Kashmir: The First Hindu Rashtra

Hindu Yuva Vahini Rally | Source: Internet

The author argues that even before the idea of a Hindu Rashtra was born in India, Kashmir was already transformed into a prototypical Hindu Rashtra by the Dogras.

The Mughal period (1586-1758) is seen as the ‘beginning of the end’ of an independent Kashmir and the Afghan period (1753-1819) is considered by many historians as an absolute end of Mulk-e-Kashmir. Afghans were rapacious and repressive against all the Kashmiris, irrespective of their cast, class or religion.

God wanted that this blue coloured land
Should tire of wailing like a reed’s heart
He gave its control to the Afghan,
He gave Jamshid’s garden to the demons.

(A poem written during the Afghan period)

The turbulent and oppressive rule of the Afghans was followed, in 1819, by the rule of the Sikhs. This is where the inception of the state that would go on to become the first ‘Hindu Rashtra’ but with a Muslim majority started. The Sikh governors deputed to administer Kashmir on behalf of Maharaja Ranjit Singh were cruel and inconsiderate. They followed anti-Muslim policies on Kashmir and subjected the majority of the Kashmiri population (95% Muslims) to a severe religious destitution. The second governor of the regime, Deewan Moti Ram, ordered the closure of the Jama Masjid in Srinagar to public prayer and forbade Muslims from saying the Azan from the mosques in the valley [something very similar was also done with Badshah Masjid (Lahore) which was turned into a stable]. He also declared cow-slaughter a crime which would be punished by death. The lands which were the property of shrines and mosques were acquired by the governors at the behest of the state. Mosques such as Pathar Masjid were also declared as the property of state and turned into grain stores, stone slabs from the Pathar Masjid were uprooted and used to create a flight of stairs on the banks of Basant Bagh. The rulers, thus, established a specifically anti-Muslim tone to their rule, this was however not with the aim of only harassing Muslims, they followed the same policy in all the lands they acquired with an aim to articulate a succinct ‘Sikh’ identity separate from that of the Mughals. All of this set a stage for the future Dogra dynasty which would begin ruling Kashmiris from 1846 with a stark Hindu identity and overt anti-Muslim policies, converting Kashmir into the first Hindu Rashtra of the world, unfortunately with majority of its subjects being Muslims.

The Kashmir Valley came under the Dogra rule (1846-1947) with the signing of treaty of Amritsar between Raja Ghulab Singh and the British, where the Vale of Cashmere was sold to the Raja like a commodity with right given to the purchaser to treat the inhabitants however he liked, like cattle.

Ghulab Singh declared, in 1846, that while there would be no active interference in the religious beliefs of the Muslims, as a Hindu ruler he would have to give priority to the religion of Hindus. The historians view this statement as an affirmation of the precedence of the ruler’s religion. However, initially Gulab Singh made his own locally expedient ‘compromises’ with groups of Muslims over certain minor issues, like saying of Azan, because he realized that he couldn’t rule a nation with majority of Mohammadens and grossly antagonize them when the boundaries of his newly acquired kingdom were still in flux. However, with passing of time Ghulab Singh became greatly anxious to be looked as a Hindu Raja and protector of the Hindu Dharma. He started inculcating the Hindu religion very fastidiously into his persona and the facade of the royal court. John Honigberger, a German physician, remarked that, “Gholab Singh, did not dine in company but took his meals alone… having previously passed an hour or two in preforming his ablutions and Pooja”. All of this was widely a part of the broadcast image as the Hindu King. Most significantly however, Gulab Singh endowed his rule with a framework of legitimacy drawn from Hinduism by building temples all over the valley and establishment of the institutions such as Dharmarth. The Dharmarth trust was established after a massive donation of 5 lakh rupees to the trust of Hindu priests and scholars. The main function of the trust was construction and repair of the temples and dissemination of the Hindu religion. A large number of temples were constructed throughout the state and a larger number were repaired throughout the Kashmir valley, especially at politically important sites such as Mattan, lying on the route to the Amarnath cave. Gulab Singh had made contributions to the Puramandal temple complex and to the Brahmans there by donating the ‘state’ land worth lakhs. There was installation of costly images and idols in temples all across Jammu. He spared no expenses in his drive for construction and beautification of the Hindu religious places, for instance close to 1 lakh rupees were spent on gliding the dome and cornices of a Shivala, placing in it numerous Shiv lingas which were brought from all the way from central India.

