Sardari System

Sardari System emerged during the second half of the 19th century within the Muslim Panchayet (a cluster of Muslim households in a geographic location) system in Dhaka city under the patronage of the British Raj through the Nawabs of Dhaka who were recognised by the government as representatives of local Muslims. Sardari system had the flavour of limited 'self-governance' without lawful state authority. Each Panchayet (also called Moholla) was 'governed' by a council of five members who elected its leader- Sardar. All five members of the council including the Sardar had to be appointed or recognized formally by the Nawab of Dhaka.

The objective of Sardari system was basically to gain control by the Nawabs over the Muslims of Dhaka city by serving the latter's interests and gaining their loyalty. It was designed to ensure a better social management through Muslim solidarity.'

Exact date of introduction of the Sardari system is not known. It along with Muslim Panchayet system got momentum in 1876 under khwaja abdul ghani. Later on Nawab Salimullah restructured the Panchayet system combining Bais (22) with Bara (12) Panchayets, and appointed Khwaja Mohammad Azam, a member of Nawab family as Superintendent / Chief of the Sardars in 1907. At that time there were as many as 133 Panchayets each having its Sardar. A Sardar was appointed for life. After the death of a Sardar his son would become the next Sardar.

The Sardar's Council would mediate disputes between individuals or families. Even in case of disputes over inheritance of landed properties, the Sardar would decide the shares of the heirs. The decision was taken democratically in an open meeting often called Salish. The Sarder would preside over the 'Salishes' dispute settlement meetings. The council would work like a court. The concerned parties would accept the verdict of the council as binding although it did not have any legal backing. Beside, all types of major social events like weddings and religious festivals would be within the purview of the Sardari system. If any one violated the unwritten laws of the Panchayet stern measures would be taken against him. This helped maintain peace, harmony and solidarity among the members of the Mohollas. The Sardar was a symbol of unity.

Sardari system functioned for about 80 years. Many Sardars 'governed' their respective Mohollas during this period. Some of the Sardars were also ward commissioners of Dhaka municipality. One record shows that Latif Khan Sardar of Hazaribagh road was invited by Nawab khwaja ahsanullah to attend a meeting at Dhaka municipal office on 19 August 1954. Sardars of Dhaka city maintained an informal networking between them and expressed their allegiance to the Nawabs. The Sardari system discontinued with the decline of Nawabs of Dhaka in 1950s. Notable Sardars after whom the Sardari system ceased to function effectively were Mirza Kader, Zumman, Moti, Mowla Bakhs, Majed, Piaru, Kahil and Latif Khan. [Hafiz GA Siddiqi]