Saturday, June 29, 2013

Property rights- Tanjore, circa 1800

“Historical sketches of the South of India” by Col. Mark Wolks, published in the year 1820 has a chapter on “landed property in India”. On page 176, the author pays a tribute to the well-established system of property rights that prevailed in Tanjore, with the owners showing a complete understanding of the advantages of possession and the security that it conferred.

Passing south to regions somewhat more remote from the first impressions of the northern conquerors, we arrive atcTrichinopoly and Tanjore, sometimes united and sometimes separate: the latter principality containing the town of Combaconum, the ancient capital of the Chola race, one of the oldest Hindoo dynasties of which any traces have hitherto been discovered in these lower regions, and from which the whole coast in later times has taken its name. Tanjore in 1675 fell into the hands of Eccojee, the brother of the celebrated founder of the Mahratta empire. Throughout all its revolutions this country had remained under a Hindoo government, with the exception of the very short period that it was possessed by Mohammed Aly; and it is of no material importance to our present purpose to trace the ancient history of its private landed proprietors, since the whole province continues at this day to exhibit every character that constitutes a highly respectable proprietary right.

I cannot describe the state of landed property in this part of India more forcibly than by adopting the very words of a late report. Without entering on the question of who is proprietor of the soil, I will content myself with stating that immemorial usage has established both in Tanjore and Trichinopoly, that the occupants, whether distinguished by the names of Meerassdar or Mahajanums have the right of selling, bestowing, devising and bequeathing their lands in the manner which to them is most agreeable.

Whether this right was granted originally by the ancient constitution of the country, appears to me not worth considering at the present day. I think it a fortunate circumstance that the right does at present exist, whether it originated in encroachment on the sovereign's right, in a wise and formal abrogation of those rights, or in institutions coeval with the remotest antiquity. It is fortunate that at a moment when we are consulting on the means of establishing the property and welfare of the numerous people of these provinces, we find the lands of the country in the hands of men who feel and understand the full rights and advantages of possession, who have enjoyed them in a degree more or less secure before the British name was known in India, and who, in consequence of them, have rendered populous and fertile the extensive provinces of Tanjore and Trichinopoly. *

The class of proprietors to whom I allude are not to be considered as the actual cultivators of the soil; the far greater mass of them till their lands by the means of hired labourers, or by a class of people termed Pullers, who are of the lowest cast, and who may be considered as the slaves of the soil. The landed property of these provinces is divided and subdivided in every possible degree; there are proprietors of four thousand f acres, of four hundred acres, of forty acres, and of one acre.

I conclude that Trichinopoly is indebted for this advantage to its contiguity to Tanjore — the Mussulman rulers of the former could not, without a revolution involving the loss of the whole revenue, place their husbandmen on a footing materially differing from that of their immediate neighbours.

The occupants and Meerassdars above described are far from being mere nominal proprietors; they have a clear, ample, and unquestioned proprietor's share, amounting, according to the same authority, to the respectable proportion of twenty-seven per cent. of the gross produce, a larger rent than remained to an English proprietor of land who had titles and land-tax to pay, even before the establishment of the income-tax. The report of a most respectable committee on the affairs of Tanjore in 1807, gives a very clear detail of the distribution of property over the whole province, which consists of five thousand eight hundred and seventy-three townships : of this number there are one thousand eight hundred and seven townships, in which one individual holds the whole undivided lands: there are two thousand two hundred and two, of which the property in each is held by several persons having their distinct and separate estates : and one thousand seven hundred and seventy-four, the landed property in which is held in common by all the Meerassdars or proprietors of the village, who contribute labour and receive a share of the crop in the proportion of their respective properties. The same report states that the number of Meerassdars who are Bramins is computed to be 17,149, oOf Soodras, including native Christians, 42,442 Mohammedans, 1,457, total 62,048

The fact of the existence of so considerable a number of Mohammedan proprietors is a curious and conclusive proof of the unrestrained facility of alienating landed property in Tanjore;

No comments: