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Edited by the Hon, W. Pember Reeves, Ph.D.,
Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

No. 48 in the Series of Mono^aphs by writers connected with the London
School of Economics and Political Science.














First published in 1915

(All rights reserved)

M. F. M.

A. M.



The object of this preface is simply to acknowledge
obligations. My chief debt is to the Professor of
Public Administration for his interest in this study
and for the great help which 1 have derived from
his extensive knowledge of the ideas and machinery
of Local Government. My next obligation is to the
Librarian of the India Office and his staff for the
abundant facilities which they gave me for access
to books and records, and for their kindness and
courtesy during the two years I worked there.
Among those who have been good enough to help
me with suggestions and criticism, I must mention
especially Mr. S. C. Hill, late Superintendent of the
Imperial Records Office, Calcutta ; Mr. R. W. Frazer,
Lecturer in Dravidian Languages at the Imperial
Institute ; and Mr. J. S. Cotton, Editor of the
Imperial Gazetteer of India, On village administra-
tion in North India, of which my knowledge is to
a large extent second-hand, I have had the advantage
of some talks with Sir James Wilson and Sir J. M.
Douie, which have been distinctly illuminating.

London School of Economics
AND Political Science,
University of London.
October I, 191 5.



I HOPE that this little book, which Mr. Matthai has
written with so much research and insight, may open
the way for many further studies on Indian Local

The fragments of an indigenous Local Government
that are still to be traced in Indian village life seem to
me full of interest and suggestion. They are, it need
hardly be said, easily overlooked. One able collector
of long service in Central India informed me that he
had been, until a few months before, totally unaware
that anything of the sort existed in any of the villages
over which he ruled. But being led to make specific
inquiries on the subject, he had just discovered, in
village after village, a distinctly effective, if some-
what shadowy, local organization, in one or other form
f of ;^anchajaty which was, in fact, now and then giving
\ decisions on matters of communal concern, adjudicating
I civij_ disputes, and even condemning offenders to
reparation* and fine. Such a Local Government
organization is, of course, " e^tr3.-lfigal," and has no
statutory warrant, and, in the eyes of the British
tribunals, possesses no authority whatever. But it has
gone on silently existing, possibly for longer than
the British Empire itself, and is still effectively
functioning, merely by common consent and with the
very real sanction of the local public opinion. Mr.
Matthai's careful descriptions enable us to realize what
this Village Government has been, and probably often
still is, and the subjects with which it deals.


I may perhaps be permitted to cite a similar experi-
ence of my own. In England there are about three
hundred local authorities, styled Commissioners of

\ Sewers, who have been appointed by Royal Authority,

^ in some places for six or seven centuries, and who derive
their powers to protect the land from floodings, and to
tax and to fine, exclusively from Parliament and the
King. Underlying these august dignitaries, however,
the careful observer may discover, in one county after
another, still existing fragments of another and an older
local organization against floodings, unknown to the
statutory constitution and never yet described in any
book, in the form of juries of local residents who make
their own rules, exercise their own primitive " watch
and ward " of the embankments and dykes, carry out
the minor precautionary measures that they themselves
devise, and stand in a curious and ever-varying
relationship, unprovided for by statute, to the official
Commissioners, who naively regard themselves as the
sole Local Authorities. Mr. Matthai rightly draws
attention to another analogy, in the common bla^i;-
smith, the common innkeeper, the common rniller, and
tlie"~common cafrief "oFrUral England — immemorial
village officials, bound to village service, long unknown
to the lawyers of the King's Courts, and entirely
unauthorized by Parliament.

One suggestion that these fragments of indigenous
Indian Local Government seem to afford is that we
sometimes tend to exaggerate the extent to which the

I cleavages of caste have prevailed over the community
of neighbourhood. How often is one informed, " with
authority," that the pane hay at of which we catch
glimpses must be only a C2i^panchayat ! It is plain,
on the evidence, that however Irequeht and potent may
be the panchayat of a caste, there have been and still are

j panchayats of men of different castes, exercising the

i functions of a Village Council over villagers of different
castes. How widely prevalent these may be not even


