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A letter from Sūrya Vikrama Jñavālī to Baḍā Kājī Marīca Māna Siṃha re the abolition of slavery (CE 1925)

ID: HDNB_0001_0022

Edited and translated by Axel Michaels in collaboration with Manik Bajracharya and Rajan Khatiwoda
Created: 2018-07-09; Last modified: 2018-10-29
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Published by Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities: Documents on the History of Religion and Law of Pre-modern Nepal, Heidelberg, Germany, 2018. Published by the courtesy of Walter Rindfleisch, Munich. All use of the digital facsimiles requires prior written permission by the copyright holder. See Terms of Use.
The accompanying edition, translation/synopsis and/or commentary are available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License CCby-SA.


This is a letter from Sūrya Vikrama Jñavālī of Darjeeling to baḍā kājī Marīca Māna Siṃha concerning the abolition of slavery in Nepal. The letter praises Candra Śamśera's declaration of slavery emancipation and provides some suggestions regarding management and recruit of freed slaves.

Diplomatic edition


123rd January 1925

1My dear Bada Kaji Sahib
2I am in receipt of your letter dated the 20th December 1924.
3I had been away from Darjeeling and have just come back to Benares
4hence the delay in replying it in time.
5First of all I want to offer my heartiest congratulations
6to His Highness the maharaja Sir Chandra Shumshere Jung Bahadur
for his wise decision to abolish slavery in Nepal. During his
8long reign His Highness has ina⟪u⟫gurated many reforms in Nepal
9and has done many good things, but this act of His Highness is un
10paralelled, unique and the greatest of them all for which he will be remem
11bered in ages to come by generations of Nepalese as a great ruler who
12had the courage and boldness to do away with with a barbarous system
13under which thousands of God's own sons and daughters were bought and
14sold like chattels and kept in perpetual bondage. The desire of His
15Highness to spend any amount of money to get rid the cruelty of the
26sinful system of slavery is worthy of the cause and laudable and
17I am sure His Highness will get full support and sympathy in this
18from the thinking section of the community. Of course slave
19owners and those who desire benefit from this obnoxious system
20will dislike and oppose the measure and bring forward all sorts
21of objections against it, but the opinion of vested interest cannot


22carry same weight as that of those who think independently
23and without any prejudice.
24I understand that even after payment by government to them,
25slave owners will allowed to retain their slaves for seven years.
26If this is true, I am against it. I fully realise that for some time
27after emancipation of slaves, slaves owners of our Pahad Khand1
28who utilise slave labour in their agriculture will suffer, as the
29labouring class which is almost the same as our military class
30has been considerably diminished or rendered useless on account
31of the last European war. Still after a most careful consideration
32I have come to the conclusion that once emancipated present slaves
33should be free in all respects and their owners should not be legally
34allowed to exercise any kind of authority over them. It is better to
35suffer pain for a while, however secure it may be during operation
36than to allow an ulcer to spread its virus in the blood.
37The next thing to be considered in this connection is how
38these emancipated slaves will carry on their livelihood. I hear
39that Government has set apart a forest which will be cleared
40and they will be settled there 2 . It seems to me that agriculture
41alone is not sufficient. They must have some op⟪p⟫ortunity to work
42and earn their bread in their own country. I suggest that Government
43should take up construction of roads, bridges, public buildings, canals
44etc. in the Raj 3 and employ them. A few battalions of ex slaves
45can also be raised in the Nepal Army and they may be taken
46in Police as well.
47During my recent visit to our Terai I found that people
48specially those of Pahad were dissatisfied with the proposal.
49This is due to ignorance and I believe that when they will know
50the evils of slavery they will hate it and gladly help in its
51abolition even if they would be put to pecuniary loss and great
53inconvenience. So I will suggest a publicity propaganda among
53the people by Government. Literature depicting the evils of
54slavery should be distributed among them and lectures organised
55to explain them why this has got to go root and branch.
56Let me once more thank His Highness before finishing


57this letter for his wise and statesmanlike decision and I hope very soon
58all slaves of Nepal whom we had unjustly forcibly and cruelly kept
59in bondage will receive their freedom which is their birth-right.
60I have not received a copy of the speech of His Highness which
61you promised to send in your last letter. I will stay here up to the
62end of February and my address is noted above where you will kindly
63send that speech and obligi.
64yours faithfully,
65श्री Surya Bikram Gewali



In this letter to the baḍā kājīMarīca Māna Siṃha, Sūrya Vikrama Jñavālī praises Candra Śamśera for his wise decision to abolish slavery and provides some suggestions regarding the management of slaves after their emancipation. Jñavālī opposes the idea that even after payment the owners would be allowed to retain their slaves for seven years, and opines that the owners should not be legally allowed to exercise any kind of legal authority over freed slaves.4 . He shows his concerns regarding how the emancipated slaves will carry on their livelihood and mentions that he heard of government’s plan to clear a forest and settle the slaves there. He suggests that the freed slaves should not only do the agriculture, but also be allowed to work in their own country, and that they should be hired on the construction works and that a battalion of ex slaves can be raised in the Nepal army or in the Police. He speculates the dissatisfaction of the pahāḍī slave owners in the Terai because there would be shortage of laborers upon freeing the slaves. To tackle this, he suggests that literature regarding the evils of slavery should be distributed, and lectures be organized.


This is a copy of a letter found in a bound book which contains copies of several documents, mostly correspondences by and to Candra Śamśera who ruled as the prime minster of Nepal from 1901 to 1929. The first 130 pages of the book contains documents relating to the slavery abolition by the prime minister. The current document lies in pages 14-16 and a receipt of the letter by Marīca Māna Siṃha is found in page 17.

Sūrya Vikrama Jñavālī (1898-1985), born in Benaras and educated and lived in Darjeeling, was a renown historian. He moved to Nepal in 1950s. He was the chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy for five years. He also wrote biographies of Dravya Śāha, Rāma Śāha, Pṛthvīnārāyaṇa Śāha, Bhānubhakta Ācārya and so on (cf. T. Śarmā VS 2056: 125).


1. I.e., Nepalese hilly region. []

2. This refers to Amalekhganj. []

3. I.e., the Gorkha Raj. []

4. Candra Śamśera had proposed this in his appeal of 28th November 1924. The appeal reads: "The slaves, freed from the fixed date, are to be apprenticed to their former owners for a period of seven years: that is, the slaves should be bound to labour for their masters, the latter in return providing them with food and clothing as at present" (C. S. Rana 1925:47). []