The Valley Of Kashmir | Sir Walter Roper Lawrence | Part 5

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In the statistical chapter, facts will be found which show that crime is almost non-existent in Kashmir. Crimes of dishonesty may be said to be absolutely non-existent among the peasants. Property is entirely safe, and during the six years which I have spent in the villages, I have never heard of crimes of theft, or burglary being committed by agriculturists. This surely points to the fact that the Kashmiris are not the dishonest people they are represented to be.

 

Since 1890 all suits connected with land, saving land situated within Srinagar and a few adjoining villages, have been removed from the ordinary courts and have been made over to me for decision. My procedure has been to hear and decide such suits in the village where the claim has arisen. Under a chinar tree in the presence of the assembled villagers, the claimant prefers his suit and the defendant makes his reply. Then the old men of the village and the headmen of the neighbourhood give their opinion on the case, and a brief entry is made by me which finally settles the claim.

 

This may seem, a very rough and ready way of disposing of land suits, but so far no man has ever appealed against my decision. If a claimant went to the Courts in Srinagar, the dark side of his character would appear. Pleaders and Court attendants would adulterate his simple claim, and in the same way, the defendant would throw off the candour and truthfulness inspired by the presence of his neighbours in the village and would lie in the most ingenious and surprising manner.

For five years this procedure of enquiry on the spot has gone on, and I attribute much of the quiet prosperity which is now growing in the villages, to the fact that money is not spent and bad blood is not engendered by litigation.

My system is the old system is the old system of the village panchayat. The commonest intellect can tell from the faces of the villagers whether the claim is just, and the ‘genius loci’ seems to keep both claimant and defendant to the point and to the truth. This system is easy and possible in Kashmir, for as I have already remarked, one can reach any village in the valley in a day’s ride.

             A Typical View of Mountain Scenery. High Elevation with Birch-trees in                   the Foreground.                                                          Negative: Captain Allan

 

 

My object in alluding to this procedure is to add further testimony to the fact that the Kashmiri peasant are not dishonest.

If they had been the hopeless liars they are reputed to be, I coule never have disposed of the many suits which have arisen.

A Kashmiri will rarely lie when he is confronted in his village by his fellow villagers; he will invariably lie when he enters the murky atmosphere of the Law Courts.

Perhaps this summary procedure would have been impossible if I had not in 1889 induced the State to withhold from the Kashmiris the power to alienate their land by sale or mortgage.

If hereafter, when population increases and communications are improved, the State should, unfortunately, see fit to give the fatal gift of alienation to their Musalman tenants, I trust that some portion of the holding (which should be two acres of irrigated and four acres of dry land) will be rendered absolutely inalienable.

I hope too that the suggestion that pleaders should be allowed to intervene in suits connected with land will never be made again, or that if it is made that it will meet with the wise veto which was accorded to it in 1892.

If litigation is fostered in Kashmir prosperity in the Villages will be checked.

 

The work of Settlement has been anxious and difficult. Powerful interests were at work against us, and if it had not been for the loyal and consistent support rendered to me by His Highness the Maharaja and his advisers, these interests would have made a Settlement impossible. These adverse interest were:

  1. The official classes and the Pandits who held land on privileged terms.
  2. The headman of the villages
  3. The city of Srinagar

As regard the officials it is pleasant to be able to say that from active opposition they have now passed to friendly co-operation. The Tahsildars, on whom the Revenue Administration chiefly depends, have been reduced from fifteen to eleven. With one exception they are all men of the old officialdom of Kashmir, and at the present time, only one of the eleven is a Pandit. It would have been easy to carry out temporary reforms in Kashmir if trained Tahsldars had been imported from Punjab as was at one time suggested.

But apart from the unfairness and unpopularity of such a measure, I am not sure that reforms effected through so foreign an agency would have been permanent. By selecting the best of the Kashmiri officials as Tahsildars, by raising their pay and by treating them with the respect due to their office, I believe that the most important agents of the revenue administration have grown to look on the Settlement with favour.

Of course numbers of superfluous officials who hovered around the carcass of the revenue have disappeared from the scene, and the fermiers and the soldiers have been obliged to seek other occupations. Happily, owing to the large influx of silver into the country, and to the briskness of internal trade, most of the drones have found a livelihood. As regards the privileged holders of land every effort has been made to treat them with indulgence, and for another ten years they will continue to be privileged, though their revenue will be somewhat higher that it used to be.

The headman of villages have on the whole accepted the change brought by the Settlement without any prolonged opposition.  They have now to pay revenue for their land like other cultivators, but their social position is better, and they are paid five per cent on Revenue Collections, whereas formerly they received nothing.


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