A special attention should be given to the system of courier or postal services developed or maintained by the Zamindari Dak landed gentry of bengal and its adjoining areas, since the reign of Emperor Akber.
The method of conveying messages in this country dates back to the time of Gautama Budha (circa 1000 BC). At that time, there were a good number of city states or townships with a headman in charge to solve different problems of the society. In return, the community used to pay their respect by giving him some gift. These ‘gifts’ turned to be a definite rate of revenue for the service rendered by them. Eventually this head-manship became hereditary and thereby transformed their rights to the revenue into the right in the land itself.
A headman sometime becomes ambitious, he gets hold of neighbouring land, community or village by mutual contact or by force and in one time assumes the title of ‘Raja’. This kingship really turns into a real kingdom, the kings had to depend on the lesser lords for constant flow of income for their survival. In return they used to protect the subjects. And here the position of Zamindari Dak evolved. In Bengal their title varied, somewhere they were Mandals, somewhere Chowdhurys or Bhuyans, etc.
By the time of Muslim entered Bengal (1000 AD), some of these hereditary tenure holder had already developed into overlords by depressing the position of the real holder of land, the peasant into that of a mere tenants.
These kings, lords or zaminders used to communicate with each other by their own messengers. There was no public communication for carriage of private letters at the early stage.
The people of Bengal used to send letters through their friends or neighbours, to distant relatives. These travelers, who were on their way to such places used to carry these letters, or used to hand over to several other persons in different stages or relay system, up to the place of destination, on payment to the person entrusted with the carriage of letters 1,2.
In this way, in course of time, the private party was organized in Bengal and later on private organization sprung up on commercial links for maintaining communications through hired messengers or runners for carriage of private letters2.
The ‘zaminder’ (or ‘Zaminder’ or ‘Zeminder’), a Persian term, denotes an occupant of land, a landholder. The term was first introduced during the administration of the Mughals. In many places the influential landlords were authorized to maintain order in their areas1,3.
The Zamindari Dak or the land holders, during the Muslim rule, were, as representatives of the state, employed to realise revenues and empowered to levy duties and customs on trade etc. and to impose taxes on the cultivators etc. The system passed on and continued to in the early parts of Company’s regime up to 1793, till Lord Cornwallis introduced the Permanent Settlement.
With the conquest of India, the Mugal government had to ensure the receipt of a constant flow of income for its survival. The Mugal rulers employed the local chiefs to collect the taxes and hand them over to the government after taking their share. This definitely caused erosion of power of the central government.
The Zamindari Dak of Bengal were the pioneers in setting up separate postal lines in 1765, when the British civil administration was organized, after the fall of Bengal in 1757. The constitution of 1765 declared the zaminders as the official servants of the East India Company. By this way, the Zamindari Dak of Bengal became powerful rulers, as civil administrators, governing the Presidency of Bengal under the aegis of Fort William. Though the zaminderi system, when organized by the Mughals, worked as intermediary to the rulers, with the peasants and performed the duty of tax-collectors initially.
In Bengal, the term needed more explanation. There were two major types of Zamindari Dak under Mughal administration, but they differ with the quality, nature and status. Firstly there were hereditary landowners, traders, who acquired a large portion and the eminent soldiers or the princes, who were awarded a piece of land by the Emperor. They were allowed to collect revenues, keep their share at the stipulated rate and send the rest to the Emperor. Secondly, there are longstanding kingships, such as tribal kings of Coochbihar, Tripura etc. and Maharaja of Burdwan, Rani Bhabani of Natore or Devi Basant of Chttagong etc. who used to pay only a token tax of one taka two anna as ‘jama’, whom the Emperor did not want to alienate.
In Bengal the term denoted strongly as the responsible collector only of revenue on behalf of the Government in the Mughal period. The zaminder was allowed a fee or commission of ten per cent the total collection, and a portion of land, whilst managing lands and realizing the revenue for support of the Zamindari Dak and his family. He was further allowed a deduction from amount of revenue to cover various charges borne by the zaminder. He was empowered to impose taxes in addition to revenue on the cultivators and to levy internal duties and customs on articles of trade passing through his estate. In the later Mughal periods onwards these landlords, commonly known as the Zamindari Dak, were empowered to try petty civil and criminal cases. Thus the zaminders became very powerful and gained importance in all respects. The zaminder was formerly the great fiscal officer of a district. In his fouzdari or criminal court, he inflicted all sorts of punishment. The courts became instrument of power instead of justice.
