The Kazis of Sikkim

The division of the kingdom into several Dzongs or districts was prevalent from the early years of the Namgyal dynasty. The country was divided into Dzongs for the administrative convenience of the ruler. The territory of the kingdom in the initial years of the Tibetan Rule was a large one. Therefore, for the administration of the Tibetan Dominion of Sikkim, the kingdom was divided into several districts and the Lepcha Dzongpens or the Governors were given the charge of their respective areas. But, the kingdom had lost its territories to the Nepal, Bhutan, to the East India Company and to Tibet. Therefore, by now the total area of Sikkim was not more than the area of present Sikkim. Even in such a small area, the Dzongpens or the Governors were still enjoying their privileges which they had inherited from their forefathers. As time rolled on, the same Lepcha Dzongpens became the Kazis. (The term Kazi might have been borrowed from neighbouring Indian Muslim state or from Nepal). Their matrimonial relations with the Tibetan nobility made them to hide their origin as the Tibetans considered the Lepchas as the low-born people. With the arrival of the British, these Kazis, because of their money and power which they imitated from the British, became more rigid and rude towards their own people. The Kazis before their contacts with the British were not cunning enough as they lived in a kingdom which was secluded and unknown to the outside world.
Regarding the privileges and positions of the Kazis and Thikadars, a pamphlet ‘A Few Facts About Sikkim’, published by Tashi Tshering in 1947, a pioneer of democratic movement in Sikkim comments thus:-
“The Kazis, who are the landlords, claim to belong to the old nobility and compare themselves with the barons of the feudal system. By long usage they have accustomed to oppress the people and to expect the utmost subservience from them. They form the exclusive and influential coterie around the ruling family and are able to impose their will on all and sundry. The rest of the land lords  called ‘Thikadars’, are content to play second fiddle to the Kazis and thus share in the loaves and fishes of office and other privileges. Bound by a common policy to oppress the ryots, the ‘Thikadars’ especially the more influential among them, have proved as bad as any of the  Kazis. Landlordism as obtaining in Sikkim has proved the curse of the ryots. It has enabled the landlords through coercion and intimidation, to acquire for themselves the best holdings of the ryots. The landlords pay no taxes, which consequently fall with greater severity upon the ryots. On the other hand, the landlords receive large unearned commission from the state as reward for carrying on a thoroughly corrupt system of government”.
Regarding the power and functions enjoyed by the Kazis, the pamphlet further states as under:-
“The landlords are vested with magisterial powers in both civil and criminal matters. They are also empowered to register documents for the sale or transferred of landed properties. There are no effective checks on these powers and the landlords are free to abuse them for their own gains. The more fine a landlord can impose, the larger his share of spoils, for he receives one half of the collection as his fees and the other halves goes to the state. When as has happened many times, a landlord ‘forgets’ to enter a fine in his books, nobody is wiser, and he appropriates the whole amount to himself. A grabbing landlord has no difficulties in disposing an uncompromising ryot of his cherished possession, be it a paddy field or a herd of cattle. The slightest delay in the payment of taxes, a matter of common occurrence, enables a landlord to seize the very property of he has set his eyes upon, to the exclusion of any other, and thus transfer is affected speedily and very profitably to the land lord. Numerous ryots have thus been reduced to penury and practical slavery. Landlords are invested with different classes of legal powers with due regard to their merits and qualifications. But, most of the landlords live away from their estates and their powers are exercised by ignorant and rapacious underlings who have no scruples about filling their own pockets besides extracting as much as they can for their masters” 
(About the Picture:- This is a studio picture of an unknown Kazi of Sikkim probably taken in the 80's of the 19th century. Picture Source


Anonymous said...

The landlords' powers being described here are not much different to that of the modern IAS officer - District Magistrate/District Collector of Indian states. When the British came to India they actually continued with the extortionist feudal administrative structure as they wanted to "extract" revenue from ordinary Indians. The same extortionist feudal system is continuing in good health 67 years after independence and is feted as the "steel frame of the country".