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Nature of the Dogra State and the condition of the Muslims of Kashmir (1846 – 1930)

Sher Shah Awan

May 8, 2013
This is a good history lesson for certain Indian members who's history of the Kashmir conflict begins with the Maharaj's pact with India, and then from the exodus of the Pandits, and doesn't take in to account anything else.


By Showkat Ahmad Wani

The worst feature of the Dogra rule was its communal outlook. It discriminated the Muslims on the basis of their religion and also interfered in their religious affairs. The Dogra State was actually a Hindu State and its rulers tried their best to broaden its Hindu nature, with the result Kashmiri Pandits as a co-religionists’ class found it easy to get associated with it and the Muslims were marginalised. Regarding the nature of the Dogra Government, P. N. Bazaz, declared in 1941: “Speaking generally and from the bourgeois point of view, the Dogra rule has been a Hindu Raj.

Muslims have not been treated fairly, by which I mean as fairly as the Hindus. Firstly, because, contrary to all professions of treating all classes equally, it must be candidly admitted that Muslims were dealt with harshly in certain respects only because they were Muslims.” It is reported that Gulab Singh in 1850, made a plan to reconvert the Muslims, but, the Banaras priests did not accept it, as according to them it would dilute the purity of Hinduism. In fact, in 1846, he made it clear that he would not allow Muslims to practise all their religious practices and that as a Hindu; he would have to give priority to the religion of Hindus.

The British for the good of ‘ensuring the sway of Pax–Britannica,’ tolerated it. Colonel Torrens, who visited Kashmir (1859-60) during the reign of Ranbir Singh, records that the Dogra rule was the Hindu ‘rule’ which was run by ‘Hindu’ faqueers, detested by people, they prey upon, but supported and encouraged by the Government. In order to prove it a Hindu State it invaded Muslim places and erected temples. A large number of Muslim shrines and mosques were confiscated and declared State property, like Pather Masjid, Khanqah Sokhta, Khanqah Bulbulshah, Khanqah Darashikoh, Idgah and so on in Srinagar and Khanqah Sufi Shah and Bahu Mosque in Jammu.

In order to check the spread of Islam, a law was promulgated by the Government by which if a Hindu converted to Islam, he was debarred from the right of inheritance and in case of vice versa, he could attain the right of inheritance.8 Besides they (who would convert to Islam) were subjected to various difficulties and inconveniences by local officials. For a small minority, the majority was not allowed to slaughter cow, ox etc. Cow killing was banned and those found guilty were severely punished. First the punishment was death sentence but later on it was reduced to life imprisonment10 and then 7 years of imprisonment. It is necessary here to mention that there were frequent famines in Kashmir and scarcity of food and they had no alternative but to slaughter their own cattle, but it was not allowed. In the second decade of twentieth century, there were 117 prisoners in Kashmir, out of which 99 were Muslims, being punished for killing cows.

Maharaja Ranbir Singh banned the catching of fish because of the belief that the late maharaja’s soul had transmitted into the body of a fish. Ranbir Singh also closed the Friday market in Jama Masjid, Srinagar and opened a new market called Maharaja Gunj. Even the Muslim names were not tolerated and many Muslim names were changed into Hindu names; like Islamabad into Anatnag, Takt-i-Sulimani into Shankaracharya. After ascending the throne in 1885, Pratap Singh assured that no discrimination would be made between his subjects. But he could not fulfil his promise and came under the influence of Hindu religion and all his functions which were participated by military and civil officials, had religious tinge.

In fact, he would say, “Do not give too much to Rajputs, use Kashmiri Pandits as much as you can and see that the Muslims do not starve.” He would not tolerate to see the face of a Muslim (till noon) and the shade of a Muslim over the water, which was brought from Cheshma Shahi Srinagar for him, and the guilty was punished and imprisoned. Maharaja Hari Singh discouraged the business of Muslims and Muslim contractors. Instead of encouraging local contractors, the Maharaja encouraged the high contractors from outside and gave them loans without any interest.


The Dogra rulers in order to have a class loyal to the State filled the State administration with the Punjabis and Dogras and also Kashmiri Pandits but not Kashmiri Muslims. Though the Muslims constituted the majority of the State population and the major tax payers of the State but they were not considered fit for the State business and very few (Muslims) were employed on high positions. In 1930 in the bureaucracy, Hindus and Sikhs held 78 per cent of gazetted appointments compared to the Muslim’ 22 percent.

There was no Muslim gazetted officer in most of the departments, like defence, hunting, scientific research, libraries, archaeology and agriculture. Thus the majority community of Muslims in Kashmir found themselves unrepresented under the British sponsored Dogra rule. Not to talk about the higher posts in the administration, the Muslims were even not employed in the lower posts. In early 1870’s there was no Muslim occupying even a lowest position or clerk in the employ of Maharaja’s Government. It is here necessary to mention that at that time Persian was the official language of Kashmir, and according to Lawrence, many villagers (Muslims) would speak and write good Persian. While as the Muslims were not employed in the administration, they were to do menial work, and were ‘the hewer of wood and drawer of water.’ The Kashmiri Pandits though in minority dominated the administration particularly the revenue department. Since the Pandits occupied the administrative jobs, it gave them political power and authority.

