Dogra raj in Kashmir

“IT was the tendency of the Kashmiri Pandits to turn to India, with its comfortable Hindu majority, when in trouble in Kashmir that earned for them the honour of being secular nationalists. That they merely demanded protection of religiously conceptualised interests is obfuscated by an Indian nation that has not acknowledged the tenuous nature of its own secular credentials. In contrast, the Kashmiri Muslims’ demands for a similar protection of rights, denied to them as a religious community by both a Hindu Dogra and a ‘secular’ Indian state, has been all too easily misread as engaging in an illegitimate politics of religious fundamentalism. This duality in nationalist treatment is born, in the ultimate analysis, of the fact that Kashmiri Muslims have, by and large, chosen to tread a path all their own and certainly one that leads them neither to Delhi nor to Islamabad. Above all, the clamour by Kashmir’s Muslims is for a legitimate government. It is the helplessness in which they were placed first by their Dogra rulers and then by Indian politicians, each neglecting to negotiate their legitimacy with the popular constituency of Kashmir, that has provoked a militant response” (Mridu Rai, Hindu Rulers and Muslim Subjects, Permanent Black, 2004, page 297.)

A calculated campaign

This accomplished scholar, who teaches history at Yale University, accurately summed up the situation that has been prevailing in Kashmir all these years. Two fundamental changes since the book was published in 2004 have rendered the situation even more bleak. India’s “secular credentials” are rejected by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) government which came to power at the Centre in 2014. In the same year its State unit in Jammu and Kashmir won power under a deal with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. It has since begun making demands it could never have dared to make before. One of them is that the birthday of the last Dogra ruler, Hari Singh, be declared a public holiday. His son and successor, Karan Singh, endorsed it, predictably. On October 1, Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member, called for Kashmir’s “complete integration” with India. On October 22, Karan Singh’s son, Vikramaditya Singh, resigned from the People Democratic Party (PDP) for neglecting Hari Singh’s record. The BJP next demanded that October 26, the day Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India, be declared a public holiday. For the last nearly 30 years, Kashmir has observed a complete shutdown on that day.

It is a calculated campaign whose objective is to reverse the march of history since 1947 and restore Hindu Raj, which was what Dogra Raj spelt in the State.

The Dogra dynasty is justly hated and despised for its sordid record since the Dogra Gulab Singh bought Kashmir for Rs.75 lakh in 1846 from the East India Company under the Treaty of Amritsar. He accomplished this through treachery to his masters, the Sikh rulers in Lahore, in collusion with the British. Conceived in treachery, Dogra rule was established by military force. Gulab Singh, who had joined Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army in 1809, was made Raja of Jammu in 1822 as a reward for his services.

The history of the times written by Captain Amrinder Singh in The Last Sunset: The Rise and Fall of the Lahore Darbar and Khushwant Singh in A History of the Sikhs contains ample documentation of the crime. The latter calls Gulab Singh “unscrupulous”. As Sikh rule declined, he made a secret pact with the British to prevent “the Dogras from joining the Punjabis” in war. Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz records how he performed this role in the war in 1845 (The History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir, page 121). “The treaty was enforced with British arms. Sheikh Imamuddin, the Governor of Kashmir appointed by the Sikh rulers, refused to hand over the valley of Kashmir to Gulab Singh. British troops had to be sent to instal him as ruler of Kashmir.” The 1929 edition of C.U. Aitchison’s Treaties says: “Thus Gulab Singh owed not only his title to Kashmir, but his actual possession of it, wholly to the support of British power.”

Joseph Davey Cunningham describes Gulab Singh’s investiture as sovereign of his new territories on March 15, 1846. “He stood up, and with joined hands, expressed his gratitude to the British Viceroy—adding without, however, any ironical meaning, that he was indeed Zurkharid, or gold-boughten slave.” Gulab Singh was not the founder of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. It was the East India Company. Over his protest an Officer on Special Duty was sent to the State as early as in 1852.

