Early in the morning on November 22, 1868, a body was recovered from Srinagar. The deceased was later identified as Robert Thorp. Poisoning, the people believed, was the cause of death. Thorp was laid to rest at Sheikh Bagh Christian graveyard. It took the locals some time to realize that with the death of Thorp, a strong voice had fallen silent. Kashmir had lost its saviour. The epitaph reads: "Obit- Robert Thorp- Veritas- He gave his life for Kashmir."
Who was Robert Thorp? Robert Thorp, a young British Army officer, arrived in Kashmir as a tourist in 1865. Thorp's mother, Jana was a Kashmiri and lived with her family at Sugen Yarinar in Budgam district. Robert Thorp's father, E-Thorp was an officer in the British army and would come to Jana's village very often. One day when Jana was herding her buffaloes, Thorp saw her. He fell in love with her. Jana belonged to an orthodox Muslim family and Thorp knew the affair would not mature into a long lasting relationship unless he embraced Islam. Jana's relative, Habibullah Teli was a soldier in the British army. Thorp approached Teli. He consented to their marriage.
Jana's descendents, who still live in the village, said Thorp embraced Islam and the marriage was solemnized near a rock in the village. The rock stands in the village to this day as a witness to their love. Jana was taken to England by her husband. After some time Robert Thorp was born. Some people say that Jana hailed from Kishtwar. But her descendents in Sugen village nullify such reports.
Robert Thorp had heard stories about Kashmir's beauty and the suffering of its people from his mother Jana. He was desperate to visit Kashmir. In 1865, Thorp visited Kashmir Foreigners required permission of the British authorities to enter Kashmir. They could not stay in the Valley for more than two months at that time. Twenty-seven-year-old Thorp stayed longer to study the appalling condition of the people of his mother's birthplace.
Why was Thorp murdered? Thorp was shocked to see the miserable plight of the people in his mother's birthplace. He raised his voice at the time when there was total sanction on information reaching the government of India. Thorp took it on himself to inform and educate the British people about the situation in Kashmir by writing to the British Press without caring for consequences. Thorp felt the British were responsible for the plight of Kashmiris, as it was they who had sold it to the Maharaja under the "Treaty of Amritsar." Thorp pleaded before the government to release Kashmiris from the wretched condition, oppression and misery. He believed that public opinion was paramount to influence the government to do what was needed.
Thorp traveled to Valley's nook and corner collecting information about the plight of the people and thoroughly investigating the facts. He later on published a book titled Kashmir Misgovernment and dedicated it to the people who, according to him "do not approve of cruelties upon human beings, and to those who are exalted from the moral, religious and social point of view and do not like oppression".
Thorp pleaded that the British were the first nation, which led the way to the abolition of slavery. When resistance was shown by one Sheikh Imam-ud-Din, the Britishers forced Sheikh to obey the new Sovereign of Kashmir or consider himself as an enemy of British power. Sheikh yielded and Gulab Singh's troops were permitted to occupy Srinagar without any resistance. Thorp pleaded that British government had committed a wanton outrage and injustice by handing over Kashmir to the unjust Maharaja. He pleaded to the British government to establish the facts as he had done by laborious investigation in Kashmir itself.
However, trouble came upon Thorp and he was ordered to leave Kashmir. Undeterred, Thorp returned to Srinagar on November 21, 1868, and next morning after his breakfast he died, possibly because of poisoning. Thorp was found dead on the Sulaiman Taing Hill.
Some misinformed people believe that thorp was a British agent and had come here to pursue some ulterior motives. However, his book speaks for him. Nothing more is needed to prove his credentials.
The Kashmir civil society has been visiting the grave on November 22 every year. A decision to replace the epitaph could not be implemented as the Church authorities disallowed the replacement. Another decision to fix a hoarding carrying a brief profile of Thorp to the graveyard wall has also not been implemented to this day. While this reflects our indifference towards the people who laid down their lives for us, Thorp's book shall continue to narrate the woeful tale of Kashmiris living in those dreadful times for all times to come.