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Village Government in British India

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Item Code: HAI316
Publisher: Low Price Publications Pvt. Ltd.
Author: John Matthai
Language: English
Edition: 1993
ISBN: 8185557691
Pages: 224
Other Details 7.50 X 5.00 inch
Weight 220 gm
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Book Description

I HOPE that this little book, which Mr. Matthai has written with so much research and insight, may open the way for many further studies on Indian Local Government.

The fragments of an indigenous Local Government that are still to be traced in Indian village life seem to me full of interest and suggestion. They are, it need hardly be said, easily overlooked. One able collector of long service in Central India informed me that he had been, until a few months before, totally unaware that anything of the sort existed in any of the villages over which he ruled. But being led to make specific inquiries on the subject, he had just discovered, in village after village, a distinctly effective, if some- what shadowy, local organization, in one or other form of panchayat, which was, in fact, now and then giving decisions on matters of communal concern, adjudicating civil disputes, and even condemning offenders to reparation and fine. Such Local Government organization is, of course, "extra-legal," and has no statutory warrant, and, in the eyes of the British tribunals, possesses no authority whatever. But it has gone on silently existing, possibly for longer than the British Empire itself, and is still effectively functioning, merely by common consent and with the very real sanction of the local public opinion. Mr. Matthai's careful descriptions enable us to realize what this Village Government has been, and probably often still is, and the subjects with which it deals.

I may perhaps be permitted to cite a similar experience of my own. In England there are about three hundred local authorities, styled Commissioners of Sewers, who have been appointed by Royal Authority, in some places for six or seven centuries, and who derive their powers to protect the land from floodings, and to tax and to fine, exclusively from Parliament and the King. Underlying these august dignitaries, however, the careful observer may discover, in one county after another, still existing fragments of another and an older local organization against floodings, unknown to the statutory constitution and never yet described in any book, in the form of juries of local residents who make their own rules, exercise their own primitive "watch and ward" of the embankments and dykes, carry out the minor precautionary measures that they themselves devise, and stand in a curious and ever-varying relationship, unprovided for by statute, to the official Commissioners, who naively regard themselves as the sole Local Authorities. Mr. Matthai rightly draws attention to another analogy, in the common black- smith, the common innkeeper, the common miller, and the common carrier of rural England-immemorial village officials, bound to village service, long unknown to the lawyers of the King's Courts, and entirely unauthorized by Parliament. One suggestion that these fragments of indigenous Indian Local Government seem to afford is that we sometimes tend to exaggerate the extent to which the cleavages of caste have prevailed over the community of neighbourhood. How often is one informed," with authority," that the panchayat of which we catch glimpses must be only a caste panchayat! It is plain, on the evidence that however frequent and potent may be the panchayat of a caste, there have been and still are panchayats of men of different castes, exercising the functions of a Village Council over villagers of different castes.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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