the Government of India can yet inform us. But if
people would only look for traces of Village Govern-
ment, instead of mainly for evidej;ce&-a£- caste domin-
ance , we might learn more on the subject. Now,
wnatever may be the advantages of caste divisions, it is
plain that they constitute, for the most part, an obstacle
to the development of Government, central or local.
The gradual substitution of territojiaj for tribal
organization in Europe, which it tooTc many centuries
to accomplish', and the equally gradual supersession of
farnily law by the law of the geographical neighbourhood,
lie at tKe roots of European progress. Local Govern-
ment, at any rate, must, to be effective, nowadays be
based, in the main, not on tribal or family but on
neighbourhood groups. The common services that it
provides, the common rules that it enacts, and the
common fund that it administers must, in practice, be
those of the village or the district as a whole. Where
caste lines are strong it is doubtless practically im-
possible to ignore them, however disastrous may be the
cleavages that they cause. But we see that, even where
caste exists, it has, in fact, permitted a great deal of
common life, and that it is compatible with activej^
Village Councils. It seems important, therefore, to
emphasize, not to ignore, all the common life of the
Indian village, in which the necessities of neighbour-
hood have held their own, or have prevailed against
the divisions of caste.

It is not for me to dwell upon the advantage, on
which various Government Resolutions and Minutes
have insisted, of making use of, and developing, such
fragments of indigenous Local Government as exist in
India ; and of shaping the new upon the lines of the
old. But I may be permitted to draw attention to
the extent to which the newest thought, in France as
well as in England, is emphasizing the importance of
not resting content with even the best possible develop-
ment of National, Provincial, or Municipal Government,



organized merely ** from above," in large geographical
districts. What is now being urged, with convincing
authority, with regard not to India but to Western
Europe, is that any such government, however
mechanically perfect, will fail to take root in the minds
of the mass of the people — will fail to gain from them
the life without which it will be but a clog upon their
own development — unless it is in some way grafted on
the spontaneous groupings of the people themselves,
whether these be groupings by vocation or by race, by
community of religious belief or by propinquity of
neighbourhood ; and this however incongruous may
seem the conceptions and the procedure of these
spontaneous popular groupings, with the theoretical
conclusions of our political science. For instance, in
England as in France, we still habitually think of
Democracy as being, or at least as necessarily involving,
the Popular Election of representatives or rulers : the
Indian village, like the Russian mir, may remind us
that Vote by Ballot and Party Government are only
two among several expedients for bringing administra-
tion under public control. We make much, in Western
Europe and America, of Decision by Majority Vote :
the Indian village offers us, like the Quaker meeting,
a possibly higher alternative, if we believe in Govern-
ment by Consent, in Decision by the General Sense of
the Community. In England our lawyers and states-
men are still encumbered with the Austinian pedantry
of a century ago, which taught them that obligations
are but the obverse of rights, and that nothing is a

f right which is not enforceable by judicial proceedings
— the inference being that there can be no binding
obligation to the public at large, to the village as a
whole, to the craft to which one belongs, to all the
members of one's family, or to future generations.
The Indian Village, like the Early English Manor,

I emphasizes obligations rather than rights; and far
from confining itself to rights on which some particular


person could take action for his own benefit, devotes
itself largely to the enforcement of obligations to the
public. I

If one who knows, at first hand, next^to nothing
about the country may be permitted any opinion at all,
I would suggest that, as a factor of effective social pro-
gress in India, the development of Local Government
stands second in importance to scarcely any whatsoever.
The routine administration of the common affairs of
the Village, the Municipality, and the District — even
putting aside for the moment those of the Province ;
how these are actually being organized in the different
parts of India, and with what result ; the way in which
more social tissue is being, or can be, developed for the
communal management of the school and the temple,
the relief of the helpless and distressed, the mainten-
ance of the public health, the execution of public works
and the organization of public services, the protection
of life and property and the settlement of disputes —
all this presents a field for study which is likely to be
of real use to India ; and, indeed, to the world. We
are accustomed, in Europe, to take as a rough test of
the social administration of any nation the changes in
its annual death-rate ; or, rather, in the average expec-
tation^f'fifel)f1tFe" whole population. The first and
most important business of a Government is, after all,
to^ontrive that its people should live and not die ! In
the long run, in the judgment of history, it is by this
test that Governments will be judged. How does
India stand this test ? In the most civilized parts of
Europe, during the past three-quarters of a century,
mainly by a development of Local Government — using
only that scientific knowledge which is equally available
to all administrations — we have about doubled the
average expectation of life of the whole population.
Seeing that in India, where the circumstances are more
adverse, the average expectation of life of the people is
only somewhere about one-half that of the people of


