Petition of 1946 by the peasants of Rhenock to the Maharaj Kumar Sahib of Sikkim

The Document is preserved at Ram Gauri Sangrahalaya Rhenock by its curator Mr. Ganesh Kumar Pradhan.

Jharlangi was a force labour imposed by the Kazis and Thikadars of erstwhile Sikkim to the Sikkimese peasantry. It was a colonial gift to the Sikkimese aristocrats, by which they had achieved a license to exploit the peasants till the last breath of their lives. It is a well known fact that the real interest of the British Government did not lay on Sikkim. They wanted to utilize the kingdom for their Tibetan trade. Keeping this view in mind, the British Government had to construct roads and trade routes. While doing so, they had to depend on the Kazi-Thikadars to get the labour supply from the villages. The British Imperialists paid those Kazis- Thikadars but, the latter used their peasants to work for them without paying their wages. In such a system, the peasant had to remain absent at least a week from home, “besides having provided himself with warm clothing at prohibitive cost. What he would earn as wages under the prescribed rates for forced labour would barely suffice to buy his meager meal for the journey to and fro. A greedy land lord often seized upon his chance of making further easy money and called for doubled the number of men actually required. For instance, when only 20 men are requisitioned by the state, he would call for 40 men, thus doubling his own extortionate demand from the ignorant and unsuspecting ryots (Basnet, L.B. Sikkim- A short political History)

For the abolition of such corrupt practice from the soil of Sikkim, pre-Congress Associations of Sikkim like Praja Sudhar Samaj party of Tashi Tshering, Rajya Praja Mandal of Kazi Lhendup Dorjee Khangsarpa and Praja Sammelan Party of Dhan Bahadur Tiwari had played a major role. This petition also belongs to this era which was made by the peasants of Rhenock East Sikkim to the Maharaja Kumar Palden Thondup Namgyal to eradicate such an evil from the kingdom. The petition was made by late Durga Samsher Pradhan in which he has stated to His Highness Maharaj Kumar of Sikkim about the misappropriation of the Jharlangi labour by the Kazis and Thikadars for their private works. The petition was made on 24th November 1946, exactly a year before the foundation of Sikkim State Congress, the first political party of Sikkim. This document also gives authentic information about the taxation system prevalent in then Sikkim. A peasant had to pay Dhurikhazana (House Tax) @ Rs. 6 per annum and Bethi Tax Rs.12 per annum.
It is interesting that within a month of this petition the Royal Government of Sikkim issued a notification bearing No. 3590-4089/G on 31st December 1946 which finally eradicated Jharlangi from Sikkim. The said Notification has clearly mentioned “whosoever unlawfully compels any person to labour against the will of that person shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with a fine or with both”. But, we cannot ascertain that the Jharlangi labour was abolished from Sikkim due to the petition made by the peasants of Rhenock. It was in fact a demand of every Sikkimese peasant and a cry of every entity. 

British Residency Gangtok- A Story of its Construction


Old picture of British Residency Gangtok presently Known as White Hall. Pic. Courtesy Mr. Shital Pradhan
J. C White after taking his charge as the first Political Officer in Sikkim had to act as the President of Sikkim Council comprised of the important Lamas. Apart from this he was having a bigger responsibility to maintain peace and harmony in one of the most secluded region of the Himalayas. Amid to these charges, White had to deal with a problem of a house as well. In his book Sikhim and Bhutan 21 Years on the North East Frontier he has mentioned it as ‘one of the first thing to be done’. He further writes: …was to build a house, not an easy task in a wild country where masons and carpenters were conspicuous by their absence, where stone for building had to be quarried from the hill sides and trees cut down for timber. In my jungle wanderings round Gangtak, I came across a charming site in the midst of primeval forest which seemed suitable everyway, so I determined to build on it, felling only the trees which might possibly endanger the safety of the house, a necessary precaution, as many of them were quite 140 feet high, and in the spring the thunderstorms, accompanied by violent winds, were sometimes terrible and wrought havoc everywhere. By leveling the uneven ground and throwing it out in front, I manage to get sufficient space for the house, with lawn and flower beds round it. Behind rose a high mountain, thickly wooded, which protected us the storm sweeping down from the snows to the north east, and in front the ground fell away with a magnificent view across the valley, where, from behind the opposite hills, Kanchenjunga and its surrounding snow towered up against the clear sky making one of the most beautiful and magnificent sights to be imagined, and one certainly not to be surpassed, if equaled, anywhere in the world. The sight selected, my real trouble began; trees had to be felled and swan into scantlings; stone quarried, lime burnt, and, most difficult of all, carpenters and masons imported. I was fortunate in my carpenters, as I had already in my employment a Punjaubi, Moti Ram by name, the best carpenter and carver I have ever come across, and through him I got other excellent men from his native village, but the masons were distinctly bad. They seemed to find it impossible to build a wall plumb or a corner square- faults that impressed themselves on us later on, to our cost, when the time came for paper hanging. More than that, too, owing to earthquakes, faulty building and heavy rain, parts of the anxiously watched edifice came down, and I began to think my house would never be finished. But, in spite of all difficulties, at Christmas 1890 we were able to move in, about eighteen months after commencing work.

