Category Archives: Politics

Who owns the land?

There are certain questions that evade clear answers; the question of the ownership of land is a similar one. Land is a part of the natural resources of the category of water and air, both of which don’t have clearly marked ownership. It is because of this ambiguity that different civilizations have looked at land in different manners. Some provided certain individuals with absolute private proprietorship rights while others kept the rights fluid. The Indian civilization belongs to the latter category.

There was a never a clear idea of the land being a private property in India. However there were certain theoretical notions about the sacrality and divine ownership of land which were sometimes different from ground realities.

The theoretical aspects of the land ownership involved the divine attributions and the kingly supervision on the basis of divine rhetoric of kingship. Through ancient and medieval ages in the Indian history these notions have time and again propped up. It can be safely said though, that whenever there was a centralised rule the theoretical aspect of king being the caretaker of the land on behalf of the Almighty was asserted. During times of decentralization this notion couldn’t have been asserted. However even during the times when divine authority over land was expounded, the practical realities remained different. The peasant or the local land tiller and holder on the ground exercised more immediate proprietary rights. However absolute proprietorship did not rest with any authority. The peasant held the land on the ground, the king held the right to extract revenue due to his divine association and due to the fact that he provided protection to the given piece of land.


source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

Ancient Period

For ancient India nature of land use has been divided into three types by scholars:

  1. The land being owned by the sovereign
  2. The land being communally owned by the village, these later developed as feudal centres
  3. The land being owned by the peasant

None of these however were applied exclusively to a piece of land and the major phenomenon was the King regulating and governing the land which was essentially under peasant proprietorship.

A brief look at the role of the ruler in managing the land would be helpful. In ancient India it was understood that the king had the right to confiscate and to transfer land from one person to another. This understanding is supported by a quote from the Arthashastra, which says ‘lands may be confiscated from those who do not cultivate them, and given to others’. In fact in the absence of the owner of land it went to the King. These two things can be used to conclude that the King is only the in-charge as long as there is no claimant to the land and that the propriety rights rested at local level. Junnar inscriptions has example of private transfers of land owned by individual proprietors

Counter to this narrative there is another interesting aspect that has been reported in Mimasa texts of ancient times. There the question ‘What can a man legally give as his own?’ comes up to which the answer is given that Land can not be transferred, for it belongs equally to all and men enjoy lordship over the fields but not the whole earth. The aspect of divine right  and protective custody over the land also can be made out from a reference in the Narasihtha Purana which states, ‘By conquest, the earth became the property of the holy Parasurama; by gift, the property of the sage Kasyapa; and committed by him to Ksatriyas for the sake of protection’.

Both the trends of thought, on suggesting divine authority over land and the other suggesting private proprietorship existed in ancient India. The King was allowed to manage and extract revenue by the virtue of him protecting the domain.


 Medieval Period

 In the Medieval period the theoretical aspect of divine attribute of land and king’s right to manage and protect it was properly formalised. Bernier and certain other European travellers call the king, the owner of the land, which is a wrongly placed notion, coming up due to their European understanding of land ownership. The Mughal Emperor was not the owner of the land but merely an in-charge. The European travellers misunderstood the Indian land system as they understood it to be like European feudal system where lord had absolute proprietorship rights.  The land in medieval Indian understanding truly belonged to God. The King didn’t take a rent on land from the people instead he took a tax on the crop. According to Abul Fazl, he did so only as remuneration for his services of providing protection and justice to the subjects. The concept of rent on an owned entity was completely absent in Indian scenario as was the case with the feudal Europe. The absence of any absolute authority over land can be made out from the fact that there was provision known as ihya land which was a piece of unclaimed fallow land which became the domain of anyone who cultivated it.


Having established this the ground realities were slightly different and despite his justified claims over the tax which made him de facto manager of the land of his domain, the king dare not disturb the local potentates who commanded ground level authority. Thus we see that it was more often than not that the local zamindars with roots and links with the peasants and workers on ground were incorporated in state machinery. Rajputs were not shifted from their homelands when they were inducted in the government services and were mostly assigned lands in their ancestral areas. The workers at the immediate ground level, muqaddams (village headmen) and patwaris (village accountant) were not state appointed but locally chosen. The local potentates like zamindars could even sell their zamindari rights. The same cannot be said about Iqta or Jagirdari rights, which bestowed economic and administrative authority over a piece of land given to a noble by the Emperor for a limited time.  In fact the developed system of Iqta or Jagirdari land grants had an inherent element of shifting where the authority over the resources of these lands was subjective to the King’s will.


