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VILLAGE ECONOMY > PANCHAYAT RAJ > Panchayats in Pre-Independence Days
Panchayats in Pre-Independence Days
Panchayat has an ancient flavour; it is a good word. It literally means an assembly of five elected by villagers. It represents the system, by which the innumerable village republics of India were governed. But the British Government, by its ruthlessly thorough method of revenue collection, almost destroyed these ancient republics, which could not stand the shock of this revenue collection. Congressmen are now making a crude attempt to revive the system by giving village elders civil and criminal jurisdiction. The attempt was first made in 1921. It failed. It is being made again, and it will fail if it is not systematically and decently, I will not say, scientifically, tried.
It was reported to me in Nainital, that in certain places in the U.P., even criminal cases like rape were tried by the so-called Panchayats. I heard of some fantastic judgments pronounced by ignorant or interested Panchayats. This is all bad if it is true. Irregular Panchayats are bound to fall to pieces under their own unsupportable weight. I suggest, therefore, the following rules for the guidance of village workers:
1 No Panchayat should be set up without the written sanction of a Provincial Congress Committee;
2 A Panchayat should in the first instance be elected by a public meeting called for the purpose by beat of drums;
3 It should be recommended by the Tahsil Committee;
4 Such Panchayat should have no criminal jurisdiction;
5 It may try civil suits if the parties to them refer their disputes to the Panchayat;
6 No one should be compelled to refer any matter to the Panchayat;
7 No Panchayat should have any authority to impose fines, the only sanction behind its civil decrees being its moral authority, strict impartiality and the willing obedience of the parties concerned;
8 There should be no social or other boycott for the time being;
9 Every Panchayat will be expected to attend to:
    a The education of boys and girls in its village;
    b Its sanitation;
    c Its medical needs;
    d The upkeep and cleanliness of village wells or ponds;
    e The uplift of and daily wants of the so-called untouchables.
10 A Panchayat that fails without just cause to attend to the requirements mentioned in clause 9 within six months of its election, or fails otherwise to retain the goodwill of the villagers, or stands self- condemned for any other cause, appearing sufficient to the Provincial Congress Committee, may be dis­banded and another elected in its place.
The disability to impose fines or social boycott is a necessity of the case in the initial stages; social boy­cott in villages has been found to be a dangerous weapon in the hands of ignorant or unscrupulous men. Imposition of fines too may lead to mischief and defeat the very end in view. Where a Panchayat is really popular and increases its popularity by the construc­tive work of the kind suggested in clause 9, it will find its judgments and authority respected by reason of its moral prestige. And that surely is the greatest sanc­tion anyone can possess and of which one cannot be deprived.
Young India, 28-5-1931