it has ceased to serve any national in­
-25REFORkS TO m IffffflCTM) Tbi THE LAND SYST.lilk.
With the majority of the members of the Land Revenue Commission,I am of the opinion that nothing short of complete
abolition of the system will remedy the evil situation;; they
have recommended to Government to acquire all the superior
rights in land down to the actual cultivator. This would mean
that every cultivator would pay his rent directly to Govern­
ment. The members recommended to Government to compensate the
different classes of tenure-holders at a flat rate of ten times
their present net profits.
This measure would surely present great advantages but
would not be free from dangers; in fact no solution of this
long standing problem would be free from dangers.
Among the advantages expected from this measure would
be a uniformity in the taxes imposed on the land. We have already seen that land taxes were based at the outset on cer­
tain customary rates and had no connection with the produc­
tivity of the soil. The taxes therefore vary much from one
district to another; for instance the district of Burdwan with 3245 square miles pays more then 3 millions in Government
land revenue while the s whole of the Dacca division which
has 4 times that area and which contains the most fertile districts pays only 2£ millions. Numerous examples of that
nature could be cited. And this is not the whole story; in
some districts^ owing to repeated sub-letting of the land y the
actual cultivator pays at present very much more than the original customary rent. In the Backerganj district, the Government revenue on an average is Rs 1/14/- per acre where­
as it is not rare to find cultivators paying ten rupees per
acre to their immediate tenure hoiderWythis money is divided
among the numerous grades of landlords who have no connection
with the land and the poor cultivator has to sell most of his
crop to pay bis .higi rent; we have the most extraordinary
sight of people starving in one of the most fertile countries
in the world. This anomaly cannot be removed unless the State
acquires the superior rights and establishes a certain uni­
formity in the land taxes.
Another very considerable advantage of the proposed measure, is that Government revenue would be vastly increased .
without actually imposing a fresh burden on the shoulders of
the cultivators. The margin of the zemindar's profit being
as much as Rs 12 per acre in some districts, this huge profit
would revert to tiovernment and could be used for nation building services.
Against these advantages, certain risks must be pointed
out specially as far as the social effects of the measure are concerned. We saw that owing to sub-infeudation an amy
of rent-receivers has come into existence and their number
goes on multiplying. These people and the members of their
families now are estimated at many millions and the number
of agents of different description employed by the zemindars
for the collection of rent is said to be more than 50,000.
There is no doubt that dispossessing so many people at of what they regard as their ancestral properties may have serious social repercussions. In this connection^it may not
be,out of place to state here that in Bengal it has always
been considered a mark of distinction and respectability to
possess certain superior rights on the land however flimsy
these rights may be and therefore,apart from the financial
loss suffered by the tenure holders, if the rate of compen­
sation is not high enough, there will always remain the fact
that these people will feel they have suffered in their prestige; moreover^ the taluqdars and howladars have a stabi- '
lizing influence in the village; they act as voluntary jus­
tices of peace and settle the petty quarrels amon^: the -
-27illiterate cultivators ajici are generally helpful to the local administration; it is feared that when they will be
deprived of their interest in land, they will flock to the
towns where the bigger zemindars ere already established.
All these considerations are greatly outweighed by the
urgent necessity of coming to the assistance of the peasantry
crushed under the burden of debts and poor fey beyond all expression.
The State therefore should proceed district by district
towards the acquisition of all superior rights and bring the
actual cultivators directly under Government and then the
rents should, be made uniform. The old customary rate could
be kept,'bat the very high rates, that were subsequently created either by enhancement or contract should be brought
back to their original level. It should be made illegal in
future to sublet land at a higher rate. The record of rights
of the new system should .be. kept up-to-date and all mutations
due to sale or inheritance duly entered.
With the increased revenue, a complete replanning of
agriculture should be undertaken in order to increase the
yield of the land and thus enable the ever increasing popu­
lation to have sufficient food. Such are the measures which
in my opinion are most urgently needed. They constitute a
regular revolution and will affect greatly the well-to-do
classesjbut nothing short of a revolution is needed to bring
Bengal into line with the more advanced states. Tt is per­
fectly useless for the landholders to hope that they will
continue forever to live in luxury while their tenants are
starving. They are dumb at present;but when they will rise
in their millions inoculated by the virus of communism, the
landlords will not discuss long the rate of compensation.