Thus in Medieval era too there were notions of divinity associated with land and similarly there were certain proprietorship rights that could be exercised by private individuals on ground.


 Colonial Period

 This ancient and medieval understanding of land ownership changed with the coming of the colonizers. The British drastically changed the way of looking at land which till now was as an entity with fluid proprietorship with divine attributes and multiple claimants. They had the concept of feudal ownership in their minds where the feudal lord was considered the ultimate authority over land. And having seen that system they understood the Indian subcontinent’s land tenure to be of the same nature, and thus they claimed rent from the land and not taxes. The rent presupposes the notion of absolute ownership. On their arrival to the Indian subcontinent they couldn’t really identify the owner of land and the first thing they did was to assign an absolute owner of land and then extract the revenue. They auctioned the land on the basis of who can make the payment of revenue to the British government. Their extraction from the land became rigorous by the day because of the colonial parasitic nature.

The coming of concepts of western modernity where the state was supposed to be completely divorced from religious elements discounted all the notions of the divinity of land and it solely became a property of the private individuals. It is a version of this idea of land ownership that has come down to present.

Thus it can be said that the pre-modern concepts of ownership of land, did not divorce the land from the divine attribute that it had because of it being a natural and not a man-made entity. With the coming of the  ideas of western modernity to the Indian subcontinent in the form of colonial hegemony, the land now developed the nature of a property completely alienable,  devoid of its sacred nature.



Protector of Cow, Protector of Nation, Protector of Women: It has always been the same ‘Hero’

Protector of Cow, Protector of Nation, Protector of Women: It has always been the same ‘Hero’

Protector of Cow, Protector of Nation, Protector of Women: It has always been the same ‘Hero’

Wandering very near the fringes of oversimplification of complex ideas, I can not help but see the world divided into two groups, the protector and the protected, with glorification of the protectors to the extent of their being worshipped. But we have rarely stopped to ponder over the question of protection. From what do we need protection and why?

If we try to ask this question, our voices are hushed back into our throats by horrifying instances of violence around us. With a Hindu nationalist organization equating Rape of a woman to the Slaughter of cow and failure of the masses to counter or even recognize the disgusting, inhuman tone of this remark, we need to wonder how far have we deviated from the ideal of a sensitive sensible society.

Importance of cow in particular and cattle in general grew from the Rigvedic times. In fact, according to historian R.S. Sharma, there are so many references to cow and bull in Rig Veda that the Rig Vedic people can be called a predominantly pastoral people. Most of their wars were fought over cows. Even the term for war in Rigveda is gavishthi which means search for cows, in those times cow seems to have been the most important form of wealth. Gradually cow seized to be the cause of violence and land took its place. Since we aren’t pastoral anymore, the logic of protection of cow, today, with the devotional strings attached, relates to the need of protection of God. Protection of Whom by man has caused innumerable deaths of His creation. Only cause that nears the amount of violence done for the protection of god is that of the protection of nation.

The concept and term of rashtra for territory can be traced back to the later Vedic times. And across the waves of time, kingship has been unapologetically linked to Divinity. With king being the representative of the Superior Being on earth, he became the ‘protector’ of land and its inhabitants.  And obeying King became obeying God, this in addition to giving legitimacy to the ruler gave him not only a temporal authority over his subjects but also a moral and spiritual one. In ancient and medieval times protection of the rule of the King meant the protection of God. With time, this glorification of protection of King’s authority faded and with the national struggle and the emergence of nation states emotions were attached to nations, and killing in the name of protecting them became an honor.

In justifications of such bloodshed in the name of nation or god, we often find mention of ‘vulnerable women’. This ‘vulnerable woman’ is a voiceless creature who can’t think and who always needs a protector to keep her breathing. For women in ancient philosophy, there has been assigned no greater role than the service of husband. Even her spiritual and religious existence breathes life with the ceremony of marriage which is recognized by legislators as taking the place, for women, of the sacrament of initiation prescribed by the Veda. And in return of her selfless devotion to her better half, she gets ‘protection’ by him. Whether it be the logic of need of respecting and protecting women just because of them being daughter, wife, sister or mother of ‘somebody’ or  the propagation of idea of a veil to protect against lustful gaze we somehow still can’t rid ourselves of the tendency of deciding what a woman needs.

