The decade of 1840s witnessed upheavals and redrawing of political boundaries on an unprecedented scale in the northern geographies of the sub continent. The defeat and obliteration of the Sikh empire after two Sikh wars (Dec 1845-March 1846, April 1848 – March 1849 AD) also resulted in actions of far reaching consequences.
Some of these turned into A festering wound and a perpetual conflict that has continued in the 21st century. One such decision was the transfer of territory of Kashmir by the British rulers to the Dogra Rajas of Jammu.
After the defeat of Sikhs in the first war, the treaty of Amritsar between the British Government and Maharaja Gulab Singh ceding the ‘mountainous territory situated east ward of River Indus and West ward of River Ravi to the Maharaja was signed pompously in a celebratory language on a date recorded as under
“In the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and forty six, corresponding with the seventeenth day of Rubbee-ool.awal, 1262 Hijree”.
A lot has been written on the treaty, invariably described as one of the largest insidious transactions that included land, water, mountains, cattle and human beings.
The territorial expansion and reordering of boundaries is a complex process involving diplomacy, coercion, display of naked power and deceit for effecting changes on ground. Happily the penchant of the British rulers for archiving of the history and preservation of historic record holds evidence and a faithful record of the chain of events that took place in the north of subcontinent including the Riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir. The records were preserved and remained in the custody of agencies like, army and political offices of British Administration, at the point in time run through East India Company. By the time of conquest of Punjab, the British rule had come of age. The British consolidated their Colonial regime in India according to their ideas of modern but a colonial state. As in a modern state, the colonial government had a monopoly of force, a centralized legal system, a professional staff of administrators and bureaucrats, and clearly defined territorial boundaries. The colonial administrators aimed for a rule based on law administered according to regulations. Therefore Punjab in a way became a model administration for the British and the set up got to be known as Punjab school of Administration.
One of the historically significant initiatives of this regime was setting up of a scientifically laid out Department of Archives in 1924 AD at Lahore. All the British records from civil, military and political departments and other documentation comprising files, reports, maps etc are now lying in the archived repositories of these archives. The Punjab Archives also has an extensive collection of official documents of British Raj in various areas of South Asia, including records of the Delhi Residency and Agency, which were transferred to Lahore after the War of Independence in 1857. The other records mentioned in their index include Persian Record of the Mughal and Sikh Period, Persian Record of Colonial Period, Colonial Agencies record 1804 to 1849, Record after Annexation, 1849, Record of Princely/Native States in Punjab
Mentioned in their index are records relating to the political relations of Jammu and Kashmir State, Afghanistan and Persia in the nineteenth century, all preserved here as well. Even while Kashmir was given to Maharaja Gulab Singh under a treaty, on the basis of archival records it is clear that it was considered only a princely state subordinate to the Punjab Government like Bahawalpur, Jind, Nabha, Patiala, Hunza, Chitral, Kalat, Maler Kotla, and Simla Hill States. In total, it is recorded that the Punjab Archives house over 80,000 books and 700,000 files on the subjects mentioned above.
With regard to Kashmir, for purposes of history as also for having a better understanding of the ensuing state of conflict after the departure of British rulers, while international scholarship has availed of the Lahore archives in good measure, there are many grey areas that merit exploration. The events leading to creating a territory that was separated by religion, culture, language only defined as ‘west of Ravi river extending to Hazara’ are buried in the debris of history. There is a need to mine the archival records wherever these are with the lead in Lahore archives to unravel this historic melodrama.
Again in respect of Kashmir, It would be appropriate to flag two major events that led to the policy revisit, procrastination and admonishment of the newly created Riyasat. Surely what has so far come in the public domain is not a fraction of all the written material and the preprocesses that led to intervention from the British rulers. Let us now look at these in some detail.
Immediately after acquisition of the territory, Maharaja Gulab Singh surpassed his predecessor rulers in heavy taxation, mostly on peasants and the lucrative shawl industry. As a result of this unbearable burden, on 6th June 1847, within a year of the Amritsar treaty of transfer of Kashmir to Maharaja, about 4,000 shawl-bafs managed to flee the valley for Punjab to escape this ruinous taxation and compulsory weaving laws. When the British Government got to know about this treatment of the subjects living in the ceded territory, they deputed Lt. Reynell Taylor, Assistant to the Resident at Lahore and later Major General of British Army to Srinagar to investigate the grievances of Muslims. He was accompanied by another British officer, Mr. Melvin. According to the period records, soon after his arrival, a meeting of the Muslims of Srinagar was convened at the Maisuma Maidan on 21st June 1847. Subsequent to this visit and the report that they must have submitted by them, Lord Hardinge, the Governor General sent a demarche, a strong warning to the Maharaja seeking reduction in taxes, Baaj, Nazrana, introduction of new regulations for the reorganization of Shawl industry. The visit of Lt. Taylor thus served as an alarm and also some rethinking and remorse about the treaty of Amritsar itself. Henry Lawrence, political Agent and later President of the Board of Administration, Punjab issued warning to the Maharaja Gulab Singh.
“The British Government will not permit tyranny in Cashmere and the country under your rule, and that if you will not act for yourself, some other arrangement will be made for the protection of the Hill people.”
Gradually the grip of the Government of India was tightening over Kashmir. The Governor-General, Lord Hardinge informed the Maharaja on January 7, 1848 that an experienced officer would be sent for a few months next year in spring to know the real state of things. He further added that, ‘If the aversion of the people to a Prince’s rule should by his injustice become so miserable as to cause the people to seek his downfall, the British Government are bound by no obligation to force the people to submit to a Ruler who has deprived himself of their allegiance by his misconduct’.
After the transfer of territory west of river Ravi to the Jammu Raja, the Dogra family landed up in a feud between the brothers Maharaja Gulab Singh, Raja Dian Singh and Suchet Singh and after their demise, with their sons. Dian Singh was a favorite of Ranjit Singh serving as his Prime Minister. Gulab Singh asserted his right as the sole lessee of the territory and did not accept his brothers as partner rulers within his territories. A legal battle ensued and the Political agent at Lahore was approached by the brothers where in they asserted their right to rule the territories, Poonch and Chibal (present day Mirpur) etc. The dispute was assigned to be heard by Judge John Angels in presence of the chief Secretary of Colonial Punjab, Moulvi Syed Rajab Ali Khan. Maharaja Gulab Singh appointed Moulvi Azhar Ali and Malik Mohkam-u-Din as vakils with the authority to make averments on his behalf with the assistance of Dewan Jawala Sahai, the illustrious Dewan of Maharaja. The wise vakils and the Chief Secretary persuaded the Judge to provide an opportunity to the disputing parties, the families of the brothers and the Maharaja for reaching a settlement. This resulted in an ‘amicable settlement’ and the brothers abdicated their territorial claim. It may be mentioned here that the prefix, Moulvi with learned Muslims denoted their merit of education and position in the hierarchy. At that point in time it was not just a religious designation as it is now. Maharaja picked up best of the talent he could find to protect his interests, all of them Muslims, and this combination served him well.
These decisions are obviously taken after due thought and deliberations at all levels. The archival records at Lahore will for sure have all the correspondence among the participants including the British authorities. The proceedings as also the averments of parties are a part of the repository at Lahore. The study of this record will help in unraveling the role and intent of various stakeholders that has a bearing on the present mess and catastrophic entanglement of the politics of the region. The interest of the scholarship in the global academia holds the key to bring to light the trials and tribulations of more than a century for the peoples of this State.
( The write is former Director General Tourism, Chairman, National Monuments Authority, GOI. Convener INTACH, J&K)