Ho land system and tenure can long survive if the producer
from t h e l a n d does n o t g e t even t a r e s u b s i s t e n c e from i t .
-28As Darling has so well put it : "The past has teen so \
to the landlord that he cannot believe that the future
be harsh •
Land Systems of British India by Paden Pouell.
Land System of Bengal
by M. N. Gupta.
Bakergsnj Settlement Report
by Major Jack.
RusLandry of Bengal
by Colebroke.
Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture.
Report of the Land Revenue Comission.
The Ulan behind the Plough by M. Azizul Haque.
Census Reports (1931)
The Laws of Manu
by Murdoch.
The Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885.
Analysis of the Finances of Bengal by J. Grant.
Early Revenue History of Bengal
Land Records of NoakhalrDistrict.
by P.D.Ascoli.
MAP -==
^Ml£t====* NORTH
N<L 81
A/° /A5-
District Noakhali. Police Station Noakhali. Village West Badarpur No. 126.
Touzi S o . 1 3 9 .
Pargana U-opalpur.
Record o f r i g h t s No. I .
Local name of tenure: Zemindari G-olamkader Choudhury.
Class of right :
Superior owner
Amount to oav.
Part Rent Cess.
The iimperor of
Ihe rent to be
paid in '-t
Rs 20356/12/and is shown
in record of
right No.2 of
village No.74
in the Begumganj Police
Local owner
Other details of possession.
- Majufcali Choudhury
of Begumganj .
Description of lands in actual possession
Northern Boundary Description
I Quantity of
| land in acr
Amount of land in actual possession
iiumber of records of rights of under tenants
20 - 25 - 32 - 40 - 45 - 51
Amount of land in possession of under tenants.
fct Koakhali. Police Station Noakhali. Village West Sadarpur No. 126.
.No. 189.
*• Superior owner
Record of rights No.93.
Pargana Gopalpur
Amount to pay
Part 1 Rent ICess
1 Mazubali
The rent to be
paid is Rsl21/3/-
and is shown in
record of right
No. 29 of village
Ho. 92.
Local owner
Jagendra Kumar
Khirode Chandra
Ds,»s. ~
Other details of possession
Description of land in actual possession.
Northern boundary
Quantity of '
land in acres
" ' * ""
111 '
Amount of land in actual possession.
j _
dumber of records of rights of under tenants.
Amount of land in possession of under tenants !
istrict Woakhali. Police Station Noakhali. Village West- Badarpur No. 126.
iouzi No. 189.
Pargana ^opalpur.
Record of rights No. 97.
|Local n-srne of tenure :
Class of right :
Howl a Razu Feringhee.
Intermediate owner.
Superior oimer
Amount to pay.
93 J ogendra Ch.
The rent to
Khirode Chandra
be oaid is
Rs 8/9/9 -
and is shown
in record of
rights No.69
of village
No. 8 1 .
Local owner
Other details of possession.
Azizur Rahaman
Description of land, in actual possession.
Northern boundary
numbs r
Quantity of
ls>nd in acrd
Amount of land in actual possession.
Number of records of rights of under tenants
Amount of land in possession of under tenants
District ^oakhali. Police Station Noakhali. Village West Badaripur No.126.
Touzi %. 139.
Pargana Gopalpur.
Local name of tenure :
Class of right
Record of rights Mo. 98.
Permanent Raiyot.
Superior owner
Amount to pay
97 Azizur Rahaman full
Rs50 Re1/9/0
By a contract
executed on
3. 2. 1904
some lands
in village
81 record of
rights 70.
Local owner
Lewin ^endes
son of Late
Niku Mendes.
Other details of possession.
Description of land in actual possession.
iM o r the rn boundary
Rice field
Another village
Rice field
Quantity o
land 'in ac
Rice f i e l d
Other plots belonging to the same owner and
included in the same rental but situated in the
' adjacent village and covered by record of rights
No. 70 of village 81 have an area of
Quantity of land in actual possession
Number of records of rights of under tenants
Quantity of land in possession of under tenants
4-g a t a.4 iib a
nL ^$3
R< ^ 81
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