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Lesser Known Tribes of Indus Kohistan

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Jirga System Organization Role of Zetoo Women Role 


The Jirga system

 Jirga is a Persian word. It means a gathering, a public, a "Punchaiat" or a consultation. To Marree, Baloch, Pukhtoon, Tajak, Hazara and Shin tribes, the literal meaning of Jirga is one such traditional institute which seeks solutions to their economical, social, cultural, regional and defense problems under their social and cultural system by integrated consultation and collective participation such as arrangement of regional defense; issuance of traditional laws; check and balance; distribution, arrangement and utilization of resources and distribution of labor; etc.

 In tribal community, the traditional structure and organizational methods and delegation of power are generally based on lineages and economical, cultural, linguistic, religious, environmental and geographical conditions. These elements play an important role in strengthening the structure of the Jirga system on the basis of group interdependence.

The expanded universal meaning of Jirga should be taken as the social and political organization of a tribe or nation. In the past Jirga was in a very simple form where no one was superior to another one. But during the slavery period a breakage or a change in the organizational elements of Jirga occurred whereby the concept of the "lord and slave" came into being.

The Perspective of the Shin Jirga

No deep or profound study on the Shin tribes of Kohistan and the structure and organizational elements of their folk institute has come on the surface as yet. However, with reference to Chilas, Oliver has written referring to Biddulph about the Jirga and a traditional assembly of Chilas called Sagas: 

Every village elects their "jashtero" based on their bravery, speaking power and  broad-mindedness and is free internally. Its own parliament is called Sagas whose doors are open to all and any body can take part in the debates. The parliament of each village sends only one "Jashtero' to the federal Sagas and it is also open to every body. When people get their heat poured out, a loud whistle is blown after which only a "Jashtero" can speak. A surfacely description about the traditional organization or assembly in these regions is found from this statement but the fundamental organizational elements and their duties do not become known. Dr. Jettmar has written that the duties and role of a "Jashtero" and "Zetu" were same. However these are two different positions and not substitute to each other.

Sigas or Jirga does not refer to a state government. But it refers to the assembly or institute of people which takes a form by the people of one valley or land by group unity. Every area has its own local Sagas or Jirga Council and many areas establish a Jirga of a larger area or unity of Sagas. In ancient times, there used to be a common Jirga Council of Chilas, Darel, Tangir, Harban, Jalkot, Palas and Kolai, rather even up Astor as narrated by the elders of the Darma tribe in Palas. The stability of an area's Jirga Council is established on the local and economical bases in which different racial groups or tribes go on organizing.

Research has proved that in such Sagas or Jirga organization, the Shins, Yashkuns and Kamins all three were found organized. It also refutes the notion of being any inferiority or superiority among them because all three of them are organized under the system of land distribution and hold equal rights in it. It has been the same way in land distributions with the tribal Pukhtoons and Marri Baloch tribes.

Shins entered in the sub-continent vial Khyber from Central Asia during 1000-200 B.C. Their first settlements were upward from Darband in Pakhli, Siran valley, Alai, Kohistan and Chilas. They were organized in tribes and groups and they had their own social system.. In the beginning, they settled from Darband, Pakhli and Siran valley up to Chilas and then they advanced. They invaded the Yashkun and Kamins in these areas and setup the traditional system of Jirga and Sagas. Their second migration probably began during 700 A.D. During those days, Pakhli was under severe attacks from the surrounding areas and probably it continued until after Temur (1398 A.D). It has to be mentioned here that during this period some Shin reached Kohistan Ganga from Pakhli and Siran valley via Muzaffarabad and some of them went there via Astor. These people might have been migrating via Kohistan and Muzaffarabad from time to time until the settlement of "Turk Qarlaks". It may be considered here that currently those tribes who live in Kohistan, Ganga, and Gurez. Dras, Ladakh, Skardu, Astor, Gilgit, Haramosh and Gor, do not have Shin Jirga in its traditional form with them because the creation of administrative positions after 500 or 700 A.D, one federal system replaced their multi-central group system tribal system is giving a way to one man power locally. Such names exist in Shina folk songs that have gone to borrow like dictators.  (Raj Tarangni, edition 2)

It becomes known from reading the events of Dard (Shin) attacks on Kashmir that by that time i.e. during 1000 B.C, the Sardar and dictatorship traditions had become the common practice among the Shins and they would attack Kashmir under the supervision of Raja or Sardar. On the other hand, Agori Tham and later on Shari Bidat ruled.  This routine began probably after the fall of the Huns . After 1200 A.D Yashkuns took over the rule from Shins. According to Dr. Jettmar, as per the old remnants in Northern Pakistan, the names of the local rulers are found after 500-600. It probably began after the fall of Hun tribes in the North and local influential group founded Raja system or dictatorship. Hence about the area between Northern Areas and Gurez, it may be said that Shins maintained local states for 700 years. The matter is that there was no concept of Rajgi (becoming a Raja) or dictatorship in the old traditional system. This system was borrowed later on. Up to Chilas, Darel, Tangir and Kohistan where the Shins were in majority, and the old traditional system of the Shin and its structure was intact, there the Rajgi system could not find a way and wherever the Jirga system and its organizational structure were weak, Rajgi system were established.  Mohammad Yahya Shah writes in his book "Danil Tehzibo Tamaddun" that the thinking of the Shins and their feelings has been different than the Broshes. The Shins always have been having a Council of Elders. These people call Rajaki Sang to Rajgi system and Poroki to Chitral. So it is the identity of the Shin that there is no Rajgi system there. So the famous saying of the Shins which is commonly known, is "Poraki na boshta, Rajaki na boshta, Shinaki boshta", there must not be a Rajgi system, nor any Piri Muridi (one man being a spiritual leader making disciples from among the people. He guides them in memorization of God and His worship and much more. He supposedly takes responsibility of their salvation on the Dooms Day). Let there be Shinaki. In other words, let there be Sang Council of Elders system. Shins never produced any dictator among themselves. Rather they have killed the forcefully imposed Raja on them whenever they had a chance for it.

About the old social system of these areas, Sheraz Kashmiri has written in his book "Kashmiri Qaum and Qomiyyaten", P229 that if the ancient history of this area is studied deeply, this fact comes forth that those people neither had any force, nor any police nor any tribal "Sardar" (head). All the people belonged to various lineages and castes. The concept of ownership was very simple. Yuri Gangofisky has written in his book about the Shin tribes' Jirga system while discussing about the Dard tribes, that a few minor factions (racial groups) whose

dialects originate from Dard languages, live in Pakistan's northern parts. Many remnants of Jirga exist in their customs and social life.

Due to wars and looting, the powers and strength of the heads of wars and other key persons increased. On a community which was free of ruling and being ruled, the economic and social changes began to hurl. It is a settled matter that where a state or individual rule is established, there multi-group or central system either suspends or collapses because both the systems are contradictions to each other.

In the system which the traditional Shins held, there was no need of any Raja or a ruler because by nature they do not afford one to be superior to them nor would they allow it. Karl Jettmar writes that:

Such a system neither needs, nor indeed slices, a permanent ruler, but requires only a group of elected representatives and officials for its administration. The communities remained, democratic and we might reasonably call them republics. Indus Kohistan certainly belonged to this kind of polity - quite in opposition to the northern belt stretching from Chitral to Baltistan and even beyond, where there were centralized monarchies as a rule, and almost without exception.

    Shin tribes or the other similar tribes, who have multi-group system of politics, the centralization of power or its absence or not needing it, can be more clear by this statement that:

Their social system is egalitarian and classless. No one group or local community is subordinate or superior to any other. Usually life among people with multicentric political system is such that there is no need for the permanent centralization of authority even if it were materially and structurally possible to achieve and sustain. (Hemmond 1971, P282)

 Hemmond has mentioned two important reasons that those who hold this kind of system, either their technical and economic system is unproductive and undeveloped or their economic system is well organized that it is impossible to accumulate wealth or dictatorship among them.

In the past, the Jirga system of Shin tribes was stretched on a large area. Different "Roms" were mutually alloyed.

            According to the local traditions, up till 1000 A.D, from Kolai to Astor all the clans were mutually alloyed. When and why did this alliance break, there is not much known about it. But possibly it was due to the strengthening of the individual rule or the Rajgi system in the North and the increasing external attacks and invasions.

In 1500 A.D, when disputes over Wesh created with the tribes of Kolai, they were expelled from the Jirga Council. This way, Khuka Manka became weak by splitting and Darma benefited from it who had already distributed the strong Chilis of Jalkot into the various sub-tribes of Shin in Kolai and Jalkot during the Wesh.

The effects of the breaking away of Kolai and their reactions to the tribes of Palas remained for two three centuries. There have been great confrontations. Taking advantage of this situation, the Swatis of Alai invaded Palas valley for several times with the help of Gujars and others but they did not succeed (Their attack on Sherakot is on the top list.).

The regional boundaries between Northern Areas (called Shinaki), the current Jalkot and Palas were laid by the famous expert of Wesh of Darma tribe, Khawas Kham, during mid-1700 A.D. The reason for it was the fast changing political and administrative situations whereby there was a risk for the tribal system, alliance and sovereignty of Kohistan. By these regional boundaries, many potential traditional and regional disputes, attacks and fights were reverted. These boundaries were lain at the following three places:

        Between Shinaki and Jalkot            BuTie Kao

        Between Jalkot and Palas               Chithie BiSom

        Between Palas and Kolai                Bete Dar

    In the beginning of 1800th century, the alliance between Jalkot and Palas also began to become fragile and when individualism began to surface in these areas, these tribes finished their sharing of the mutual resources on the basis of two "Roms". Here from 1500 to 1800, there used to be one Jirga body established on the basis of cohesion between two "Roms" while before it, as told earlier, Kolai group and Jirga was separated from it. In other words, in the past, the evolution of Jirga organization began to shift from the alliance of bigger territories to smaller territories i.e. first from Kolai to Astor, then from Kolai to Gor and Chilas, then upto 1500 A.D from Kolai to Jalkot and finally between Jalkot and Palas. Now these tribes are found organized in groups within their own "Roms". But their tribal contacts are reducing out of their "Roms". The reason is the reduction in group interdependence.

The comparison of the structure of the Jirga organizations in Kolai, Palas and Jalkot is also worth considering. It can help understand the change and evolution of the traditional organizational structure during the last four five hundred years. The sub-tribes of Khuka and Manka wherein during 1500 A.D each one contained two clans (tabin) KorTa, CharkhaRe, LaghRa and KhoTa, the tribes in Kolai did not maintain those references after their separation but realigned their tribes and established one to three proportion with regard to the regional defense and economy which still prevails in Kolai.

 As for as the number of "Zetus" (explanation follows) are concerned in each "Rom"., a uniformity was maintained in it. There were 24 Zetus in both places and in Kolai this tradition still remains.