Punjabi - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Both Punjabs have a multitiered administrative system with a centuries-long history. The basic units in this system are village, block or circle, tehsil (subDistrict), district, and state. For the last 150 years, the district has been the most important unit of administration and the lowest unit controlled by the elite national administrative service officers. In the imperial period, these district commissioners combined all the administrative functions: police, revenue, and judicial. Since independence the functions have been separated in both countries. Both governments also recognize an important legal distinction between villages, which are under direct state administration and in which land revenue is collected, and towns, which are under chartered municipal committees and which collect a wide range of property and business taxes, but not land revenue. (Information on caste is provided above in the section on kinship.)

Political Organization. Early writers on Punjab often Reported that villages and caste groups in villages were governed by panchayats, village councils. Beginning in 1952, Indian Punjab built on this tradition by establishing an elected panchayat for every village. Representatives from the panchayats in turn met in panchayat samitis at block and district levels. This system grew to play an important role in the agricultural planning that produced Punjab's green revolution. But the panchayats had no power to change their own mandates or control their own elections. When Punjab came under central administrative control during the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi, the panchayats, along with other elected bodies, were legally disbanded. Although they had no legal power to continue on their own, many still did so informally.

Pakistani Punjab has not supported village-level government. Instead, in the 1960s the government established "Basic Democracies," a system of councils from the "circle" level up to the province that began with the election in each village of one "basic democrat" per 1,000-1,500 voters. The councils were remote from villages and dominated by large landlords and administrators. The result is that Pakistani Punjab continues to have a much less egalitarian distribution of power as well as resources, retaining a much clearer two-class system. Since independence both Punjabs have had provision for legislatures, although Pakistani Punjab, with the rest of Pakistan, has been under military rule for much of the time and the provincial assembly has been suspended. The chief executive is a governor, appointed by the president of Pakistan, assisted by an administrative secretariat. Indian Punjab established its legislature on the basis of direct elections, and electoral districts with large numbers of lower-caste voters are designated as "reserved" seats for members of those groups, to ensure minority representation. Except when under central rule, the chief executive of the state is the chief minister, elected by a majority of the legislative assembly. Both Punjabs have organized political parties, which go back historically to the late nineteenth century.

Both Punjabs also have active factional systems, Beginning at the village level and extending upward to motivate much of the statewide party activity. In villages, these groups are considered "secret" and are not publicly acknowledged. They reflect alliances among households, commonly focusing on efforts to gain or protect land or other major resources. At higher levels, local factions engage with regional political figures or other influential persons in a complex and fluid System of exchanges that shows little regard for ideology.

Finally, organized religious establishments have an important role in social and political mobilization. They provide a public forum to discuss government policies that government itself cannot control. Each year, many tens of thousands of people customarily travel to attend religious fairs at major shrines, and those who speak on such occasions normally apply precepts of the religion to events of the day, Including events involving government. In Indian Punjab, the most important forum of this type is the Sikh Gurdwara System. In Pakistani Punjab, mosques have similar functions.

Social Control and Conflict. There is no one system of Social control. Rather, each system of institutions has its own set of sanctions and its own discipline: commerce, household management, politics, the civil administration, kinship, law and customary law, and the religious organizations.

Generally, village life is highly competitive even while it is cooperative. Villagers know each other well. Thus conflicts seldom arise by miscalculation. Slights are assumed to be deliberate, and they usually are. Such conflicts tend to persist. Village factions serve to structure and manage them; there is seldom a means for resolving them.

According to a Punjabi saying, the sources of all conflicts are land, women, and water. More exactly, it is the need to control the means to perpetuate one's family and property. Thus the sources of conflict are indistinguishable from the bases of social control.

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