Malabar Manual Vol 1 CHAPTER IV. THE LAND
Sub-Section IV.—The System of Land Revenue Management ADOPTED IN MALABAR, 1805-18,
AND THE POSITIONS OF THE “Ryot” and of the “Actual Cultivator” considered.
238. The steps taken to treat the low-country part of the district in the aggregate.
238. Having passed in review the measures adopted from the earliest times for assessing particular portions of the district, and having attained as complete a view as circumstances will permit of the exact state in which these measures left the matter, it now becomes necessary to relate the particular steps, taken to deal with the district as a whole. The measures up to this time (1805-6) had been fragmentary and of local application ; it remains to relate what steps were taken to treat the low-country portion of the district in the aggregate.
239. The part Malabar played in the great battle of the tenures.
239. A word or two may, however, first of all be fittingly introduced in regard to the part which Malabar played in the great battle of the tenures, which at this time (1805-6) had begun to attract attention. It is unnecessary to say much about it, because it never at any time seems to have been in doubt that Ryotwari was the system best adapted to the district, though it was a Ryotwari with a difference from that understood by Sir Thomas Munro.
240. The position of Sir. Thomas Munro's ryot defined.
240. The characters of labourer, farmer, and landlord were generally understood as being united in the ryot. It was also generally assumed that the ryot could not have sub-tenants so long as Government waste land of good quality existed for any one to cultivate who felt so deposed. Moreover, the laws of inheritance in force in eastern districts have a constant tendency to break up properties and to cause the subdivision of landed estates.
241. This definition quite inapplicable to the state of the facts in Malabar.
241. But suppose, on the contrary, that there were portions of districts so highly cultivated that no waste land lay within convenient reach of the man willing to till it,—suppose that the waste land, if it did exist within convenient reach, was held (whether rightly or wrongly does not at present matter) to be the property, not of the State, but of private individuals,—suppose the laws of inheritance directly tended to keep property together, and suppose the classes of labourer, farmer, and landlord were distinct and separate - then clearly the district where such a system prevailed was not a Ryotwari one, and this was (and it still is) the case of Malabar.
242. From a different point of view, however, and taking “ ryot. ” as synonymous with “actual cultivator,” then Malabar was, and still continues to be a Ryotwari district.
242. Looked at, however, from a different point of view, and when the question at issue is whether the Government land revenue shall be paid by a Zamindar or farmer of the Government land revenue in many villages, by the Mouzawar or headman of one village, or by the cultivator himself, then, understanding by the word “ryot” the actual cultivator of the soil, the Malabar District revenue system was originally under the Mysoreans, and it still continues to be, to a great extent, a Ryotwari one. How this came about is easily explained by the fact that “the terror of Hyder Ali's and of his son Tippu's subsequent administration prevented the major part, of these Brahman landholders, as well as many of the Nayars, from ever trusting their persons at the Muhammadan cutcherries of their new sovereigns” (Joint. Commissioners’ Report, paragraph 196), and the Mysoreans had therefore no choice left but to conclude the land revenue settlement with the Kanakkar or the actual cultivators.
243. Sir Thomas Munro's Ryotwari system not a thing of performance. Reasons for thinking so.
243. It is manifest, however, that the meaning attached by Sir Thomas Munro to the word Ryotwari, is one that will not apply permanently to any one particular district, supposing that that district progresses in population. Waste land, under such circumstances, becomes scarcer and scarcer and more and more difficult to till as the worst lands are taken up, and long before the time when the last acre of waste is appropriated, it must of necessity have arisen that many of the original "ryots” attending to their own interests, have become proprietors and have dropped the other characters of labourer and farmer.
This state of things has existed in Malabar from the first.
Moreover, under a settled government, money acquired in trades and professions is naturally often invested in land by persons who have not the slightest intention to cultivate it. And further the laws of inheritance have been considerably affected by the power of testamentary succession. All these considerations force one to the conviction that Sir Thomas Munro’s ideal Ryotwari settlement is not a thing of permanence, and that sooner or later, even in the model Ryotwari districts, a state of things will be brought about similar to what has existed in Malabar from the very first.
244. The fact of the existence of private property in land in Malabar and Canara exercised an important influence in the debates on the merits of the rival tenures.