All this was happening while the Muslim religious places were dilapidated and lying in shambles. Gulab Singh may not have approved of the destruction of the Muslim religious structures but he was evidently reluctant to patronize them. However, there are documented testimonies of the Maulvis of that era claiming cruelty by the officers of state, one such testimony, from a Maulvi of Jama Masjid, goes on to mention that, ‘since Golab Singh’s accession, they were deprived of water which flowed to the mosque in a small channel from Naoshera on the plea of its being required for the cultivation of rice there’. Jama Masjid itself was in ruins. The lands owned by the masjids and shrines was being taken by the Hindu state. Some of the masjids were converted into stores and granaries. A large number of shrines which had been getting allowances under Sikhs for oil and other commodities had them cut off by the new Hindu government. Many of the keepers of the shrines had in consequence taken to agriculture and other jobs. All this was was part of the policy of Gulab Singh to make make his presence be felt as the new Hindu ruler, who was sternly at the helm of affairs in the valley. The prevalence of indifference and discrimination against Muslims had become so overtly evident that Hugh Rees James, a British officer, prophesied that:

The reaction when it does come, and come it must and will, will be powerful: the emancipation of a religion long forcibly kept down is ever attended by such result.

(Hugh Rees James Papers, pp 42, 47-48)

There was revival of the law banning the cow-slaughter. The perpetrators of the ‘crime’ were dealt most morbidly. The punishments ranged from cutting off of noses, being hung at Fatah Kadal for all to see and take lesson from to the chopping off of ears, of burning an offender’s hair to the torching of their houses with many a times their families locked inside. Most brutal punishments were inflicted on the mere suspicion of intent to injure a cow. Gulab Singh, officially, had declared life imprisonment for the crime of cow slaughter. Ranbir Singh, while still heir apparent, unhappy with this ‘liberty’ took his own measures to ensure that it effectively translated into a death penalty. One such incident in which a young man was incarcerated on the suspicion of cow slaughter, was ordered to be fed with food mixed with excess salt such that he died of dehydration. On another occasion ‘he slit a woman’s tongue for beating a cow that had torn the clothes she had hung out to dry’ (Hugh Rees James Papers, pp 57-7) It is said that Ranbir Singh would take such inhuman steps just to fill in the caveats of his Father’s Hindu ruler persona in form of the ‘concessions’ which he was ‘forced’ to make to the Muslim community. When Ranbir Singh came to the throne, religion, and Hindu Subjects, i.e. Jammu Hindus and the Kashmiri Pandits became the main priority of the new king. Ranbir Singh organised the Hindu religious arena like it had never been territorialized. All the temples and Hindu institutes were brought under the direct control of the Maharaja. The hierarchy in the temples was structured immaculately, the priests were paid handsomely, huge amount of money was spent on dissemination and preservation of Hindu faiths through the Darmarth. He continued the extravagance that his father had started for building and endowing of the temples. His son, Pratap Singh is quoted as saying, “Don't give too much to Rajputs, use Kashmiri Pandits as much as you can and see that Muslims do not starve”.

The responsibility of administering Kashmir was left in the hands of Kashmiri Pandits who were preferred by Ghulab Singh for being Hindus. All the important posts of the state administration were occupied by them and they considered them as their birth right. A Kashmiri Pandit would find it hard to consider any other option, apart from the state apparatus, as his carrier objective. Khalid Bashir gives the numbers in his book Kashmir – Exposing the myth behind the narrative as, “During the Dogra Rule, out of 476 gazetted officers, only 55 were Muslims. Out of the total 15,429 non-gazetted jobs, Muslims only had 4,943. Much similar to mainland Kashmir, 94% Pathwaris were Pandits in Mirpur district. In the department of forest, customs, education, judiciary, health, revenue, treasury and police, out of the total 2,416 employees, 64% or 1,547 were non Muslims. There were only 3 Muslims compared to 33 non-Muslims in the judiciary. 74.5% of the total Government school staff were non-Muslims. No Kashmiri Muslim ever became a Minister. Governors of the Muslim Majority state were also always non-Muslims. Two Pandits, Hari Krishen Koul and Ram Chandra Kak were appointed as Prime Ministers, while no Kashmiri Muslim ever held the Positon in the 100-year-long Dogra Rule.

