Village Communities

India lives in the village said, Mahatma Gandhi. The history of India in large part is the history of the peasant population of India. Although we do not have self-written histories or literature of the peasant, we still know that they have made what we call today: India. During the Moghul period (especially, the 16th and 17th centuries) we find some traces of the beautiful past of these communities. This does not mean that we did not have organized village life before this period. In fact, organized village life or shangas can be found even at the time of Buddha. This organization was built on the basis of the caste system. The village communities cannot be separated from the caste system. We can see how the caste system built caste geographies which marked residential as well as social commune spaces for both castes and outcastes. This means villages were dominated by the dominant caste who installed their own deity in their village. We can still find caste-populated geographies in Goa. In some cases the village heads or Panch were more than five.

The term village community or comunidade is given to us by the Portuguese. in Goa, we called them Ganvkarias. By 1876, we have the book, Village Community: East and West by Henry James Summer Maine. It compared German village communities with Indian Village communities and asserted the democratic features of our village communities. We can even find Pandit Nehru stating that Indian village communities share a communal life with a sense of equality and democratic methods. The village was controlled by the Panch ( five-man). One of the Panch was the village chief headman. The villagers paid the land revenue to the Panch and Panch paid the Government for the entire village. Besides, land, and agriculture, it was a caste that was responsible for the cohesion of the village community. Goa too exhibits ‘dha zann vo bara zann’ heading the village communities. This seems to depend on the number of sub-communities (Vangods) within the village community. The village communities were private republics. Outside the revenue issues, the state did not interfere in the affairs of the village communities. Goa is said to have 225 comunidades or village communities.

The village communities today are in trouble. The absolute dominion that they had over the land has been transferred to the Government. The issue seems to raise a very important question: Are the village communities under the Constitution or are they within the Constitution? From ancient times as private republics, the village communities did not function under the law but worked within the law. All the previous rulers of our country did respect the autonomy of the village communities. It appears that with the European colonizers their autonomy over their land began to become weak. Europeans thought that the king or the ruler is a natural owner of the land. The collective ownership to them is an aberration that needs to be corrected. It appears that we too have submitted to this doctrine today. In Goa, however, we have a declaration given on 15th April 1961 by the then Portuguese governor general Manuel Vassalo e Silva asserting the absolute dominion of the village communities over their land. However post-colonial Governments seem to hell-bent to prey on the land resources of village communities. Saving our village communities amounts to saving our lands and our lives.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao