Commune system in Balti Society

By Abdul Hameed

The world started with communism and will end with communism. This was prophesied couple of centuries ago by the protagonists of communism. The communes existed in the earliest of human societies when families and tribes lived together and shared everything they possessed. These earliest human communes existed mostly in hunting and gathering societies. Each member of the society was loyal and was bound to serve the commune with his abilities and skills and in return gets all of his needs from the commune. Every member was a volunteer towards his or her society and takes part in hunting with all his skills and vigor. In the end of successful hunt he was entitled to his share from the hunt to feed and clothe himself and his family. In those hunting societies, being in a commune system was just as natural as being human and no doubt, it was of great advantage. The female partner in the same way serves by gathering and gardening for the commune. Thus, forming a utopian society based on peace, social justice and equality, with any prejudice.  The impressive theory of communism proposed by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels reiterates the same ideals of social justice and economic equality through empowering the proliterate of a society. This necessitates collectiveness of the services of all the members for the community and in return, equal access to all necessities of life. This was also true as for as the ‘balti-yul’ (བལ་ཏི་ཡལ།) or ‘baltistan’ is concern as many social, cultural, lingual and historical evidences suggests. Even today, there exist words like ‘sharba’ (ཤར་བའ་།)and ‘rmaq’(རམཀཧ་།) for the ownership of the masses. In these areas each village exemplifies a commune called ‘rmaq’ or ‘sharba’ in balti. Nearly in all the villages in Baltistan, the commune or the ‘sharba’ or ‘rmaq’ keeps and maintains law and order and also resolve disputes within them. Issues are taken up before the assembly comprising of all the adult members of the village. There are village elders too who are nominal leaders of the commune (called ‘Trangpa’ (ཏརང་པ་།)in balti) who takes decisions regarding all the issues that are taken up in the commune. Both the parties are allowed to present their arguments and verdict is given with the majority’s decision. Moreover, ‘Sharba’ or ‘Rmaq’ own lands, cattle, fruits or timber-tree nurseries in every village of Baltistan. All the assets are collectively cared and managed. Even more, the alpine pastures where the villagers keep their animals for the whole summer are entirely managed by the ‘Sharba’ or ‘Rmaq’. The sheds on these high altitude pastures are called ‘kh-lass’ (ཀལའས་།) which are constructed and repaired collectively by the ‘sharba’ or ‘rmaq’ whenever need arises. The commune system in most villages is very strong to include all the villagers in the decision-making. Thus, the communism or the collective ownership of the resources was enshrined in the social and cultural life of baltis.

The most important and significant historical development in the epoch of Baltistan that altered and influenced the socio-cultural as well as political future was when the local ‘maqpoon’ (མཀ་པོའན་།) dynasty ascended to the throne. Moqpoon dynasty of Baltistan was the greatest of dynasties that established in the balti speaking areas located in Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan as well as Indian held parts of Kashmir. Ali Sher khan ‘Anchan’(ཨན་ཅན་།) or ‘the might’ being the most successful of all, expanding his territory to Chitral in the West, Tibet border to the North, and Kargil to the East. According to Yousuf Hussainabadi in his ‘tareek-e-baltistan’, the word ‘maqpoon’ is derived from a word ‘rmaq’. He gives the account of how the first maqpoon Raja (Ibrahim, which Hussainabadi thinks as a non-balti warrior from Middle East) get to the throne, which indeed cohorts with the etymology of the word ‘rmaq’. Giving the detail of the event Hussainabadi narrates that the when Ibrahim reached Skardu after the collapse of Fatmid dynasty of Egypt, the social conditions of the present Baltistan were worse. The people of the area were oppressed and brutally ruled by the rulers. So, the people found a warrior in Ibrahim to lead a revolt from the side of the ‘rmaq’ or ‘the people’. The attempt to dethrone met with success and the ‘rmaqpa’ Ibrahim (the people’s Ibrahim) become the new Raja with the assent of the people. Ibrahim was throned at a rock nearby not in the royal Palace, signifying true spirit of revolution and hope for the people’s rule. However, later ‘maqpoon’ became the most powerful ruling family in the history of Baltistan till the arrival of Dogras. Though the rmaqpi or communal nature extinguished politically, its social manifestation survived through the ages till now within the Balti community. These facts depict the presence of strong communal society based on economic justice and equality, thus forming a sustainable society.

The author is an activist. 

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