In the initial stages of human civilization, the relation between man and land was governed by natural laws. But man had to come out of that because the needs of development were not fulfilled by such a relation. The various types of human hunger, desire for better houses, more production and more profits, other needs and aspiration took human beings into a complex world of sociopolitical relations. This increased the rate of development but it also meant that the natural relation between man and land ended, and man, who can be considered to be the son of earth, did not stop exploiting the mother earth in order to satisfy his needs for development.
But the present day crisis in the field of natural resources and
environment has put a big question mark on the self-destructive journey of
mankind. Under these circumstances it has once again become necessary to
evaluate the pros and cons of a natural and unnatural relation between man
and land. We should not just think blindly about the developmental goals,
but also look at the fundamental forms of development and keep in mind the
eternal needs. If we pause a while and think a bit then we can recollect that
we had someone in our midst, in this modern era, who showed us the way –
Acharya Vinoba Bhave.
Before we get to know Vinoba Bhave, we should pay attention to one
stream of thought; that if we have to get rid of the evils that have crept into
the relationship between man and his environment due to socio-economic
development, then it cannot solely rely on transformation of our culture or
mentality. But they can act as a hint which will guide us to take the correct
path. If we want to go deep and understand the matter then we can say that a
healthy and humane culture will show us an alternative path that will lead to
a better relation between man and his environment. But man has not only
consciousness, but has land and also a body. So the cultural alternatives that
he searches for has to be given a solid appearance. We have to test whether
the alternatives, that are the products of human consciousness, are self-driven
or not. If not, then sooner or later, even the grandest of all alternatives to
present day relation between man and his environment, comes close to fading
out – like Vinoba’s Bhoodan movement.
At first, it would not be out of place to talk about the Bhoodan movement
in general. Any movement has to be understood in its historical perspective
and then we can draw conclusions about its success or otherwise. However,
if the subject is such that it cannot be fitted into the historical perspective
it talks about something that can only be judged in times to come, then instead
of calling it a movement\revolution, we must understand that subject as being
something related to development or connected to our very survival. The
first thing we have to keep in mind is that Bhoodan as a movement is
something else – something that is quite limited in the economic sense. But
Bhoodan as a step in the transformation and development process is quite
another thing – it has to be understood in the paradigm of man’s fundamental
relation with land. But before we can go to that fundamental issue, we have
to understand the role and importance of Bhoodan as an instrument of
revolution and its limitation.
After independence, the democratically elected government that took
steps towards decentralization was mainly due to ending of the feudal rule
in country. However, this goal of total decentralization could never reach its
logical conclusion. This was because even though the feudal rule of the
princely states of the country had ended, at the same time in an invisible
way, they were also getting united. This was because we had to have a strong
centre to dissolve and amalgamate all the feudal States into India. Sardar
Patel’s role during that period received praise because he successfully
integrated the States. That was the need of the hour. But, a strong Centre was
against a strong people’s democracy. The Centre’s structure was democratic,
but the structure was supported by elements whose power and mentality
were feudal. Bureaucrats, big landlords and zamindars, erstwhile rulers and
other powerful people camouflaged their intensions and entered into power
by winning elections. And these elements were in favour of a strong Centre. That is why even though it appeared that people
oriented democracy was
coming, actually it receded and ultimately it vanished.
