Thursday, December 27, 2012

The patwaris and jimidars of the Terai

A State document deputing Puran Tharu to collect tax 
Tharus were not only good farmers but were also deputed by the state to collect revenue from the fellow farmers. The tax collectors were titled chaudhari, jimidar and patwari. A chaudhari was responsible for collecting tax of a parganna (a number of maujas), a jimidar of a mauja (a number of villages) and a patwari of a village.   

Talking with my colleague Surendra Chaudhary, I came to know that he belonged to the family of patwaris. Once, his father, grandfather and great grandfather were tax collectors in Kailali district of the Far-Western Development Region of Nepal.

Offical seals belonging to the family of Surendra Chaudhary
On requesting, he showed me the scroll of paper enlisting the errands to be done, names of concerned, and details of the tax to be collected. He also showed me the official seals, different in shape and size for each generation, used by his elders. 

Rummaging through the old documents, I encountered an article by Arjun Guneratne that details the revenue collection system in Terai and tells how Tharus were trusted for the task. Drona P Rajaure in his article Tharus of Dang: The People and the Social Context also talks about the tax collection by Tharus in Dang.

Tax collection details
Read below an excerpt from the article The Tax Man Cometh: The Impacts of Revenue Collection on Subsistence Strategies in Chitwan Tharu Society by Guneratne.

Historically, the system used to collect the land revenue was extremely complex and varied from region to region. At the time of the annexation of the Tarai to the Gorkha kingdom, which took place over a period of time during the latter half of the eighteenth century, the basic unit of land administration was known as pargana, comprising a number of villages. The revenue agent was known as chaudhari, and he was usually a local landowner (Regmi 1976:105).

Following his accession to state power in 1846, Jang Bahadur, the first of Nepal’s Rana prime ministers, began to recognise the revenue collecting system throughout the country. In 1861 Jang turned his attention to improving the revenue administration in the Terai (Regmi 1976:108). The prevailing system at the time was inefficient because the pargana was too large a unit for the chaudhari to be able to effectively collect all the revenue assessed upon it (Regmi 1978:78-79). The pargana was therefore sub-divided into a number of mauja (a village or smaller groups of villages), and each mauja was placed in charge of a functionary known as jimidar. A jimidar might undertake responsibility for an existing village, or he might develop forested or waste land and settle it, creating new villages. The second was the more likely course of would-be jimidars, but because the development of new maujas required a certain amount of capital, it is likely that they were developed by established jimidari families, which were more likely to have the resources or access to credit. This system of revenue collection was confined to the Terai; others were instituted for hills and the Kathmandu valley.

The mauja was a raikar land owned by the state on which taxes were payable. It was the jimidar’s responsibility to recruit the settlers who would cultivate the land and pay tax, which was payable in cash. While, in theory, periodic settlements were provided for to assess the revenue payable to government, in actual fact, because of the general inefficiency of the Rana administration, revenue settlements were few and far between. The last revenue settlement in Chitwan was in 1922 (Regmi 1963:183), and the provisions of that settlement stayed in force for the next 40 years. In theory, the peasant could not be evicted as long as he paid his assessed revenue regularly (Regmi 1960). It was the jimidar’s task to collect this revenue and convey it to chaudhari, who in turn delivered it to the revenue office.

While the jimidar was made responsible for collecting revenues at the village level, he was also intended to be an agricultural entrepreneur, providing credit for farmers whom he would recruit to cultivate the land entrusted him for revenue collection. This was not an innovation; traditionally, the chaudharis in the Eastern Terai, including that portion of it lying in British territory, were sources of credit to new settlers, providing them with capital until they had raised a crop (Campbell 1851:16). This aspect of the jimidar’s duties does not seem to have been in effect in Chitwan during the closing decades of Rana rule; villages had long since been settled and the low rate of population growth limited further expansion. An important feature of the system implemented in Nepal was that the jimidar was made personally liable for the revenue, and if he could not raise the amount due on his revenue holding (for example, if he could not recruit cultivators to work it, or if they abandoned their holdings) he was required by law to pay it himself or surrender the mauja.    

You can avail the complete article in volume 1 of Studies in Nepali History and Society published in June 1996 by Mandala Book Point.

Click the link (or to download right click and save as) to access Drona P Rajaure’s article.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bagiya – the rice flour dumplings made the Tharu way

(c) Anita Chaudhary
Rice is the staple food for people living in Terai. Among several finger licking recipes made from rice flour, bagiya, the rice flour dumpling made by Tharus, is unique in shape and size. As it is steamed and cooked well, it is delicious and good for health. Once your taste buds are used to it, you will keep on asking for more. At least that is the case with me.   

While it is tasty to eat, preparing it is a tedious task. The rice is soaked in water and ground in dheki, the traditional rice milling machine. These days rice mills have replaced the dhekis. However, the taste of the flour ground in a dheki is many times better than the one ground in a rice mill.

The flour is then sifted and fried. Warm water is mixed to it and it is kneaded enough to prepare the tender dough. Steamed lentils, spices, ginger and salt is added to the dumplings made from the dough. They are then flattened with the palms at the middle while both the ends are left protruding out. The dumplings are then steamed over a clay pot of boiling water.

(c) Facebook/Tharu Community
The steamed bagiya is served with chutney or vegetable curry. In Eastern Nepal, the Tharus celebrate the Govardhan Pooja (the day following Deepawali – the festival of lights) by worshipping their agriculture tools and cattle, and eating bagiya. Every household ensure to prepare bagiya from the rice flour of newly harvested rice on that day.

While Tharus in the Eastern Nepal prefer flat bagiya with lentils, the Tharus in the Western Nepal prepare bagiya of tubular shape, without lentils in it. Like sidhara and ghonghi, bagiya holds a special place in the Tharu cuisine. 

Similarly, Rajbanshis in the Eastern Nepal prepare bhakka, a delicious dish similar to bagiya. It is round in shape and has no lentils and spices in it.