The most important department that was run by the Pandits was the ‘revenue department’. The Dogra rulers had imposed taxes on everything for the Kashmiri Muslim. Food, water, healthcare, marriage (even divorce), the land they cultivated, the animals they bought and crop they grew were all taxed. Even the grave diggers weren’t spared and were taxed for the money they would earn by burying fellow Muslims.

John. B Ireland, an American who visited Kashmir in 1850s, exclaimed in wonder that, “on the birth of every lamb the owner must pay a tax of one Anna,.. the birth of calf is four annas. For a marriage one rupee. A fishing boat four annas per day. Walnut trees ten annas a year for the oil, and if the crop fails, must be made up with ghee”.

The Muslims were made to pay taxes even for the maintenance of temples (mandri) and for the support of the Hindu priests (ashgal) . These taxes were only to be paid by the Muslims while as the Hindus were exempted from paying them. To extract taxes and land revenues, the use of nettle (called ‘Soi’) in summer and putting the defaulter into ice-cold water in winter were the methods of torture. It wasn’t uncommon for the tax collectors to strip the peasants naked and flog them in case of failure. The Hindu state was thus being built upon the sweat and blood of the Muslims.

Wahab Pare (1845-1914), a Kashmiri poet, describing the state of affairs in his poem Darveshi lamented:

How many oppressions of the time can I count?
The authoritarian rulers have steeped the ‘Mulk’ into chaos
Anyone who is employed has to pay tax
The plundering department is called ‘Nakdi Mahal’
How many oppressions can I count on my fingers?
Every lion here has a hundred or more dogs with him to rip the people apart.

As is evident, the poet makes an allusion to the ruling class and the collaborating Pandits in the last line.

While most of the land owned by Muslim cultivators was acquired by the state, the Hindus would retain their lands as Zamindars, the term which in Kashmir denoted those who were revenue collectors as well as the cultivators. In-fact Hindus acquired large area of land under the Chakdari system. The chaks would be allotted to Hindu families on temporary basis and these allotments were rendered by the Dogra regime with the help of Hindu officials, who happened to be Kashmiri Pandits, and schemed with their co-religionists for larcenous grabbing of large landed estates in the valley. The whole hierarchy of revenue collection from the patwari to the tehsildars and wazir wazarats (ministers) were held hostage by the Hindus. They made fortunes out of the hard laboured money of poor Muslim peasants. The Muslims on the other hand were crippled under the humungous land revenue and other taxes and would hardly earn a square meal. During the famine of 1877-9, the office of the Prime Minister was held by a Kashmiri Pandit, Wazir Punnu. According to reports received by Lawrence, not a single Pandit died of starvation during these annihilative years for Muslim cultivators. Wazir Punnu is said to have declared that “there was no real distress and that he wished that no Musalman be left alive from Srinagar to Rambhan”.

There were numerous reports in British and British Indian Press of the brutalities carried out by the Maharaja during the famine of 1877, such as deliberate drowning of the boatload of famine stricken Muslim peasants in the Jhelum. To escape this famine, lakhs of Kashmiri Muslims migrated temporarly to Punjab to save themselves but the Pandits took over huge areas of land claiming it as waste and uncultivated land. On returning from Punjab, Muslim cultivators found themselves ousted from their very own land which they had cultivated for generations. In 1896, a Kashmiri Pandit, Dewan Amar Nath had possession of 5,047 acres of land which he had no right to.

Kashmir first settlement officer, A. Wingate himself found Kashmiri Pandits forging documents to acquire huge chunks of land and Dogras turning a blind eye to it. As per the documents unearthed by Chitralekha Zutshi from the state archive, Kashmiri Muslims were also worried about the new scheme for shali distribution introduced, by which Kashmiri Pandit enumerators used to exclude the names of Muslims who deserved rasad [rations] and kept enumerating only their fellow Pandit chakdars, moneylenders and high state officials who didn’t need it.

The royal court of the Hindu state controlled the shawl trade through the institution of Dagh Shawl. The government levied an annual tax of Rs. 37 on each karkandar (owner of shawl factory) for every shalbaf in his employ. The duties were imposed on import of Pashmina. From the time of the sale of the raw material by weavers in the bazaar and its purchase for manufacturing, to its dyeing, to its having a pattern worked on it, to its actual completion the taxes rose exponentially. The Muslim shalbaf ended up paying Rs. 5 in taxes out of a maximum earning of Rs. 7-8 per month. Baron Charles Hugel, who visited Kashmir in 1840’s wrote with much horror about the shawl manufactories, “One of the most wretched abodes that my imagination could well picture”.

