Utthiramerur: Tamil village where electoral governance developed 1000 years ago

    Utthiramerur is located in district Kancheepuram in the state of Tamil Nadu. The non-descript and relatively unknown town deep in south had such an elaborate functioning system of electoral governance developed more than thousand years ago, that it shall obscure all the so-called creators and champions of electoral democracy viz. Thomas Jefferson, Oliver Cromwell, Abraham Lincoln or any other statesman for that matter. From fossils of our mutilated history, democratic saga of Utthiramerur is the only one available in our archives, well-documented and verified. It remained almost unknown and unexplored in the annals of our country largely because responsibility of documenting history of Bharatiya civilisation was forcibly appropriated by those whose loyalty remain vested in the west and who survived on doles being received from overseas from forces who were determined to paint us in poor light.

    Conspicuous feature of those democratic practices is that dynasticism or nepotism was absolutely unacceptable. Looking at prevailing state of affairs in the democracy supposed to be inherited from colonial marauders, their expanded wisdom and foresightedness are amazing to say the least. Let us now peruse more details about their democratic norms which effectively contradict the implanted notion that our parliamentary democracy is a British legacy.

    According to inscriptions on walls of Sundervarada Temple in Utthiramerur of 750 AD and renovated by Rajendra Chola in 1013 AD, mighty Hindu  empire of Cholas pursued highest conceivable norms of electoral democracy. It prescribed mini-max age limit for all aspirants of political office and discouraged the concept of professional politicians or politics being their only means of livelihood. Gradual and smooth transition of power from generation to generation was by conviction, planning through induction programmes and not haphazardly as a measure of compulsion.

    Honesty and integrity of politicians was sacrosanct. Entire wealth earned by them used to be known to all. Those indulging in corruption or legal intricacies to hoodwink due process of law, were expelled outright.

    Administrative abilities were mandatory. Novice in politics was just not permitted to claim luxuries of office at all.

    Conditions for disqualification from contesting elections were stringent. Those who failed to maintain their accounts properly, used to be barred from elections for whole life and next seven generations. As also were the offence of corruption through bribery and misappropriation of public property. Such politicians were dubbed as ‘Grama Kantaka’ i.e. village curse. Norms were so stringent that all his first line of relatives from both sides too, were barred from public positions.

    Election System: Election rules prescribed requirements of minimum educational qualifications, age limit of 35 to 70 years, minimum land-holding with own house constructed on it and being a regular tax-payer. Only those who had a strong sense of societal responsibility were allowed to contest elections. They enjoyed the Right to Recall too. Dereliction of constitutional responsibilities invited invocation of the Right to Recall, elected representative used to be summarily expelled from the elected body and barred from contesting three consecutive elections. Nobody, howsoever, mighty, was allowed to contest more than three times thus, entire election system was all inclusive and expansive. They operated through a system of Committees viz. Annual Administrative Committee parallel to current Parliament, Tank Committee, Gold Committee, Field Committee, Garden Committee, etc., which were all democratically elected bodies with pre-defined tenures under overall supervision of Annual Committee. No politician could be a member of more than one committee.

    Education Records:  Records pertaining to education are interesting. In those Vedic days teaching of Vedas was the highest priority in education hence, every teacher was well-versed in knowledge of Vedas. Teacher could never be native of the same village as he could have adopted a casual approach to teaching. Teacher always belonged to a distant village who knew no one in the village of appointment. Method of appointment, duration of service and quantum of compensation were very well defined. Teacher invariably mastered one Veda completely, Vyakarana, Mimamsa, Darsanas, etc. Alternately, he could be a master of one Veda, Vyakarana with Bhasya, Nyaya, with Bhasya, Tika  as well as Nirukta  with Bhasya. Those familiar with these standards concede, these essential qualifications were very stringent and present day norms stand nowhere in comparison. Multi-dimensional assimilation of relevant subjects of study was regarded as the norm of education. Teachers were appointed only for three years and after every three-year term, used to undergo rigorous examination to be eligible for renewal of the term. All expenses were met through an endowment created by honourable natives of the village in association with Village Assembly run on the lines of parliamentary democracy of today. The Assembly was responsible for quality of education being imparted in village schools.

    Maintenance of village infrastructure, maintenance of water tanks was looked after by tank committee whose members were elected for three years from non-serving members of the Village Assembly. This process too, was all-inclusive and expansive. The Committee maintained tanks, irrigation channels, collection of tank-taxes and it’s proper utilisation. The Committee was mandated to de-silt tanks every third month and reinforce bunds by raising heights. Sluices and overflow channels were serviced scientifically. Large quantity of records are available to support such activities in all villages. Maintenance of roads enjoyed great priority. Roads were generally 14 feet wide with long roads wide up to 48 feet. Committee used to purchase land from willing sellers from villages to construct roads for common use. Re-layering at fixed time-intervals was carried out meticulously.

    Testing of Gold: A record dated 921 AD is available that describes a rule passed by the Village Assembly which mandated testing of purity of gold regularly as the metal was transacted as prevailing currency. Testing was conducted by a Gold Testing Committee known as “Pon Vaariyam” with four members elected through Pot-Ticket method by merchants of the village. Out of these ten members, two belonged to military garrison. Contestants for the membership were required to be skilled in gold-testing methods with unimpeachable integrity, neither too old nor too young and regular tax payers. Tax evaders were strictly barred from contesting elections to the Committee and members were elected for a fixed period. Testing was done by rubbing gold against a specified stone and rough stones were prohibited to prevent excessive loss of the precious metal due to rubbing. At the end of every day, entire gold dust was collected and deposited with the Village Assembly. Every third month, all Committee members were required to appear before Village Assembly and swear that no wrong had been committed by them. Such oaths were sacrosanct and zealously guarded with their lives.

    Administration of Justice another record reveals details about administration of justice and punitive fines for criminals known as “Dustargal” in the village by great Village Assembly. Fines imposed by the Assembly used to be recovered by the Village Administrator within same financial year otherwise Assembly themselves would take up the matter to close the issue. It reveals that Assembly had judicial powers too. Generally, cases related to security guards, scribes etc. used to be settled by the Village Administrators themselves or sub-committees designated for the purpose within the same financial year. For dereliction of official responsibilities, neither Village Assembly members were spared nor the Village Administrator.

    Only if our Constitution framers and honourable members of the Constituent Assembly had perused those glorious years of Bharatiya Parliamentary Democracy, lot many constitutional crises of today would have been avoided. Members of our Parliament must unite and pay handsome tributes to those visionaries, our ancestors.

    Democratic values gradually spread across the world over a long spell of centuries –

    Political system of Classical Athens granted democratic citizenship to an elite class in 5th century BC.

    Local Parliaments founded in Iceland, Faroe Islands and Isle of Man. National Parliament in Iceland came up in 930 AD.

    First elected Parliament was voted in England in the year 1265.

    Modern democratic parliamentary system in Switzerland was adopted in 1848.

    1893 witnessed New Zealand granting universal adult suffrage.

    Finland was the first country to abolish race/gender mandates for voting and serving in government.

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