244. The fact that private property in land already existed in Canara and in Malabar, attracted attention at an early period in the history of British rule in South India, and the fact is again and again referred to in the correspondence which took place while the merits of the rival systems were being debated, and it exercised a very material influence on the ultimate issue in favour of the Ryotwari system and of the special form which it took.
The village community was also supposed not to exist in Malabar.
The above, coupled with another fact, viz., that the village community was supposed not to exist in Malabar, seems to have prevented any attempt to introduce into the district, the system of village settlements which for a time found favour with the authorities.
The Court of Directors' despatch of 16th December 1812, ordering the introduction of the Ryotwari system in all unsettled districts.
The final orders were issued by the Board of Revenue on the 5th January 1818.
On the 16th December 1812, the Court of Directors finally ordered the introduction of the Ryotwari system in all unsettled districts, and they were careful in their despatch of the December following to caution the Government against introducing into Malabar “an intermediate class of persons (call them Zemindars, Mootahdars, or what we may) between the Government and the Jelmkaars or hereditary proprietors of the soil ; but it was not till the 5th January 1818, that the Board of Revenue issued instructions for "the abandonment of the existing system of revenue administration and the introduction of the Ryotwari mode of settlement and collection in all practicable cases,” and in paragraph 307 of the same Proceedings the Board wound up their instructions to all Collectors in the following terms : —
The plan to be followed was to substitute the Ryotwari of the Western Coast for the old Carnatic etc., Ryotwari.
“The Collectors, in entering on the new settlement should ever recollect that the great object in view is not immediately, but by degrees, to substitute the Ryotwari of the Western Coast for the old Carnatic and Ceded District Ryotwari; not to create, but to restore, landed property, gradually to convert the bad farms of the Tamil country into good estates, and the land-property holders into land-owners, etc." Malabar, Canara, Coimbatore, Madura and Dindigul were at this time the only districts classed as Ryotwari. All others were either managed by Zemindars or under the village lease system.
There was one radical defect and confusion of ideas in this minute of the Board of Revenue.
245. One radical defect and confusion of ideas was unfortunately imported into this, otherwise admirable, Minute of the Board of Revenue. Sir Thomas Munro’s confusion of ideal "ryot", whose position has been already alluded to (paragraphs 240 to 243), was defined by the Board of Revenue in paragraph 17 of their instructions quoted above to mean “that particular class only among them ” (“the cultivators of the soil in general") “who employ, superintend, and sometimes assist the labourer, and who are everywhere the farmers of the country, the creators and payers of the land revenue,” and in paragraphs 21 to 39 of these same instructions, the Board went on to describe "the rights of the ryot” in Malabar.
The Board's definition of Sir. Thomas Munro's ideal ryot applied to Malabar.
The mistake was in lumping Janmis, Kanakkar, and Pattakkar all together under the head of ryots.
The mistake was in treating the rights of the Janmi, Kanakkar and Pattakar as equivalent to those of the “ryot,” whereas, as matter of fact, many Janmis and many Kanakkars also, and perhaps even some Pattakars, had no title whatever to be considered as “ cultivators,” or "farmers,” or as the creators,” or even as the “ payers,” of the land revenue.
It is obvious that in Malabar there existed other classes interested in the land besides the ryots.
Classes whose interests did not receive sufficient consideration.
Substantial grounds will be found set forth elsewhere [Section (A) of this Chapter] for dissenting altogether from the views entertained at that time in regard to Janmis, Kanakkar and Pattakar ; but apart altogether from controversial matters, and accepting the relative positions assigned to the three classes by the Board, viz., proprietors, mortgagees and tenants, it is obvious that there existed in Malabar other classes besides the “ryot” - classes whose position in regard to the land, either as landlords entitled to rent from under-tenants or as intermediaries liable to pay rent to landlords as well to receive rent from under-tenants, should have received very careful consideration before treating them all on the footing of the “ryot” in the sense in which the Board used that word.
The person to whom the Government of this country should give the first consideration is the 'actual cultivator', whatever he be, proprietor, farmer or labourer.
All others having interests in the soil are mere investors of their money.
The mistake made in 1818 was to drop the actual cultivator out of sight and to substitute for him an "ideal ryot".