Robert Thorpe in his account recalls the apathy of a worker in shalbaf industry, “Only death could act his saviour against the exploitation of state.

The Hindu officials additionally benefitted from the sale of peasant labour to the state and the foreign visitors. This system of forced labour, in which the peasant could be drafted any time, without any promise of being paid came to be known as ‘Begar’. The Begar usually consisted of carrying supplies for the armies (during Giglt, Leh, Chilas, Askardu and Hazara campaigns each cultivator had to carry 8 traks per head containing ration for the soldiers), the loads and luggages of foreign visitors around the valley or of the royal processions from one part of the state to another. The poor Muslim peasants were reduced to animals of burden without any hope for wages for such a labour. Needless to mention that Pandits, even those who cultivated the land, were exempted from Begar. This infamous Begar system was administered over by the Kashmiri Pandits. When the demand was made, the Tehsildar (a Kashmiri Pandit, as per the rule) would double the demand and his subordinates would quadruple it making 3/4th of the demand available to buy their freedom from this form of slavery. These helpless Kashmiri Muslims would end up paying per head. Pandits made a tremendous profit out of this. Edward Frederick Knight who spend some of his time in Kashmir explains it as such, “They fall on the road to perish of hunger and thirst, and, thinly clad as they are, are destroyed in hundreds at a time by the cold on the snowy passes. When a man is seized for this form of Begar, his wife and children hang upon him, weeping, taking it almost for granted that they will never see him again. A gang of these poor creatures, heavily laden with grain toiling along the desert crags between Astor and Gilgit, on a burning summer's day, urged on by a sepoy guard, is perhaps as pitiable a spectacle as any to be seen on the roads of Siberia. But these are not convicts and criminals; they are Mussulman farmers, harmless subjects of Maharaja.

Cecil Tyndale Biscoe also narrates an incident where the grandfather of his servent taken for Begar to Gilgit was exchanged for a Chinese dog but the soldiers of the Maharaja. Such was the brutality that at least 111,775 Kashmiri Muslims migrated from Kashmir to Punjab (Punjab Census Report) due to the atrocities they faced. This was almost equal to the whole population (118,960) of Srinagar at that time. This migration has been forgotten.

As a result of such horrendous state of affairs, the Muslims of the valley were experiencing a misery at its worst, while the rulers of the Hindu state continued their religious extravagance and the Hindu officials were filling their coffers.

The Dogra rulers followed the policy of making army and administration an exclusive domain of Dogra’s in particular and non-Muslims in general. The British consented to the policy of Dogra’s. For example, when a Council of Regency was formed for the administration of the state no Muslim was included into it. The deliberate exclusion of Muslims of Kashmir valley from the military services of the state made them cowards and fearful. Biscoe described this exclusion as a way of “robbing of their manhood”. This was very important to maintain a sense of subservience in the muslim subjects of the Hindu state.

Sir Albon Banerjee, the Prime Minister of Kashmir till he resigned in 1929 because of the policies of the Maharaja portrayed wrote:

Jammu and Kashmir state is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Muslim population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages, and practically governed like dumb driven cattle.

Hence, even before the idea of a Hindu Rashtra was born in India, Kashmir was already transformed into a prototypical Hindu Rashtra, where the government, the administration and the execution of religiously prejudiced laws was executed by a minority of politically privileged Hindus on the oppressed majority of Muslims. This is also the reason why RSS is so attached to Kashmir, it holds an important position in their plan of 'reclaiming' and de-islamizing a ‘Hindu land’. The organisation itself considers Kashmir as its first regiment in its ideological battle. It’s also a fact that when Pakistan and India gained their independence on 14th August and 15th August respectively, and the Maharaja was yet to decide whom to accede with, RSS held a rally in Jammu celebrating not the freedom of India but the formation of J&K as an independent Hindu Rashtra (this ‘independence’ would only last till 27th of October, 1947). As per veteran journalist, Ved Basin, Indian flags were torn and those who unfurled them were beaten in Jammu on that day by the RSS swayamsevaks.♦

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wande Magazine.

About the Author(s):