More than a century later, the two works inspire people in this forgotten land to fight for their rights
Book: Plight of Kashmir: A Story of Oppression
Author: Robert Thorp and Arthur Brinckman
Editor: Javid Ahmad Dar
Publisher: Jay Kay Books
Reviewer: Tanveer Habib
Two different authors, for different reasons and in different styles, told the story of Kashmir long back in the 19th century. The genuineness of their work and the pain involved is felt even now and, may well be felt for long in the future. Robert Thorp, son of a colonial officer- who had married a local lady in Kashmir in 1833 while spending his holidays here, happened to visit his mother’s homeland decades later. Moved by the repression that Kashmiris faced at the hands of the Dogra regime and the abject poverty that they lived in, Thorp took to writing, documenting the miseries of his nanihaal- maternal home. Thorp wrote of justice in his book Cashmere Misgovernment; ‘Of justice, there is, in fact, little or none. Offences against the government [by Muslims] or against the Hindoos are punished with undue severity, while offences perpetrated by Hindoos or Government officials are either passed over, or adjudicated with partiality and injustice’. The book speaks of institutional injustice rampant during the Dogra regime. This institutional injustice in the form of land produce tax involves the whole government machinery; from a Tehsildar- chief collector- to the Hurkara- a lonely policeman for every twenty villages who receives reports about crops from Dooms who are bound to take orders from him, all were part of the looting apparatus. The whole official hierarchy, therefore, plundered the hard earned produce of the ‘Zamindar’- the cultivator. Not only had the natives to pay taxes for both Rabi and Kharif crops but also an annual tax ‘Russudart’ whose value ranged between 4 to 20 annas depending on the number of inmates in the household. Fruits, animals, ponies, ghee, honey, poultry etc. were all subject to tax. Thankfully, the nobles of the Dogra regime had not asked for the right of prima nocte- a custom that was practiced by the British in Scotland way back in the 13th century. Instead, the government had devised a strategy of protecting and encouraging women to indulge in flesh trade, which too was taxed by the government. Tragically, if someone wanted to quit this ‘socially disapproved’ practice, she was ‘legally’ bound not to do so since it would mean a loss of revenue for the government. The carpet industry of Kashmir, famous for Shawls, had to suffer the travails of taxation. A shawlbaf could not leave his job without producing a replacement, thus only death could save him from such laborious, but ill paid job. Moreover, the salary that he received from his employer was the same that his employer paid as tax to the government. In a way, as the editor of the book puts it, “it was a blood-hopping phenomenon”, where the government survived on the blood of the Muslim populace. The burden of begar that Kashmiris faced, weighed them down. The long journeys to Gilgit where the Army was constructing a military post to confront any advances of Russian’s, had left many Kashmiris dead due to extreme weather conditions. Those who returned back were ill-paid.
Arthur Brinckman, from the land of auctioneers of the ‘only heaven on earth- Kashmir’, which had been sold cheaply along with its rich resources, traditions, values and customs to Gulab Singh, stylistically wrote in his travelogue Wrongs of Kashmir; ‘Justice is thus alien to him [Maharaja] and injustice lies at the door’. The irony, as Brinckman notes, is that ‘his example has been followed by his ministers, as there appears no end to the fraud and treachery’. Brinkman argues that the sale of a people had been the most shameful and condemnable transaction ever recorded in human history and wrote of the consequences of this unscrupulous transaction. Distraught to see the plight of Kashmiris, Brinckman felt that ‘justice and humanity require that we [the British] begin to govern Cashmere [Kashmir] ourselves’. Sadly, he had then compared Kashmir and its people to ‘a beautiful horse’ whose new master had treated it badly and was starving it to death and voiced that it was the prerogative of the British to take back the ‘animal’. His use of the words ‘animal’, ‘a beautiful horse’ and ‘the new master’ deconstructively implied that it was a sale where the ‘sold’ had no agentive power and were incapable of action, and thus, suffered for no fault of theirs. Both works reflect the state of misery that Kashmir and its people had to face at the hands of the Dogras. More than a century later, the two works inspire people in this forgotten land to fight for their rights.
In 1776, Thomas Paine, a Britisher, had written a pamphlet Common Sense which inspired the American Revolution. The pamphlet signed ‘written by an Englishman’ became an immediate success and presented Americans with an argument for freedom from the British. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams once said; ‘Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain’. However, there are few nations who have had supporters like Paine from distant places. Algeria found Sartre, Fanon and Camus, Tunisia found Memmi, America found Thomas Paine, and Kashmir found Thorp and Brinckman, both British- a country that itself is to blame for having sold Kashmir cheaply to the Maharaja of Jammu in the treaty of Amritsar. So cheap was the sale, Allama Iqbal- the poet of Kashmiri descent- was to ask the ‘morning breeze’ that if it happened to pass by Geneva, it must ‘tell the league of nations how a people, its waters, land and values were sold so cheaply’.
The editor, Javid Ahmad Dar, who teaches Political Science at the University of Kashmir, does a wonderful job in introducing the two authors to the present day Kashmir at a time when the issue of human rights violation has surfaced anew. His introduction gives a basic idea of the two books and the authors. His profound introduction reminds one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s quote; ‘what can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must remain silent’. Like the two authors, the editor does justice to the theme of oppression and injustice in Kashmir. The book Plight of Kashmir: A Story of Oppression is a must read.
(Tanveer Habib: Ph.D Student, Department of Linguistics, University of Kashmir, Srinagar).