Feudalism in Pakistan
How to eradicate the menace
Feudal system has almost disappeared from the face of the earth, but it still exists in Pakistan. The feudal lords are the prominent members of our society. The culture in the feudal lordship system is diametrically opposed to the Islamic norms and values, and democracy. Feudalism, in the case of Pakistan, is a system comprising landlords who own large swathes of land, hundreds and even thousands of acres of land. Simply put, it means thousands of acres of land in the hands of only a few. This system, indeed, hinders progress and abolishes social integration, which is pivotal for the structure of the society.
Feudal system is, undoubtedly, deeply rooted in Pakistani society, especially in rural Sindh, southern Punjab and certain parts of Balochistan. In our society, there are two extremes; one side lives in the height of depravity and misery whereas the other in relishing in luxury and extravagance. So gloomy! But, this is what we actually witness and experience.
Since a huge chunk of income of the British colonizers in the Indian Subcontinent came from land, they, for this purpose, had introduced Zamindari, Mahalwari and Ryotwari systems here.
This system was introduced by Lord Cornwallis in 1793, through Permanent Settlement Act, in Bihar, Orissa, Benaras and Bengal. In this system of land regulation, the landlord – the person who was awarded a piece of land by the British – was solely in charge of revenue collection. The amount they collected would be divided into 11 parts; 1/11 of the share belonging to the Zamindar and the remaining to the East India Company. This meant that the British administration had no direct dealings with the peasants.
The Ryotwari system was introduced by Thomas Munro in 1820 mainly in the South Indian region, in modern Indian states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, and others. In this system, the British awarded peasants the ownership of their land, making this is a system of peasant-proprietorship. Hence, all revenue collection was made directly from the peasants who worked on and owned the land they cultivated.
- The Mahalwari system:
It was introduced in 1833 during the period of William Bentinck in the western part of Subcontinent— Central Province, North-West Frontier, Agra, Punjab, Gangetic Valley— and areas making up the modern-day Pakistan. This system was based on village groups; the land was granted to prominent members in the village for cultivation.
Although the British colonizers have left, this parasitic curse still exists here for the exploitation of lower rungs of society. This system is the real impediment to development; it brings political instability, inflation and weak governance. To make Pakistan great politically and economically, this cancerous cell must be eradicated. Until the eradication of this system, we, as a nation, cannot imagine prosperous economy and a truly functional justice system in Pakistan.
Feudal system promotes two different cultures: ‘culture of feudal impunity’ and culture of poverty. The former refers to a system in which the landlords go scot-free even after committing horrendous and heinous crimes due to their overwhelming influence over police and judicial administration. The police usually don’t register an FIR (First Information Report) against a wadera or a chowdhry. The puppet-like mullahs also are in their interest and in certain scenarios they concoct their own version of Islamic principles and norms. This culture has hijacked the minds of the people, especially in villages. So, the poor are unable to raise voice for their rights.
The latter, i.e. the culture of poverty, is a result of values and belief systems. People feel inferior and think for ‘living for the present’ only.
The words of the landlords are considered ‘law’. These landlords keep their peasants uneducated. However, after decades of exploitation, peasants, especially the young generation, now really want to get rid of this cancerous system. But, they have failed in getting any tangible results as landlords are sitting in the legislatures where they make laws that help them control the ‘undesirable behaviour’ of the peasants. Patriotism, to them, means self-interest. This is perilous for the country and hazardous to social and national integration. To have a prosperous society, this sort of evil must be rooted out.
We the Pakistanis lag far behind even many developing countries in education, social integration and humanity, and this is only due to this feudal system which is the real anathema for socioeconomic development and political stability. Thus, it can be said that that stability, especially political, social justice and rule of law are the products of an egalitarian system.
The principal reason behind the strong feudalism in Pakistani society is that land reforms, one of the reasons of strong feudal culture, were not carried out sincerely. During Ayub era, these reforms were introduced but they were limited only to individuals rather than families. Bhutto’s land reforms were also never implemented in letter and spirit.
Political power is also a major factor of strong feudalism. Our politicians are landlords who have, as mentioned earlier, a tremendous influence over judicial administrators, police and public. Through these institutions, the landlords facilitate their paths to provincial and national assemblies. Democracy, as a popular definition goes, “is government of the people, for the people, by the people,” but in the context of Pakistan, it is “of the feudal, for the feudals and by the feudals.”
Last but not least, debts bondage gives muscularity to feudalism in our society. The posterity of the peasants is deprived of education by the landlords. Sadly, the tenants are born and die in poverty. The bondage of their debts ends with death only.
Feudalism hampers politico-economic development by creating a greater degree of psychological panic in the minds of the have-nots. It deprives the masses of health, education and even independent life, and invariably pressurizes and controls them. Ergo, they surrender their aims and ambitions in the lap of these ‘monsters’. They put to end their dreams and ambitions of their kids for the sake of these landlords, who make life a ‘living hell’ for the peasants.
The panacea for the ill of feudalism is education, strong and sincere land reforms and strong governance. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should also play a great role in demolishing this parasitical system.