But the Bhoodan movement by attempting to change the attitude of the
land owners and making them donate land, was trying to create a pro-people
The Bhoodan movement is related to the fundamental question of
reconstruction of the country. The question was whether the mentality of the
feudal elements would change and would become democratic once their
erstwhile principalities were merged with the democratic India. The moot
question here is to whom does the maximum amount of agriculture land
belong to? What had the local rulers and their partners, the British colonial
rulers done when they were in power? Just to ensure that their rule became
stronger and entrenched, the British legally allotted vast tracts of land in
village after village to their supporters. Thus it had become necessary that
after the merger of princely states into the India union, the erstwhile land
owners should recognise the fact that the farmers were the real owners of the
land and they should themselves take the initiative and return the land to
The Bhoodan movement was the first step taken in this direction, but
later it was given some sort of legal sanctity. The land reforms that were
undertaken in the villages were an extension of this and they can be considered
to be progressive and pro-people efforts. But the real motive of Bhoodan
movement was much bigger. It became evident that by land reforms the
needs of only a small segment of the landless could be addressed. The second
problem was despite the best efforts, maximum amount of agriculture land
and other prime property remained in the hands of the traditional rich and
influential class. These elements entered the power structure through
elections, formed a mafia pressure group and ensured that their interests
Bhoodan movement wanted the ownership of land to be broad, humane
and flexible, but though there was some decentralisation in ownership
patterns, it did not penetrate much. The Bhoodan movement was unable to
change the feudal mentality, and it did not matter whether the land holding
was large or small. The landowners wanted to increase the area of their land
holding, were proud of their land holdings and had ambitions to be part of
the power structure. In a democratic structure the chances of feudal elements
getting elected increased only if they donated land. Therefore, the big land
owners welcomed the Bhoodan movement. Moreover, the laws passed to
regulate the amount of agriculture land one could hold, also did not harm the
interests of the land owners. The big landowners started keeping their land
in false names (benami) and this gave birth to a land mafia that became very
powerful with time. Therefore, after the land reform bills were passed, the
Indian democratic system saw the huge increase in the power of the land
mafia in the power structure. Of course, it would be wrong to blame the
Bhoodan movement for all the ailments in the system, but if we sit down to
analyse we can say that even such a humane and noble movement like
Bhoodan failed because it did not try and change the fundamental relation
between land and man. As a result, the entire movement was comprised by
the vested interests who instead of being defeated, came forward in another
form and became more powerful and posed a greater challenge.
This was the biggest challenge before Gandhi’s philosophy in the
country. And even now this philosophy is practical and can take shape of a
radical movement and bring big results. There is public support and cultural
and moral pressure is exerted, but it fails to give long term results and become
a model for development process. This is because by raising some
fundamental questions it is prevented from being categorised as a philosophy
or ideology. Not only this, people have created such a big image and halo
around Gandhi and Vinoba that even a beginning cannot be made of discussing
their philosophy and ideas. A frank and free discussion of Gandhi’s ideas
was necessary so that with changing of time their ideas could be remoulded.
The blind devotion to Gandhi’s philosophy created such a backlash that it
created a feeling of disgust towards Gandhi. Thus, no one, neither the
followers nor the critics of Gandhi raised some fundamental questions. Each
had their own fiefdom and interest to protect and these people really did not
have much concern about what Gandhi and Vinoba stood for. In the quest
for the truth and ways of development, Gandhi, who was the first to stand
for truth, was shown the door.
The relationship between man and land is universal. The entire earth is
equally for the human beings and all the animals and other creatures in it.
Though the concept of this world is not clearly defined, there is no doubt
that there were no boundaries or barriers. This takes the form of consciousness
of the unbreakable unity of the earth. But with the march of civilization and
different social structures the relationship between man and land became
more and more complex, varied and fragmented. In fact the different social
structures provide backing and solidity to these complex and varied
relationships between man and land. These relationships are defined and it
appears that they can be understood, but at the same time, as these
relationships are limited they appear to be adrift from the natural broad
doctrine. This is one of the fundamental contradictions that forms one of the
main unsolved problems in the social development of mankind. Man wants
to get back to the universal and broad definition of relationship between
man and land, but at the same time he is also unwilling to give up what he
owns directly. Let us glance at the social development of man. At first man
used to live in tribes. At that time, man used to get land naturally, but slowly
it got converted into ‘land won through victory in war’. With the domination
of the victorious, the era of history started, and it goes to the extent of
to represent even the soul of man.
That land belongs to the victorious, or that land can be won is one of
the main planks of civilization which leads to new development. The history
of the world as written by the victorious is still preponderant in the social
and community consciousness of mankind. Along with this, the relationship
between man and land changed. Instead of treating land as our mother we
started treating it more like a servant.