Robert A. Hultenback’s Kashmir and the British Raj 1847-1947 contains damning material on the Dogras. The Viceroy Lord Lytton wrote to London on February 25, 1880. “The people are systematically oppressed and depressed; the administration thoroughly rotten; the land settlement vicious; the officials corrupt and unscrupulous; and their pay in arrears. …I consider the time has come when we must decisively intervene for the rescue of a perishing population on whose behalf we certainly contracted moral obligations and responsibilities when we handed them over to the uncontrolled rule of a power alien to them in face and creed, and representing no civilisation higher than theirs.”

“Lord Cranbrook, the Secretary of State for India, tended to agree with the Viceroy. He was incensed at the treatment of the Muslim population by the Hindu Dogras, ‘It is true,’ he admitted, ‘that we are not directly responsible, but we have relations with Cashmere which would justify strong interference with their enormities and the use of a tone which ought to have its effect…. We ought to have influence to prevent the annihilation of a race whose only crime is a different religion from that of the powers in authority….’ ”

On May 23, 1885, Secretary of State for India Lord Kimberley supported the proposals for internal reform in Kashmir: “It may, indeed, be a question, whether having regard to the circumstances under which the sovereignty of the country was entrusted to the present Hindoo ruling family, the intervention of the British government on behalf of the Mahommedan population had not already been too long delayed…”

Josef Korbel, the Czech member of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan, wrote in his acclaimed book Danger in Kashmir: “The land was mostly owned by the Maharaja or the Hindu landowners. The Muslims, toiling on their land, had to pay such high taxes that economic crises bordering on starvation became more or less a regular affair. … Not the least of his idle pleasures was his persecution of the Muslims, and to his underlings he gave his blessing for their slaughter. …

“In 1850 the Maharaja expressed the wish that the Kashmiris return to the faith of their forefathers and wanted to reconvert them en masse to Hinduism, but the high priests of Hinduism at Benares refused to give their blessing to the plan.”

Neglect and exploitation

Gulab Singh was succeeded in 1857 by Ranbir Singh. His rule was followed by that of Pratap Singh in 1885. Because of court intrigue growing out of the fact that the Maharaja had no son to succeed him, the British replaced his rule temporarily by a council in 1889. “But despite such reforms (continuing down to the last few years) the life of the Kashmiris remained saga of poverty and oppression. Everything and everybody was taxed. Production of silk, saffron, paper, tobacco, wine, and salt, as well as the sale of grain, was the monopoly of the state. The State police ruled mercilessly. For minor offences people were thrown in jail, often without trial. As late as the 1920s it was a capital offence for a Muslim to kill a cow; later, the penalty was reduced to ten years of imprisonment and still later to seven years (Section 219 of Ranbir Penal Code).

“Little was done by the Dogra ruler for the health and welfare of the people. According to the 1941 census 93.4 per cent of the population was illiterate. In 1939 there was one boys’ primary school for every 66 square miles and for every 3,850 people, and one girls’ school for every 467 square miles and 25,670 persons. One state college existed in the whole country. About 60 per cent of the peasants had holdings of about 16 kanals (two acres) each. Their net annual income was 74-8-0 rupees (about $17) per family and 10-10-3 rupees (about $2.50) per head. The rest of the peasant population was landless. As late as 1944-1945 the per capita income was only 11 rupees (about $3.00). Out of this sum people had to pay taxes of around 21 cents per head. Although the Maharaja’s court spent four million rupees, and five million rupees went to the army, only 3.6 million rupees were spent on the public health, agriculture, industries, roads, irrigation, and education” (pages 13-16). So much for “development”.

Hari Singh succeeded Pratap Singh in 1925. Lord Birdwood, who knew him personally, wrote: “Maharaja Sir Hari Singh remained in apparent indifference to the welfare of his people throughout the twenty-three years of his rule. While his own detachment contributed to the final debacle, we should remember that he inherited a system of taxation and land revenue which allowed the barest margin of subsistence to the Moslem Kashmiri. The production of silk, saffron, paper, tobacco, wine and salt was a state monopoly. An ad valorem duty of 85 per cent was levied on all woollen manufacture. The incidence of land taxation was still three times that levied in the neighbouring Punjab. The Maharaja by virtue of the Treaty of Amritsar was not only Sovereign Ruler over his domain but owned the land. Carpenters, boatmen, butchers, bakers, even prostitutes were taxed. Until 1934 the slaughter of a useless cow was a capital offence. The issue of arms licences was limited to Hindus” (Two Nations and Kashmir, page 31).

