Remembering the past – skudsmaalsbog

I was looking through some personal papers recently, and came across these two small books

Skudsmaalsbog

The skudsmaalsbog of my great-grandparents

They belonged to my Danish great-grandparents, and each is a skudsmaalsbog, which contained information about their employment history.

Title page of skudsmaalbog

Title page of the skudsmaalsbog

Until 1921, servants and other workers had to have a skudsmaalsbog, which had to be signed by employers when they left the job. Without such a signature, you couldn’t get a new job. You also had to present it to officials if you moved from one parish to another. If someone lost their skudsmaalsbog, they had to report it to the police immediately, or face a fine. After it was reported lost, an investigation would take place, and if it was found to be lost intentionally, they would get fined.

§3. Forkommer en Skudsmaalsbog, skal Tyendet under Bøder af indtil 5 Rdl. Ufortøvet anmelde det for Politiet, som derpaa bar et undersøge, hvorledes Bogen er forkommen. Er dette skeet forsætligen af Tyendet bør det bøde fra 5 til 20 Rdl. Derhos bør Tyendet anskaffe sig en ny Skudsmaalbog, hvilken i dette Tilfælde saavel paa Landet som i Kjøbstæderne udleveres af Politiøvrigheden. Den nye Skudsmaalsbog bør paa Landet inden 4 Dage forevises Sognepræsten under Bøder af indtil 10 Rdl.

Above is the lawtext (in Danish) explaining how much you’d get fined if you loose the book intentionally or without reporting it.

Until 1867, the employer was supposed to write the dates of employment and the wage, and could write an evaluation of the employee If an employer lied about the employee, either by praising them or criticizing them falsely, they faced a fine.

§5. Enhver Huusbond skal, forinden et Tyende forlader hans Tjeneste, indføre i dets Skudsmaalsbog, fra og til hvilken Tid Tyendet har tjent ham, samt i hvilken Egenskab.

Det beroer paa huusbonden, om han vil tilføie noget Vidnesbyrd om Tyendets Forhold i Tjenestetiden.

Den Huusbond, som mod bedre Vidende giver Tyendet et fordeelagtigt Skudsmaal, hvorved tredje Mand kan skuffes, skal ifølge Lovgigningens almindelige Grundsætninger staae den Skadelidende til Ansvar, og kan efter Omstændighederne dømmes i Bøder indtil 20 Rdl.

Giver Huusbonden i Skudsmaalsbogen Tyendet et ufordeelagtigt Vidnesbyrd, som kan være det hinderligt i at faae nye Tjenester, og han ikke kan tilveiebringe saadanne Oplysninger, som give antagelig Formodning for, at han har haft tilstrækkelig Grund dertil, skal han erstatte Tyendet den foraarsagede Skade og ansees med Straf, der bestemmes, hvis fornærmelige Beskyldninger ere fremførte, efter Lovene om Fornærmelser i Ord, og ellers til Bøder af Beløb indtil 20 Rdl.

After 1867, the employer was only allowed to write the dates of employment, the type of employment and the wage. 1867 was also the year where employers were no longer allowed to beat their servants and other employees. Employers were required to write the dates of employment, and would be punished with a fine if they didn’t. Since it wasn’t possible to get a new job without documentation of having ended the last one, this was not a trifling matter.

When a person moved between cities or parishes, they had to present it either to the police (in cities) or to the priest (in parishes), in the place they left, and in the place they move to. The police/priest would then update the rolls of the place, either removing or adding the person. They would also note in the book that they had been informed. When moving between cities and parishes, you only a short while to inform about the move – either 24 hours (in the cities) or 4 days (countyside) after arrival.

Tearing out pages, or making the entries unreadable in other ways, was punished by heavy fines and jail time.

Page in skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog, showing the entries, including the city stamp, when moving between cities.

Open skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog showing entires

The practice of people having to have a skudsmaalsbog continued until 1921, six years after the Danish constitution was changed, allowing women and people without a household to vote.

The last entry of my great-grandfather’s book was in 1901, and the last entry of my great-grandmother’s book was in 1903. This is probably when he got his own business, and when they got married – since my grandfather was born in 1904, the timing would be right.

A reversal of roles in India

India is a country with a huge problem with inequality between the rich and the poor. If you look at the list of countries by inequality-adjusted HDI, India appears as number 99 on the list. Much of this is caused by the caste system, but other related factors, such as widespread nepotism and corruption also plays in.

In an attempt to root out the problems of unaccounted wealth and corruption, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has scrapped the 500 and 1000 rupee notes overnight. People in possession of such notes, have to deposit them in banks by the end of December (though I have seen news reports, that indicate that the exchange might continue after this). Of course, the tax department is keeping a keen eye on these deposits, and any unaccounted money will be hit with taxes and a heavy fine.

Not everyone in India thinks this approach is the right one, but it does look like it has some effect:

For the first time in India, the rich beg the poor to help them

Driver Rahul Sharma, 25, remembers the exact day when his employer turned from a wolf into a lamb. It was November 9 when his employer called him  beta  – Hindi for “dear” – for the first time. The maid was asked to give him a cup of tea, for the first time.

“I was shocked at his sudden niceness. It went on for two days,” said Sharma. For the past three years, his New Delhi-based employer has been abusive, bad-tempered, and imperious, often demanding that he turn up for work at 6am after finishing work at midnight.

“He didn’t even bother to remember my name. When he wanted to summon me, he’d call out ‘driver!’,” Sharma said.

“On the third day, the penny dropped. He asked me to deposit 250,000 rupees ($4900) in my bank account on his behalf so that he could get rid of his black money.”

According to the article, a lot of poor people employed by rich Indians, are getting approached by their employers in order to help them whitewash their money. This certainly indicates that there is some kind of effect. I am cynical enough to think that the rich people will find ways around the barriers (if nothing else, then through bribery), but in the process, there might be some benefits for the poor.