THE NEWARS ASPECT IN ZAMINDARI SYSTEM IN SIKKIM : Kalo-bhari and Jharlange demystified -  Newars in Sikkim
There is a general misconception in the minds of people at large that the era of the zamindars or the landlords In Sikkim was very despotic and the citizens were subjected to all kinds of hardships. It is with this concept in mind that terms like "kalo-bhari" and "jharlange" were coined, which is nothing but a luggage packed in black tarpaulin and free-labour which at times the British sahibs resorted to. Much ink has been flown to describe and highlight this not so important aspect of the zamindari-raj. It is done by those people who are jealous and have adverse notions towards these privileged classes of people enjoying powers given to them by the King. Of course, there could have been few such instances, but the good deeds of this era do overshadow them. Therefore, there is no rhyme or reason to make clamour for this negligible part of history. However, it is unfortunate that even some of the learned and well-versed people fail to understand the benefits derived by Sikkim and its people during this era.

The purpose of this short article, therefore, is to focus the readers’ attention to what exactly the zamindari system was and what its achievements were, especially in the Newar landlords’ context. We must accept the fact that the present Sikkim we see is an outcome of the efforts and foresights of our ancestors, in a land where even as late as 1835, was covered by dense forests with little or sparse population. It is only because of the foresight of our ancestors that large number of settlers, mostly Nepalese, came in. Large tracts of virgin forests was cleared, lands brought under cultivation, mines were worked, coins were minted, townships were established and trade and commerce were developed which led to the economic development of Sikkim.
Prior to Sikkim becoming a protectorate of India and the British controlling the affairs here, there were no codified laws and the King was the fountain of all legal and judicial authority. It was only in 1890 when J.C. White took over; he started to implement certain measures in the sphere of administration on modern lines. Lease system was introduced and lands were leased out to influential men through proper deeds through land grants. Thus, new Landlords were created. One of these very early settlers was Laxmidas Kasaju (Newa) and his younger brother (Kancha) Chandrabir, (the title Pradhan was later conferred to them on the advice of the British) who migrated to Sikkim from the town of Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu in Nepal. These two brothers, Laxmi Das and Chandrabir, businesspersons by profession, fled from Nepal when Junga Bahadur Rana was the prime minister, who massacred many influential government officials and businesspersons. Through the vicissitudes of fortune, the two brothers came to Darjeeling, where they established a flourishing business and Laxmidas became a Municipal Commissioner. It was later in 1867, on the request of some influential people from the Sikkim Royal Palace that they entered Sikkim. In Sikkim they secured estates for developing into agricultural lands, mining lease for copper mines and minting coins.

Trade and commerce
It is interesting to note that the idea of having Sikkim’s own currency was the brainchild of these two brothers. The first copper mine in Sikkim was established in Tuk-khani, near Turuk Busty in South Sikkim, and Pachey-khani in East Sikkim. Minting of coins was first started at Turuk. A minting house was called "Taksari". Laxmidas after acquiring the minting contract from the government sublet this contract to five other persons, viz. (Kancha Chandrabir), Jitman Singh, Chandrabir of Pakyong, Prasad Chhetri and Bhardoj Gurung, on share/contract basis. They too were conferred the title "Taksari" besides Laxmidas.

In 1867 when Laxmidas secured mining lease for copper mines, he with his brother brought people expert in mining (Mangars) from Nepal in large numbers. The Sikkimese copper got a ready market in Nepal as at that time Nepal was converting their coinage system and had introduced copper coins. Prior to this and before the advent of British, the economy of Sikkim was in a primitive stage. Trade was carried upon irregularly by barter system and this practice was in vogue till the 19th century. Therefore, the staring minting Sikkim’s own coinage system plays a vital role in ushering in a new and modern form of economy in Sikkim.

Mining Operations
The miners in Sikkim were relatively better off than those elsewhere in India. They worked in gangs on their own account and were not employed or were for hire. Each gang worked under a headman and out of every 05 seers (6.5 kg approx.) of copper extracted, 01 seer was given to the coppersmith and the rest remained as the share of the miners. The lessee of these mines (the Taksaris) bought the copper extracted at a price fixed by him, which at that time were even higher than the price prevalent in Calcutta. This certainly reflects that the Taksaris did not suppress or take undue advantage, and kept the miners happy. As the miners in Sikkim were better off than their counterparts elsewhere, Nepal later disallowed migration of the Mangar class of people who were experts in mining.