Then came the next stage of development—it was the concept of state
in which the head of this feudal set up was the king and then land became
something that was granted as a gift by the king.
If we look at the structure of social classes and their relationship with
land, we can say that those who consider land as their mother are those who
are the producers. Their labour is the product that they get from the land. But
the creative freedom of this class is soon gone and they come under those
who win the land by war and they consider the product that comes from the
land as something that is under them. In this era, the producers also took the
form of artists and craftsman. But once the relationship between land and
man changed from that of a mother to a servant, and then it became natural
that those who produced things became the Dalits, and was pushed to the
lower strata of society.
Two groups are responsible for the social system under which land
become a commercial tool.
One is the Brahmin ‘intellectual’ class which is
involved in research
and the other is the victorious king’s class. The Brahmins discover and bring
new machines and other things and give a fillip to the development process.
The farmers and artisans use these new machines and tools and produce new
products from the land and these products slowly become expensive items.
But unfortunately, like the beautiful girl who is going to lighten someone
else’s house after marriage, these products are enjoyed not by the producers
themselves, but by the kings. Not only this, the group that makes the products
expensive are not the producers, but the traders. But at the same time, the
status of land rises from that of a servant and the Brahmans bring in cultural
rules that would govern the relationship between man and land.
After the middle-ages, a new chapter is written in the modern era about
the relationship between man and land. Land now becomes a product that
can be sold and bought. Thus, land degraded to a saleable commodity status.
This is much worse than the status of servant given in the earlier era because
here there is no scope for human compassion in things bought and sold.
Even from the ethical point of view, there was some scope of ethics to be
followed where land is considered as a servant, and it can be termed as ‘preethical’.
There is a chance that the relationship might turn ethical. But there
was no ethics when it came to procuring land.
In the modern era, there is a primacy of capitalism in relationship
between land and man. Even in the cases where land is inherited and there
are sentiments of hoary traditions present, the shadow of capitalistic
tendencies can be seen clearly. The third form of land holding is that of the
State, where the land is given under the capitalist model of development or
under individual ownership. Thus, in the modern era land is considered to be
the main way for increasing personal wealth.
But ever since, land has become an object for sale and purchase there is
very little scope that the emotional relationship between man and the land
he inherits, exists for a long time.
But when land comes under the influence of business capital then the
only motive man has, is to maximise profit from the land. He wants to exploit
the land to its maximum extent. As a result, with the spread of modern
capitalism, fertile land has become barren and there is excessive dependence
on technical experts in agriculture. Chemical fertilisers and improved seeds
have become necessary for agriculture and use of tractors and combined
harvesters have led to displacement of labour. In a country that has excessive
labour, this displacement has meant that the youth have diverted to join mafia
gangs or even become terrorists. Drug abuse and irresponsible behaviour
that is plaguing the modern world is also one of the offshoots of this changed
relationship between man and land.
In land that is rich in minerals and other resources, excessive
exploitation has meant that there is danger that these natural resources will
vanish. Excessive exploitation has also meant that forest cover has come
down as a result of which wild animals are on the verge of extinction. Tribal
communities now have to be kept enclosed in their own small environment,
something akin to a zoo. The excessive exploitation of land has made it
polluted, sick and barren and the entire human race has become worried
about this change.
Bhoodan wanted to change this relationship between man and land into
a more humane platform. By urging for donation of land, the Bhoodan
movement aimed at laying foundation for the ultimate change in the
relationship between man and land – that is the natural relation that existed
at the dawn of civilization. But this change had to be supported by the existing
social relationships so that it got a concrete shape, otherwise it would be
reduced to just a socialistic utopia, an alternative-consciousness, that can be
lost with time.
