History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2009: Q.6 (a)
Q.6 (a) How far can the village assemblies or communities under the Cholas be really called democratic?
The system of village autonomy with assemblies (Sabhas and Urs) and their committees (Variyams) developed through the ages and reached its culmination during the Chola rule. Two inscriptions belonging to the period of Parantaka I found at Uttaramerur provide details of the formation and functions of village councils. It is said that during Chola period, there was democratic government at the village level as the Uttaramerur inscriptions give an idea of how a village assembly of Uttaramerur consisted of elected members. Several works like maintenance of temples, agriculture, irrigation, collection of taxes, road construction etc was looked after by the local assembly. The Chola Emperors respected the decisions of these assemblies.
Each assembly functioned autonomously in accordance with its own constitution based on custom and usage, and took care of the problems of its members at the local level. In matters affecting people of more than one assembly, decision was taken by mutual deliberation.
Local government gave a chance to population to air its grievances and to solve the problems. This strengthened the democratic characteristics of the village assemblies.
But Chola village assemblies had only some political practices as democratic. The Chola polity was absolute monarchy. The central government through its officers exercised general supervision and had right to intervene in the matter of village under emergency situations. The village assemblies had to take into account the policies of central government.
There were close links between some of the Brahmana Sabhas and Chola court. Uttaramerur inscriptions state that the resolution of the Sabha was made in the presence of an official especially deputed by the King. Tanjavur inscriptions indicate that Raja Raja I issued orders to the Sabha of Cholamandalam to perform various types of services in the Brihadeshwara temple.
Other factors which indicate lack of proper democracy were:
- Candidates were elected through lot system instead of voting system.
- The members of the Ur (village assembly of non-Brahmins) consisted of the taxpaying land owners of the village. Whereas in case of Sabha (village assembly of Brahmans), membership was governed by criterion such as property ownership, family antecedents, learning and good conduct.
- There were many people, who were debarred from contesting election, for ex: relatives of criminals, those who had been on any committee for past three years.
- In actual functioning of the assemblies, no reference is found regarding quorum or decision by voting.
- Water supplies determined to a large extent that which villages would have their assemblies and which would not. Those villages which were in the central region of Kaveri river basin were under direct Royal control, while those regions which were far away and located in drier region were autonomous and contained the self governing institution.
Therefore, the village assemblies cannot be called democratic in modern sense as the grassroots democracy was not absolute.