The Pakistan Kisan Conference met in Lahore this Sunday and (again) demanded an end to feudalism.
My first reaction to reading the news was to remember Faiz (remembering Faiz, by the way, is my default mode in just about all matters):
youN arz o talab say kab aiye dill, pathar-dil paani houtay haiN
tum laakh raza ki khoo Dallo, kab khoo-i-sitamgar jaati hai
But this was tempered immediately as I read of a new World Bank report that highlights the troubling inequity in land ownership in Pakistan.
Before saying more about both, let me just put my own views on the table. First, I think that the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“feudalismÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ card is a favorite boogie of the urban educated elites of Pakistan. It is a very convenient thing to blame all our problems on. Why have we not had democracy? Feudalism. Why does the economy not flourish? Feudalism. Why did we lose to South Africa yesterday? Feudalism. Feudalism and the so-called ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“unparh, jahil awamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ are our scapegoats of choice. It is a very easy way for us urbanites to disown ourselves from many of our own sins.
Having said that, I have long held that feudalism is a critical challenge, and one of the biggest ones. It is not the problem we often make it out to be, but it is a huge problem that needs attention, and urgent attention. It is not a problem because it makes life difficult for the urban rich, it is a problem because it makes life impossible for the rural poor.
It is for this reason that I wholeheartedly support the call from the Pakistan Kisan Conference and the findings of the World Bank report.
On the Kisan Conference, it was mostly a political event but its politics and political rhetoric was uninteresting. The substance of the message, however, was spot on. According to the Daily Times (5 February, 2007):
Speakers at the Pakistan Kisan Conference on Sunday demanded the government eliminate feudalism and introduce land reforms to bring about development in the agriculture sector.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¨ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¨ Around 5,000 farmers and labourers attended the Conference organised by the Kisan Rabita Committee at the Minar-e-Pakistan in collaboration with the National WorkersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ Party (NWP)ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦. The speakers said feudalism was a hurdle to the farmersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ interests. They said land reforms could help strength the agriculture sector. They urged the farmers to adapt to the innovations and changes taking place in the agriculture sector. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¨ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¨They urged the government to provide land to the landless farmers. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œAllocating agriculture land to the military and civil officers should be stopped,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? they said, adding that the government should give ownership rights to the tenants at the military forms in Okara and Khanewal.
On the World Bank study, the Daily Times (5 February, 2007) reports:
Pakistan has extreme inequality in land ownership and the enforcement of several laws on tenantsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ eviction, says a World Bank (WB) study. The study also says that sharing of crop outputs and costs between a landowner and tenant is practically non-existent. Authored by Hanan G Jacoby and Ghazala Mansuri, the WB Policy Research Working Paper says the fraction of tenanted land is high. More than one third of the land is tenanted and about two-thirds of land is under sharecropping, a form of farming where outputs are shared by the landowner and tenantÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ Sharecropping is the predominant form of tenancy in Sindh where the land ownership distribution is particularly skewed. According to the study, a median landlord in Sindh owns 28 acres of land, whereas nearly 80 percent of the share-tenants are landless farmers. Big landlords in the province often employ labour supervisors (kamdars) to manage their tenants. In Punjab, tenancies are split more evenly between share and fixed rent contracts. Landlords in Punjab are much smaller than those in Sindh, with a median holding of only seven acres of land, and are more likely to be residing in the same village as their tenants, the study says.
Is it time for a new set of meaningful land reform with a view to stamping out the residuals of feudalism? Yes, it is and it has been for quite some time.
The least important reason to do so is that it will rid the urban elite (i.e., urban feudals) of their favorite boogie and hopefully force them to accept their own responsibility. The most important reason is that it will make a real difference in the lives of the rural poor; the poor that no one even talks about anymore.