Monday, February 18, 2019 | ePaper

Rabindranath Tagore on the agrarian question

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Md. Anisur Rahman :
Tagore discussed the question of land relations in one of the most incisive observations in his days on this subject, in his essay Rayoter Kotha (On the Tenant; Tagore 1926: 1020-1025), in response to an attack upon himself as a zamindar (by Promoth Chowdhury). He observed that the zamindar was a 'parasite' deserving land to be taken away from him and given to the tenants; but if resale of land by the tenants could not be prevented then re-alienation of land from small farmers to money lenders and big landowners by way of distress sales would occur. With fragmentation of land through inheritance the number of small landowners would also keep on increasing and with this the possibility of such distress sales as well. Thus land ownership would keep getting concentrated in the hands of a class of money-lender/big land owners and a new polarization of wealth and power on land would ensue. He frankly admitted that he did not have a solution to this problematic and was searching for one.
While not immediately seeing a solution of this problematic Tagore, even being a zamindar himself, was able to take an impersonal view of the question in favour of the tenants. He even wrote a well-known stirring poem - shudhu dui bigha jomi (only two bighas of land) on the guiles of a zamindar who by exercising his power took away by deceit two bighas of land from a peasant having no other assets.
However, Tagore appealed to zamindars to empower the rayots (tenants) so that even the temptation to oppress may not exist (Tagore 1907: 518), naively assuming that zamindars as a class could be made to imbibe his own values.
The Russian revolution touched Tagore deeply and made him ponder. Visiting post-revolution Russia he observed "it is a shame to have to accept that civilization can reach its height by keeping the bulk of the people down in an inhuman state". Seeing the cooperativization of land and mechanized farming in Russia Tagore reflected on his own efforts to promote mechanized cooperative farming both in his estate in Shelaidaha and under his university in Shantiniketan, thus:
"The peasant had to be strengthened in atmoshakti, this was my desire. In this respect two things always swayed in me: the right of ownership of land is rightfully not of the zamindar but of the peasant; secondly, without cooperative farming there cannot be any improvement in agriculture.
But both of these ways are difficult. First, if the right of land is given to the peasant the next moment it will go to the money lender, which will aggravate rather than improve the plight of the peasant ....
I discussed myself one day the question of pooling land (for cooperative agriculture), calling the peasants. From the verandah of my house in Shelaidaha one could see vast expanse of land extending beyond the horizon. From dawn one by one peasants come with their ploughs, each one tilling his own little piece  of land and going back.
I have seen with my own eyes how very wasteful this fragmented use of the peasant's strength is. When I called the peasants and explained to them the advantages of mechanical farming by pooling all land they agreed with all of this. But they said, we are ignorant  shall we be able to manage such a big task? ....
When the cooperative scheme of Bolpur came under Vishwabharati then I had hoped once more that now perhaps the opportunity had come. Those who had been entrusted with running the offices they were young in age, with accounting skills and training greater than mine. But our youth have come out of schools; they are used to memorizing books. The education which is in vogue in our country does not give courage to think nor the skills for work; the deliverance of students rests on repeating text-book jargons by rote." (Tagore 1930 : 25-27)
Thus, by his own admission, the much talked about experiment of his in Sriniketan fell short of his own vision.
Tagore criticized the idea of cooperation to receive loans only without cooperation in production. It is not by granting cooperative credit, he said, but by combined effort, thereby making the villages cooperation minded, that the villages can be saved. Admitting his own failure to promote mechanical farming through cooperatives in his estate Tagore reported that he had interviewed Russian peasants on cooperative farming and had received both positive and negative answers. Some farmers saw the need for pooling land for mechanized farming.
Others had objections to surrendering private ownership of land, saying that land is an instrument for self-expression. But Soviet Russia, he remarked, had denied the problem itself in its forced collectivization policy.
Tagore observed that in Russia the neglect of social interest had come to such a height that the reaction was suppression of individualism. He saw serious problem in this, and predicted that one day Russia would face calamity for this.
In brief, he said, their mistake was that they had constructed a standard mould through their education policy, but humanity caged in a mould never lasts - "if the received doctrines do not agree with doctrines generated by the living mind then one day either the mould will burst into pieces, or the mind of the people will die benumbed, or will become (like that of) mechanical dolls:"
He also observed the Russian state's strong effort to impose one interpretation of Marxism blocking free discussion, and this destroys, does not create.
This, he observed, was an engineering viewpoint that cannot be applied to conscious independent thinking humans. (Tagore, op cit. : 11-12).
However, we see that the end of Soviet style 'Socialism' did not come quite for the reason that Tagore envisaged.

(Social and Environmental Thinking of Rabindranath Tagore in the light of Post Tagorian World Development)

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