The Rajputs who being the brethren of the Maharaja, were appointed in the high posts in the administration, although, they were mostly illiterate. Although there were many Muslims from Punjab in the administration, they either were too much loyal to represent Muslim grievances or were not enjoying actual power.

In 1930, a civil service recruitment board was formed for the recruitment of candidates in the state. It laid down that only those would be recruited who belonged to a notable family and were not above 20 years of age. It was against the Muslims because majority of them came from poor family or middle class, not notable family and they because of illiteracy would start education late of their age.

The government had also veto to reject an appointment of any candidate. More over the recruitment board could appoint only 40% positions while as 60% was the monopoly of the government. Also in place of Persian and Urdu, Hindi and Sanskrit with which Muslims were not familiar, were introduced as optional languages. Even then the working of the recruitment board was not satisfactory. Even if some Muslims were able to get Government employment but they were never promoted. Instead the Hindus from other departments were brought to that department, where the promotion of a Muslim was due. Moreover they were sent to distant areas without increasing their pay.

The Kashmiris were also disqualified for military services and it became the monopoly of Dogras. Under the State’s Arms Act, only Rajputs and Dogras were permitted to own and utilise fire arms, to use them against the Kashmiri people. It seemed that British too were not in favour of Muslims in the army. One object of the Treaty of Amritsar was to establish a strong Rajput power in Jammu and Kashmir, which would achieve the British Government of the defence of a difficult country.4 esides being, Hindu centric, the Dogra rule was also region centric.

They considered Kashmir as the purchased territory and Jammu as home country. In a letter dated 13 December, 1918, to his Chief Minister, Maharaja Pratap Singh wrote, “as you are already aware the proprietary rights in all the lands of Kashmir belong to the ruling chief exclusively, for the simple reason that the territories of Kashmir were purchased by my late lamented grandfather, Maharaja Gulab Singh, and hence any sale of such land by anyone else is illegal.” Ranbir Singh made Jammu his capital and thus for the first time in the history of Kashmir, Srinagar lost its importance.


In the field of education, Kashmir was lagging behind in the whole subcontinent. The modern education started in Kashmir with the coming of Christian Missionaries. In 1880, J. H. Knowles founded the first Christian Missionary School in Srinagar and the mission ladies founded the first girls’ school at Fateh Kadal in Srinagar. But it were the Kashmiri Pandits who took lead in modern education. The Pandits were advanced in education because of the facilities provided by the Government which were not provided to the Muslims.

In 1891-92 the condition of education was like this. Out of a population of 52,576 Hindus, 1327 were receiving State education and out of 757,433 Muslims, only 233 obtained benefit from the State schools. That is although the Hindus formed only 7 per cent of the population, they had monopolies over 83 per cent of the education bestowed by the State.

Thus Muslims were backward in education. Many causes have been put forward for this backwardness. According to Lawrence, the villagers (Muslim) preferred Masjid schools, and stressed on moral education.

Also there was apprehension about the Christian missionary schools. But the main cause was the indifference of the government towards the education of the Muslims. As the services of the Government were closed to them, they did not send their children to schools for even after getting education they would remain unemployed.

Bazaz, a Kashmiri Pandit criticised the Dogra Government for its indifference towards education among the Muslims and not working for the welfare of Kashmiri Muslims and held the Government responsible for the backwardness of Muslims. Out of 2 ½ crore income, only 15 lakh were spent on education.

But mostly non-Muslims were benefited from this expenditure because of their dominant presence both as teachers and students. Moreover schools were not established in those areas where Muslims were in clean majority. Ironically, the schools in the Muslim areas were shifted from there to non-Muslim areas. The aid given to Muslim schools was low than given to other schools.

With the turn of the century the Muslims became conscious and started thinking about their community. They sent petitions and requested the Government to establish the schools in their areas, but were turned down. The outside Muslims also highlighted the grievances of Kashmiri Muslims and supported them through their organisations, press and other means. In September 1913-4 a deputation of the All- India Muhammadan Educational Conference presented an address to Maharaja Pratap Singh.

Among other things, it demanded free and compulsory primary education, assistance to enable the Islamic school to be raised to the collegiate grade, the grant of special stipends and scholarships for Muslims, the employment of Muslim professors, teachers, inspectors, etc., and the appointment of special inspector for Muslim education.65 Consequently, under pressure of public opinion, Pratap Singh, in 1916 invited Sir Henry Sharp, the Educational Commissioner, Government of India, to examine the educational system in Kashmir and to advise the future policy, and also to recommend for the development of education of the Muslims. Mr Sharp admitted that the Muslims were educationally backward.