White further writes about the excellent British structural design  -…”while the house was building, the Maharani came  several times to see how it was getting on, and told me I had built the walls much too thin and it would never stand. In their own houses and monasteries the walls are very thick, from 3 feet to 4 feet 6 inches, and have always a small chamber. However, later on I had the best of the argument when, in the earthquake of 1897, the palace, not withstanding its thick walls, collapsed entirely and had to be rebuilt, while the Residency remained standing”.
 After the British, when independent India inherited its legitimate right to look after Sikkim, the Residency constructed by Sikkim’s first British Political Officer James Claude White was renamed as India House. When Sikkim was fully incorporated into Indian Union in 1975, the edifice is known as White Hall.  The construction of Residency was started in June 1889 and was completed in December 1890. 

J. C. White the First British Political Officer of Sikkim



Being sandwiched between warring nations, Sikkim lost much of its territory to the Bhutanese invaders in 1788, to the Nepalese invaders in 1789 and was forced to cede beautiful hills of Darjeeling in 1835 to the British for their ‘selfless’ help in repelling the Gorkha invaders. The un-demarcated Sikkim-Tibet frontier also greatly suffered the sandwiched Sikkim. In 1885, British Indian Government sent Macaulay Mission to Tibet but had to abort due to the Tibetan occupation of a fort at Lingtu. For almost five years from 1885 to 1890 Sikkim had to resist pressure from both North and the South. It was only after the Anglo-Chinese Convention the frontier between Sikkim and Tibet was delimited.
J.C White Sitting cross leg position, on his right  Sir Ugen Wangchuk Prime Minister of Bhutan. This picture abides copyright of British Library, London (www.bl.uk)
It was at this juncture, the British Indian Government appointed J.C. White as a Political Officer in Sikkim. An Engineer by profession Mr. White had a huge responsibility to solace the confrontational powers i.e. Tibet and India and to maintain peace and security in the Sangri-la. It was in the month of November 1887 Mr. White first visited Sikkim. On the outbreak of Sikkim-Tibet war 1888, he was sent as an Assistant Political Officer with peditionary force, and on conclusion of peace the following year he was offered the post of Political Officer in administrative charge of the State of Sikkim. On the subject of his appointment as the Political Officer he comments- “Naturally I gladly accepted an appointment which would give me an opportunity of living in a country I was sp anxious to see more of, and I have never regretted my decision; although in consequence of the view taken by the Government of India of my special employment oon the frontier, and the fact that I left the Public Works Department to take up this appointment, I have been a looser from a pecuniary point of view to a very large extent”…
Regarding his service in Sikkim he  writes “ At the conclusion of hostilities the Government of India made a proposal that I should remain in Sikkim, with the title of Political Officer, and administer the affaires of the state in conjunction with a Council composed of the Chief Dewans, Lamas and Kazis, and of which I was to be President”.
After the appointment of Mr. White as the Political Officer of Sikkim the British Government decided to remove Maharaja Thotub Namgyal and Maharani Yeshey Dolma from Sikkim to Kurseong, in Darjeeling District of British India. After their removal, Mr. White became the de-facto ruler of the Kingdom. It was during his tenure as a Political Officer Sikkim witnessed the birth of  Zamindari System, Thikadari System Kalobhari, Jharlangi and Theki-bethi.  


An Old Family Photograph of the Tibetans


Being a great admirer of past, to bring together old pictures from all the available sources has become a kind of ardor for me. The old pictures not only provide us information about our past but serves also as a bridge to block up a huge bay between the precedents and current. I have got this picture at http://oldindianphotos.blogspot.com. The picture with this post belongs to an unknown Tibetan family probably taken by some British Officials during their stay at Darjeeling or in some other parts of the Himalayas. The most important feature for me in this picture is the apparel of the Tibetan family. The lady is wearing a typical Tibetan dress (Bakkhu and Hanju) and her male counterpart is wearing a dress which does not bear a Tibetan feature. The upper garment he is wearing is a woolen Coat generally worn by the North Indians and the lower garment looks like a Suruwal of the Nepalese. Another interesting thing here is a turban worn by the male member which also was not a part of the Tibetan culture. Turbans were in vogue in India since Ancient period and even today it is greatly admired by rural India.  I have never seen any Tibetans wearing such attire in Sikkim or Darjeeling. Even during their exile in India they are wearing their traditional attire with the same pride as it had in Tibet.
The divergent feature of the picture puts me in a confusion to reach to a tangible conclusion. So what was it? Was it an acculturation? 

