Choukidari

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Choukidari a traditional rural policing system comparable to the present Gram-rakshi or ansar and village defence party. The choukidari institution may be traced back to the pre-British period when rural security was vested in the hands of the village panchayet. The choukidar was an employee of the panchayet. He was entrusted with the responsibility of watch and ward of a village. In the late eighteenth century, when the panchayet system was downgraded and zamindari control became absolute, the choukidar became an official of the Zamindar. In exchange of his services to his constituency's watch and ward, a choukidar was paid in chakran land which he cultivated without paying any rent to the zamindar.

The zamindar's responsibility of maintaining a choukidar in lieu of chakran land continued up to 1856. Under the Local Police Act of 1856, an attempt was made to revive the old panchayet system abolished under the Cornwallis Code (1793). The district magistrate was authorised to nominate panchayet members and appoint choukidars. Tax was levied under the Act for defraying the expenses of the choukidar. Until 1870, the choukidari system was limited to towns and to very large villages. Under the Act VI (BC) of 1870, the choukidari system was reorganised and extended to all Bengal villages. The zamindari control over the choukidar was then abolished. He was no longer to be maintained by zamindari chakran grant. Henceforth, he was to receive a regular salary from the magistrate who was, in turn, to levy a choukidari tax on the people through the village panchayet.

The law and order situation in the countryside started deteriorating in the 1880s. In addition to peasant unrest, general crimes were also increasing. To cope with the situation, the Choukidari Act 1870, was amended by Act I (BC) of 1892. The aim of the Act was to raise the social status of the choukidar. As a choukidar was always recruited from a very low caste, he was not taken seriously by the criminals. He was, in fact, used henceforth as a menial and private servant of the zamindar and the panchayet. To recruit choukidars from higher castes, the choukidari tax was enhanced and their salaries increased. But the measure did not lead to any change in the traditional status of the choukidars.

The magistrate was required to create a Choukidari Village Fund for financing the system and motivating people of higher castes and social standing to join the choukidari service. The district magistrate was also authorised to delegate, with the sanction of the commissioner, his powers under the Act 1892, either wholly or in part, to any subordinate magistrate of the first class in charge of a sub-division or to the district superintendent of police. Police officers were forbidden to use choukidars as their personal servants.

In addition to performing duties of village watch and ward, a choukidar was required to do some other jobs. Since the 1870s, various statistical series were introduced such as, crop statistics, births and deaths, crime trends, market prices, and so on. A choukidar was required to furnish reports of his village or neighbouring villages on all these matters. But he was consistently unreliable in reporting since guesswork and hearsay proved to be his main source of information. The choukidari institution, as reorganised in 1892, continued till the end of colonial rule.

In East Pakistan, choukidars were put under local government bodies to assist the union council administration in maintaining law and order. There have been many attempts to reorganise the choukidari order but most proved to be half-hearted and ineffective, as it was not integrated into a well-designed local government system. The government created Village Defence Parties or Gram Raksi Dal in 1976 to maintain peace and security in rural areas as part of a planned village government. Unfortunately, the system was never implemented, and choukidars continued to work in union councils or parishads and draw their salary from them. [Enamul Haq]