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Rabindranath Tagore and ‘Hitaishi Sabha’(Friendly Assembly)

Poverty is a deeply rooted giant problem of India. It was during colonial rule, and it is as usual in post independent democratic rule. After 75 years of democratic rule, it has been increasing rapidly. This democratic government has been taken multifarious policy and programme to reduce the suffering of poor. But there is the strategic failure to reach the target. Finally, it has been modified the determinants of measurement of the poverty line and it has been succeeded to reduce the number of people living below poverty line. ‘As of 2016, the incidence of multidimensional poverty has almost halved between 2005–06 and 2015–16, declining from 54.7 percent to 37.5 percent.’

But this pandemic crisis has been revealed the real truth of the data related to poverty. It reminds that there was no ‘real solution is to improve the income of the poor.’ It refers to a comment of Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Most of us who try to deal the poverty problem think of nothing but a greater intensive effort of production, forgetting that this only means a greater exhaustion of materials as well as of humanity. This only means giving exaggerated opportunity for profit to a few, at the cost of the many. It is food which nourishes, not money. It is fullness of life which makes one happy, not fullness of purse. Multiplying materials intensifies the inequality between those who have and those who have not, and this deal a fatal wound to the social system, through which the whole body id eventually bled to death.’

Tagore’s thought on poverty is different, but it is fundamental as far as human behavior is concerned. It is even till relevant in every society. He opined, “Man’s poverty is abysmal, his wants are endless till he becomes truly conscious of his soul. Till then, the world to him is in a state of flux – a phantasm that is and is not.” According to him, poverty is the ‘lack of opportunity of people for creative self-expression rather than as a question of income poverty.’ ‘Poverty problem is not so important. It is the problem of unhappiness that is the great problem. Happiness may not compete with wealth in its list of needed materials, but it is creative, therefore, it has its own source of richness within itself. Our object is to flood the choked bed of village life with streams of happiness.’  Alleviation of poverty is to find out ‘opportunities for creative engagements of disadvantaged people which would keep them fulfilled in life irrespective of their material dispositions.’

Tagorian holistic view of poverty contradicts the modern economic discourse. His view focuses on creativity of human beings. He thought that economic poverty was not the primary concern. Marx wanted the revolution to create their own history by the working class. This revolution was not for solving the problem of poverty of the working class.  According to Marx, ‘the revolution would raise productivity so much that everyone would have enough to consume, but certainly in the period of transition to such a state member of the working class would continue to die in poverty while leaving behind them their unfettered contributions in the history of human creativity. This to overcome poverty in terms of lack of creative freedom and opportunities and not material poverty alleviation as it is seen in modern economic discourse.’

However, Rabindranth Tagore realized the agony of poor people in remote villages, when he was appointed as Zamindar to his ancestral Zamindari at Kaligram, Sajadpur, Patisar and Shilaidaha. He was an extraordinary and exception to the Zamindars. He observed that acute illiteracy and ignorance, poverty, disease, squalor, etc. are the prime cause of suffering of innocents. They were socially, economically, morally degraded.  They had to think about their power and strength. They were involved in conflict. They had no self-respect and they are non-cooperative. So, he concentrated his endless effort to revive it. It was initiated through formation of ‘Hitaishi Sabha’ (Friendly Assembly), a villagers’ organization to promote integrated village development and reconstruction by the people themselves. Village people selected a senior member of their village as ‘Pradhan’ and ‘Hitaishi Sabha’ was represented by such five ‘Pradhan’ to formulate a plan and programme and its monitoring. A ‘common fund’ was generated through a cess of 3 paisa per rupee of tax for village development work included ‘Shalishi’ (village level judiciary system), expansion of education through establishment of primary, upper primary and high schools, dispensary for health care, road reconstruction and repairing, excavation of ponds, arrangement of drinking water, agriculture and firming through introduction of modern technologies and soil testing laboratory, development of cottage industry (weaving, pottery, etc.). It brought a significant change in rural life. This effort made people self-reliant, and it was enough to make the village self-sufficient.

Now, our government has been introduced local self-government which was actually started by Tagore. But our villages have been only empowered politically with so many divisions. It was noted when Tagore suggested to our political leaders for people’s development, they were more interested on politics. Today it is not exception. Our leaders are doing politics when people’s survival is in a crisis.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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