It is a curious fact of human nature that we are all so obsessed with our own ways of thinking and acting that we have little patience with those who do not agree with us, and act and think in a way different to ours. Most of the clashes and conflicts in life–individua1, social and national–are due to this lack of understanding resulting in intolerance and illwill. The situation becomes particularly tragic when men, in positions of responsibility and authority, refuse to take into consideration the views of others, not so happily placed as themselves, and not only try to introduce but actually force in the name of reform, such revolutionary changes in the habits of a people that lead to the upset of an established socia1 and economic order with very unhappy and even disastrous consequences. Unless there should be some obvious wide-spread evil that needs immediate eradication, we should be very careful when we touch social systems that have the sanction of ages and, generally speaking, have even been helpful in maintaining the stability of social and economic life in the communities in which they have flourished. A note of warning is very necessary at this time when we are in a very serious state of transition. With our age-old traditions on the one hand, and on the other, with new and conflicting notions of right and wrong coming to us from Russia and America, we are in a serious quandary. Very careful thought has therefore to be given to everything; and whatever changes we want to introduce, must come in the nature of natural evolution, and not be forcibly imposed by persons in power, thrown out of their balance by outside influences.


In a country like ours which is preponderatingly rural, it would be best to keep the conditions of the countryside and the needs and requirements of the people there, always in mind. Let us take a typical Indian village as it still is. Most of the persons there are given to agricultural pursuits. They have their bits of land which they till and on which they grow their crops. They have a great deal of instinctive wisdom that enables them to deal with their fellow men, and have also much hereditary knowledge regarding seed and season, crop and cattle. There is also, within hailing distance, a village banker who, everybody knows, will come to his rescue when he should be in need. “Give a dog a bad name and hang him” is an old adage. ‘Banker’ is a respectable word, but ‘moneylender’ is detestable. So a village banker is called a money-lender, and roundly abused. Ordinarily they should, and do, mean the same thing. An old Sanskrit verse says: “O, friend, do not make your abode at a place where four things should be wanting: a giver of debts; a physician; a man of learning; and a stream of sweet water.”


Mitra tatra na vastavyam yatra nasti chatushtayam

Rinadata cha vaidyascha srotriiyah sajala nadi


Among the four requisites, the giver of debtsthe banker or the money-lender is put down first. One does not know when evil would befall, money at home would run short, and it would be badly needed. Someone must be available in the neighbourhood who would be willing to give this to him as and when necessary. The writer of the verse was wise when he asked others not to think of settling down where there would not be someone to lend him money when he needs it; someone who would be able to look after him when he is ill; someone who would impart knowledge to him and act as a priest on solemn occasions of births, marriages or deaths; and where there is not also a stream of sweet water that he would need always as a most essential drink.


It is a curious thing that persons, in practically every profession, make money by the troubles and sufferings of others. A doctor demands his fee from a patient who is in pain. A lawyer extracts money from clients who are in difficulties. A trader gets his money from those who perforce have to go to him for various to necessities of life, without which they cannot live. The bankeror and money-lender if you willis the one person who gives money to help others instead of taking it, when they are in sore need. There may be doctors and lawyers to pay. There may be a marriage or a burial. There may be rough weather requiring clothes, umbrellas, shoes or the like. Doctors, lawyers, and traders have therefore to be paid. Where is the money to come from? When there is little left in the house, one has to go to his banker or money-lender. He comes to the rescue of the person in dire distress. He gives money to relieve others, in their difficulties. Nobody else does so; and for his troubles, he is now getting the curses of the people who should know better.


They say that the money-lender charges very high rates of interest. He is a despicable usurer. An examination of the situation will certainly prove that the lawyer, the doctor, the Government officer and the trader charge, proportionately speaking, much higher rates, for their services, on the money they had invested, to fit themselves for their professions. A person who is a lawyer, may have spent, say, twenty to thirty thousand rupees on his education, and he may be making as much–even very much more–in a single year. He is thus charging more than cent percent on his investment. The same can be said of the doctors, the traders, and public officials. The lawyer is certainly in a most enviable position; for, even when the fees of doctors, the prices for merchants and the salaries of permanent employees may be fixed, lawyers are free to charge as much as they please; and funnily it is the lawyer who plays the most important part in legislation. We never hear of any piece of legislation that might curb the lawyer. He is however able to abuse the trader and the money-lender, and fix their gains while keeping himself immune from any such ceiling.


Let us see how the village money-lender functions. He is available to his brethren, unlike official banking houses, night and day. He keeps deposits of villagers and pays interest on the same. He gives money to villagers at various rates of interest. There is no law of limitation for him. Persons who have deposited money with him, can get it back even after the period of limitation has run. There is no need for a certificate of succession; and as the banker knows the family of the deceased depositor, he pays back the money to his son without any proofs being required. The village people who borrow from him, also pay back as they can. The rate of interest is high because it is a fact that many borrowers are never able to pay back anything at all. They fall into hopeless difficulties, and the money-lender has to write off his dues from them. Others who are in comparatively good circumstances, pay; and so if the accounts at the end of the year are scrutinised, it would be found that the ultimate profits of the money-lender is not very much more than that of official respectable bankers.


