Rahmat Karim Baig

Chitral in the past

Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig

In the good old days Chitral was Chetrar to the local people and Qashqar to the Pathans. It had scattered settlements and smaller number of population but all able-bodied men were busy in their farm works round the year.

No male, either a child over five years, an adolescent or older was supposed to sit idle. The older males guided family members, both males and females, were driven hard from dawn to dusk and in certain cases or seasons even in the dark of the night. The males had to get up before dawn to get the water ration from the nearest water source to irrigate their crops in the summers in many areas of Chitral and the females had to cook food very early to feed the family members.

Those males who had to leave the house in the wee hours were provided bread which was cooked after dinner which he carried with him to a distant place where he had to work for the whole day and ate the dry bread in two breaks – one part of it as breakfast and the other as his lunch if he was working alone but could make tea if there was a team of workers.

They returned to their house by the evening and the timetable of work prepared by the oldest male member told them to go to another such farm work in another direction of the valley as they often owned tracts of lands in many areas which needed their attendance to get water and get growing. All the males were thus busy round the year.

The females also had their duties with cattle, flocks of sheep and goats and kids, plus wool processing even while grazing cows in summers and most of the day and night hours in winters. This was the routine of the middle class men and women but the upper classes did not have this type of work rotation. Their females were usually idle but not hundred percent idle; they made embroidery works, designs, patterns, delicate dress designs for their daughters for bridal beautification.

The oldest female with her senior most daughter-in-laws managed the house. They had to follow a strict food rationing system to be able to meet any kind of food emergency. She fixed ration and made allocation for guests and relatives. It was a type of budgeting of the flour from various cereals in the autumn. She had to ensure dairy product supply from the sources of the family and sewing woolen dresses for all the members of the house.

On the other hand, the upper class men, usually the Lal group, did nothing as they had slaves or tenants. They did not care to lead any farm work but ordered their tenants or slaves to do this or that particular work but most of them did not go even for supervision. Their main pursuit was hawking, horse riding, fostering jealousies, fabricating plots, hunting and attending the royal court to show their obedience to the ruler otherwise were counted as dissidents.

The lands granted to them tagged this duty. They were bound to fight for the ruler when there was an invasion from across the borders. If they failed to ensure their presence, then any one of the rivals could resort to intrigue and the ruler would take away a piece of cultivated plot and grant to another favourite.

This aspect of policy made them obedient to the ruler. They stayed in the Chitral Fort, got food from the royal kitchen, attended the Mahraka sessions when ever asked by the ruler, gave his opinion when asked and were allowed to go home after a couple of months. Their cultivated lands got less attention from the slaves and lack or absence of supervision made them poorer from time to time but they did not pay a positive role for the welfare of the society as the conception of welfare was then not known. (R..F. Schomberg).

The middle class men had to do their farm work with their own hands and did it day and night so they were physically strong and could perform any kind of duty for the society, for orphans and widows, disabled ones etc. and also could render state services in their turn in improvement of road system, rebuilding of temporary bridges in autumn. The repair of roads rather tracks in particular, that was very bad in those days.  They could also take part in defense of the state borders and reached outposts of the State for which they were appreciated and sometime gifted by the ruler. Their role was important for the society, for the ruler as well as for the defense system.

The economy depended on the hard work of the middle class but the upper class men could also improve their economy if they were good proprietors but in most cases they were not. The common man had to produce food items for the members of his family to last for a year from his own resources – by farming, herding, culturing fruitless trees for fire wood and a number of other related work besides trekking to far-off relatives once a year or more than that as part of family duty. Their life was full of activities and very busy and idleness was looked down upon and hardly tolerated by elders of the society. (Hindu Kush Study Series, Studies in Statecraft).

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