Published by the Dr Ambedkar Foundation, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India, the excerpt below has been borrowed from one of Dr B R Ambedkar’s speeches during the Bombay Legislative Council on Village Panchayats Bill debates on 6th October 1932.
The publication- “Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches Vol 2.” is a compilation of Dr Ambedkar’s work in the Bombay Legislature, Simon Commission and the Round Table Conferences. It provides an insight into his detailed views set in the context of pre-independent India.
Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar needs no introduction. He was a political leader, scholar, philosopher, Parliamentarian, and lawyer. He was well known for his persuasive speeches in Assemblies and Parliament, especially as a champion of the Depressed Classes in India. He spoke vociferously on various issues like Primary and University Education, Industrial Disputes, Linguistic States, and the rights of Untouchables.
You can read the original, unabridged version here (pp. 123-131).
Dr Ambedkar’s views on Panchayati Raj in India differed from that of other leaders like Mahatma Gandhi in terms of the practicality of its implementation. He expressed his opinion in detail on the Village Panchayats Bill in the debates of the Bombay Legislative Council during 1932-33. Though he agreed with the devolution policy, he objected to how the Bill intended to empower the Village Panchayats.
In one of such speeches, he said, “Whatever be the merits of these rural republics, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that they have been the bane of the public life of India.”
According to him, the Village Panchayats hampered the growth of the nationalistic spirit in the country.
He argued, “If India has not succeeded in producing nationalism, if India has not succeeded in building up a national spirit, the chief reason for that, in my opinion, is the existence of the village system. It made all people saturated with local particularism, with local patriotism. It left no room for a larger civic spirit. None whatever. Under the ancient village panchayats, India, instead of being a country of a united people, became a loose conglomeration of village communities with no common tie except common allegiance to a common King.”
He also objected to the constitution of Panchayats based on adult suffrage.
He claimed, “I should like to make it clear to the Honourable Minister that, speaking for the depressed classes, I have not hesitated in saying that adult suffrage is not sufficient for us. The Honourable Minister has forgotten that the depressed classes are in the minority in every village, a miserable minority, and assuming that he adopts adult suffrage, he will readily admit I am sure that adult suffrage cannot convert a minority into a majority. Consequentially I am bound to insist that if these village panchayats come, there shall be special representation for the minorities. At any rate, there shall be special representation for the depressed classes, and others, of course, will speak for themselves.”
He further added, “Speaking for the depressed classes, therefore, I can never accept the principle of self-government for India unless I am satisfied that every selfgoverning institution has provisions in it which give the depressed classes special representation in order to protect their rights, and until that is done, I am afraid it will not be possible for me to assent to the first part of the Bill.”
Dr Ambedkar also criticised Bill’s provisions on judicial powers to the Village Panchayat. He questioned if the Village Panchayat meets the three requisites to discharge civil and criminal justice – Training in Law, Impartiality in its outlook and Independent position.
He said, “Now, the first question that I would like to ask the Honourable Minister is this: Does he expect that these five gentlemen who will be elected on the basis of adult suffrage will have sufficient judicial training to discharge the duties of judges? Sir, I would like to submit that judicial decisions demand a developed judgment and a vast amount of legal knowledge. (Laughter.) Let there be no laughter because it is a serious matter. Just consider this. We are all agog when members of the I.C.S. want to have certain places reserved for them in the High Court or the judiciary. What is the reason for our objection? If I have understood the objection correctly, it is that these gentlemen who have passed the I.C.S. examination have no judicial training, and not having judicial training, we cannot entrust them with judicial powers. That is the gravamen of the objection. They want justice and judges who are competent to discharge their duties. Now, I ask the Honourable Minister whether he thinks that an illiterate population, is steeped in ignorance, and swallowed up in superstition, can produce five good men who can be entrusted to discharge the duties of judges.
The next proposition I would like to place before this House is this: Is it possible to expect this panchayat to be an impartial body of judges? Let us consider the facts as they are. No honourable member of this House, I am sure, will deny faction feuds do not rent that very few villages.
Not only are there quarrels among the Hindus themselves, but there are quarrels between the Hindus and the Mahomedans, and these quarrels are of no ordinary importance. They are serious. I would like the Honourable Minister and the House to consider whether a panchayat elected in an atmosphere of this sort would be impartial enough to distribute justice between men of different castes and men of different creeds. That is a proposition, I submit, which the House and the Honourable Minister should consider seriously.
The next question I would like to ask is, does the Honourable Minister expect that the judiciary he is bringing into being will be an independent judiciary? Sir, what is his proposition? His proposition is that the judiciary shall be elected because that is what the provisions for a panchayat mean. The panchayat which will administer justice will be a panchayat elected by the village’s adult population. I would like to ask him whether he expects that a judge who has to submit himself to the suffrage of the masses will not think twice before doing justice and whether, while giving justice, he is offending the sensibility of the voter. Suppose there was a Hindu-Mahomedan riot; suppose a Mahomedan was brought up before a panchayat for an offence triable by the panchayat; suppose one Hindu member of the panchayat thought that there was a justice on the side of the Mahomedan. Does the Honourable Minister and does the House think that this gentleman, who may have to submit himself to an election within the course of a few months or a year, will think that he ought to do justice to the Mahomedan rather than keep his seat? What will he do?”
Though he agreed with the principle of providing cheap and easily accessible justice to the villagers, he suggested an alternate method instead of giving judicial powers to village panchayats.
“We have already in existence what are called honorary bench magistrates in towns. It should be perfectly possible to extend that system whereby we can divide each district into judicial circles extending over an area of two or three miles suited to convenience, and for Government to nominate—I emphasise the word “nominate”—three or more persons to discharge the judicial functions in that circle. These three gentlemen would on one day sit as magistrates to deal with criminal cases and on another day they will sit as civil judges to try civil cases. By this method, you will secure cheap justice, easy justice, at the same time you will secure a judiciary that will be independent of local influence, a judiciary that will be free from the disadvantages of an elective system. I think, Sir, this ought to satisfy the requirements of the case.”
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