Tax receipt bearing seal of a Zamindar

Akin to any other feudal government, the Zamindars or the Lords of an estate in Sikkim had enormous power to enjoy. Their important duties include collection of taxes (both Land and House Taxes) from the peasants and also had a right of litigation at their Courts thence designated as Adda Courts. It is worth to mention that some of the Zamindars had seals in their name that manifests the unconcealed position of Zamindars in the feudal organization of Sikkim.
The picture of a tax receipt posted with this post belongs to a peasant named Dalbir Limboo of Rateypani Estate in South Sikkim which was issued to him by his village Mandal Dorjey Bomjan. According to the receipt, a cash payment of Rs 13/- was made by Dalbir Limboo as land tax to his Mandal in 1973 which is a bit confusing. However, if one has to examine the fonts used by the printing press (Gorkha Press Darjeeling) one can be convinced that the receipt belongs to the first quarter of 20th century. Further, the receipt has mentioned some other taxes like Madadi, Satsukey, Roadsesh, and Gaddhi which were eliminated immediately after the Second World War. Therefore, it is apparent that the tax receipt belongs to AD 1916 and the year mentioned as 1973 is Vikramasamvat era which is still in practice in neighbouring Nepal.
This tax receipt belongs to Mr. H.B. Subba of Chota Singtam, East Sikkim
The seal bearing a name of the Zamindar as Shree Hiralal is the distinguishing feature of this receipt. Stamped in Devanagari (Nepali) the name seems to be prominent as it also bears a figure of a half moon and a star on the both ends of the name. Use of such icons along with their names was in vogue among the exalted Nepalese Zamindars. We are not sure about the usage of such seals by other Zamindars in the Kingdom of Sikkim. However, the use of a seal that bears the name of self indicates least concerned attitude of the Zamindars towards the King and the peasants of the Kingdom. 

