By Tavoos Hassan Bhat
It’s said that most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history. It’s a well-known fact that people of Kashmir are being denied knowing and understanding their past, and this can be proved form the school text books which are completely silent on Kashmir history. Kashmir is well-known as only part of the whole subcontinent with an uninterrupted recorded history of more than five thousand years. Before the advent of Islam in Kashmir, the country was governed by Hindus and Buddhists and a majority of the population followed these two faiths.
Though there are enough debates being held on the political events after 1947 in the mainstream media but a usually important part of the Kashmir history, (Dogra rule) is generally ignored.
The oppressive Sikh rule (1819-1846) was still not completely over when the British sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh. The Treaty of Amritsar was signed on March 16, 1846, and by Article 1 of the treaty, Gulab Singh acquired “all the hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus including Kashmir and the westward of the River Ravi including Chamba; Under Article 3, Gulab Singh was to pay 75 lakhs (7.5 million) of Nanak Shahi rupees to the British Government, along with other annual tributes. The Treaty of Amritsar marked the beginning of Dogra rule in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. So Gulab Singh became the master of every movable and unmovable thing in whole state of Jammu and Kashmir. For a Kashmiri it was a scenario like out of the frying pan into the fire. As his freedom was long back taken away, when Mughal emperor Akbar annexed Kashmir in 1579 after arresting the last king of Kashmir, Yusuf Shah Chak, by deception and treachery, as Akbar was unable to subjugate Kashmiris militarily.
What followed in the Dogra rule was tyranny, a complete breakdown of social order, degeneration of moral values and continuous humiliation of the helpless Kashmiri people which is hard to imagine in our present times. Two Englishmen (Edward Frederick Knight and Walter Roper Lawrence) visited Kashmir during this period and they have portrayed the scenario in the Valley at that time in their books “Where Three Empires Meet (1895)” by Edward Frederick Knight and “The Valley of Kashmir (1895)” by Walter Lawrence. Both of these books mention hardship, abuses and suffering of the native Kashmiri population at the hands of rulers and government officials.
The firsthand account of the situation by these two Englishmen presents a very grim and heart breaking scenario. Native people, especially the cultivator class, were subjected to very harsh and inhumane treatment and two thirds of their agriculture produce was taken away by the state. Rampant corruption, extortion and harassment by government officials also increased the misery of native Kashmiris. As mentioned by Lawrence in his own words: “The peasants were overworked, half starved, treated with hard words and hard blows, subjected to unceasing exactions and every species of petty tyranny (P2)”. Even after working whole day in the farms, “before 1887 peasants rarely taste their beloved food, rice (P 4)”.
In addition to suffering from state tyranny two natural calamities happened around the same time, famine (1878) and cholera (1892); both of these natural calamities could have been averted had the state administration acted in good faith but due to corruption by government officials grains were stored and left to rot instead of being distributed to the hungry population; both of these writers agree on this. More than half of the population of Kashmir perished due to combined effects of state tyranny, huge taxation and natural calamities. Both of these writers have mentioned that they have observed completely deserted villages where people died of hunger, natural calamity or have migrated to pre partition Punjab.
Further, to make things worse for a native Kashmiri, a horrible practice of forced labor called Begar was also introduced in the Dogra rule. Kashmiris where forced to carry goods to Gilgit. The unfortunate people who were taken away from their homes by force used to die of hunger, thirst or cold and very few managed to return home alive. In his own words , Edward Frederick has said, “When a man is seized for Begar his wives and his children hang upon him , weeping , taking it almost that they will never see him more (P 68)” and “Gilgit is a name of terror throughout the state” (P 68).
Not only physical and emotional abuses, natives where even subjected to the lowest form of moral degradation. Prostitution was legalised and encouraged by the state as one third of the total state revenue was collected from this immoral trade. This is just a brief account of events in the Dogra period.
Yes, times have changed and Kashmir has seen a huge improvement in economic activities in the last six decades even in the midst of political instability due to improvement in the agriculture and horticulture sector. Unlike the rest of the subcontinent, where there is still a huge gap between poor and rich, Kashmiris have managed to distribute wealth almost equally within masses, and as a result we have a large middle class and just 4% incidence of poverty, one of the lowest in the whole subcontinent. At the same time, the population of Kashmir has also increased manifold. However, unemployment remains a major challenge and one of the reasons for unemployment is that is most of the workforce is not technically skilled.
The past suffering of our forefathers should always act as a unifying force and encourage us in remaining steadfast in achieving our goals. The current generation needs to work very hard to provide a suitable environment and education for the next generation so that they have better job opportunities and excel in their respective fields. This can be achieved by turning our society into a knowledge economy.
—The writer works in the healthcare sector in Abu Dhabi, UAE