England, I there is perhaps no direction in which the
community could more profitably invest its thought,
its effort, a^d its money, than in a wise development of
its Local G wernment. I am glad to think that this
idea is more and more engaging the attention of the
thoughtful European or American missionary and
British official. But in this as in other matters it is to
India itself that, in the main, India must look ; and
there might with advantage be a much greater turning
of attention, among Indian students and their in-
structors, to the problems of Local Government. I do
not know how many of the couple of hundred
university colleges in India have even one course of
lectures each session describing the history, the organi-
zation, and the functions of Local Government in India
or elsewhere. I have not heard of the foundation of
any Professorship of Local Government. I wonder
how many books on Local Government are to be found
in the libraries to which the Indian college students
have access. How often have Provincial Directors of
Education called attention to this omission ? It would
be interesting to inquire how frequently any problem
of Local Government has been given as a subject for
an essay, or made the topic for discussion at a debating

Local Government, it is only fair to say, though as
old as the hills, and a practical success for more than
half a century, is a relatively new discovery to the
professor of political science, as it is to the politician.
Right down to the end of the nineteenth century, august
treatises on the British Constitution, and solemn surveys
of the functions of government, confined themselves
exclusively to the organization and development of the
National or Central Government, which is decorated

* What a loss, what a tragedy it is that so many of India's most valuable citizens
die before they are fifty ! A deliberate scientific investigation into the causes of
premature death in India, of adults subject neither to privation nor to industrial
accidents or diseases, might be of great value.


with the trappings of royalty, and made the subject of
Parhamentary discussion. In common talk we followed
suit, and usually refused to regard as " government "
all that vast part of the governmental machinery of the
community which is administered locally. We have
discussed endlessly, in England as in India, the short-
comings of " the Government," and the need for its
reform, in this way or that. But we do not give suffi-
cient heed in England — and I suspect that this is even
more the case in India — to that part of Government
which really concerns us most, because it is merely Local

This neglect is, I venture to think, a grave mistake.
In the nations which, in the twentieth century, regard
themselves as the most advanced in civilization, or the
most highly developed in social life — whether we take
the United Kingdom or Germany, France or the United
States — we find that by far the largest part of govern-
ment is now that which is not carried on in the capital
cities, by Departments of State, at the bidding of Parlia-
ments ; but that which is being administered locally, in
village or parish or commune, in municipality or county
or district, by the direction and for the advantage of the
people of these localities. In times of peace, indeed. Local
Government has become, in these advanced countries, in
the aggregate, actually more extensive than the Central
or National Government ; apart from the payment of
interest on old debts it often spends more money and
has many more officials in its employment ; it usually
carries on more enterprises and conducts more services
for the common good ; it even enacts, in its by-laws
and regulations, a greater volume of laws that we have
to obey than the National Legislature. This is not
because Parliament has become less energetic or less
important. On the contrary, it is busier and more
important than ever. But the other branch of Govern-
ment, Local Government, has, during the past half-
century, enormously grown, so that in England all the


aggregate of parish councils, district councils, borough
councils, and county councils come to be, in magnitude
or volume of business, greater than all the Government
Departments put together. This, I apprehend, is very
far from being the position in India to-day. But if
India is to advance in civilization and prosperity as
other countries have advanced, it seems probable that
an analogous growth of Local Government — even to the
extent of its doing more work, spending more money,
employing more officials, and making more laws than
the Viceroy and his Councils — will, in the course of the
coming century, take place in India.

It has sometimes been said, as a reason why the
business of government will never really enter effec-
tively into the minds of the mass of the people of
India, that they are "a people of villagers." Such a
fact, as it seems to me, would be at least an argument
for a great and far-reaching expansion of Village
Government. But I suggest that it may not in reality
be true (though non-Indians are sometimes reproached
for their seeming ignorance on this point) that the
people of India are a people of villagers, in the sense
in which that phrase is commonly used. The Census,
indeed, tells us that something like nine out of every
ten of the dwellers between the Himalayas and Cape
Comorin are found inhabiting villages of less than
5,000 population. But it is a mistake to assume that
'. a land of villages necessarily means what is usually
I implied by the phrase, a people of villagers. In truth
India, for all its villages, has been also, at all known
periods, and to-day still is, perhaps to a greater extent
than ever before, what Anglo-Saxon England, for in-
stance, was not, or the South African Republic in the
days before gold had been discovered, and what the
Balkan Peninsula even at the present time may perhaps
not be, namely, a land of flourishing cities, of a
distinctly urban civilization, exhibiting not only splendid I
architecture, and the high development of the manu-