History is filled with instances of people using the slogan of women’s vulnerability, national pride and religious fervor to further their political and economic ends. What comes as a surprise is how we haven’t learned anything. The act of attributing positive traits to women which highlights them mostly as innocent vulnerable beings and nonetheless justifies their subordination by the protector falls in a broad category of what sociologists call benevolent sexism. And often the protected group consents to the “need” of being protected due to propaganda of fear. And with this discourse we grow into a society where glory to the sword is praiseworthy, where fear rules. Amongst the tools of avarice and fear used for controlling people, fear has always been the easiest and most effective instrument of the oppressors to keep the oppressed in their place, and this need for the creation of fear lies at the core of the propagation of the instances glorifying protection and protectors. It is this protection that manifests itself in the form of violence.

The irony is how when we don’t agree on anything ever, we all agree on violence. Attackers of Charlie Hebdo were protecting their religion, Dylann Roof was protecting his women and nation when he attacked the African American church, the sorry story is the same everywhere, it always has been the same with varied degree of passion and execution and madness. But what nobody notices is how in justifications to these acts of violence we have dehumanized women, and how in protecting god and nation, we have failed to protect the humanity.

What Skill India Must Do To Succeed In Its Mission

As the government continues to focus on skills and launches hallmark programs like the Skill India initiative, it is imperative to examine the impact of such a program. There are over 20 Central ministries/ departments involved in the implementation of more than 70 schemes for various skill development and entrepreneurship programmes. However, many experts believe (see here, for example) that these programs are not achieving the output they should ideally be reaching.

The 4th Annual Employment and Unemployment Survey by the Labour Bureau helps us in evaluating the effectiveness of the skill development programs that have been in place till 2013-14. Of the population aged 15 and above, 6.8 % have received/are receiving vocational training. The rural-urban divide is not so much, with 6.2 and 8.2% respectively. However, the percentage of people receiving formal training is as low as 2.8% with the rest 4% informally trained.

In order to strengthen the National Skilling Mission the government needs to focus on two specific areas: (a) increasing the role of states, since they have a deeper understanding of local needs and can therefore design and launch impactful programs and (b) ensuring gender inclusion that can capitalise on the entire Indian population.

Role of states

Vocational training falls under both the Union List and Concurrent List. While the former includes agencies and institutions for vocational training, the latter specifies vocational and technical training of labour. States have diverse demographic profiles along with unique skills needs and job opportunities. The role of states in designing and delivering vocational training hence attains importance. Though the national average of people receiving skill development is low, states like Sikkim, Kerala do provide different models of skill development.

The latest Skill Development Policy points out that most of the states have not moved towards functional convergence by creating state missions. Replacing an old mission with a new one, therefore, might not solve the existing problem. While the Niti Aayog sub-group on skill development is yet to submit its report, chief ministers have been raising various concerns about funding and the roles of the Union and state governments. It is important that these issues be heard and greater powers be given to the states in framing and delivering skill development programmes.

Women-specific programs

Another challenge is finding long-term and meaningful employment for the people undergoing skill development training. The Labour survey found that about 39% of women have not joined the labour force even after receiving vocational training in different fields. These findings are corroborated by data from the NSSO. In its report “Status of Education and Vocational Training in India (2013)” the survey found that 47% of rural and 32% of urban women have found the formal vocational training they have received “not helpful”. These numbers are significantly higher than overall 36% and 24% for both genders. This is perplexing considering that about 67% of these women have attended formal training for a duration of six months and above.

Most of the women who received training in construction-related and restaurant sectors are either unemployed or have dropped out of the labour force. Interestingly “building, construction and real estate” was identified as the sector with most incremental human resource requirement in the NSDC study.

The National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship 2015 says of previous skill development programs that they “often remain unaligned to demand, thus defeating its entire objective.” The proposed integration of skill database of states with LMIS may just help us in identifying the real reasons for such lacunae.

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