The President and his Council of the Company in Bengal were engaged in their diplomatic duties in bribing the officers of the Mughal Durbar, while, on the other side, the zaminders in the Company’s rule emerged as powerful rulers involving in trade, collection of revenue and levying taxes on the poor native inhabitants. The English merchants, as successful traders, became the Zamindari Dak of the three little villages. They thereafter, through influence acquired over the Nawab of Bengal, legalized their position. In ten years (1757-67), the Dewan became powerful in the Council of the Nawab i.e. the powerful merchants of the Company became the de facto ru1er of Bengal although the Company always tried to keep up the friction that they were servants and not masters. In August 1765, at Oudh, Lord Clive (1765-67) obtained from the Mughal Emperor, on behalf of the Company the position of the Dewan, at the Court of the Nawab. The Nawab lost all real power and was a mere shadow in the background4.
The transfer of Dewani conferred on the zaminders of the Company the rights for the collection and management of revenue, civil justice, military power and fouzdari administration in the provinces of Bengal, Behar and Orissa. Clive appointed two prominent natives Md. Reza Khan and Raja Sitab Roy, as Company’s Dewans at Murshidabad and Patna respective1y for collection of revenue under the supervision of their officers. At both places, two different English officers were also appointed to supervise the working of these native zaminders. The typical division of power and responsibility – executive, revenue and judicial between the Nawab and Company became famous as the Dual Government Introduced by Robert Clive. The Zamindari Dak was merely designed to conceal the de facto position of the Company, which already had the real power in Bengal at that time. The dual government in Bengal deteriorated the efficiency of the whole administrative machinery. The English servants misused the powers and positions to meet their ends, encouraged corruption, bribery, misappropriation, which ultimately led to the exploitation and made the inhabitants of Bengal very poor and miserable.
The Zamindari Dak were also obliged to ensure the safe conduct of the dak (post). Any interception of letters and hindrance in their despatch had to be accounted for by the zamindar in whose territory such incidents should occur5.
Henry Verelst, Governor of Bengal (1767-69), first realized the responsibilities, which the merchants had taken themselves of appropriating the revenue of the country. Mohammad Reza Khan in Bengal exercised the real control of the revenue in addition to the administration of criminal justice and maintenance of peace and order. In the history of Bengal, Reza Khan was responsible for cruelty and barbarity inflicted on the ‘native’ cultivators for exploitation and plunder, which was unequal in the civilized nation and for the man-made great famine in Bengal, popularly known as ‘Famine of seventy-six’6.
The formation of modern post offices of India is greatly indebted to the initiation of thannah posts under the Zaminderi Dak system of Bengal and its evolution and transformation into District Post of provincial administration by the middle of nineteenth century. The Zamindari Dak of Bengal created a base for the postal organization and played an important pioneering role for the infrastructure of the Imperial Posts of British India and of the Post Offices of Indian sub-continent of the present day. The gradual evolution towards building of a regular system of postal organization has been deeply reflected on the life of our peasantry, the cultural and religious life of our people, and on generating knowledge and mass education, the growth of trade and commerce, cities and towns, population and settlement and contributed largely in the scientific and technological development toward progress of this country7.
The Pitt’s India Act passed in 1784 vested jointly in the Crown and the Company. It tightened the control of the Parliament over the administration of the Company’s territories in India by estb1ishing a Board of control in England. The Board had neither patronage nor any control over commercial matters, both of which were left to the Court of Directors of the East India Company; but it acquired power to superintend, direct and control everything connected with the civil, military and fiscal administration of the British territorial possessions in the East Indies. In India, the powers of the Governor General of Bengal and his council over the presidencies of Bombay and Madras were increased, both in respect of their domestic administration with the result that the two presidencies were then definitely made subordinate to the Governor General and Council of Bengal.
Two years later a supplementary Act Governor General to overrule in special cases the majority of the Council. The administration of the British territories in India now came to be vested in the Governor General in Council, a change, which was emphasized in 1834 by changing the title from the Governor General of Fort William in Bengal to that of the Governor General of India. The Charter Act of 1813 witnessed the partial throwing open of the Indian trade to the public in England and the East India began to cease to be mainly a commercial enterprise. The Company lost the Indian trade altogether and became the political agent of English monarchy for the administration of India with the Charter Act of 1833. The outbreak of the Sepoy Mutiny badly shook the foundation of the Company’s rule in India and exposed the weakness of the Company’s rule in India. This prompted the British Parliament in 1858 to pass the Act for the Better Government of India by which the control of the administration of India was vested in the Crown of England. Queen Victoria in a Proclamation issued on 1 November announced the change in the system of administration. Thus India came directly under the sovereign power of the British Government.
