Status of the Sardars

The word Sardar is a variant of the word Sirdar, though the Hindi & Urdu sardar is from Persian. Sardar in the Persian amalgam of sar meaning head and dar, a suffix derived from the verb dashtan which means to hold. So the the whole word means holder of headship is an honorific signifying an officer of rank, a general or chief of a tribe or organization. The term is used for a person of high rank (as a hereditary noble) especially in India, or also specifically for the commander of the Anglo-Egyptian army. It is also used more generally for one (as a foreman) holding a responsible position, especially in India.

Sikhs adopted sardar for the leaders of their bands fighting against Afghan invaders under Ahmad Shah Durrani. During the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors, sardar came to be used as an appellation for all ready Sikhs as well as for Sikhs in general having Singh as their common surname. The British government also used the word selectively by incorporating it in the titles of sardar sahib and sardar bahadur conferred mostly, but not exclusively, on Sikhs. In the Sikh princely states of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Kapurthala, Faridkot and Kalsia, too, sardar signified rank irrespective of the religious affiliation.

The terms sardar and sikh are nearly interchangeable. Generally, every turbaned Sikh with unshorn hair is addressed as sardarji, and it is customary to use sardar in place of "Mr." before a Sikh name. Sardar [Sardarji] Jokes are very common in India. The equivalent of Blonde Jokes in the United States, Sardar jokes are the most famous jokes recited in India. Blondes and Sikh sardars are stereotyped as airheads in these jokes. Because Sikhs are perceived to be jovial and easygoing (and most are), comedians feel they are the only community who can take it in stride.

The last Georgian Czar preferred delivering up his country to those who had long been its protectors, rather than to the Persians, who had insulted it unceasingly. In consequence of this, Russia took possession of Georgia in 1800.

Mikhail Mikhaylovich Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859-1935) completed his musical training at the St. Petersburg Conservatory where he was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1882 his career took him to Tbilisi, Georgia where he became interested in the folk music of Georgia. Ippolitov-Ivanov wrote the Suite No.1 of Caucasian Sketches shortly after moving to Moscow. His most famous compostion, Procession of the Sardar, is the fourth movement of his Caucasian Sketches. This programmatic work, in the tradition of Russian-Orientalism, was an immediate success in 1895 on its Moscow premiere. In part IV from Caucasian Sketches, "Procession of the Sardar" a local military commander makes his appearance regally through a parade-like culmination of the previous themes.

Probably the most spectacular turbans worn in Pakistan are worn by Baloch sardars. Consisting of spotless white fine cotton, it is wrapped around the head in a manner that only a Baloch can figure out. It does not have a crest or "shamla", and the tail, instead of hanging loosely at the back, is at one side and usually brought down loosely under the chin and then up on the other shoulder, sometime tucked in the folds of the turban, framing the face in folds of white cotton. The turban tail is also used to cover the face during dust storms in the desert. With his characteristic beard and mustache, in his white turban a Baloch cuts a striking figure and when riding a horse, looks as if he has just walked off a Hollywood set.

The set up of the tribal system is the result of an evolutionary process of hundreds of years. The seed of tribal system was sown in the time of Mir Chakar Khan Rind. In the reign of Ahmadzai Khans, the sardars of Balochistan were strengthened and their powers gradually enhanced. The sovereignty of sardars came into full bloom, when the British Government started to pay money to Sardars to establish semi-militant forces called "Levies". A levy was recruited and commanded by a sardar. Sardars were required to maintain, in any way they liked, law and order in their respective areas.

After merger of Kalat State to Pakistan, no effort was made to curb or change the unlimited powers of the sardars. Question arises as to why the old pattern of tribal system has not been modified or altered? Basically there are two reasons behind it. One important reason is the geographical location and natural features. Most of the land of Balochistan consists of endless mountain ranges and vast deserts. The whole of Balochistan suffers from acute shortage of water. Very rare and scanty rainfall helps the natural growth of a few bushes and grasses. Whole of the tribal society has to depend on this limited natural vegetation. In Balochistan generally, and particularly* in Baloch areas, a particular area is inhabited by a particular tribe and thus land and natural resources are considered their sole tribal property. In view of these characteristics, sardari system means survival; as there should be a guardian of the tribal interests, which is of course the sardar, the people, in best interest of the tribe must be loyal to him. The second reason behind preservation of tribal system is the government policy. In Balochistan, bureaucratic set-up implements government laws and policies through sardars and in return government provides various personal benefits to them. In this way Sardars, in most of the cases are gradually converted into government servants and instead of becoming national leaders worked, on occasions, for personal gains and against the interests of their own tribes. Though this system was introduced by Sir Roberts Sandeman, it was found so economical, efficient and simple that succeeding governments in Pakistan have maintained it without the slightest change.

At present the sardari system is the basic characteristic of Balochistan in general and of Baloch areas in particular\. It had been developing for centuries, and seems to continue in future with almost all of its abuses. The sardars enjoy unlimited power, highest authority and maintain superiority over masses, without fear of any slightest challenge or resistance. This has led to various abuses. Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, the last Khan of Kalat has admitted this fact, stating that people were treated as lifeless pieces of chess-men on the chess board. The miserable condition of masses and the high-handedness of the sardars, can be imagined from few examples. "Bjar" (a special tax collected by Sardars on the occasions of marriage or other ceremonies of happiness) is illegal but sardars collect it by force considering it to be their right. "Sashak" (tax collected by sardars as 6th part of total agricultural income) is also prohibited by the government of Pakistan, hut Sardars collect it as a matter of right. Even use of force is a common feature. Some years ago, at a place near Sibi, eighteen people lost their lives for their refusal to pay Sashak. As Sashak is illegal and is a burden on the poor masses, a national movement was started by Abdul Kareem Bizenjo but he was murdered by the anti-movement Sardars. In Marri tribal area owners of herds of forty or more animals have to pay a tax of rupees four to the Sardar for their right of access to pastures and waters under the jurisdiction of Sardar.