Mandals as the boosters of peasants' resistance in Feudal Sikkim


The Mandals or the village heads played a vital role in igniting the idea of resistance among the slumbered conscience of the Sikkimese peasantry. They were appointed by the Kazis or in some cases by the Mukhtiyars. Their machinery role was to work as a village headman and to collect taxes from the peasants of their respective villages. A peasant had to deposit his taxes in time, which included house tax and land tax known as Dhurikhajana and Jamin Khajana. If he fails to pay his taxes on time, he would be given a chance to pay his taxes the following year. But, during his payment the peasant had to pay his tax with a huge interest.However, some provisions were maintained by the Kingdom to rebate interests of the past year’s dues if a peasant made a full payment to his landlord. 25% of reimbursements were to be made by the landlords to the peasants. But, it appears that the feudal officials never implemented these provisions in a sincere manner. The Mandals had to issue a receipt confirming the payment of land tax and house tax to the peasant. Counterfoils of such receipts would be recorded in a register of demand and collection.
 Document written with pen is a tax receipt of the year 1929 of Late Ravilal Pyakurel of Tareythang Busty East Sikkim, Date of payment of Jaminkhazana 8th March 1930. Document written with pencil is tax receipt of Late Man Bahadur Limboo of Rabitar Namchi, Date of payment of Zamin Khajana 29th December 1941. Both the documents bear signatures of their respective Mandals.
Such receipts were mostly written with pencils which bore the Mandal’s signature. If the Mandal had any grudge against the peasants, they would issue a wrong receipt taking advantage of the illiteracy of the latter.This would lead to a big trouble for the peasants as whatever they earned had to be deposited as land tax. More pathetically, if the amount of tax happened to be registered wrongly, they had no option to appeal. There were several such cases in the various villages of feudalistic Sikkim. A Mandal named Chatur Singh Rai of Assam Lingzey had made such false entry against one Dal Dhoj Rai of his village. The victim made an appeal to Gyaltsen Kazi, the landlord of his village but his appeal remained unheard to the authority. In frustration, the victim openly challenged his Mandal during a feast at the village for this act of “disobedience” Dal Dhoj Rai had to pay Rs. 25/- as fine to the Mandal. Keeping aside the outcome of the outburst of anger, it is now evident that the hidden transcript of the Sikkimese peasantry was taking a shape of a full throated expression.
The Mandals also had the litigation rights and were appointed to provide justice to the needy in the village. But, most of the peasants today believe that their verdict was not satisfying for them as most of the Mandals spoke languages of the higher officials. A notice issued by a Mandal Brihaspati Upadhyay of Tareythang village in East Sikkim to one peasant Late Ravilal Pyakurel affirms this. Written in an intimidating language, the notice asks the latter to be present on 20th December 1945 at Danak Adda court without fail. However, few cases related to land and taxation of the villagers was forwarded to the Durbar by the Mandals through written complaints.
Notice issued by a Mandal Brihaspati Upadhyay of Tareythang village to one of his villagers Late Ravilal Pyakurel on 18th December 1945 against a report made by another villager Sarvey Bidhyapati Kafley stating that the accused had chopped off a tree.
Due to their proximity to power, these Mandals also exploited the Sikkimese peasants in the same manner as by the Kazis and the Thikadars. It has been revealed by the victims and the descendents of such victims that commoners were heavily exploited by the Mandals especially during special occasions in the palace like the birthdays of Kings and the Princes. During such occasions, these Mandals ordered the peasants to offer some kind of gifts to them which they would give to the Kazis as a memento from the peasants of their respective villages. The peasant had to gift rice, maize, butter, curd, wine and in some cases meat, fish, and other valuable edibles. Yearly collection of such gifts was made during Meshu Purnima in the month of Bhadra (July-August) also known as Bhadau Purnima in Nepali.
Apart from such cupidity, the Mandals, during the process of collection, used to keep a portion out of the collected gifts leaving nearly 85% to the palace. Again, those gifts were deducted by the Mukhtiyars and Kazis leaving hardly 25% for the occasion in the palace. The justification about keeping such gifts is also interesting “Maha Kadnele Haat ta chatcha nai” meaning ‘a person who takes out honey from the hives definitely licks his hands’. Further, the peasants had to send a member of his household to assist the Mandal during farming in the form of Bethi Khetala. This Bethi Khetala was a free service to be rendered by a villager to the Mandals. The sufferers remind their black years in these words:
“We had to go to the fields of the Kazi Thikadars and Mandals for the harvest or for farming; they gave a fistful of dry maize to work for the whole day”.
Receipt issued to a peasant Man Bahadur Limboo in 1945 by a Mandal Kharga Singh 
Auxiliary, when the peasants needed monetary help, they would visit the Mandals for debt to be used for the marriage, or in the death rites of the peasants. If a peasant took loan of Rs 100/- he had to pay interest of 1 Muri of Rice to the Mandal from whom he had taken the loan. Hence, in feudal Sikkim, the Mandals had designated themselves as Kazi and proved to be the one who were directly responsible for the exploitation which ultimately gave birth to the peasant resistance in the secluded Kingdom of Sikkim.





References:
Tax receipts collected from Harka Bahadur Limboo aka Khukurey Bajey of Chota Singtam East Sikkim on 21st January 2012
  Information collected through personal interview from erstwhile Mandals Kharga Bahadur Chauhan of Temi, Chandra Bahadur Basnett of Namli, Passang Tshering Bhutia of Namin and Phur Tshering Lepcha of Marchak villages during field survey in December 2011 and January 2012
Sikkim State, Office of the Dewan, Order No.4, Revenue Administration, Dated 19th August 1949, Gangtok
 Information collected through personal interview from Ash Man Rai of Assam Lingzey on 27th January 2012
 Scan Copy of the Notice issued on 18th December 1945 by Mandal Brihaspati Upadhyay to Ravilal Pyakurel of Tareythang village, East Sikkim. The document is an important credential to understand the judicial rights enjoyed by the village Mandals.