The growing insolvent cotticrism of the bulk of the cultivators in Malabar at the present day, might, probably have been prevented, had the Board of Revenue been better informed as to the real relations subsisting at the time between the classes named. Situated as the Government of this country is, that is as part landlord of the soil, it is obvious that the person to whom the first consideration is due is the actual cultivator of the soil, whatever he be, proprietor, farmer or labourer. It is he who, by his industry and skill, pays the Government, revenue and contributes to the general welfare of the State. All others having interests in the land are mere investors of their money. The mistake made in 1818 (so far at least as regards Malabar) was to drop the actual cultivator out of sight, and to substitute for him an ideal “ryot.”
246. The further history of this point.
The Court of Directors' despatch, 12th December 1821.
246. It will be as well to continue the notice of the point here raised down to the time when it seems finally to have passed completely out of sight. On the 12th December 1821 the Court of Directors, in reviewing a letter, dated 6th February 1815 from 1821 the Board of Revenue, on the subject of the great inequalities in the land assessments in Malabar, thus expressed themselves : "The Board of Revenue declare that our knowledge with respect to the ancient state of things in Malabar is extremely defective. To us it appears so defective that many things which have been stated and re-stated as matters of fact are but objects of conjecture, conjecture founded upon hardly anything to which with propriety the term evidence can be applied.”
Defectiveness of information regarding ancient Malabar.
The earliest accounts received from the parties most interested should have been accepted with great caution and distrust.
After noticing that the first accounts of ancient Malabar obtained from Rajas and leading men had been “exceedingly favourable to their interests and contrary to what prevailed in other parts of India”, and should therefore have been received “with great caution and distrust,” the Court of Directors went on to observe that it had been affirmed that “in Malabar the whole of the produce was the property of the landowner and that no portion of it was taken by the Government. In this one circumstance lies the difference between the supposed state of rights in Malabar and the state of them in the rest of India, and that difference is so great, that it ought not to be admitted as a fact without distinct and specific evidence.”
The Court of Directors were sceptical as to the exceptional state of things in Malabar.
The Court of Directors then stated certain reasons which led them to think that the circumstances noticed in regard to the demesne land of the Rajas, to the property of pagodas, and to jaghires held on the condition of military service, pointed rather to the opposite conclusion, and that Malabar was in no way singular from other parts of India in those respects, and they continued : “It was no doubt the interest of the landholders, in Malabar to persuade their new rulers—the English—if they could, that all land was holden under jaghires of this description. The wonder is that they succeeded.1 One remarkable circumstance is that they succeeded with respect to the supposed demesne lands of the Rajas, which surely yielded revenue to Government, yet not even such part is discriminated.”
NOTEs: 1. Major Macleod, the first of the Principal Collectors, did not credit the fact (paragraph 17 of his Jamabandi Report of 18th June 1802), but he remained too short a time in the district to succeed in elucidating his views. END OF NOTEs
The Court of Directors called for information regarding other classes of the agricultural population.
After a cursory notice of Sir Thomas Munro’s very important report on 4th July 1817 (of which notice will be taken presently), they commended the subject of the inequalities in the land assessment to the notice of the Government, which, by this time, had Sir Thomas Munro at its head, and wound up this portion of their despatch in the following words : “We observe with dissatisfaction that when you have assumed the existence of any peculiar ownership in the land as that of Moorassidars or Jelmkars, you afford us little information with regard to the condition of any other class of the agricultural population. In Malabar the number of occupants who pay the assessment on the land, mortgagees and lessees included is estimated by the Collector at 150,000. The number of persons employed in the cultivation must exceed this number to an extent of which we have no means of forming an accurate judgment.
Nothing known of the great body of actual cultivators, nor of the slaves.
"Of the condition of these people we know hardly anything, and not more with respect to the other descriptions of the population. We are told, indeed, that part of them (an article of very unwelcome intelligence) are held as slaves; that, they are attached to the soil and marketable property. You are directed to obtain and to communicate to us all the useful information with respect to this latter class of persons which you possibly can; the treatment to which they are liable, the habits of their masters with respect to them, the kind of life to which they are doomed, the sort of title by which the property of them is claimed, the price which they bear and more especially the surest and safest means of ultimately effecting their emancipation. We also desire to know whether those occupants, 150,000 in number, cultivate immediately the whole of the lands by their slaves and hired servants, or whether there is a class of inferior tenants to whom they let or sub-let a portion of their lands. If there is such an interior class of lessees, you will inform us under what conditions they cultivate, what are their circumstances, and what measures, if any, have been employed for their protection.”
