By Mohamad Ashraf Khwaja
Kashmir mysteriously became a part of the newly created state of Jammu and Kashmir through the so-called ‘Treaty of Amritsar’ on 16th March 1846, signed between the British and Dogra, Raja Gulab Singh. The whole valley and its two million souls were sold in lieu of a paltry sum of 75 lakh rupees (nanakshahi). Strangely enough, the wholesale sordid transaction of Kashmiris was ratified at a place hundreds of miles away from Kashmir and without consulting a single Kashmiri native by the two parties. Prem Nath Bazaz remarks that it was ‘a sordid shameful affair devoid of all sense of fairness, justice and equity’. The people unpleasantly got shocked because the whole valley was sold to a person who was a total stranger and alien to its people. The valley and its population was commodified and sold in a manner worse than that of slaves.
The boundaries of the state were redrawn more for geopolitical and administrative convenience rather than on the basis of commonality shared by the people living here. This infamous transaction was given the color of a ‘treaty’ by the people who are known to the world for their liberalism, democratic values, fair play and sense of justice; who had abolished tyrannical and despotic monarchies in their own homeland and established in their place a democratic political system, making Great Britain the mother of parliamentary democracy. It was the same nation that gloated over its democratic credentials and ‘white man’s burden’ but handed over Kashmir to a tyrannical, despotic chieftain in lieu of some cash.
The Treaty, consisting of ten articles, has since been contested by various historians, scholars, philosophers and poets for its brazenness and inhumanity. The ruler was virtually absolved from any responsibility towards his subjects. There was no mention whatsoever of the rights, interests or the future of the people who were sold like sheep and cattle to an alien adventurer. As soon as this ‘fateful 16th day of March’ passed, the Dogra Raja along with his fanatical ministers and rapacious officials ushered in a reign of terror in the valley. Taxes were levied exorbitantly and almost everything for collection of the amount to be paid for the sale deed. It was no surprise for the ruler to give Kashmiri Muslims, who happened to be around 93% of the population according to Lawrence, the treatment of the “Other”. It may be because the Dogra Raja considered Kashmir a purchased property, unlike the Jammu region which he had acquired as a jagir from Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab in 1920. Subsequently, Kashmiri’s were subjected to grave miseries and became the victims of this sale deed over a long century. The life of Kashmiri Muslims was under the dual imperialism of British and Dogras that of derivation, pain and suffering. Western accounts of this period call it ‘horrible’.
There were even few British writers like Robert Thorp, Colonel Torrens, William Digby, Wakefield and Arthur Brinkman who denounced this ‘treaty’ in harsh words while depicting the plight of Kashmiris. They wrote and endorsed that the British were very selfish while making this controversial bargain and deliberately sold millions of human beings into absolute power of one of the meanest, most avaricious, cruel, and unprincipled of men that ever sat upon a throne. It was not only the ignorant and incapable ruler imposed upon the people but a crowd of rapacious and unprincipled ministers, courtiers, hangers on of every grade who descended upon Kashmiris like a flock of hungry vultures and swept away the prosperity and happiness of its people.
However, one can hardly believe that Lawrence who is still known to elderly folk of Kashmiris as ‘Lawrence sahib or Bandobast sahb’ endorsed the sale of Kashmiris by writing in his book ‘The India We Served’ that it was very fortunate for British to sold Kashmir to the Dogras. Consequently, what followed after this treaty is a tragic story of grave oppression, slavery, turmoil, loot, plunder, genocide and what not. The valley of Kashmir from the day one was looked upon as the purchased property and Dogra rulers and officials left no stone unturned to gain as many returns as possible from their bloody investments. Arther Brinkman writes that Kashmir became ‘the scene of vile oppression, abominable misrule and remained downtrodden and trampled. The new ‘imposed’ autocratic ruler confiscated all previously held jagirs and dispossessed Kashmiri peasants by establishing harsh and unjust economic policies. P.L. Lakhanpal writes that The ‘Sale Deed’ of 16th March 1846, ‘put a largely populated Muslim state under the Dogra rule which has been characterised as despotic, tyrannical and sectarian in nature. Allama Iqbal who was deeply moved by the pathetic and helpless state of Kashmiris saw this ‘treaty’ as a highly contemptible and mortifying document by means of which ‘the farmer, his farm, the rivers, the garden and jungles, the whole lot including a nation, were sold and sold so cheaply’.