The work and success of Bhoodan movement lies mainly in the villages,
but for land reforms and fundamental change in the relationship between
man and land, it is also necessary that attention be paid to urban development
and rejuvenation of forests. We have to ensure that the rising population and
the migration of the people from the villages to the cities do not result in
agriculture land being gobbled up for urban housing. Similarly, the remaining
forests would also have to be protected since without the forest no
development model can be termed as just and humane. But we also have to
understand that for all this, simply moral pressure is not sufficient, and nor
can any proposal for ‘donation’ of urban land bring about any practical results.
If agricultural land and forests are acquired for industrial development then
both the idea of development and social amity will be in crisis. This is why
big questions come to the fore. Bhoodan is not possible in the cities but it is
also necessary to ensure that the poor people in the cities get a small plot of
land that would enable them to have a roof over their heads. It will also have
to be ensured that the nearby agriculture land and forests are not encroached
upon. So what should be the solution?
One of the possible solutions is to ensure that cities do not expand and
enter into land that is meant for agriculture and forest. Instead of allowing
the cities to spread horizontally, efforts should be made to make them grow
vertically so that they move up to the skies, but not spread on the ground.
Another solution might be to start a movement on the lines of Bhoodan
and ask owners of houses and bungalows to give out their roofs voluntarily.
It is not necessary that this be given out free of cost, but be given out on a
‘practical and development oriented’ basis so that these can be used for
students accommodation or business purposes, which would be beneficial
for all. There should be an agreement with house owners whereby permission
would be granted for construction of additional four to five stories which
would be given out on ‘reasonable rent’. The construction would be done on
a cooperative basis by people who are going to stay there or start a business
there. This would also lead to generation of employment. However, for this
to succeed one would have to start non-cooperation movement against the
cartel of property dealers who only want to increase rent and property prices.
In countries like India where there is a huge population and for that
matter in all third world countries, all institutions that call for exclusive
of land should be dismantled. The commercial land in residential areas, which
are priced ten to twenty times are under the control of big property dealers
and big land owners. The policy of having separate residential and commercial
areas and having laws and rules to assist such a division acts against the
development of people’s markets. The argument is that for the peace of the
people living in residential areas, commercial activities should not be allowed
there. Undoubtedly, such freedom should be thought about. But can there be
no plan where the market and residential houses live and grow side by side?
For example, in places, where the houses are open from both the sides, one
of the roads can be used for market? Why cannot right to practise business
be made a fundamental right? And why can’t all areas be made open for
residential and commercial to exist side by side? The real fear is that once
this is done then the value of commercial property will come down, things
will become cheaper as producers will interact with the consumers directly.
It has also become necessary that tax be imposed only at the level of the
producer and licences and other requirements for business should be done away
with. This flexibility, the produce of the villages will come directly to
the cities and all middlemen would be cut out or at least dependence on
them would get reduced to a great extent.
For example, freedom should be given to the farmers to sell their produce
in the nearby cities. If small traders go to these villages and directly
say 10 to 20 sacks of grain or rice from the farmers and sell it through their
small shops then the dependence of the farmers on mandis would end. And
no farmer would be forced to sell their produce at a lower price. The farmers
would also come together and cooperate in building their own storage houses
where they would be able to store their produce when there is excessive
production and sell it when there is demand. The huge wastage of food grains
in the government sector would also end as the farmers would take better
care of the produce. Moreover, it is a guarantee that of the 100 persons who
face hunger at present, at least 10 would get food if this regime is
All over the world, those who are born there consider that part of the
earth as sacred and do not exploit the natural resources of the area in such an
exploitative manner that the land becomes barren and the environment
polluted. But land purchased by outsiders for profits on the strength of their
capital usually results in land getting exploited.
Therefore, the human race would have to bring a big change not only in
their consciousness, but also in their mentality. We will have to accept that
indigenous people have fundamental rights in their own land and environment.
Also, that if there is any profit being derived from the land then the local
inhabitants would be the natural partners of the profits. And there should be
punishment for forcible removal of people and it should be considered as
crime against humanity.
All this will result in mankind getting back voluntarily to the
consciousness that they are sons of the earth. Earlier, this relationship
man and land was natural, but now it will be mankind’s choice. And this
would be the path for human salvation.