Kalo Bhari

The evolution of this practice was started in Sikkim after the latter’s contact with the British. Due to the lack of historical documents it is not possible to ascertain that since when the system was applied to the Sikkimese peasants. The literary meaning of the term Kalo Bhari in Nepali is Black Load. The British sold arms and ammunitions to Tibet. The terrain and the inclement weather condition made the trading difficult. The commodities to save them from rain and snow were wrapped in card boards and put inside gunny bags bedaubed with tar. The tar protected the commodities from out side rain, and it also hid the commodities within. The black colour gave the load its local name Kalo Bhari or black load. Besides using these as a means to transporting arms and ammunitions, they also used to transport viands necessary for British staying at Latung of Chumbi valley. On their way back they were loaded with gold dust, which came to Sikkim from there it was transported to the British territory of Bengal.
Many people of Sikkim who carried Kalo Bhari believe that apart from the arms and ammunitions, some time they also had to carry items of daily use like shoes, jackets, woolen blankets etc. for the British officials who were serving in the Sikkim-Tibet border. Some time it used to come in a large quantity and the peasants of three or four villages had to go to carry them from the centers where they were order to go. The peasants of East, West and South districts of the kingdom were greatly suffered by the system of Kalo Bhari due to their proximity to the border. The East district borders Tibet, similarly the West and South are nearby to the Indian state of West Bengal. The loads of commodities of daily use were also wrapped in the same manner as the ammunitions were wrapped. A peasant who had a good relation with the Kazi- Thikadar in some cases got exempted from carrying the load. But, for the others, the orders of their Kazi were some thing not less than a Decree of God. They had to reach to their center in time. The result of disobedience of the Kazi’s order was the confiscation of the private property, injustices while depositing their land tax, imposition of double taxes etc. The people of West Sikkim had to go up to Darjeeling to carry their loads, similarly, the peasants of South Sikkim had to go up to Teesta and sometimes up to Geil Khola which was then connected with railways. Likewise, the people of East Sikkim had to come down up to Rangpo a bordering town with British India. To carry their transport, porters were fixed by the British depending on Kazi- Thikadars. For the transport of each bag paid Rs.2/- per labour per day had to be paid. But, the Kazis and Thikadars kept the whole amount themselves or Rs.1/- and 10 Annas and used to pass 6 Annas per day to the labourer. The contractors never used to pay the whole amount to the labourers rather they forced them to carry the load through the difficult Tibetan terrain during the lashes of rain, thunder, sleet and snow. It has to be mentioned here that there was no specific ethnic group which had to carry Kalo Bhari compulsorily. The Bhutias, with few exceptional cases, and the Lepchas were also equally suffered with the system. There are some references given by few scholars that the Nepali peasants were the major victims of the system. They may be true in their perception and one cannot ignore the fact that Nepalese were greatly targeted under such practices. But, another factor about the greater number of the Nepali peasants among the porters was that, they constituted 75% of the total population and it is obvious that among the sufferers their number was large. Therefore, apart from few unjust cases, the other cases were not the intentional one as justified by other scholars, but it was a rule of the Kazi-Thikadars which was to be followed by every one, it did not matter on which community a peasant belonged to.
The exploitation of the Sikkimese population reached its highest watermark during the last phase of the Second World War. During the time, huge quantities of these loads were transported overland to China via Tibet. Such was the demand for transport for this purpose that the wages offered reached unprecedented heights. The cupidity of the landlords rose in unison and they stooped to swindling. They falsely requisitioned forced labour on the authority of the state to carry these loads. A large number of these loads belonged to private concerns which transported them to Tibet in collusion with the landlords. So high was the profit on the goods that these business concerns offered four or five times the wages prescribed for forced labour. The land lords charged the private concerns the highest rates, paid the ryots the prescribed rates and pocketed the rests. Such sinister acts could not be hided for long time. When the victims learnt about it they approached to the authorities. As the culprits were all ‘high born’ Kazis, the matter was hushed up, and the aggrieved ryots were sent away with the facial advice to ‘let bygones be bygones and to forgive and forget’.