Dr Irfan Zafar
To my immature understanding, I was under the illusion that the bribe that has to be paid to this sacred soul has to be given in a secretive manner but, to my utter surprise, the amount was collected by the patwari without any fear, remorse or hesitation
As the story goes, the wife of a deputy commissioner walks up to her husband angrily asking him when he will be ‘promoted’ to the designation of a ‘patwari’ (village accountant): “How long will we have to live in poverty while the patwaris make fortunes around us?” The lady was not wrong in her understanding of the dreaded patwari for the fact dawned on me when I had the misfortune of visiting the patwari of my village after repeated requests for an appointment, which were finally granted once I had agreed to pay for his valuable time. Who is this man whose authority and power can throw even the prime minister’s importance to the lowest ebb of our civilian establishment’s role to govern the country?
The patwar system was first introduced during the rule of Sher Shah Suri and the system was further enhanced by Emperor Akbar. The British colonial era made very minor amendments to the system. In fact, it continued it as such. Patwari is the term used for a land record officer at the sub-division or tehsil level. As the lowest state functionary in the revenue collection system, his job encompasses visiting agricultural lands and maintaining a record of ownership, maintenance of records of the crops grown during every harvest, keeping a record of rights up to date by the punctual record of mutations and an account of preparation of statistical returns embodying the information derived from harvest inspections, register of mutation and record of rights. The documents relating to patwaris include the fard (document of ownership), pertt patwar (detail of transfer record), pertt sarkar (document of legal history), girdawari and jamabandi (khatouni kishtwar), which consist of the record of landholders and land revenue as per every khata (account), private as well as government land prepared by using khasra (block of land) numbers.
Due to their primary base in the rural areas, where literacy and wealth are low, they yield a larger-than-life influence in the local community and are notorious for demanding bribes and changing land records at will. The patwari reports to the tehsildar or chief clerk of the tehsil’s land records. The patwari yields significant power and influence with feudal lords who seek his favour because of his position and political connections. India has recently developed a software system called the Patwari Information System (PATIS), which has limited the patwari’s ability to manipulate records but, in Pakistan, the slow pace of e-governance coupled with vested interests have rendered almost any efforts of computerisation a complete failure.
Coming back to my ‘paid’ appointment — I arrived at a private official-cum-residential accommodation where the patwari was carrying out his official/personal duties. Expecting an office environment with tables and chairs, I saw the patwari sitting on the carpeted floor with a small writing table in front of him and a heap of land revenue records placed in an organised manner. The whole setup gave the look of someone visiting a pir — to enter the room, one has to take off his shoes and wait for his turn to be called by the patwari for an audience. To my immature understanding, I was under the illusion that the bribe that has to be paid to this sacred soul has to be given in a secretive manner but, to my utter surprise, the amount was collected by the patwari without any fear, remorse or hesitation.
When my turn came, I literally crawled on the carpet to reach him and, in a bid to show his authority and power, he raised many objections to the papers I was filing. Clueless as to what to do, the patwari’s assistant advised me to pay ‘nazrana’ (another kind of bribe) so that the non-existent discrepancies could be done away with. I handed over the envelope to the patwari, which he simply weighed and asked whether it was enough! I replied that, for his status, I felt that it was enough. Smilingly, he returned the envelope and directed me to double the amount, which I did helplessly.
His attitude towards me changed immediately after my unconditional submission and I was offered tea and snacks as a token of respect considering my position. Walking away after this ordeal, I was convinced of the aspiration of the deputy commissioner’s wife for her husband’s becoming a patwari one day and, more importantly, my own resolve to convince my son to become a patwari instead of wasting his time and energy in getting himself educated.
The writer is a social activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org