The Dogras after this treaty’ adopted such methods of governance which kept the majority of Kashmiris in constant fear so that none could muster the courage to raise even a whimper. To perpetuate their rule without any resistance, the Dogras bruised the psyche of people and reduced them to a state of utter helplessness. Alluding to this, Lawrence writes that a Kashmiri possessed ‘both intellectual and moral characteristics which command respect and admiration were transformed into what his rulers have made him’. However, Francis Younghusband, who has a message that even applies to contemporary history of Kashmir, contested this narrative by stating that, in spite of splendid Mughals, brute pathans, bullying Sikhs and rude Dogras, the Kashmiris ever remained the same-the conquerors came in hordes but they scarcely touched the soul of people.
This infamous ‘treaty’ strengthened the system of Begar which assumed alarming dimensions after it was signed. Every year , thousands of helpless Muslim subjects were compelled at the point of bayonet to carry military supplies on their backs to Gilgit and Askardu. All the non-Muslims were exempted. The name Gilgit thus became synonymous with terror for the Muslim population. No provision was made for them as they crossed the snow passess; many died on the roads. The most shameless part of begar was that when those of the people who had survived and reached Gilgit, were sold as slaves to the wild inhabitants of that inhospitable region. The height of oppression was such that ‘people were exchanged even for animals like dogs’, writes Tyndale Biscoe. Zareef Ahmad Zareef writes that a process of ‘enforced disappearances’ started by Dogras in Kashmir was existent even up to the late nineties of the past century in different forms.
This ‘treaty’ led to the moral and cultural degradation of Kashmir and the women were the worst victims. Molestation of women was a punishment. Prostitution was legalized during the Dogra period and state got 25% revenue out of this inhuman trade. The prostitute women were neither allowed to change their profession nor could they leave the state. Cow killing was an offence punishable by death. Even the catching of fish was banned and when people started dying of starvation they sought a substitute for their usual food in the fish of their rivers; they were met by a stern interdiction from their rulers.
Discrimination on social, racial and religious grounds was the cornerstone of the political system of the Dogra rulers in Kashmir. Economically downtrodden, morally quashed and politically suppressed, the Muslims of Kashmir were also educationally backward and this policy appears to have been deliberately followed by the Dogras with a view to keep government services out of their reach.
So long as the Kashmiris remained under the foreign domination of Dogras supported by the British, they had never been better than slaves. The alien Dogra rulers often invoked this ‘treaty’ to establish their legitimacy and to perpetuate the notion of their superior ownership as the ‘treaty’ conferred upon them both de jure and de facto property. Kashmiri became alien to his own self and this self-estrangement engulfed him to such an extent that he left his own being to the mercy of nature. The ‘treaty of 16th March’, therefore, uprooted the demographic structure of Kashmir without any positive impact.
Besides, de-industrializing and de-humanizing the majority Muslim population of the state, Dogras sowed the seeds of communal politics and watered it with religious fervor and ethnic ‘Otherness’. The vicious fruits of this communal environment only ripened and mushroomed after the end of their rule. Under Dogras, the centuries old inclusive, tolerant and pluralistic political culture of the Kashmir was poisoned to such an extent that the state was shaped on the lines of supposedly incongruous ethnic and religious identities. The contemporary narratives shaping inter-regional tensions in the state are to a large extent impacted by the divisive and communal history scripted by the Dogras.
The treaty laid the foundation of the Dogras who ruled state for almost a century. Unlike other previous dynastic regimes when the Dogra rule ended with the lapse of the British paramountcy in 1947, the last Dogra despot, Hari Singh, resold Kashmir to India under mysterious circumstances, yet again without seeking the slightest consent of its dissenting population. Now, it was termed as the Instrument of Accession. Ironically, Kashmir was resold at a time when the British were promising ‘popular’ consent as the source of new political arrangements for upcoming independent dominions of India and Pakistan.
—Thee author is a PhD Research Scholar at the Aligarh Muslim University and can be reached at [email protected]