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The Rakhi System

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The most important development which took place during the period of Misals was the introduction of the rakhi system which sowed the seeds of the Sikh political authority in the land. In the early stages, the rakhi or protection was sought by the people from the Sikhs and later, in order to bring more territories under the rakhi system, the offer of rakhi was made to the people of the towns and villages ofthe Punjab and was actively pursued by the Sikhs, as a regular feature of their activities. The word rake literally means 'protection' and in practice, it was a tribute received by the Sikhs for the protection provided or guaranteed by them against external aggression to the people paying it. The circumstances which led to the creation of this system were correlated with the rise of the Sikhs power.

During the three years that followed Mir Mannu's death there were nine swift changes in the governorship of the Punjab1 that resulted in chaotic conditions in the province. The Punjab was thrown into the trough of such political confusion and conflicting political claims that peace was completely shattered and the stability of this land wrecked. On Mir Mannu's death, Emperor Ahmad Shah appointed his three year old son, Mahmud Khan, viceroy of the two provinces of Lahore and Multan, on the 13th November 1753, and, interestingly enough, the baby viceroy was provided with a two-year old deputy in the person of Muhamrnad Amin Khan, son of late Mir Mannu. It was a mockery of administration. Baron Hugel commenting upon it says, "It was a plain proof of the miserable state of affairs at Delhi that in such difficult times children and women were thought capable of being entrusted with places of such high importance."2 Between the inefficient administration of Mir Mannu's widow, Mughalani Begum, and the intrigues of artful Adeena Beg, the land of the Punjab became a prize for which the hereditary claim of the political authority at Delhi contended with the military genius at Kabul. The people of Punjab were suffering from the evils of a dual monarchy, not knowing whether the province was a part of Indian Empire to be controlled in its administration from Delhi or from Kandhar or Kabul. During these years the state political apparatus had literally collapsed and, as such, the protection of law and life could not be given to the people by the nominal governments professing to be holding charge of the state. Trade had practically come to a standstill as the highways and trade routes were not safe.

Under these circumstances, the dire need of the people was an institution that should protect them from internal lawlessness and external danger which perpetually loomed large before the people. The province was divided into a number of principalities, their jurisdictions conflicted and the different authorities squeezed the poor peasants of their hard-earned money without any prospect of law and security. Economically, the people were being ruined, and politically, there was no hope of peace or justice. This was a long-sought opportunity for the Sikhs from which they drew full advantage. As sons ofthe soil, the Sikhs knew how the people of the Punjab had suffered because of insecure and unstable conditions under the Mughals. Besides other considerations if any, they genuinely felt the need of providing asylum to their follow-beings in the Punjab. The Dal Khalsa, being a well organised body of the sikhs, devised the institution of rakhi. They considered themselves competent to extend their protection to the people where they required it.

Under this System the protection was granted to the people against foreign invasion and internal exploitation of zamindars and government officials and against the depredations of the local adventurers. It meant that the full safety of their persons and property was to be assumed. Generally, in return they received one fifth of their income twice a year after each harvest, that is, harhi and sauni or rabi and kharif, but the rate of rakhi seems to be one-fifth of the revenue. James Browne writes, "In the districts not reduced to their absolute subjection but into which they make occasional incursions they levy a tribute which they call Roukey and which is about one fifth (as the Maratba Chouth is one fourth) of the annual rent; whenever a zaminda¢r has agreed to pay this tribute to any Sikh chief, that chief not only himself refrains from plunderinghim, but will protect him from all others; and this protection is by general consent held so far sacred, that even if the grand army passes through a zamindari where the safe guards of the lowest Sikh chief are stationed, it will not violate them."3 And according to Polier, "no further hindrance or molestation will be received from them, on the contrary the chief to whom the tribute or racky is paid, takes the district under his protection and is ready to fight against any of, brethren who might think of disturbing it." 4

According to Ghulam Muhyy-ud-Din (Bute Shah), "When even a Sardar of ten troopers placed an area under his rakhi even one of the biggest Sardars having five hundred or more troopers under him could not interfere in that area.5

On the other hand, according to Jadunath Sarkar, "the payment of chauth merely saved a place from the unwelcome presence of the Maratha soldiers and civil underlings, but did not impose on Shivaji any corresponding obligation to guard the district from foreign invasion or internal disorder. The Marathas looked only to their own gain and not to the fate of their prey after they had left. The chauth was only a means of buying off one robber; and not a subsidiary systym for the maintenance of peace and order against all enernies. The lands subject to the chauth cannot, therefore, be rightly called spheres of influence.6

Thus rakhi system was certainly an improvement upon chauth as the Sardar offering rakki to a village or an area considered himself under obligation to give protection to the people from oppression and attack from whichever quarter it came, as against the practice of chauth. Secondly, the areas under rakhi could rightly be called the spheres of influence and these areas formed the basis of the future Misals.

Rakhi has been conceived generally as a definite phase in the political career of the Sikhs, as a step that supplied them with the idea of raising themselves into territorial chieftains. This view finds support in Ali-ud-Din Mufti's conception of the phase of nazarana-giri or aman (The Persian equivalent of rakAi) as a prelude to the phase of annexation.7 However, Bute Shah refers to Charhat Singh's conquest of one area and assertion of ralthi over another at the same time.8 Rakhi did serve as a prelude to territorial occupation but not as a phase. Territorial occupation and rakhi could be established, at one and the same time, in two different areas. Rakhi was, thus, a transitional arrangement existing side by side with territorial occupation. The areas once brought under rtzkhi were, often but not always, actually occupied and directly administered sooner or later.