By 1725, the zaminders of Bengal became the masters of land, when the city of Calcutta was administered by the Europeans as civil (police) and municipal collectors and aldermen in the court of justice. During their administration the first post office of India was established at Calcutta, which was in existence between I727-37. These zaminders were the pioneers in setting up postal lines in 1765, when the civil administration was organized after the fall of Bengal in 1757. The constitution of 1765 declared the zaminders as the official servants of the East India Company. By this way, the zaminders of Bengal became powerful rulers, as civil administrators, governing the presidency of Bengal under the aegis of Fort William. In this year, Lord Clive first introduced a regular service; and the zaminders were called upon to supply dak runners all routes of the districts of Bengal, for which a deduction was allowed in their collection of rents, depending on the number of runners employed and mileage covered.
In 1765, the Zamindari Dak made complaints to the East India Company on the irregular dak arrangement of Emperor Shah Alam of Delhi, Allahabad, Calcutta, Murshidabad and Dacca. The Select Committee of the Company decided in 1770 to continue the Nawab’s Dak and to restrict the use of Nizamat Dak to places where there was no Company dak.
In the initial stages zaminders controlled the fouzdari stations to maintain peace and established fouzdari courts for the judicial administration and for collection of revenue. They also established zaminderi police dak system in 1765 for the convenience of revenue and judicial administration up to 1792 and thereafter, Lord Cornwallis under the Permanent Settlement Regulation of 1793 removed the zaminders from the civil, judicial and police administration. They were even not allowed to enter the thannah station under the Regulation.
However they had the liability to establish rural dak service (Regulation XXII of 1793) by recruiting runners etc. and to pay a fixed sum towards costs of police establishment as land burden to the Government (Regulation I & of 1793)8. Section X of Police Regulation XX of 1817 enforced the zaminders, land holders and actual proprietors of land to commute a fixed amount to maintain the police dak for carriage of official communication connecting the headquarter and subordinate towns of the district with the police stations in the interior of the villages for revenue and judicial administration of the Company.
By this time the Imperial Post Office Act 1837 created a dual system of postal services parallel and auxiliary to each other in India as two distinct posts; one as the public post created, maintained and controlled by the Imperial Government of the Company on the main and principal routes and selected large post offices and the other as the District Post, under Zamindari Dak system, controlled by the District authorities of various provincial Governments in India for connecting the District head quarters with the police and revenue station in the interior parts for the convenience of police and revenue administration of the Company.
The District Post was in its primitive stage in 1837. No formal set up of a post office in rural India existed, as we find at present. The functions were carried out by the thannah and its Daroga, acted as ex-officio Postmaster, duties of Postmen (delivery peons) were performed by constables, watchmen, sepoies, or chowkidars etc. on cash payment of two pices per letter by the person, who receives the letter. In this way, the District Post, which was drawn from the zaminderi police post, continued under the administrative control of the police authority (Post Office Act of 1854); charges being met from the Zamindari Dak cess realized by the District Magistrate, under the Bengal Act of 1862. This act also played a great role towards abolition of the District Post and a complete fusion with the Imperial Post with the gradual improvement of rural dak system so as to meet its own expenditure and become self sufficient to run independently. Zamindari Dak took about 45 years (1817-62) to amend the constructive defects of the Police Regulation of 1817 and another 44 years (1862-1906) to make dak system self sufficient or to find its right time for amalgamation with the Imperial Post. Meanwhile the Zamindari Dak were exploited economically to pay the charges of the so-called District Post as controlled by the District Authority or literally called the Zamindari Dak, as financially managed by the zaminders. The entire postal administration of India had to be recast with the complete fusion of the District Posts) (or local posts) under several provincial Governments 1st April 1906.
It is interesting to mention here that the Imperial Post Office Department used the term ‘Zamindari Dak’ as District Post organized under Post Office Act of 1854, while the provincial Government of Bengal called the District Post as ‘Zamindari Dak’ as financed by the zaminders with a levy imposed on them under the provisions of the Bengal Act of 1862.
As there was no public communication for carriage of private letters, except for the few servants of the merchant company, the ‘natives’ of Bengal used to send letters through their friends or neighbours, to distant relatives, who were on the way to such places, or by several other persons in different stages or relay system up to the place of destination on payment to the person(s) entrusted with the carriage of letters. In this way, in course of time, the private party was organized in Bengal and later on private organization sprung up on commercial lines for maintaining communication through hired messengers or runners for carriage of private letters side by side with the Company’s Dak and the Zamindari Dak system.
