Remembering Sheikh

He was the man who gave dignity to the labour of a poor peasant who, till then, had to till for his landlord and return home barehanded,


It is very difficult to write about Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who has been painted in the blackest colours during the last two decades, in this atmosphere of intolerance and violence, when people are not ready to listen in favour of their political villains. What piqued my interest in him was that he was one of those rare Muslim politicians, who openly supported and defended progressive ideology on their political stage.
Sheikh Abdullah’s policy of ‘Land to the tiller’ signaled a new era of peasant emancipation. ‘The Big Landed Estates Abolition Act’ legalized the radical land reform, which was the last nail to the coffin of feudal system. After taking charge as Prime Minister, Sheikh Abdullah got an opportunity to give practical shape to his promised policy of ‘Land to the Tiller’. Jagirdari System, a prototype of western feudalism, was prevalent in the state. In this system, villages or tracts of land were granted to the favourites, who used to be financially or politically strong, in lieu of some services rendered by them to the ruler at the time of need. They were authorised to collect revenue from the villagers. They used to adopt oppressive measures for recovering revenue accruable from the village land. The villagers were subjected to numerous hardships, the most prominent one was to divert them of their produce. A farmer was not able to feed his family a two time meal.
With an aim to improve the lot of the tiller of the soil, the first step that the government took towards this was the introduction of the Tenancy legislation. The tenant who could not normally be entitled to a substantive right in his tenancy had been given a permanent right in the form of protected tenancy. Besides the tenant was entitled to keep to himself 3/4th of the produce in case of abi (wet) land and 2/3rd of the produce in case of Khushki (dry) land.
 In pursuance of the basic economic reconstruction plan, the Government enacted the ‘Big Landed Estates Abolition Act’ in 1950, which provided that the landlord was allowed to keep not more than 160 kanals. The land, in excess of the ceiling, was transferred to the tiller to the maximum of 160 kanals. The question of payment of compensation to the expropriated landlords was left to the Constituent Assembly for decision. On March 26, 1952, the Constituent Assembly passed a resolution that the tiller would not pay any compensation to the landlord.
Jammu and Kashmir was the first state to pass such a revolutionary law that gave ownership rights to peasants over lands they had been tilling for landlords. The peasant emancipation reform was the greatest achievement of Sheikh Abdullah. At present, it is very difficult to understand the essence of the Act. But for the man, who was left by the feudal system or nature, at the mercy of his landlord, the reformation was not less than a revolution. A slave had become an owner, what more he would have had prayed for.
Unfortunately he has been portraid as a villain for the last two decades and various attempts have been made to misinterpret his role in the development of peasant emancipation.

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Lastupdate on : Sat, 4 Dec 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 4 Dec 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 5 Dec 2010 00:00:00 IST

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