The units of the Dal Khalsa moved about offering the raked plan to each village individually. The zamiltdars readily accepted this offer as this system created a sense of security. The people, in general, were happy or, at least, were consoled with the thought that the militant Khalsa was there to protect them. This rakhi scheme opened out vistas of territorial sovereignty to the Sikhs. The leaders of the Dal Khalsa were assigned by the Khalsa organization a number of districts for providing rakhi and each leader was required or expected to set up his derah (camp) at a strategic point, to build new garbs (mud fortresses) and to repair the old Mughal forts for his use. "This practice worked successfully, partly for the reason that the interval between the successive invasions of the Abdali afforded the Khalsa leaders time enough to organise their territorial acquisitions, and partly for the reason that most of the central Punjab districts soon elected to come under the new 'Protective System' of the Khalsa. Having thus secured a habitat and a more or less regular source of income from the raked scheme and a wider field for recruitment to its ranks, the day was in a better position to contest with the Abdali this transfer of their home-land."9

This protection was extended equally to the Hindu and Muslim zamindars and people belonging to both the communities benefitted from it. The Mughals and Muslim Rajputs, who rejected this offer on account of religious fanaticism and opposed the Sikhs otherwise, were squeezed out to find homes elsewhere.10 in fact, these Muslims who were ousted included most of those people who had usurped the lands of the Sikhs, when they had, under government pressure, left their homes to seek shelter in jungles and deserts. Waving recovered the possession of their lands and having entrenched themselves in their respective areas, the Sikhs began to organise some sort of government which became the basis of the administration known as the Misaldari system.

When the representatives of the Dal Khalsa came to collect the stipulated portion of the produce of the village due to them as protectors, they received the welcome due to the deliverer and not the frowns meant for the tax collector.

In a short time four out of the five Doabs of the Punjab came under the protection of the Dal Khalsa To make the system function successfully one or more units of the day could combine to take charge of a big slice of territory that came under their protection. To meet a situation in emergency a reserve force was stationed at Amritsar in addition to the moving units of the gals. According to Sohan Lal Suri, Amritsar began to be guarded by Nishanwalias and Dallewalias. The territory, south-west of Lahore, fell under the protection of Nakais; the Chaj and Rachna Doab territories came under the protection of Hari Singh Bhangi and Charhat Singh Sukarchakia. Some territories north of Amritsar also fell under the rake of Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Jai Singh Kanaihya. The southern bank of the Satluj came under the protection of Deep Singh and Karora Singh, while the Ahluwalias and the Singhpurias occupied some territories on both banks of the Satluj. To reward and humour the Sikhs for their help, Adeena Beg paid them a lakh and a quarter of rupees as rake or protection money for the Jalandhar Doab. To ingratiate and identify himself further with them, he acknowledged or styled himself to be a sort of round-head Sikh and brought karat prasad (communion food) worth a thousand rupees on festive occasions to he distributed among them.11

A little later, the Sikhs developed their power and influence in the Gangetic Doab; they levied tribute on any towns and villages between the Jamuna and the Ganga. Describing their method of operations, Franklin writes, "When having first demanded the rake or tribute, if it be complied with, they retire peacefully, but when denied, hostilities commence." The Sikhs moved vigorously against those who showed hostility. G. R. C. William writes, "As regularly as the crops were cut, the border chieftains crossed over and levied black-mail from almost every village, in the most systematic manner. The requisitions were termed rake, sometimes euphemistically kambli, that is, 'blanket money,' perhaps equal to the price of a blanket.l2 Each of them had certain well-known beat or circle so well-recognised and so clearly defined that it is not unusual for the peasantry at the present day to speak of some places being, for instances, in Jodh Singh's Patti, others in Diwan Singh's or Himmat Singh's and so on"13

Economically rakki was a large source of income to the Sikh leaders. The Sikhs of the neighbouring villages were coming under their protection voluntarily. The extent of the territory that the Khalsa had to protect was so large that it felt it necessary to divideitself into units or divisions called the Misals. On the territories which had hitherto served as their rake grounds they set themselves up as territorial chieftains. And these Misals continued to remain part of the national army or the Dal Khalsa ji and remained bound to the common decisions taken through the gtomata in the name of the Guru. The Khalsa always utilized the time to popularise its rake system whenever it got respite from the Durrani invasions and it went a long way in breaking the Afghan administration that the victor of Panipat sought to impose on the Punjab aftcr the battle of Panipat in January 1761. By their rapid extention and development of the rakAi system the Sikhs became the undisputed masters of a large portion of the Punjab. They could very successfully and effectively resist the alien invader. They succeeded in acquiring new territories. Tlley treated very generously the people sv]aom they had placed under their subjection and treated their neighbours with regard and consideration.14

Thus, rakhi proved as a boon both for those who availed of it and for those who gave it- The former settled to their peaceful avocations and the latter laid foundations of their independent principalities in the Punjab.

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