facturing arts made possible by the concentration of
population and wealth, but likewise — what is much
more important — a secretior\ of thought, an accumula-
tion of knowledge, aiid^ development of literature and
philosophy which are not in the least like the character- i
istic products of villagers as we know them in Europe (
or America. And to-day, although the teeming crowds
who throng the narrow lanes of Calcutta or Benares,
Bombay or Poona, Madras or Hyderabad, or even the
millions who temporarily swarm at Hardwar or Allaha-
bad or Puri, may include only a small percentage of
the whole population, yet the Indian social order does
not seem to be, in the European understanding of the
A phrase, either on its good or on its bad side, essentially
1 one of villagers. The distinction may be of im-
portance, because the Local Government developed by
peoples of villagers, as we know of them in Anglo-
Saxon England, in the early days of the South African
Republic, and in the Balkan States, is of a very different
type from that which takes root and develops, even in
the villages, in those nations which have also a city life,
centres of religious activity, colleges and universities,
and other '* nodal points," from which emanate, through
popular literature, pilgrimages, and the newspaper press,
slow but far-spreading waves of thought and feeling,
and aspirations which it is fatal to ignore. It is very
I largely through the development of Local Government
that such a people becomes an organized nation.

It seems a pity that the aspirations of so many
Indians for ** Indian Self-Govern ment,'' and especially
those of Indian students, should contemplate so exclu-
sively that part of Government which concerns India as
a whole. After all, even in such '* self-governing''
Dominions as Canada and Australia, the part that is
played in the government of the country by the
Dominion Governor-General, the Dominion Legisla-
ture, and the Dominion Civil Service, is not by any
means so large as it is conspicuous. It is the Local


Government of Village or Municipality that touches
most nearly the lives of the people. It is because they
themselves run their Local Government, much more
than in respect of any real share that they have in the
Dominion Governments, that these peoples are essenti-
ally "self-governing." I do not in any way cl^j^e^ate
J the desire or belittle the claim that India, like other parts
i of the British Empire, should be administered in the main
' by Indians in accordance with Indian public opinion.
But in India, as elsewhere, it is Local Government that
is destined to grow, at a much greater rate than Central
Government, and the importance of the field thus
opening out should not be overlooked. There is here,
as it seems to me, a greater and certainly a more
accessible sphere for the exercise of autonomy. In
practice it will be found, as the century advances, that
by far the greater part of " Indian Self-Go vernment,"
and more and more of the part in which the daily lives
of the Indian people are most intimately concerned,
will lie, not in the sphere of His Excellency the Viceroy
in Council — not even in that of the Provincial Govern-
ments — but in those of the Village Council, the District
Board, and the Municipality, or'oFany Local Autho-
rities that may supersede them. In the fully organized
India of a century hence, as in the England of to-
morrow, it may well be that it may be these, or some
analogous bodies, that will be found exercising actually
the larger part of all the functions of government,
expending the larger part of that share of the people's
income which is administered collectively, appointing
and controlling the majority of all the salaried servants
of the community, and even enacting, in the aggregate,
in their by-laws and regulations, a greater volume of
the laws that the people obey.

41 Grosvenor Road, Westminster.
October 191 5.


author's preface
preface by sidney webb
























I. This essay is mainly an attempt to bring together
the chief facts about village local government which
have been noticed in Indian official publications,
especially during the past fifty years. Some very able
and informing books have been written, notably by
the late Sir Henry Maine and Mr. B. H. Baden-
Powell, on the Indian village community as a system
of landholding and economic association. It was Sir
Henry Maine's work ^ which first drew the serious
attention of European students to the place of the
village community in the progress of society in
the East and the West. His aim was not to
describe the constitution of the village community
in any detail, but rather by insisting on some of
its broader features to show its relation to a study
of early communities in general. The collection of
official information in India had not proceeded very
far in Maine's time ; and he had to depend to a
large extent on personal observation and informal
reports. This necessarily left some of his data open

* I. Village Communities in the East and fFest } 2. Early History of Institutions ;
3. Ancient Law j 4. Early Law and Custom,


to question, as judged by the light of subsequent
information. But it would be hardly right to say
that this has in any serious measure taken away from
the value of Maine's writings on the Indian village.
They are still, in a real sense, the classical authority
on the subject ; and they are likely to remain so
whatever additional information on specific questions
may be brought out by future research.

2. A full and possibly exhaustive account of the
village community on its economic side was produced
by Mr. B. H. Baden-Powell in his two well-known
books. I It is a detailed and accurate description of
the methods of landholding met with in the various
provinces of British India. As the village is still

' the administrative unit in revenue matters, there is
necessarily a great deal of valuable information to be
found in the book, on the position of the village —
its officers and institutions — in the scheme of Indian

; administration. Baden-Powell relied mainly for his
materials on the official reports of land settlement in
India and on the valuable series of District Gazetteers
in the different provinces, some of which had already
been compiled and others were in process of being

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