Early in the morning of November 22, 1868, a body was recovered from Srinagar. It was later identified as that of Robert Thorp. Poisoning, people believed, was the cause of death. Thorp was laid to rest at the Christian cemetery at Sheikh Bagh. It took the locals some time to realize that with his death, a strong voice had fallen silent. Kashmiris had lost a savior.
His epitaph reads: “Obit – Robert Thorp – Veritas: He gave his life for Kashmir.”
Robert Thorp, a young British Army officer, had arrived in Kashmir as a tourist in 1865. His mother, Jana, was a Kashmiri and lived with her family at Sugan Yarinar in the Budgam district. His father, E Thorp, was an officer in the British army and would come to Jana’s village very often, and one day, saw her while she was tending her herd. He fell in love.
Jana belonged to an orthodox Muslim family and Thorp knew the affair would not mature into a long-lasting relationship unless he embraced Islam. Jana’s relative, Habibullah Teli, was a soldier in the British army. Thorp approached him, and he gave his consent to their marriage.
Jana’s descendents, who still live in the area, say that Thorp embraced Islam and the marriage was solemnized near a rock in the village. Jana’s husband took her to England. After some time Robert Thorp was born.
Robert had heard, from his mother, stories about Kashmir’s beauty and the suffering of its people. He was desperate to visit this land, and in 1865, he did.
Foreigners required permission of the British authorities to enter Kashmir. They could not stay in the Valley for more than two months at that time. Twenty-seven-year-old Thorp stayed longer to study the appalling condition of the people of his mother’s birthplace.
He was shocked to see their miserable plight, and took it upon himself to inform and educate the British people about the situation in Kashmir, by writing to the British Press without caring for the consequences.
Thorp felt the British were responsible for the plight of the Kashmiris, as it was they who had sold it to the Maharaja under the “Treaty of Amritsar.” He traveled across the Valley collecting information and investigating..
Later, he published a book, Kashmir Misgovernment, and dedicated it to the people who, according to him “do not approve of cruelties upon human beings, and to those who are exalted from the moral, religious and social point of view and do not like oppression.”
This brought him trouble, and he was ordered to leave Kashmir. Undeterred, Thorp returned to Srinagar on November 21, 1868, and the next morning, after his breakfast, he died, possibly because of poisoning.
He was found dead on the Koh-e-Suleman.
But very few people know about Thorp and his supreme sacrifice for Kashmir.
A memorial to him would be a tribute to this unsung soldier.