Alastair Lamb’s careful account says: “In every aspect of the State’s life there was discrimination against the Muslim majority and the application of legislation expressly designed to favour Hindus. Until 1934, for example, the slaughter of cows was a capital offence; and it continued to be forbidden under lesser penalty after that date. The administration of the State was dominated at all levels by the Pandits, Kashmiri Brahmins, who were notoriously corrupt and avaricious. Muslims were in practice severely disadvantaged by the education system which began to develop in the State in the first years of the 20th century. Hindus, alone, were allowed licenses to possess firearms in the Vale of Kashmir; and Muslims from the Vale were carefully excluded from service in the State’s Armed Forces where the higher ranks were reserved for Dogra Rajputs. Muslim troops in the Jammu and Kashmir State forces (usually with Dogra officers) were mainly recruited from the Sudhans of Poonch, a military clan which the Maharaja believed could be relied upon to suppress any disorder in the Vale. The State did not hesitate to interfere with many aspects of Muslim religious life including the administration of Islamic shrines.”

In 1929, Sir Albion Bannerji, who had been Member of the Council of State, resigned on grounds that he made public: “Jammu and Kashmir State is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Muhammadan population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages and practically governed like dumb driven cattle. There is no touch between the government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievances and the administrative machinery itself requires overhauling from top to bottom to bring it up to the modern conditions of efficiency. It has at present no sympathy with the people’s wants and grievances” (Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, pages 84 and 88.)

Bazaz is more candid: “The people of Kashmir consider the Maharaja as an alien ruler” (Inside Kashmir, page 90). “The Dogras were not like those alien masters who came in the past and lived in the Valley as its permanent inhabitants. The Dogras have always considered Jammu as their home and Kashmir as the conquered country. As we shall presently see they established a sort of Dogra imperialism in the State in which the Dogras were elevated to the position of the masters and all non-Dogra communities and classes were given the humble places of inferiors. The people of the Valley were thus brought under the imperialism of the Dogras which itself was functioning as a vassal of the super-imperialism of the British. … Under Hari Singh’s rule Kashmiris began to be suppressed in many ways by the Dogras as had not been done before during the time of his predecessors. …

“The poverty of the Muslim masses was appalling. Dressed in rags which could hardly hide his body and barefooted, a Muslim peasant presented the appearance rather of a starving beggar than of one who filled the coffers of the State. He worked laboriously in the fields during the six months of the summer to pay the state its revenues and taxes, the officials their rasum and the money-lender his interest. Most of them were landless labourers working as serfs of the absentee landlords. They hardly earned as their share of the produce enough for more than three months. For the rest they had to earn by other means. … Almost the whole brunt of the official corruption had been borne by the Muslim masses.

“In the countryside the Muslim was synonymous with the hewer of wood and drawer of water. All sort of dirty and menial work was to be done by him. A Hindu was respectable in the eyes of the society, and the Muslim, because he was a Muslim, was looked down upon as belonging to an inferior class” (Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir, pages 127, 141, 144).

Chapter IV of Robert Thorp’s Cashmere Misgovernment (published by Gulshan Books, Srinagar, edited by S.M. Hassnain, price Rs.450) is a thorough exposure of Dogra misrule. He records how the regime even gave licences to “State prostitutes”. In 1880, the Maharaja received 15-20 per cent of the revenues of his State from the earnings of his licensed prostitutes. Which other State had such a regime?

As Mridu Rai remarks, “The litmus test for the sovereignty of non-Muslim rulers in pre-colonial India was the issue of the ‘sacred’ cow and its slaughter. To allow it was considered an abdication of sovereignty.”