Long years ago, as a member of the Congress Opposition in the Central Legislative Assembly, I had asked a question as to the amount that was left over in the Post Office Savings Bank without the depositors coming to claim them for years. I was then informed that the amount was sixteen crores. The other day a similar question was asked in Parliament; and the reply from Government was that the amount was about twelve crores. I was informed by the then Governor of the Reserve Bank when I was in Bombay, that the amount lying with various banks in India on which the depositors had made no calls, was about four crores. Thus about sixteen crores of rupees are lying in the Post Office Savings Bank and various scheduled and other banks, which are not being paid back because those who had put their money there, are not claiming the same. They may be dead or careless, or may even have forgotten. A thing like that cannot happen with the village money-lender. He cannot gobble up any sums of money left over with him, for the sons know where their dead fathers had deposited the money, and will claim it. In the case of banks, so many formalities are necessary for the successors of dead persons to get back the money, that they find it cheaper to lose it than to undergo the various formalities requiring heavy expenses and endless running from pillar to post, and being ticked off here, there and everywhere by peons, clerks and officials of all sorts.


Let me give an illustration from my own family. A member suddenly died intestate as most of us do. He had enough money in banks to pay for his Estate Duty and to meet various demands incident on a death like this. The brothers who were his successors were helpless. The manager of the Bank knew us very well, but the law would not permit him to give that money to the successors without a succession certificate. This could not be had without first paying the Estate Duty. The result was that quite a lakh of rupees had to be borrowed to pay for funeral expenses, Estate Duty, succession certificate etc., and to meet various other demands before the formalities were completed and the Bank agreed to pay. All that took a whole year. If the money had been with a village banker or money-lender, a thing like that would not have happened. When I ventured to say to the Governor of the Reserve Bank that he should instruct the various scheduled banks to take steps to find out the depositors or their successors when any account of theirs had not been operated upon for a long time and pay them back the money due to them, I was solemnly informed that that was not the banks’ business; it would entail too much trouble, besides. I cannot understand why that is not the banks’ business, and what trouble there would be; because, they keep monthly accounts, know their addresses, and they can easily get in touch with them if they so want; and in case of their death, with their successors, and offer to pay them their money. That will make banks popular, and inculcate banking habits among the people. Generally our people keep their money fallow in their houses for the sake of safety. If such money is kept floating about through banks, it would be helpful for the economic life of the country. We have, therefore, to act in a manner that would be conducive to the welfare of all concerned.


Many years ago, the Reserve Bank itself had, after carrying on the necessary investigation, reported that the village money-lender was a very important factor in maintaining village economy; and still there was a report in the papers some days back that the villager was still in the ‘Clutches of the money-lender’. The poverty and the misery of the villager is put down to the activities of such a money-lender. As one who had a great deal to do with villages and villagers throughout his life, I might say in all humility, from my own experience, that it is not the village money-lender whose clutches create havoc in the countryside, but it is the lawyer and his tout who are responsible for most of the miseries of our humble village folk. So-called reformers also assign the troubles of the villager to heavy expenses in marriages and other domestic functions. My own experience shows that if there is one family that has come to grief because of very heavy expenditure at marriage time, and one other because they had taken heavy debts which they could not pay back, ninety-eight find themselves in dire difficulties because of the activities of the lawyer and his tout. The tout in the village is called a ‘barrister’; and I remember one of them telling me when I was trying to settle a dispute and that too in my own zamindari village–that I did not know any law though I had just then come back with both an academic and a professional degree in law from England; and that if anyone knew any law, it was himself. And he was right. It is no use my being told that the lawyers know nothing about these touts who create quarrels where there are none; who prevent differences being composed when they arise; and who drag parties to law courts ruining all concerned. As the Hindi saying goes, whoever wins in a law suit, loses; and whoever loses, gets ruined; “Jo Jita so hara, Jo hara so mara.”


Actually the system of law as introduced in our country, despite its high faulting pretences to be the palladium of Justice, the upholder of individual Liberty, etc., the fact is that it has turned an honest, simple, God-fearing people into liars and perjurers. If village men went to a neighbouring elder, he would give an equitable judgment in their case within a few minutes, as he knows all the facts, is conversant with village customs, and realises what is right and what is wrong. So the evilly-inclined villager now goes to the law Court where the presiding officer does not know the facts of the case; depends upon evidence which may be perjured; and in the name of justice, actually promotes injustice, with the best will in the world.


In order therefore to bring about the real welfare of the village people, what is wanted is to revive the institution of the village money-lender, give him credit for good intentions and encourage him to be helpful; to revivify the Panchayats of elders who are there, not because of the votes obtained by wicked canvassing, but because of natural age, so that real justice may be done and peace prevail; and to establish auxiliary small village industries so that the village folk may be able to supplement their incomes from agriculture by working in them, and usefully utilise their spare time when no agricultural operations should be on. Establishment of large industries that destroy villages and create new towns with all their problems, because such things are done in America, does not suit us. Dams, canals and huge factories may be all right in their own place, but village wells and workshops are more important. Wells should be dug plentifully, and be available to all. Stress is not to be placed on elections for the procuring of proper men for Panchayats and other purposes. Age, experience and character should be given their due. Senseless abuse of old systems of village life and forcing all sorts of ways and customs that do not suit us, would make matters worse; and neither fulfil the wish of the reformer, nor redound to the welfare of the people.