Besides the private dak system, several other dak system were also individually viz. the system of Bankers for transmission of hundies etc. called the Mahajan Dak, the Nawab’s Dak and the Nizamat Dak. The Nizamat Dak was the oldest organized dak line between Murshidabad and Calcutta for carriage of private letters for the exclusive use of the Nawab’s family or Nizamat Adalat etc.
Big zaminders or landholders or managers of estates etc. or other influential persons sponsored these private organizations, for business as well as for exclusive control of important dak lines throughout the country originating from Bengal. Yet the Company’s Dak line was the safest and most reliable. But due to the weak and inefficient administration of the Company, its dak system could not on a better footing-inherent corruption and self-interest of the merchants crept and ruined the administration to a large extent.
As the private dak arrangement was insufficient, costly and insecure, the local people had to depend much on the dak runners employed by the Company for carriage of private communication against consideration, such they could be easi1y bribed. From the term, ‘consideration’, there grew up ‘the idea of selling the services’, in which we find of Post Offices in the early days of the Company’s regime. The distribution of letters was effected by hired persons paid by the Company or on payment of bakshish by the person receiving the letter or by the persons connected with the Thannah Dak on cash payment of two pices for each letter by the person receiving the letters. This system was legalized by the Company in 1854 Thus the two principal functions of the present day post office-the receipt and delivery of correspondences owed its origin during the corrupt administration of the Company against consideration and bakshish within the rudimentary system of facility available gradual growing wants of the people to communicate by the post.
The Zamindari Dak symbolizes the early dak runner- a traditional scene in our rural life, running day and night with spearhead fitted with jingling bells on his shoulder. The bells were adopted as a concession to the superstition of the people, who believed that the bells would counter any evils and animals while the spearhead was for his self-defense. Similarly the postmen honoured as a social worker during earlier days, were supplied with hand bells, which were to be rung to announce their arrival with letters to obviate delay in delivery.
The letterboxes, from the early beginning to the present times, have been changed in shape, design, character, size commensurate with its various uses with the evolution of postal services. The early dak naturally arrived very irregularly at the village through the hurcurrah (runner) and the arrival of mails was announced by blowing a bugle or horn for information of the villagers. The headman with several villagers, gathered in the Zamindari Dak cutchery or mundep, hut or in a central location under the shade of trees to attend the mail carrier to receive news, writes replies, and dispatches their communication in leisure as the villagers eagerly awaited the news of the capital9.
The hurcurrah, honoured, during the Company’s regime, as a messenger of the king’s letter narrated to the illiterate, news of the cities, of kings and of political upheavals with degree of imagination to satisfy the curiosity of the villagers. In this way, the dak runner figured as the news reporter of the capital for the remote villagers, which later on was termed as ‘Journalist’. The present post offices of India owed their origin to this primitive system of postal transaction.
The Zamindari Dak contributed largely towards the economic growth of rural Bengal, advancement of knowledge and aroused social, cultural and political awareness among the rural inhabitants of nineteenth and early twentieth century The rural post offices under the agency system established during the eighties of last century served as numerous veins of the communication network the reaching furthest corner of the country and the smallest representative of the British monarch (i.e. post office) was available for the greater interest of his subjects, keeping in close touch with the administration. The rural postmaster of the by-gone days was honoured as being the paid servant of the king who looked after the daily news maintained communication link between the rural inhabitants and the capital.
1 Shirin Akhtar, The Role of the Zamindars in Bengal 1707-1772, Asiatic Society, 1982, p. 1.
2 Mohini Lal Majumder, The Postal History of Zaminderi Dawk, Rddhi, India, Calcutta, 1984, p 55.
3 M.F. Lokhandwala (tr.) Mira, pp 150-151, 1965; see also S. Akhter, Op Cit., pp 127-128 for further information
4. LG Shenoi & AHG. Sarma (eds), Philatelic Year Book & Directory, 1981, Bangalore, India, p. 85.. ory, 1981, Bangalore, India, p. 85.
5. Shirin Akhtar,, Op Cit., p. 4.
5 Mohini Lal Majumder, The Imperial Post Offices of British India (1837-1914), Phila Publications, Calcutta, India, 1990, p. 385.
6 Shirin Akhtar, Op Cit., p. 127; see also THD La Touche (ed.), The Journal of Major J. Rendell, 131.
7 LG Shenoi & AHG. Sarma (eds), Op Cit., p. 85.
8 Mohini Lal Majumder, Op Cit., p. 385.
9 Mohini Lal Majumder, The Postal History of Zaminderi Dawk, Rddhi, India, Calcutta, 1984, p. 74
10. Mohini Lal Majumder, Op Cit., p. 323.