Antique picture of Bhutia Coolies



The picture is of Bhutia Coolies probably taken by some British officials in 1875. I  got this vintage picture at http://oldindianphotos.in and has simply magnetized  me. From the attire of the people on this picture there is no doubt to ascertain that they were the coolies who were probably working for some construction tasks initiated by the British. The most attractive thing which has dragged my attention on this picture is the Doko they are carrying on their back. Doko is a typical Nepali contrivance used by them in the earlier period to carry grass and fire wood and is now widely used not only in Nepal but in the entire Himalayan belt. To carry the said items the Bhutias used a similar type of contrivance which has a different shape. From this, it becomes clear that the picture was not taken in Sikkim, Bhutan or Tibet as the Nepalese were allowed to get into Sikkim a bit later. Hence, the picture of the Bhutia Coolies was possibly taken in Darjeeling and they are carrying Doko due to the influence of  Nepalese in Darjeeling.


Sikkim State Notification for the abolition of Kuruwa.



Literally ‘Kuruwa’ means a long wait in Nepali. Sometimes on account of the road condition and other factors, people sent to transport the Kalo Bhari waited for several days for the arrival of the commodities. The process of serving as a Kuruwa labour was very much similar with the process of Jharlangi. For this labour also the British Officials offered contracts to the local Kazis and Thikadars for the supply of the labourers.  For such contracts the Kazi- Thikadars were handsomely paid. But, as a Kuruwa, a peasant had to work with out any wages. During the entire wait for the Kalo Bhari, the ryot himself had to manage his resources. No excuses of a ryot were granted by the Kazi-Thikadars. Under any circumstances the ryots had to discharge their duties as Kuruwa. There were few cases in the Western Sikkim, when their Zamindar had forced them to work as Kuruwa, when they were performing the death rites of their deceased family members. As a Kuruwa they had to carry Kalo Bhari from a far away distance. There were various centers from where the Sikkimese peasants as Kuruwa labourer had to carry their loads. Some of the important centers for this labour were, Geil Khola, 27th mile, Rangpo, Melli, Teesta etc. The British Indian Railway used to unload such loads at a place called Geil Khola in Darjeeling district of modern West Bengal. From there the distance of Gangtok is nearly 70 Kilo meters. The Kuruwa had to carry their load from such a long distance and that too at their own expense. The weights of the load varied from time to time and were entirely depended on the commodities sent by the British Government. But, generally the loads were of 40 kg. weight.

If we compare British Imperialism in India with the native feudalism of Sikkim than one can notice Sikkimese feudal system was much tough and cruel. The Sikkimese feudalism became more severe and cruel after the interference of the British Government in the politics of Sikkim. In short, the responsibility for the introduction of feudalism in Sikkim also goes to the British. The Indians in the plains were directly exploited by the British authorities, who were foreigners and were concentrated in a profit making process. Of course, the pricks and pains which the Indian masses received from the colonial rule were also incomparable. But, the Sikkimese peasants were exploited by their own people, who behaved like “the very apt pupil of the British”. In Sikkimese feudalism we find the elements of French feudal system of the mid 18th century. There also the society was divided into three estates namely, the nobility, the clergy and the common people in Sikkimese society very similar kinds of elements are amply found. The only difference between the French feudalism and Sikkimese feudalism is that the peasants of France had to pay Thithe as religious tax, which was not to be paid by the Sikkimese peasants. Moreover, the story of a poor and destitute either he may belong to Sikkim or France is almost similar, as poverty and suffering does not have a common language, race, caste or even the boundaries. But, in every revolution, some signs, some symbols, comes to occupy a pre eminent position and those signs or symbols become the watchword for the masses. In Sikkim, people’s sufferings, their woes, trials and tribulations came to be symbolized by Kalo Bhari, Jharlangi, Theki Bheti, and Kuruwa.
Such unlawful system was eliminated by the Notification from the Maharaja of Sikkim Sir Tashi Namgyal which is pasted here with this post. It was issued by the General Department (Misc. Branch) Gangtok on the 31st Day of January 1947. It bears a Notification No. 4816/G(M) and has a Memo No 4817-5316/G(M). The Notification states an immediate implementation of the Royal Order in the entire Kingdom. It was issued in three languages English, Tibetan and Nepali which were regarded as the prominent languages of the former Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim. After the issue of the Notification from His Highness Maharaja Sir Tashi Namgyal Copies of the same were forwarded to the Landlords, Managers and Officer-in-Charge, Police Out and Patrol Posts in Sikkim for information.
I am greatly obliged to Mr. Shital Pradhan a well known name in Sikkim History for sharing this extraordinary certificate with me. His help and support will lead me a long way in my days to come.