Sardars and Waderas instruct and compell people to avoid education and resist construction of schools or roads. People are told that education is bad and if somebody, nevertheless, succeeds in getting educated, he is forced to leave the area. Common people can not be employed unless forwarded and recommended by respective Sardars. For example, government of Balochistan recruits "gangs" of labourers to maintain roads, which are provided by the sardars on their pleasure and personal liking and even salaries of these recruited people are paid to the respective Sardars and Waderas. All unskilled Balochi workers have to give part of their meager earnings to the chiefs of tribes (Sardars) and of clans (Waderas). Tyranny and selfishness of the Sardars has reached a stage where human life has no value at all. An instance would be illustrative; a wadera of a bigger tribe was engaged to a girl of his own tribe and he wanted to break off the engagement. So he accused an innocent young man of a weaker tribe of adultery with his fiance and both were killed.(Murder of an adulterer and adulteress is no crime in tribal area if both are killed at the same place). The tribal society is full of countless such examples. Even the matters of marriage and divorce, (which is very rare in Ba1ochis) are taken to the sardar and are settled as per his wishes. Sardar is the center of tribal life and every thing revolves around him.

Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the former governor and chief minister of Balochistan and sardar of Bugti tribe, when asked in an interview by Emma Duncan, "How many people have you killed yourself?" He answered, "I have lost count ". Most sardars maintain their own jails and armed detachments that function as police, and invoke the traditional 'sacred right' to demand a share of the population's income.9a This force is used to make the people work free for the sardars. Very rarely, some individuals have tried to revolt against this sacred authority but have been immediately punished and crushed. Punishments are very tyrannical and severe. Not only the offender but his entire family is annihilated, people are left handicapped with broken limbs or tied to wooden planks and left imprisoned in the basement jails of the sardars' houses.

There had been some fruitless efforts to dissolve the institution of Sardar. This was Officially announced by Z.A. Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, on 8th April 1976 in Quetta in a public meeting. This was however never implemented. In this respect the question of abolishing Sardari had been under debate in the Balochistan legislative assembly. The important sardars were also members of the assembly, generally advocated for the preservation of Sardari system on different grounds; the main arguments included: the historic evolation of this institution which provided a defence to the people, a social and economic system, a progressive order of the society in accordance with socio-economic and millatary requirements, an un-avoidable feature of the society, an institution which has no substitution or alternative.

A sardar's authority derives basically from fear, but there are other factors too; a sardar is richer than his people, has viable coercive force to enforce his commands and wishes ruthlessly and, above all, he has the sanction of the traditions. This attitude of the sardar is vastly strengthaned by the abject ignorance and poverty of the masses and lack of any alternative mode of existance for them. So they are helpless and at the mercy of sardars.

Sardars and maliks (a term used in Pathan areas as equivalent to wadera or tukri of Baloch areas) are present in Pathan society too, but there is no cruelty, torture and misery. Pathan sardars and maliks do have, considerable influence over the residents of their respective areas but the society is much more liberal and democratic. Comparing the two tribal societies, a marked difference is observed. There are slow and steady changes of Pathan society, which has shown an inclination to changes. At the dawn of the 20th century, when north and north-western areas of Balochistan were administered by the British authorities, Capitalism was coming into its own, everywhere and was affecting all walks of life and sectors of society. In British India this world-movement was having its inevitable effects. And the British Balochistan too was affected, but rest of the land could not benefit from this progres's and change, because of the sardari system. However, recently socio-economic development has begun to affect the Baloch tribal areas as well.

In the primitive Baloch society only sardars were wealthy and authoriative and they used to perform, organize and initiate all activities which could generate incomes for themselves and their tribes. Expansion of the government activities and implementation of development projects such as construction of road etc. geological and other surveys etc. have provided some non-tribal job opportui'iities to the people and thus depandance upon the sardar has somewhat decreased.

Another change in the Baloch society is that the common man has begun to take some initiative in the matters of earning his livelihood. People have started smuggling contraband (particularly in the border areas) to and from Iran and Afghanistan and other provinces of Pakistan; they have started working on contract basis in various government projects and departments; they have begun to do business and mining and are adopting modern techniques o'` agriculture; live stock forming and fishing is also on the increase. All these factors have started producing a new class of fairly rich people, which is adversely affecting the influence of Sardars. These changes began in the Pathan areas about eighty years back, as a result of which the primitive tribal set-up there too had begun to change. As far Baloch areas are concerned, Baloch industrialists and bureaucrats (people, who by luck and effort succeed in getting education and enter the bureaucracy) are still in a formative phase and key role is still played by Sardars. The small land-owning Baloch aristocracy has acquired influence which is, more than that of the new emerging classes and less than those of the sardars. If government policies could boost agricultural activity, it could be of great help in breaking the stronghold of the sardari system.

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