The Mukhtiyars in Feudal Sikkim


In the feudal administrative hierarchy of Sikkim, the Mukhtiyars enjoyed position next to the Kazi/Thikadars. Anna Balikci presumes that, the term got its origination from Ottoman Empire as the village Chiefs there were known as Mukhtar.We do not have much information about the commencement of this system in Sikkim. The available Official documents issued from the Royal Durbar are silent about the existence of any offices related to the Mukhtiyars hence, they were probably appointed by the Kazis in their Elakhas to maintain law and order in their estates. Auxiliary, documents belonging to Rai Saheb Durga Sumsher Pradhan of Rhenock also indicate that the Mukhtiyars were appointed by the Kazis and by other lessee holders.
Further, my field survey report bears ample testimony to the fact that the Mukhtiyars were given the charge of a whole Elakah of a lessee holder or a Thikadar. He was also granted the charge of litigation under his jurisdiction. Their duty was akin to today’s District Magistrate and was with a few hereditary exceptions, appointed on merit.From the pictures collected from the erstwhile Mukhtiyar family of Namchi in South Sikkim, it can be stated that they had a comfortable and a reverential life.
Photograph of Mukhtiyar San Man Tamang of Namchi South Sikkim. The person sitting on a chair in the middle was the Mukhtiyar. The golden ornaments of the women and the dress they clad in shows that they had a very comfortable way of life. The people standing behind were the peasants of his estate in Namchi. Pic. Courtesy Late Rup Maya Tamang, Namchi Bazaar, South Sikkim
Being a local of the Estate owned by the Kazis, the Mukhtiyars had detail information about the settlers. The Kazis and Thikadars, being the “high born” elites of the Kingdom hardly visited their respective holdings in the villages and preferred to live in comfort in the beautiful mansions in the capital of the Kingdom. The Kazis usually gave charges to trusted persons residing in their estates. In another word, the Mukhtiyars were to serve the Kazis as a bridge between the peasants and the Landlords.They also had to maintain the land records related to the peasants of his Elakah. As the trusted persons of the Kazis, the Mukhtiyars too possessed a vast tract of land for their personal use and the same was distributed among the Pakhureys. The descendents of Tashiding Mukhtiyar still profess the exploitative money lending job to the peasants in their periphery.
The information of the descendants of the Mukhtiyars highlights that they too lived their lives in a great comfort. They had many servants at their residence who were mostly the children of the tax defaulters.They had to make necessary arrangements in their Elakhas during the visit of King and other high ranking native and British Officials.The life standard enjoyed by the Mukhtiyars was almost similar to the Kazis and Thikadars. They had constructed beautiful mansions, travelled on the back of Arabic horses, and possessed enormous wealth. The Kothi of Namchi Mukhtiyar which was constructed nearly a century ago still steals a glimpse or two of every visitor. However, it appears that these officials were not prevalent in every estate hold by the lessee holders like the Kazis and Thikadars. The estates in the proximity of the Kingdom’s capital did not have any office related to the Mukhtiyars.

References




Balikci, Anna (2008), Lamas, Shamans and Ancestors- Village Religion in Sikkim, Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands
Appointment letter of 1932 of a Mukhtiyar by Rai Saheb Durga Sumsher Pradhan  of Rhenock East Sikkim preserved at Ramgauri Sangrahalaya Rhenock
Information collected through personal interview from Mrs. Rup Maya Tamang, a granddaughter of erstwhile Mukhtiyar of Namchi Late San Man Tamang on 23rd April 2010
Information collected through personal interview from the peasants of Tashiding village in West Sikkim on 21st  and 22nd December 2011
 Information collected from the villages of Assam Lingzey, Kadamtam, Aho, Namin, Marchak and Samdur which are in proximity to Gangtok.

Assessment of Maharaja Sidkeong Tulku (February 1914 - December 1914) as a Radical Ruler

