After the Anglo-Afghan War (1839-43), many things changed in
Kashmir. Gulab Singh met British army commander Colonel Henry Lawrence at
Peshawar in 1841 to form a bond which paid rich dividends to the Dogra ruler a
few years later.
As Gulab Singh’s soldiers with the help from the British army occupied Kashmir after the infamous ‘Bai Nama-i- Amritsar’ (‘Treaty of Amritsar’ of 1846) the oppressive regime placed a ban on staffing of Kashmiris in police and various other governmental departments.
Moreover, people were coerced to work for free. This oppressive process in local parlance came to be known as ‘Begaar’! Not only were Kashmiris made to work without wages they also had to pay taxes as punishment for their anti-foreign rule aspiration.
This was, however, just the beginning.
Subjugated and demoralised people of Kashmir (Muslims mostly) tried in vain to stand and speak up against the autocratic Dogra regime, but as soon as the Dogra soldiers would get even inkling about any sort of political activity in any region the entire area would be forced to pay taxes as penalty.
Apart from undemocratic restrictions and bans on political gatherings there was undue interference in social matters, too. Anyone violating the Dogra diktat would land in prison. Under such hostile circumstances it became increasingly difficult for Kashmiris to give a definite shape to any political movement in an organised manner, primarily also because Kashmiris Muslims were mostly illiterate. But they were always politically very conscious and aware.
Under the cruel Afghan period the political activities in Kashmir had almost remained absent. However, during the Sikh rule, as documented by late Khwaja Sanaullah Bhat in ‘Ahad Nama-i-Kashmir’ (p-85), even in absence of any organised political movement the aspiration for resisting and opposing the foreign rule was very much there inside the hearts and minds of Kashmiri people.
This internal aspiration profoundly manifested itself in 1846 when Kashmiris convinced then Governor Sheikh Imam-ud-Din, under the Sikh rule, to declare region’s independence while ignoring the directions that were issued from Lahore.
As the independence of Kashmir was announced an agreement, the ‘Treaty of Lahore’, was finalised between the British East India company and Gulab Singh Dogra, who was emerging as a major player in Jammu region.
The English sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh. An agreement to this effect was signed on 16 March 1846, which we know as the ‘Treaty of Amritsar’.
By virtue of Article 1 of the treaty, Dogra ruler Gulab Singh got possession of “all the hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus and the westward of the River Ravi including Chamba and excluding Lahul, being part of the territories ceded to the British Government by the Lahore State according to the provision of the Article IV of the Treaty of Lahore, dated 9th March, 1846.” (Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir, Mridu Rai, 2004)
Gulab Singh was to pay 7.5 million (75 lakhs) NSR (Nanak Shahi Rupees, the ruling currency of the Sikh empire) to the British government, along with other annual compliments.
In June 1846 the Dogra soldiers under Lakhpat Rai’s command and leadership entered Kashmir and camped in Maisuma. All of a sudden Kashmiris rose up to the challenge. On realising the fact that all Kashmiris were united in their resistance against the Dogra army, about 4,000 Dogra soldiers in order to save their skin took refuge in a forest after passing through hillocks of ‘Takht-e-Sulaimani’.
Dogra soldiers were considered persona non grata in Kashmir.
Dogra army commander Lakhpat Rai got killed in the fight between Kashmiris and Dogra soldiers while other important commanders of Dogra army hid themselves inside the ‘Koh-i-Maran’ fort. (Khwaja Sanaullah Bhat in ‘Ahad Nama-i-Kashmir’ (p-86)
Kashmiris chased down the Dogra soldiers, they surrendered and many returned while others were kept as prisoners of war.
When Gulab Singh was informed about the situation on the ground he sought help from the British soldiers to occupy and conquer Kashmir. After this intervention, the British, Sikh and Dogra soldiers together started marching towards Kashmir under Colonel Henry Montgomery Lawrence’s command. As Prince of Jammu Gulab Singh wielded influence up to Lahore.
Kashmir’s Governor Sheikh Imam-ud-Din hailed from Punjab. His properties and assets were seized there. On noticing the army’s march towards Kashmir the hapless Governor Imam-ud-Din sent a peace message, after which the British army had cornered Kashmir from three sides to occupy it.
Hundreds of Kashmiris accused of resisting against the Dogra rule were persecuted and killed. Some Kashmiri leaders were hanged till death.
In an undemocratic and despotic set-up the suppressive tactics like ‘Begaar’, penalty taxes, arrests, deaths, ban on political activities, restriction on free movement and free speech, etc caused hurt but did not surprise.
Fast Forward to the so-called democratic set-up in which India prides itself in promoting and selling to the world its grand image as the world’s largest democracy. India is never tired of referring to Kashmir as its ‘integral part’. There is a resolution passed to this effect in the Indian Parliament, which also lays full claim on the part of Kashmir administered by Pakistan.
This so-called ‘integral part’ was hit by the floods last September, the worst in Kashmir’s living memory. Indian media channels showed the Indian army men as Kashmir’s ‘saviours’, rescuing flood-affected people, airdropping food packets, packaged water bottles and medicines, etc.
Kashmiris were told that Indian army is so gracious and kind that it doesn’t mind airdropping food to the same people who pelt stones on them. Indian media’s PR exercise ensured that Kashmiri people are confused whether to curse or welcome the Indian army during the flood crisis. Whether to treat Indian soldiers as persona grata or persona non grata, because many of them stand accused of war crimes in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989.
And now, after a gap of nine months post-floods, we are told that the state of Jammu and Kashmir will have to pay Rs 500 crore for the ‘help’ offered by the Indian army in floods when the fact is that 90 percent of the rescue and relief work was done by the local Kashmiri volunteers.
India’s defence ministry has produced a bill of INR 500 crore for relief and rescue operations during the September floods, as reported by the NDTV 24/7. The amount (Rs 500 crore) was diverted by New Delhi government from the recently announced INR 1602 crore given to Jammu and Kashmir as part of the State Disaster Response Fund.
This way, not only did Kashmiris pay for the Indian army’s PR exercise for the Indian army as ‘saviours’ they also paid huge human and material cost because of the devastating floods, which left around 1.5 million affected and resulted in 300 deaths.
In despotic Dogra rule Kashmiris were made to work without wages, there was a ban on all kind of political activities.
And under India’s democratic rule, all spaces for political dissent are choked for Kashmiris and they are made to pay for army’s PR exercise camouflaged as flood rescue operation!
The question, therefore, is: has anything changed for Kashmiris from despotism to democracy?