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‘The Beautiful Tree-Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century’ by Dharampal – Chapter VIII

In this series of articles, we are introducing the book ‘The Beautiful tree’ by Shri Dharampal, to readers old and new. Shri Dharampal was one of the leading intellectuals & writers of Independent Bharat, whose work was subsequently marginalised & suppressed by the left-leaning academic establishment. We are grateful to for making this treasure trove of books/articles available for the common public.

Chapter VIII

During this prolonged debate, the critical issue that was seldom touched upon and about which in their various ways, the Madras Presidency collectors, the reports of Adam, and the work of Leitner provided a variety of clues, was how all these educational institutions the 1,00,000 schools in Bengal and Bihar, and a school in every village according to Munro and others were actually organized and maintained.

For, it is ridiculous to suppose that any system of such wide and universal dimensions could ever have maintained itself without the necessary conceptual and infrastructural supports over any length of time.

Modern Bharatiya tend to quote foreigners in most matters reflecting on Bharat’s present, or its past. One school of thought uses all such foreign backing to show Bharat’s primitiveness, the barbaric, uncouth, and what is termed parochial nature of the customs and manners of its people, and the ignorance, oppression, and poverty which Bharatiya are said to have always suffered from.

To them Bharat for most of its past had lived at what is termed, the feudal stage or what in more recent Marxist terminology is called the system of Asiatic social organisms. Yet, to another school, Bharat had always been a glorious land, with minor blemishes, or accidents of history here and there; all in all, the remaining land of Dharmic and benevolent rulers.

For yet others subscribing to the observations of the much-quoted Charles Metcalfe, and Henry Maine, it has mostly been a happy land of village republics.

Unfortunately, due to their British-oriented education, or because of some deeper causes (like the scholastic and hair-splitting tendency of Brahmanical learning), Bharatiya have become since the past century, too literal, too much caught up with mere words and phrases.

They have lost practically all sense of the symbolic nature of what is said, or written.[79] It is not surprising, therefore, that when Bharatiya  think of village republics, what occurs to them is not what the word republic implies in substance; but, instead, the visual images of its shell, the elected assembly, the system of voting, etc.

What Charles Metcalfe, and especially Henry Maine wrote on this point was primarily on the basis of the earlier British information, i.e. what had been derived from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century British travelers, administrators, etc., as well as from the writings of other Europeans before them. It implied (and, quite naturally, the British had no particular reason to spell it out for us Bharatiya) that the village (it is immaterial how they defined it), to an extent, had all the semblance of the State: it controlled revenue and exercised authority within its sphere.

How this village State was constituted, (whether in the manner of an oligarchy, or by the representation of the various castes, crafts, or other groups within it, or by the representation of all families, or in some other manner), while important in itself as a subject for exploration, was not its basic element. The basic element of this village republic was the authority it wielded, the resources it controlled and dispensed, and the manner of such resource utilization.

Notwithstanding all that has been written about empires Ashokan, Vijayanagar, Mughal, etc., and of oriental despotism, it is beyond any doubt that throughout its history, Bharatiya society and polity has basically been organized according to non-centralist concepts.

This fact is not only brought out in recent research. The eighteenth and early nineteenth-century European reports, manuscripts, as well as published writings, also bear evidence to it. That the annual exchequer receipts of Jahangir did not amount to more than 5% of the computed revenue of his empire, and that of Aurangzeb (with all his zeal for maximizing such receipts), did not ever exceed 20% is symptomatic of the concepts and arrangements which governed Bharatiya polity.

It can be argued of course that such a non-centralist polity made Bharat politically weak; or, rather, soft in the military sense given that only hierarchical and centralist states are politically and militarily strong and viable. This may all be true and is worthy of serious consideration.

Nonetheless, the first requisite is to understand the nature of Bharatiya society and polity especially as it functioned two or three centuries ago. Further, its various dimensions and contours, strengths and weaknesses need to be known, and not only from European writings but much more so from Bharatiya sources; that is from sources rooted in the traditions and beliefs of various areas, communities, groups, etc., with special attention being paid to their own images of the society of which they were apart.

It is suggested here and there is voluminous data scattered in the British records themselves which confirm the view that in terms of the basic expenses, both education and medical care, like the expenses of the local police, and the maintenance of irrigation facilities, had primary claims on revenue. It was primarily this revenue that not only maintained higher education, but also as was sometimes admitted in the British records the system of elementary education.[80]

It is quite probable that, in addition to this basic provision, the parents and guardians of the scholars also contributed a little according to their varying capacities by way of presents, occasional feeding of the unprovided scholars, etc., towards the maintenance of the system. But to suppose that such a deep-rooted and extensive system which really catered to all sections of society could be maintained on the basis of tuition fees, or through not only gratuitous teaching but also feeding of the pupils by the teachers, is to be grossly ignorant of the actual functioning of the Bharatiya social arrangements of the time.

According to the Bengal-Bihar data of the 1770s and 1780s, the revenues of these areas were divided into various categories in addition to what was called the Khalsa, i.e., the sources whose revenue was received in the exchequer of the ruling authority of the province, or some larger unit. These categories together (excluding the Khalsa), seem to have been allocated or assigned the major proportion of the revenue sources (perhaps around 80% of the computed revenue of any area).