The following figures merely analyse the nature of its backwardness. Muslims form 75.9% of the total population of the state; in the Kashmir province the proportion rises to 94%” but their proportion in the educational field was very low. “Only 15 per mile of male Muslims and nil per mile female Muslims were found literate in 1911 and, against 38 and 1 per mile for the whole population. Only 39.55 per cent of the pupils in public institutions are Muslims. “Even in primary schools the percentage of Muslim pupils [was] far below what it normally should be.”

The proportion of Muslim students in private schools was higher than the public schools because as per Mr. Sharp, Hindu teachers neglected and discouraged the Muslim students. In the schools where the Mullahs had been appointed as teachers the number of Muslim students was much higher than the other schools. It was no surprising thus that the first recommendation Sharp Commission made was to appoint Mullahs largely as teachers.

Among the other things Sharp recommended, the expansion of the primary schools, scholarships for the Muslims. Though Pratap Singh accepted these recommendations but were given never due publicity and were to a great extent ignored. The officials who were Hindus’ ignored these recommendations because they did not want Muslims to be appointed in the State services, which they considered their own monopoly.

Instead of implementing the recommendations of the Sharp Commission, they did opposite. At the time of Mr Sharp there was a special Inspector for Muslim education, but he was deflected from his proper work and was deputed to discharge the general duties of an ordinary, assistant inspector in a particular division. Thus when in 1931-32, Glancy Commission was appointed, he found that the condition of Muslims had not improved. The proportion of the Muslims in the Education Department like other Departments was very low.

In the Education Minister’s Secretariat, there were 12 officials from the Secretary downwards, but none of them was Muslim. Hari Singh took some measures which benefited the people. Primary education for boys in the cities of Srinagar and Jammu was made compulsory. But after some time he changed his behaviour and came under the influence of some officials. For example, in 1927, a Scholarships Section Board was formed for the education of State subjects. It consisted of three members, but none of them was Muslim. They favoured their own community and thus in 1927, out of 12 scholarships, given only one was given to a Muslim.83 Besides there were also Orphan Scholarships and ‘Cow Protection’ Scholarships. But here again huge discrimination was made. Out of 190 students, who were given Orphanage Scholarships, only 42 of them were Muslims and 148 were Hindus. The Cow Protection Scholarship was given entirely to non- Muslims. Hari Singh also established Rajput Military School in Jammu in which only Hindus were given admission.

The reason was that it was established by the funds of the Hindu religious gifts and the late Maharaja had ordered that it should be spent to ameliorate the condition of his own community only. The doors of employment for Muslims were closed even if a qualified Muslim was there he was not employed and if employed he was given a low job and less pay as compared to his Hindu counterpart having the same qualification. Thus because of their inadequate representation in Government departments Muslims had to suffer in various ways.

As Bazaz, observed: “In education department the Muslims felt that that they Hindu teachers and officials would not take as much interest in the spread of education among them as was necessary. In the medical department Muslim patients did not receive as much care as the Hindus. In the offices and courts Muslim clients were shabbily treated while the cases of Hindus were expeditiously described.”

Time and again some influential Muslims would approach the British to intervene but of no avail. In 1924 when the Viceroy, Lord Reading visited Kashmir a memorandum was presented to him regarding the sufferings of Muslims by some Muslim representatives, in which they demanded, inter alia, the abolition of begar, better educational facilities, good representation of Muslims in the State services, release of religious places and buildings and the proprietary rights to the peasants.

The State Government did not tolerate it and the signatories were severely punished. Saad-ud-Din Shawl was banished from Kashmir, Khawaja Hassan Shah lost his jagir, Hassan Shah Jalali was dismissed from the office of zaildar. In the late 1920s, when Indians were preparing for the Civil Disobedience Movement and Purna Swaraj, and the British were ready to give more constitutional concessions to Indians, the Kashmiris were still labouring under many disadvantages. Officially their disadvantages were made known to the outside world by Sir Albion Bannerji.

Sir Albion Bannerji, the Foreign and Political Minister of Kashmir, resigned on 15th March, 1929 and in a press statement at Lahore exposed the autocratic Dogra rule and the impoverished conditions of Muslims of Kashmir. Levelling the serious allegations against the Dogra rule, he said: “Jammu and Kashmir State is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Muhammaden 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 little or no sympathy with the people’s wants and grievances.”

Thus it becomes clear that the people of Kashmir during the Dogra rule were labouring under many disadvantages. The Muslims, who constituted the sheer majority of the total population of the State, were lagging behind in every field and were governed like dumb driven cattle. They were discriminated by the Dogra Maharajas for a simple reason that they were followers of a religion different to the Dogras. It is therefore not surprising that the political movement Kashmiris launched in 1930’s under Shaikh Abdullah would take the religious colour and mosques and shrines were used as platforms


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