Musalmans And Money-Lenders In The Punjab
Those who live for their country are in no way less patriotic than those who die for their country. If those civil servants who are entrusted with the responsibility of administrating a particular territory are fired with earnest zeal and sincerity for ameliorating the social and economic lot of the down-trodden, toiling millions entrusted to their care, they are in no way less patriotic than those who sacrifice their lives in defence of their country. The present book has been written by a dedicated civil servant who falls in this category. The scenario is placed in the second half of the 19th century. Tracing the history of the time, the author says that from the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 until the conquest of Western Punjab by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh in 1823, Punjab was without a central Government. Population was thin hence there was plenty of land for all. The famines of 1783, 1812 and 1833 had decimated the population and wiped out whole villages. There were no roads and few canals were in existence.The village Bania, as the moneylender was called, was no menace to the tillers of the soil. The old revenue system of the Sikh Government was to take, in kind, as much from each crop as it could safely obtain without causing heart burning or discouraging cultivation. Thus under former Governments, the village Baniya had been the friend and servant of the Zamindar. He worked in harmony with the peasant sharing humbly in his prosperity as well as adversity and advanced money only after ascertaining the solvency of his debtor. However the situation changed entirely with the British annexation of the Punjab and with the advent of British rule. The situation was further aggravated when the previously unknown British Institutions, like civil Contract, Limitation, Legal Practitioners and other laws were introduced. A bond or a debt secured on the mortgage or conventional sale of land became a sacred instrument to be constructed according to its terms. Peace and security expanded cultivated area enormously and the presence of a large military force in the Punjab together with the undertaking of substantial military works, such as the Grand Trunk Road and construction of barracks in cantonments doubled money circulation. These reduced the money value of agricultural produce from 50 to 100 per cent. The farmer?s petty borrowing powers were now unlimited. All grades of people were thus falling victims to the curse of debt. Thus a greater part of the realised prosperity of the community was being transferred to a small moneyed class. A greater misfortune could not have befallen a people. The author has quoted from the Punjab Census Report of 1881 by another civilian, Denzil Ibbetson, outlining the chief characteristics of their respective religions on the character of the Hindus, the Mohammedans and the Sikhs, the Hinduism he says, ?it preaches no persecution; it is content to live and to let live. The Hindu?s characteristic is quiet, contended life and thirst. He tills his fields, he feeds his Brahmin, lets his womenfolk worship their gods ? ?. About Sikhs he says they are ?proverbially the finest peasantry in India. Much no doubt is due to the sturdy independence and resolute industry which characterise the Jat?. About the effect of Islam on its follower, he says, it fills him with ?false pride and conceit, disinclines him for honest toil and renders him more extravagant, less thrifty, less contended and less well to-do than his Hindu neighbour?. Thus he concludes that of the three, the Musalmans were the most backward and ignorant and therefore the least able to hold their own in a law-ridden age. The author points out the gravity of the situation and recalls in this context how towards the close of 1874 some Deccan villagers, grown desperate under the Marwari moneylenders? exploitation, banded themselves as a Marhatta Land League and boycotted their creditors. The contagion spread rapidly and in May 1877 the cultivators in a large village near poona rose and gutted the shops of their oppressors. Urged by apprehension of a general Marhatta uprising, a Commission of Enquiry was immediately appointed and the excited peasantry pacified by promise of redress of grievances. Finally after great opposition, the Deccan Ryots Act, 1879 was passed, making sweeping changes in land laws. The author recommends action on the lines of Deccan Ryots-Act 1879. In conclusion, he advocates reforms in civil laws and produces for ameliorating the lot of peasantry. The native opinion condemned the great power which the new British laws conferred on the creditor and the blind way the spiralling rates of interest were being fleeced by him. he pleads for directing the ignorant many against the more intelligent few? who take advantage of their weakness and ignorance, and thus arrest the process of expropriation. The present volume is a welcome addition to this zenre of literature which aimed at ameliorting the economic and social plight of the toiling peasantry which was then groaning under poverty and which constituted the backbone of society and the sure foundation of the stable Raj.
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