Two of these categories were termed Chakeran Zemin, and Bazee Zemin in the Bengal and Bihar records of this period. The former, Chakeran Zemin, referred to recipients of revenue who were engaged in administrative, economic, accounting activities, etc., and were remunerated by assignments of revenue. The latter, Bazee Zemin, referred to those who according to the British were in receipt of what was termed religious and charitable allowances.

A substantial portion of these religious allowances was obviously assigned for the maintenance of religious places: largely temples of all sizes and celebrities, but also mosques, dargahs, chatrams, maths, etc. Another part was assigned to the agraharams, or what perhaps was also termed Brahmdeya in South Bharat as well as in Bengal. Yet, other assignments were given over to a variety of persons: to great and other pundits, to poets, to joshis, to medical practitioners, to jesters and even for such purposes as defraying the expenses of carrying Ganga water in areas of Uttar Pradesh to certain religious shrines on certain festivals.[81]

Regarding the extent of such assignments from Hedgelee in Bengal, it was stated in 1770 that almost one-half of the province is held upon free tenure under the Bazee Zemin category.[82]

The number of these Bazee Zemin (one may reasonably assume the term included individuals, groups as well as institutions) in many districts of Bengal and Bihar was as high as 30,000 to 36,000 recipients for the district. According to H.T. Prinsep,83 in one district of Bengal around 1780, the applications for the registration of Bazee Zemin numbered 72,000.

The position in the Madras Presidency was not very different, even after all the disorganization, dispossession, and demolition of the period 1750-1800, during which the British made themselves masters of the whole area. As late as 1801, over 35% of the total cultivated land in the Ceded Districts (the present Rayalseema area and the Kannada District of Bellary) came under the category of revenue-free assignments, and it was the task of Thomas Munro to somehow reduce this quantity to a mere 5% of the total cultivated land.

The reduction intended in the Ceded Districts was also carried out in all other districts, earlier in some, and later in others, and in some, the dispossession of such vast numbers of assignees of revenue took a long time.

The returns from the various districts of the Madras Presidency, especially during the years 1805-1820, provide much information on the varied nature of these revenue assignments (or grain, or money allowances). In some measure, these had till then continued to be permitted, or disbursed to a variety of institutions and to individuals in the several districts. Such information usually got collected whenever the government was contemplating some new policy, or some further steps concerning one, or more categories of such assignees, or those to whom any sort of allowances was being paid.

As illustrative of such information, a return from the district of Tanjore of April 1813, relating to the money assignments received by 1,013 big and small temples,[84]which by this time were mostly minute and between 350-400 individuals is reproduced at the end of this book (Annexures G and H). These payments amounted at this time to a total of Star Pagodas 43,037 for the temples, and Star Pagodas 5,929 for the individuals, annually. A Star Pagoda was valued at about three and one-half rupee.

What was true of Bengal, Bihar and the Madras Presidency applied equally to other areas: whether of the Bombay Presidency, Panjab, or in the Rajasthan States. The proportions of revenue allocated to particular categories as far as the British record indicates also seem fairly similar.

It will not be far wrong to assume that about a quarter to one-third of the revenue-paying sources (not only land, but also seaports, etc.) was, according to ancient practice, assigned for the requirements of the social and cultural infrastructure till the British overturned it all.

Further still, the rate of assessment which was paid by cultivators of the revenue assigned lands was fairly low. According to the supervisors of the Bengal Districts in the 1770s and early 1780s, the rate of an assessment charged by the Bazee Zemin revenue assignees was around one-quarter to one-third of the rate which the British had begun to demand from the lands which were treated as Khalsa,85 a category which was now just swallowing up practically all the other categories.

A more or less similar phenomenon obtained in the various districts of the Madras Presidency even as late as the 1820s.86 Moreover, though it may seem unbelievable, the area which constituted Malabar had, till about 1750, never been subject to a land tax.[87]It had a variety of other mercantile and judicial taxes, but land in Malabar according to British investigators themselves never paid revenue of any kind till the peace was wholly shattered by the Europeans, Hyder Ali, and Tipu Sultan. Even during Tipu’s period, the actual receipts from Malabar were fairly small.

The major dispossession of the various categories of revenue assignees (starting from those who had an assignment for the performance of military duties, and who formed the local militias, and going on to those who performed police duties, etc.) started as soon as the British took over de facto control of any area, (i.e. in Bengal and Bihar from 1757-58 onwards).

The turn of the Chakeran Zemin and the Bazee Zemin came slightly later. By about 1770, the latter had also begun to be seriously affected. By about 1800, through various means, a very large proportion of these had been altogether dispossessed; and, most of the remaining had their assignments greatly reduced through various devices.

Among the devices used was the application of the newly established enhanced rate of assessment even to the sources from which the assignees had received the revenue. This device, to begin with, implied a reduction of the quantity of the assigned source in accordance with the increased rate of assessment. The next step was to reduce in most cases the money value itself.