All the Newar and Kazi landlords were also given judicial powers to administer law within their own jurisdiction or estates. They functioned as police officers within their jurisdiction and could arrest, imprison or punish any ryot (persons residing within a particular jurisdiction). They were also permitted to sell the attached moveable or immoveable properties of the defaulting ryots. Since the land lords had judicial powers, they had to establish courts, or "Addas" as it was called, to settle the cases. These courts were invested with some class of criminal as well as civil judicial powers and were either honorary or stipendiary, as they kept to themselves half of the court fees and the fines imposed by them. The revenue thus collected enhanced the financial status of the country significantly. The economic growth took an upsurge and people inhabiting the land were placed better off. The "Addas" helped ushering in a reign of law and order in a kingdom otherwise infested by primitive men where they were no coded form of common law that governed them.

Revenue system
The introduction of courts and common law helped the people to lead a more civilized form of life. These "Addas" having all the judicial powers were spread all over Sikkim. The landlords in Sikkim appointed one "Mandal" and one "Karbari" to look after the day-to-day affairs and collect taxes in their respective estates. They, on appointment had an agreement with the landlords stating that they would not suppress the people and take undue advantage from them. Failing which, they were made liable for the damages incurred. This further proves the point that the landlords (Newar Landlords in this context), did care for the people in their estates.

The Landlords had every intention of taking good care and protecting the people In general. The estate would take the full responsibility of upbringing and total welfare until the attainment of adulthood of any orphan. The estate would also allot a plot of land to such orphans.

For the holistic development of Sikkim, some of the landlords constructed roads from their own funds, and collected funds for the purpose. It is found recorded in some books, that Ram Krishna Pradhan, second son of Laxmidas, was instrumental in constructing a bridle road from Darjeeling in West Bengal to Majhitar in South Sikkim, and another bridle road leading to Gangtok via Turuk , Rateypani, Rangpo and Pakyong, all inside Sikkim. This bridle road was later connected to the State Highway. Punnya Prasad Pradhan, grandson of Laxmidas, later constructed a jeep-able road, connecting Turuk, where the first minting of coins took place, to Melli bazar in South Sikkim in 1943.

During those early days when education was still in its infancy in Sikkim, the landlords were instrumental in opening schools in their respective estates which were later converted to high school or primary school. Some of these schools are Sumbuk Secondary School, first started by Bhuwan Prasad Pradhan (father of author) with 05 acres of land donated to the school. Punnya Prasad Pradhan similarly started Turuk Government School. Initially these schools were financed by the landlords themselves. They were also instrumental in starting the first adult literacy programmes in Sikkim.

They taught the villagers modern ways of farming and agriculture. They imported new and superior breed of seeds and distributed free of cost to the interested people. Besides, they introduced Gladioli by importing the bulbs from Australia and U.K. They ushered in a green revolution by encouraging people to grow different types of crops, vegetables, flowers and trees. The house for the new breed of tomatoes was Rong in South Sikkim, where the new hybrid variety replaced the old local small variety.

On the medical sector too, the landlords have played a major role. Those days the rural areas did not have any hospitals or health-care centres. The landlords kept stocks of emergency medicines, which often helped the sick and the needy or provided some relief to the patients before they could be reached to any nearest healthcare centre.

Being the pioneers of modern Sikkim, the landlords or the zamindars have sacrificed a lot to lay the foundation on which today’s Sikkim stands. Without their labour, dedication and foresight, Sikkim perhaps would have still been underdeveloped, backward and uncivilized state. Therefore, we must acknowledge and appreciate their effort instead of unearthing trivial matters, which unnecessarily diverts our attention away from the laurels our ancestors have achieved. The author of this article being a direct descendant (sixth generation) of Laxmidas, does have some first-hand information and experience of the above facts to demystify the myth.                    
                            Bibliography: Aspect of Cultural History of Sikkim: Studies in Coinage by Pranab Kumar Bhattacharyya 1984
      Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and need not be those of the management of this website as well.
6/28/2016 21:15:29

You did gave your perspective which from the information provided by you suggests that you received from those of the privileged class of the period. I think there is nothing bad in digging the past and take out some evils and expose them so as to clear the air of this generation you know. History is our root and one must try to give as truer account as possible. We all know that these periods are not as ancient to not having any eye witnesses. The fear of these barbarism is still lingering in the eyes of people who survived these brutalities.


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    Deepak Pradhan, a Laxmidas / Sumbuk Kothi scion, is a Senior Executive working with the Government of Sikkim in Gangtok.


    October 2011