The Valley Of Kashmir | Sir Walter Roper Lawrence | Part 4

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There has been a great change, but it is important that the State should remember that the change has been sudden, and every effort should be made to keep faith with the villagers. A few breaches of the promises made at Settlement would again plunge the country into confusion, and it is well to bear in mind that many hungry middlemen driven out by the Settlement are waiting and watching.

It is well too to remember that people so broken and degraded as the Kashmiris do not in a few years harden into a resolute and self-respecting community. They are soft, timid people, only too ready to avoid a citizen’s responsibilities and to shelter themselves behind the plausible and fraudulent middleman.

There is not a single middleman left in the villages at the present time, but if the State withdrew its vigilant watch some 40 per cent of the peasants might again become the serfs of middlemen and officials.

View of City and River. To the left the Shrine of Shah Hamadan. The Architecture of the Shrine is Typical of all Kashmiri Ziarats

Negative: Capital Allan

View of City and River. To the left the Shrine of Shah Hamadan. The Architecture of the Shrine is

Typical of all Kashmiri Ziarats.

Negative: Capital Allan

 

Security of tenure has a magical effect, but I think that immunity from forced labour has been as efficacious in promoting confidence among the villages. The construction of the Gilgit road, and the organization of a transport service have done much to abolish the worst incidents of the corvic, but if the Maharaja himself had not set the example of limiting the demands made by his camp followers. ‘Purveyance’ would have lingered on for years.

It was no uncommon thing for 300 sheep to be collected at one stage. Nothing would be paid for them. Now all supplies are paid for. If honest dealing continues for another ten years I believe that the Kashmiris, so hardly spoken of, will become honest. It should be remembered that from the point of view of the peasant, honesty has not hitherto been the best policy.

Kashmir is a very old country, and its people are very old-fashioned. Those who have studied the history of Kashmir say that the people have not changed much since the times of ancient Hindu kings. This is quite possible, but I think that many of the hard things said about the Kashmiris are due to the fact that the official interpreters of their character have been foreigners, often grasping and corrupt, always unsympathetic.

Mughal Subahs, Pathan Sirdars, Sikh and Dogra Governors dismissed all difficulties of administration, and all humane suggestions emanating from their masters, with the remark that the Kashmiris were dishonest, treacherous and zulm parast. It is the old take of giving a dog a bad name, and I must confess that during my first year’s work in the valley, I shared these views.

But I soon grew to understand that the Kashmiris, like other Orientals, has two sides to his character as distinct as light and darkness. His great yearning is to be left alone – to till his fields and weave his woollen cloth. The official visit, which to us officials seems so pleasant to concerned, sends the pulse of the village up many degrees, and those are happy who dwell far away from the beaten tracks.

The dark side of the Kashmiri is revealed when he is in the presence of officials. He has had good reason to hate and distrust them, and his only weapon against them is deceit.

His light side is seen when he is in the field, or with his family in the house. Take as an instance the relations of Kashmiri cultivator with the village shopkeeper. The shopkeeper (wani) is Musalman and must not take interest. He lends money to the peasants on a system know as ‘wad’.

A man borrows 50 rupees, and promises to pay this within the year in blankets, ghi, apples, grains, etc. the rate fixed by the wani for blankets will be 3 rupees, whereas the market price at which the wani will sell is 3 rupees 8 annas, or 4 rupees. No bond (hujat) is signed by the borrower, and the only record of the transaction is an entry in the daily ledger of the wani.

I have always made a point of talking with the wanis whenever I see a village shop, and they are unanimous in saying they never make a bad debt and that they are never obliged to sue a debtor. This state of things does not argue that the Kashmiri peasants are dishonest.

 


About the Author

Sir Walter Roper Lawrence (9th February 1857 – 25th May, 1940) was a member of the British Council of India and an English author who served in the Indian Civil Service in British India and wrote travelogues based on his experiences of travelling around the Indian Subcontinent.

He was appointed as the Settlement Commissioner for Jammu and Kashmir between 1889–1894, during the rule of Maharaja Pratap Singh. While travelling in Kashmir, he recorded and produced a brief history on account of the geography, the culture of the people and the Dogra rule over Kashmir.

Over the course of his travels, he developed a close affinity with the Indianand Kashmiri people, who figure prominently in his work. His best-known books are ‘The Valley Kashmir‘ (1895) and ‘The India we Served’ (1929).

Book Details : London Henery Frowade, Oxford University Press Warehouse, AMEN Corner, E.C

Print Date: 1895