On 29th April 1914, with the recognition of Government of India, Sidkeong Tulku succeeded his father Thotub Namgyal as the 10th ruler of Sikkim. He had the benefit of sound modern education. He was an undergraduate at Pembroke College, in Oxford. Alexandra David Neel, who met Sidkeong Namgyal during her research, writes that the King would speak English more fluently than Tibetan and  could also speak a fluent Hindi and a bit of Chinese. During his stay in Oxford, he had been exposed to the revolutionary ideas of the West. With the Political Officer J.C. White, he travelled around in India as well as in the neighbouring countries.
His Highness the Xth Maharaja of Sikkim Sidkeong Tulku
Pic: Tempa Trans Himalayan Arts
After his homecoming from Oxford in 1908, Sidkeong had been assigned with the charges of Forest, Monasteries, and Schools. Even before assuming the power of a de facto ruler Sidkeong was at the helm of affairs that is evident from his important deals he made in 1913 AD as a Maharajkumar. The first important dealing was abolition of imprisonment as a penalty for non payment of debts and another was the record in the Council Proceedings on the ban of settlement of plain-men. Immediately after his accession, Sidkeong made negotiations with Messrs Burn and Company, Calcutta for concession to cut and sell timber, for manufacture of bamboo pulp, for hydro electric project and wire ropeways and that was satisfactorily concluded on 30th April 1913. It was due to his affectionate relationship with the British, even the Tibetan elites like Panchen Lama requested Sidkeong to inform the British for the arrangement of a meeting at Delhi. This exhibits him as a brilliant diplomat apart from an excellent and placid ruler who eliminated all the prior policies adopted by his predecessors and established good relations with the British India. It appears that, during his reign, the Tibetan Government had donated some tracts of land to Sikkim. Therefore, Sidkeong at this point can be regarded as an intermediary between Tibet and British.
Enlightened with the Western Education, Sidkeong Tulku attempted to bring the monasteries towards their social obligation. However, the monks were hesitant to convert his ideas into practice. This was a revolutionary sacrilege coming from the ruler who was supposed to preserve their interests. Taking a budge ahead, Sidkeong had raised his voice of opposition, against the privileges enjoyed by the feudal aristocracy who had an imperative role in decision making in the earlier period. The writings of Ms. Neel provide a testimonial that even the condition of the Clergies, who too happened to be the peasants, were not economically prosperous. She writes:
“The peasant clergies of these forests are generally poor and ill fed, and it is difficult for them to suppress a thrill of delight when death of a rich villager promises them several days’ feast”.
The pathetic condition of the peasants forced them to send several complaints to the Durbar regarding the method of assessment of taxes by their respective landlords. Similarly, there were also other cases of migration of the peasants to Bhutan and Darjeeling due to the lopsided and oppressive taxation system. The hidden transcripts of the Sikkimese peasantry now thus started to come out in the form of petition and prayers to the Maharaja against the injustice they were subjected to at the hands of their landlords. In order to curb the selfish interests of the landlords, Sidkeong Tulku abolished the discriminatory taxation rates among the Bhutia-Lepcha and Nepali peasants and reverted to the old system of Koot or Kut. Possibly, taking the matters of harassment and exploitation into consideration, Sidkeong Tulku proposed to liquidate landlordism that was indeed a matter of relief to the subjugated peasants of Sikkim. On the contrary, by his reformist zeal, he not only had exasperated the feudal landlords, but also Claude White’s successor in the Political Office, Charles Bell.

In a very short period of hardly ten months, Sidkeong did some remarkable tasks, for the development of Sikkim. His reign witnessed opening of several schools for the propagation of western education. There were two secondary schools at Gangtok, 25 primary and village schools, 16 missionary schools and 6 schools at the landlords’ estates. Likewise, few other schools were opening in the remote villages. Auxiliary, he made certain amendments in the prevailing laws and encouraged his subjects for plantation of trees in waste lands. Reserved forests were categorized into two ranges namely Eastern and Western and they were kept in charge of the Foresters. It is noteworthy to mention here that, these forests were to be managed by the landlords as Forest Officers of their respective Elakhas. Strict rules and laws were adopted to abolish corruption from the forest resources and if a Forest Officer failed to execute his responsibilities accordingly were dealt with a heavier hand. 13 Landlords were fined by the Durbar due to their negligence and casualness towards their duties that include the Bermiok Kazi who was occupying a higher position in the State Council. The evidence is ample enough to argue that Sidkeong Tulku was an austere, a devoted, and a peasant adoring Maharaja who was keen to eliminate corruption from every level of administration including monastery. He also encouraged his subjects to live a clean and hygienic life and established a hospital and a dispensary at Gangtok. However, his zeal and enthusiasm to provide a healthy administration in Sikkim did not last long. His heterodoxy and revolutionary ideas became a major cause of his death. In December 1914, Sidkeong was taken ill. It is believed that the King died due to a heart failure caused by jaundice due to a severe chill. However, it is also said that, a British physician from Bengal made a heavy transfusion of brandy, put him under a number of blankets, and burnt charcoal near his bed. Thus, Sidkeong died due to suffocationin suspicious circumstances at a very early stage. 

References:
Administration Report of the Sikkim State for 1913-14
Administration Report of the Sikkim State for 1914-15
Unnamed Document, Year 1914, Palace Document, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Deorali, Gangtok.
 Letter to Sidkeong Tulku from Panchen Lama dated 1909-1913, Palace Document, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Deorali, Gangtok.
Letter from Sidkeong Tulku to the Tibetan Government, Palace Document, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Deorali, Gangtok
 Basnett, Lal Bahadur, (1974) Sikkim- A short Political History, S. Chand & Co. (Pvt.) Ltd. New Delhi
Neel, Alexandra David (1931) With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet, Penguin Books, London 
 Kotturan, George, (1983), The Himalayan Gateway- History and Culture of Sikkim, Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi,
 Sikkim- A Concise Chronicle