E.F. Knight, who visited the Valley in 1891, wrote: “Until recently the killing of that sacred animal was punishable with death. Imprisonment for life is now penalty, and many an unfortunate Muhammadan, I believe, is lying immured in Hari Parbat because in that time of famine he has ventured to kill his own ox to save himself and his family from starvation.

“We find that apart from imprisonment, severe fines were imposed upon the people who were suspected to be involved in cow slaughter. Even sometimes the Dogra police burned some localities, wherein it was understood that hathai was committed, to ashes. Chakpath [a village near modern Anantnag] is still commemorative of the destruction caused by the Dogra police to those inhabitations whose inhabitants were found involved in slaughter of cows, oxen or buffaloes” (Where Three Empires Meet, page 115).

1947 massacre

In 1947, Hari Singh presided over the ethnic cleansing, rather genocide, of his own subjects, the Muslims of Jammu. This gory episode is documented beyond doubt. None other than Mahatma Gandhi lamented on November 27, 1947: “This has not been fully reported in the newspapers” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 90, page 115). It was, and still is, little known in India. Gandhi said on December 25, 1947: “The Hindus and Sikhs of Jammu and those who had gone there from outside killed Muslims there. The Maharaja of Kashmir is responsible for what is happening there…. Muslim women have been dishonoured”

In 1947, Hari Singh presided over the ethnic cleansing, rather genocide, of his own subjects, the Muslims of Jammu. This gory episode is documented beyond doubt. None other than Mahatma Gandhi lamented on November 27, 1947: “This has not been fully reported in the newspapers” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 90, page 115). It was, and still is, little known in India. Gandhi said on December 25, 1947: “The Hindus and Sikhs of Jammu and those who had gone there from outside killed Muslims there. The Maharaja of Kashmir is responsible for what is happening there…. Muslim women have been dishonoured” (ibid, page 298).

In 1947, Muslims were in a 61 per cent majority in the Jammu province. Horace Alexander wrote in Spectator (January 16, 1948) that the killings had “the tacit consent of State authority” and put the figure at 200,000. On August 10, 1948, The Times (London) published a report by “A Special Correspondent”, an Indian Civil Service official who had served in the State. He wrote: “2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated—unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border—by all the forces of the Dogra State, headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the first Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.” The Muslim population of Jammu fell from 61 per cent to 38 per cent.

In 1971, Hari Singh’s complicity was fully exposed by the publication of Jawaharlal Nehru’s letter of December 30, 1947, and Sheikh Abdullah’s letter of October 7, 1948, both addressed to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, significantly (Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, Volume 1, 1971, pages 135 and 237).

Political games

The demands to declare Hari Singh’s birthday and October 26 public holidays are conceived in that disruptive spirit. Kashmiris cannot possibly accept a communal despot as a hero. They find the entire Dogra dynasty from Gulab Singh downwards a bunch of unscrupulous oppressors imposed on them by the British for their own ends. Men like Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz and D.P. Dhar and many Kashmiri Pandits supported Sheikh Abdullah’s revolt against the last Dogra oppressor, Hari Singh. The BJP knows that the demand is an impossible one and would be rejected. So much the better—the State will be split. This is where the Muftis’ sordid betrayal of Kashmir has landed the people. With Articles 370 and 35A under challenge, Kashmir faces an existential threat which it is beyond Mehbooba Mufti’s capacity to meet.

The BJP is not aiming at the collapse of the coalition, which suits it fine with the Centre leading its partner, the PDP (created by A.B. Vajpayee), to its death. The party is over. Once power is lost, its principles will be nowhere while the BJP is strengthening its constituency in Jammu.

The PDP eliminated, New Delhi will deal with the National Conference alone. The crafty Farooq Abdullah, sidelining Omar, has taken command. An emotional Farooq now flamboyantly hoists the autonomy flag while taking care not to alienate the Centre. But he has seniors who will not permit the kind of abasement that characterises the Muftis’ political culture.




Excerpted from a piece published in Frontline

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