Pandits In Power

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The miseries of a Kashmiri Muslim never seem to end. They were subjugated by there rulers and still are and any knowledgeable person cannot deny the fact that Kashmiri Pandit community was the ruling and the privileged class of the Muslim majority society and very intelligently ruled over there Muslim subjects for more than a century. The Pandit community proved worst for the Muslims during the Dogra period. Dogras obtained Kashmir by treachery and subjugated it with force. There lack of experience in administration and lack of education proved beneficial for the Pandit community and Dogras found Pandits there natural ally in Kashmir. The revenue department which was responsible for collecting tax from the Muslim cultivators and which came down very heavily on them was almost entirely composed of Pandits.

It was due to the treachery of some Pandits in the revenue department that large landholdings were common amongst Pandit community. Pandits held well over 30% of the land in the valley which was much more than there percentage in the population. It was during Dogra ruler Ranbir Singh’s period that Pandits were given greater authority. In 1862 Ranbir Singh introduced chakdari system under which the waste or uncultivated land was allotted on easy terms for ten years. When lands fell uncultivated during the famine of 1877-79 during which lakhs of Muslim cultivators migrated to Punjab, Pandits took over huge areas of land claiming it as waste and uncultivated land. On returning from Punjab Muslim cultivators found themselves ousted from there own land which they had cultivated for generations. In 1896, A Kashmiri Pandit, Dewan Amar Nath has possession of 5,047 acres of land to which he had no right to. At the start of this chakdari system, the land was allotted through deeds or agreements issued directly by the dogra durbar. With due course of time, this formality gradually lapsed and diwans or revenue ministers who happened to be Pandits made such grants and allotted land under there own authority.

                                                Source: Political Department 123/1921, Jammu State Archives.

This resulted in consolidation of large land estates in Kashmir in favour of Kashmiri Pandits. Pandits devised new methods to increase there land holdings. With the help of the local tehsildar who happened to be a pandit, they used to acquire cultivated lands adjoining there wasteland. Many a time imaginary boundary disputes were raised with the tehsildar which would compel the cultivator to abandon the land which was then declared as waste or chak land and then transferred to a chakdari who always happened to be a Pandit. As Lawrence, the settlement commissioner pointed out: ‘it is remarkable that despite the misgivings by the Pandits that should have made the dogra durbar more vigilant, Pandit officials were still able to transfer lands to themselves with astonishing ease and impunity. Pandit chakdars were among the worst offenders in instances of grabbing occupancy rights over lands vacated during famine.’ The ten year limitation at the introduction of chakdari system was disregarded since the chakdars continued to enjoy beneficial terms of access to land even after India’s independence when there grants were finally abolished.

Pandits always had the status of the privileged class in the society. The custom of levying tax on marriages was applied only on Muslims and Pandits were exempt from it. Kashmiri Muslim bore the brunt of begar system (free labour). Pandits did not lose the opportunity to make money out of this system too at the expense of there Muslim subjects. Requisition for begars was made through the Pandit revenue officials. When the demand was made for begars in Srinagar, the tehsildar would double the demand and his sub-ordinates would quadruple it making 3/4th of the demand available to buy there freedom, sometimes even paying upto 70 to 90 rs per head. Pandits made a tremendous profit out of this. As regards to the ratio of Muslim representation in government services, Glancy commission in 1932 pointed out some glaring instances. Out of total of 763 gazetted posts, Muslims held 135 while Pandits held 628, Kashmiri speaking Muslims held only 10 posts. The usual excuse given for the inadequate representation of Muslims in the services was the lack of educated Muslims. Glancy commission in its report pointed out that there were 12 graduates and 133 matriculates among Muslims who were unemployed. The discrimination against Pandits after India’s independence can be ascertained by the fact that the same privilege was given to them by National Conference in administrative services and 10% of state jobs for the Pandits were reserved which was much more than there ratio in population which was around 5%.

Pandits at no point in history seemed to suffer like there Muslim citizens. In the famine of 1877-79, there was an enormous loss of life during which the prime minister’s office was headed by a Kashmiri Pandit, Wazir Punu. According to some estimates, the population of Kashmir (Srinagar) was reduced from 1, 27,400 to 60,000 and others say that of the total population of the valley only 3/5th survived. According to the report by Lawrence, not even a single Pandit died of starvation. Wazir punu had declared that there was no real distress and he wished no Muslamnan might be left alive from Srinagar to Ramban. Deaths amongst the pandits were almost nil as they were the privileged class whose official power enabled them to acquire the available grain. While on other occasion in 1831 when famine struck Kashmir, it had been calculated that the population of Kashmir was reduced from 8, 00,000 to 2, 00,000.

Now it is somewhat difficult to understand why Pandits talks about tyrant Muslim rulers in Kashmir under whom rights and privileges of non-muslims were denied.

Every region in different eras has seen tyrant rulers. Kashmiri Muslims too have seen the most fanatic of Hindu rulers under the Sikhs and the Dogras. Mosques were turned into garrisons, stables and granaries when at the same time temples flourished unlike in the rule of Budshah when he reconstructed a temple in his court complex. Azan was forbidden and the person committing the crime was beheaded. Cow killing was a crime and a person was either given death sentence or imprisoned for ten years for the same (Some where even Skinned Alive).

On one occasion Ranbir Singh ordered salt to be mixed in high concentration to the food of a prisoner who was serving punishment for slaughtering a cow. Soon the prisoner died of dehydration. After the death of Ranbir Singh, the most tyrant of all Hindu rulers, all business in the state was closed for a period of 30 days and no slaughter of any sort of animal was permitted. Unfortunately for Muslim population, this period of 30 days coincided with Eid-ul-zuha and no animal sacrifice was allowed which shows the lack of liberty that Muslim population had under the Dogras.

1989 was more of a revolt against the same privileged class of the society rather than the effort for introduction of an Islamic code of conduct that Pandits talks about. It was a mass revolution and something that one needs to understand is that intelligence, administration and the elite or the ruling class of the society is the worst to suffer. French revolution is the best example that history can give us.

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