Is Feudalism alive and kicking in rural India?

Reports about wide spread land grabs in many parts of India and in particular rural villages in Gujarat does suggest that sections of this vast country may be deeply involved in feudalism.

Though, it is an issue that does not make screaming headlines in the country’s diverse media, partly because people seem to be resigned in accepting that corruption is part of the tapestry of life in India, lively public debates do exist touching on many sensitive areas such as “a crisis of leadership”.

For instance, a columnist for the Sunday Times of India Shalini Singh had some harsh criticism directed against politicians and intellectuals arising from the backlash aroused by Jaswant Singh’s biography on Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She asserts that despite India’s powerful legacy associated with the freedom struggle’s remarkable victory against the British colonizers, the barrenness of political and ideological foresight post-Independence is “as distressing as it is perplexing”.

According to her, growing corruption ensures that the roof of the capital’s newly built international airport terminal caves in after a few hours of rain; brand new highways are washed away in minutes and daily people die needlessly like flies.

Quoting Gandhi’s immortal words: “My soul refuses to be satisfied so long as it is a helpless witness of a single wrong or a single misery”, she claims that India today is enslaved by the self-aggrandizement of those in positions of authority; is cheerful about its state of moral disrepair and is even foolishly convinced that the country is “shining”.

“The Mahatma believed poverty to be a country or community’s biggest act of violence against its people, but 62 years after Independence, more than half our people remain dirt-poor: This is because India’s political leadership continues to violate every code that Gandhi demonstrated to be essential for good governance. Corruption exists, is taken for granted, even celebrated. India is not truly free because like slaves, we passively accept injustice. Stealing is violence. Lust is violence. Passive acceptance of injustice is violence. By that token, we unquestioningly accept violence at home, on our streets, in our workplaces and from those in public office. The rot has spread through to the nation’s marrow”, are the strong words of condemnation by Singh.

It’s a truism that I can identify with albeit on a miniscule way.

It relates to my family’s own recent experience of falling victims to Israeli-style land grab in the village of Kholvad in the Surat district of Gujarat. The audaciousness whereby the perpetrator of this theft of prime agricultural land committed this validates Singh’s concern about the extent of corruption. [1]

In our case, the perpetrator is not what you would describe as a common thief: He is the reigning leader of the village, in control of Mosques, Madrassas and Grants-in-Aid earmarked for the poor and destitute! The annual budget flowing through his hands from South African donors is in the region of R300, 000 to R500, 000 yet I uncovered –” without the need for any sly detective work –” that the absence of transparency and accountable governance allows the proliferation of injustice.

Our family land, one of the most productive of agricultural tracts alongside a key intersection known as “Char Rasta”, has a legacy of exporting banana crops to the Arabian Peninsula. To this day crops such as sugar cane covers its land area but the irony is that I would be considered a trespasser on my Granny’s farm resulting from the criminal act of theft by a leader who possesses all the external paraphernalia of “piety”!

My probes also led me to discover additional shocking facts: People in the employ of this Jamaah, whose parent body in South Africa boasts of assets exceeding R20million, live in miserable conditions. One 70year old employee, in his fortieth year of service lives in slave-like conditions in a two-roomed grovel earning Rs500.00 – the equivalent of R100.00.

Even if India as a progressive state on the verge of becoming a regional superpower officially discounts arguments about being feudal, it is common knowledge that feudal characteristics are rife in many rural environments giving rise to unfair discrimination and practices of slavery.

The original owner of the stolen land Ebrahim Ahmed Dindar was a paragon of virtue. As an associate of Gandhi long before the formation of either the ANC or the South African counterparts of the Indian Congress, Dindar had been intimately involved in resisting the colonial policies of the British Raj. Having arrived in South Africa during 1888 –” six years before Gandhi –” he played a crucial role in the Indian struggle against the Boer Republic and the British government.

Despite this burdensome role, his communal responsibilities in rural Kholvad did not waver at all. He is credited for pioneering progressive initiatives that resulted in overcoming huge odds in pursuit of a life of dignity for fellow villagers.

That his legacy of leadership built on integrity and the assets he endowed as Waqf are defaced by uncouth rogues in the guise of “pious” leaders is a tragedy that reflects the microcosm of India’s battle with corruption.


[1]. As a determined effort to ensure that appropriate action is taken to get heads to roll, an aggrieved Saleem Jassat, [member of Jassat family & heir of Ebrahim Dindar] has undertaken to compile a list of families and individuals deprived of their assets in Kholvad and other villages in rural India. Though it seeks to concentrate on restoring ownership back to innocent victims of fraud and deception, Saleem is aware that it’s a challenging process in a new campaign that says that passively accepting injustice has to stop. He therefore calls on victims to contact him with a clear outline of the losses they have suffered and the circumstances surrounding such theft. He can be reached via the writer’s Feedback Form by clicking here.