Mr. Vaughan's cursory report of 24th August 1822. V
Its cursoriness probably due to the fact that Mr. Graeme had shortly before submitted his voluminous report on Malabar.
The only report traceable in the records dealing with the question thus raised by the Court of Directors is a very short one from the Principal Collector, Mr. Vaughan dated, 24th August 1822, in which he stated that there was no necessity to interfere for the protection of under-tenants, as people of all castes and religion engaged in agriculture exactly as they felt inclined, and slaves too were under the protection of the laws. But the shortness and cursoriness of this report is probably attributable to the fact that Mr. Graeme, who had been Special Commissioner in Malabar from 1818 to 1822, had some months previously submitted his report on Malabar, which, Sir. Thomas Munro subsequently (10th July 1822) characterised as "on the whole the fullest, and most comprehensive report ever received, of any province under this Government."
The Court of Directors were not quite satisfied, 18th May 1825,
Mr. Graeme was most unfortunately (as already alluded to in paragraph 228) prevented from pursuing detailed inquiries into the terms on which under-tenants held their lands, and he seems to have in consequence accepted the views of those who had preceded him in their investigations on this point. The Court of Directors were not quite satisfied, and in reviewing, on the 18th May 1825, the measures which had been adopted in consequence of Mr. Graeme's inquiry, they concluded the portion of their despatch bearing on the subject in the following terms :
and called for further information.
“There appears to be in Malabar an intermediate class between the cultivators and the Government, who come nearer to the situation of proprietors of land in England than any intermediate class in any other part of India. The information which we possess respecting this class of persons, their obligations to Government, and their powers over the more numerous classes whose subsistence is derived from the land, is exceedingly imperfect. Justice requires that such a portion of the rent of the land as this class have by custom enjoyed should be still reserved to them. But the questions which relate to the other descriptions of persons subsisting upon the land are more numerous and more difficult of decision. Are they tenants-at-will of the former class? Or have they, like the ryots in other parts of India, a fixed interest in the soil? If tenants under such conditions as the superior class may please to impose, what is the sort of treatment which they receive (and if their condition is miserable, what measures can be adopted for its improvement. To these points we particularly desire that your attention should be directed. The progress of the measures which you have in contemplation will bring evidence relating to them frequently before you and it is of the highest importance that it should not be neglected."
The conditions of the under-tenants was to be kept constantly in view in the measures then in contemplation, but nothing further seems to have been done.
The actual cultivator dropped out of sight, in favour of the 'ideal ryot', and did not again come into view owing to the increasing ease experienced in collecting the land revenue.
The records do not show that anything further was done to elucidate the points regarding which the Court of Directors had evinced so much anxiety for further information, and it is to be concluded that the actual cultivator having dropped out of sight in 1818 in favour of the "ideal ryot", it became unnecessary to think about the former as soon as the land revenue assessments, aided by increasing prices, began to come in with increasing ease and regularity.
It was easy to create or restore property in the soil.
The Government should have regulated its management when created.
246a. In conclusion, it may be observed that the creation or restoration of property in the soil was a thing sufficiently easy of accomplishment . The Government had only to adhere to a policy of taking the half of the net annual produce, in order by a word to create property in the soil equal in value to the remaining half of the net annual produce.
This was clearly seen at the time, but it may be asked was it wise thus to create a property and not endeavour to regulate its future management among a people to whom freedom and liberty were unknown words? Reasons will be found set forth in section (A) of this Chapter, for thinking that even in Malabar individual property in the soil, in the European sense of the word, was not in existence at the beginning of British rule.
The drones have waxed fat and the working bees have waxed lean.
Custom, not competition, adjudged the shares into which the produce was to be divided. The grant of freedom to a community thus organised meant (as soon as custom had given way) freedom for the "strong to oppress the weak ; freedom for the newly created proprietor to take an ever increasing portion of the share of net produce left over after paying the Government dues. What wonder, then, that the drones in the hive have prospered and grown fat, or that the working bees have become famished and lean!