.. an you force them [to pay you higher wages].. Are they not the masters? For every one of you who is out, there are three waiting to step in your place. (69) She knew her sons did not stand a chance against the power of the tannery officials. Yet, she could not make them understand. One morning, Raja — Rukmanis son, who also worked at the tannery — left for work, but he did not return as usual. At dusk they [the tannery officials] brought his body home slung between two men, one at the head and one at the feet..
They laid him on the ground. They bowed their heads and shuffled their feet and spoke in low voices and then they went away. (93) They said Raja had been caught stealing from the tannery, and when the watchmen tried to stop him — using some physical force — he fell immediately to the ground, dead. They said he was weak, probably from lack of proper nutrition. They merely tapped him with a lathi, as he was trying to escape, and he fell. He must have been weak or something.
(95) Three days after Rajas death, two officials came to Rukmanis home. They made it clear that the watchmen were not to be held responsible for Rajas death; that they were only doing their job. Rukmani understood this. The officials had come to make sure that Rukmani and her husband did not cause trouble for the tannery. They didnt want her to interfere in any way with the power of the tannery or its officials as a result of her sons death.
Now we do not any trouble from you, you understand. The lad was caught stealing — maybe as you say, for the first time and in a moment of weakness — still, he was caught, and for the consequences that followed, no one was to blame except for himself. He should not have struggled. In these circumstances you naturally have no claim on us. (95) But Rukmani did not know why they would have thought she had a claim on them in the first place. She did not want compensation. Nothing could compensate for the life of her son. Nevertheless, the official went on: The point is, that no fault attaches to us.
Absolutely none. Of course.. it is your loss. But not, remember, our responsibility. Perhaps..
you may be the better off.. You have many mouths to feed.. (96) The officials obviously did not care about Rukmani, her family, Raja, or anyone else who worked at the tannery. The only thing that concerned them is that they would not be held responsible for this death. They wanted to stay in business for as long as possible.
And why not? They made a good living. The poor village men worked for next to nothing, while the officials lived a life of luxury and watched their profits increase. The rich ruled the poor. That is evident here. Gopalpur: A South Indian Village, an ethnography by Alan R. Beals, actually describes life in a village such as the one mentioned in the novel by Markandaya.
The ethnography does not go into much detail about the governmental structure of the village, but it does provide some information on how the land ownership is divided. It states that landlords are the educated men of their villages, the innovators who introduce new agricultural techniques, the protectors who alone are capable of dealing with police officials and settling conflicts. (82) It also goes on to say that not all landlords follow this traditional structure of society. For example, they might be dishonest or they may not be adequately educated, but even when these roles are not sufficiently met, the land owners still receive the usual attention and the respect from the villagers. They have the money, which gives them the power, which commands the respect.
It is interesting that there is no police system mentioned in the novel. However, the characters usually handled disputes among themselves. And, like in the case of Rajas death, disputes were settled by the white men, officials, or rich land owners — the more powerful disputee — often in their own favor. This also coincides with the ideas in the ethnography. The ethnography describes how government officials are now thinking about restructuring the social system of Gopalpur: The position of the Gaudas [prosperous land owners] has been attacked by developing new sources of credit to give financial assistance to farmers and laborers.
The democratic election of village officials, and the division of large land holdings, long threats, are soon to become law. These measures, which are designed in the long run to eliminate the class of landlords, fall short of replacing them. (82) The novel does not mention anything about government officials or the making of laws, or even laws themselves, for that matter. The only officials it recognizes are those of the tannery, which could be viewed, in a sense, as government officials. In addition, although the people in Gopalpur would be delighted at an opportunity to divide their Gaudas property among themselves, the prospect of there being no Gauda whatsoever fills the people with dismay. (82) Change is not easy for anyone. And even though the destruction of the landowner system would be beneficial to society, people would not know what to do afterwards.
The village people in Gopalpur have been farming this way all their life, and such a drastic change would affect them greatly. This can perhaps be understood by looking back at Markandayas novel. When Nathan and Rukmanis land was sold to the tannery, they had nowhere to turn. They had been farming all their lives, and now that the land was no longer theirs, they had to find some other way to survive. And that would certainly not be easy. Rukmani said: Where there was land, there was hope. Nothing now, nothing whatever.
My being was full of the husks of despair, dry, lifeless. I went into the hut and looked around me.. This hut with all its memories was to be taken from us, for it stood on a land that belonged to another. And the land itself by which we lived. It is a cruel thing, I thought. They do not know what they do to us.
(137) The ethnography proposes that the land be taken away from the rich Gaudas in order to better distribute the wealth. But without the land, the villagers would not know how to survive. This is clearly illustrated in Markandayas novel. Perhaps history can learn a lesson from fiction in this case. The governmental structure in Gopalpur is this: The rich landowners and white men have the power and the money to govern the village, while the poor commoners — such as Rukmanis family — must suffer the hardships of life, and oppression from the landowners.
This is evident in Kamala Markandayas novel, Nectar in a Sieve, and the ethnography by Alan R. Beals, Gopalpur: A South Indian Village. The rich do not care about the well-being of their poorer tenants or workers. They are concerned only with how much work the villagers are able to do; and how much they are going to profit from their labors. The picture is not a pretty one, yet without this structure, the villagers would not know what to do with themselves. They have lived this way all their lives, and change is a hard thing.
The governmental structure they have now is familiar to them; traditional. Anything else would cause trouble.