The result was that the assignee whether an individual or an institution even when allowed a fraction of the previous assignment, was no longer able (because of such steep reduction) to perform the accompanying functions in the manner they had been performed only some decades previously.

Those whose assignments were completely abrogated were of course reduced to penury and beggary, if not to a worse fate. Naturally, many of the old functions dependent on such assignments (like teaching, medicine, feeding of pilgrims, etc.), had to be given up because of want of fiscal support, as also due to state ridicule and prohibitions.

There are references (see the annexed reports from some of the Madras Presidency collectors) to certain revenue assignments here and there, and to daily cash or grain allowances received by some of those who were occupied in imparting Sanskritic learning, or Persian, and in some instances even education at the elementary level.

A few other collectors also made reference to certain revenue assignments which used to exist in the area (but were said to have been appropriated by Tipu, and that, when the British took over these areas, they formally added such revenue to the total State revenue). The various area reports of the period 1792 to about 1806 make much mention of dispossession of revenue assignees by orders of Tipu in the area over which he had control.

But, at the same time, it is also stated that through the connivance of the revenue officers, etc., such dispossession during Tipu’s reign was, in most cases, not operative at all. What Tipu might have intended merely as a threat to opponents, became a de facto reality when these areas came under formal British administration.

But in most areas which the British had conquered (either on behalf of the Nabob of Arcot, or on behalf of the Nizam of Hyderabad, or administered in the name of the various Rajas of Tanjore), most such dispossessions was pre-1800. The process started soon after 1750, when the British domination of South Bharat began gathering momentum in the early 1780s and the revenues of the areas claimed by the British to be under the nominal rulership of the Nabob of Arcot were formally assigned over to the British.

One major method used to ensure dispossession was to slash down what was termed the District charges, i.e., the amounts traditionally utilized within the districts, but which, for purposes of accounting, were shown in the records of the Nabob. The slashing down in certain districts like Trichnopoly was up to 93% of the District charges allowed until then: a mere 19,143 Star Pagodas now allowed in place of the earlier 2,82,148 Star Pagodas.

The report of the collector of Bellary is best known and most mentioned in the published records on indigenous education.[88] It is long and fairly comprehensive, though the data he actually sent was much less detailed. In it, he actually to the extent a collector could come out with the statement that the degeneration of education is ascribable to the gradual but general impoverishment of the country; that the means of the manufacturing classes have been greatly diminished by the introduction of our own European manufactures; that the transfer of the capital of the country from the native government and their officers, who liberally expanded it in Bharat, to Europeans, restricted by law from employing it even temporarily in Bharat, and daily draining it from the land, has likewise tended to this effect;

that in many villages where formerly there were schools, there are now none; and that learning, though it may proudly decline to sell its stores, had never flourished in any country except under the encouragement of the ruling power, and the countenance and support once given to science in this part of Bharat have long been withheld.

In elaboration, he added that of the 533 institutions for education now existing in this district, I am ashamed to say not one now derives any support from the State; but that there is no doubt, that in former times, especially under the Hindoo Governments very large grants, both in money and inland, were issued for the support of learning; that the considerable yeomiahs or grants of money, now paid to brahmins in this district…may, I think, be traced to this source. He concluded with the observation that:

Though it did not consist with the dignity of learning to receive from her votaries hire, it has always in Bharat been deemed the duty of government to evince to her the highest respect, and to grant to her those emoluments which she could not, consistently with her character, receive from other sources; the grants issued by former governments, on such occasions, contained, therefore, no unbecoming stipulations or conditions.

They all purport to flow from the free bounty of the ruling power, merely to aid the maintenance of some holy or learned man, or to secure his prayers for the State. But they were almost universally granted to learned or religious persons, who maintained a school for one or more of the sciences, and taught therein gratuitously; and though not expressed in the deed itself, the duty of continuing such gratuitous instruction was certainly implied in all such grants.[89]

The Collector of Bellary, A.D. Campbell, was an experienced and perceptive officer, previously having held the post of Secretary of the Board of Revenue, and was perhaps one of Thomas Munro’s favorites. It may be said to Munro’s credit that in his review of 10 March 1826, he did admit in his oblique way that indigenous education has, no doubt, been better in earlier times. The fact that it got disrupted, reduced and well-nigh destroyed from the time the British took over de facto control and centralized the revenue, was obviously not possible even for a Governor as powerful as Thomas Munro to state informal government records.

Illustrations such as the above can be multiplied ad infinitum. It only requires searching the records pertaining to the early period of British rule in different areas of Bharat. With much industry and in a fairly objective manner, Leitner tried to do this for the Panjab. For Gandhiji, an intuitive understanding of what could have happened was enough. He could, therefore, with confidence, reply to Hartog that, my prejudice or presentiment still makes me cling to the statement I made at Chatham House.

(Note: Minor edits have been made to the content to conform with HinduPost styleguide)

(Click here to read the previous article in the series)


Book: The Beautiful Tree

Author: Dharamapal

Originally published: 1983

Published by: Voice of India

Available on: Amazon, PDF

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