The Valley Of Kashmir | Sir Walter Roper Lawrence | Part 6

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The interest of the city has from the earliest times been opposed to the interests of the villages. The city people want grain and other villages produce at a rate far below the cost of production.  ‘What the eye does not see the heart does not grieve’ – and the authorities’ saw and heard the city, but the villagers were out of sight and out of mind, I have described in another chapter the facts connected with the collection of revenue in kind.

 

Low prices of the chief staple rice (lower this year, 1894, than they have been for years) coupled with difficulty in selling the State grain brought into Srinagar at the end of 1893, the opening of a cart road from Baramula to Srinagar, the extraordinary increase in the amount of silver now in circulation in the city, and last, but not least, the growing desire of shawl-weavers and even Pandits to obtain labour, all point to the conclusion that a new era has dawned from Srinager and that before the long honest industry will be the rule, and helpless and ignoble dependence on the State and its charities will be the exception.

 

I have urged on the authorities the establishment of Technical Schools and the State which unwittingly done so much to pauperize and emasculate the population of its summer capital, has splendid work now before it in raising the Shar-bash to the position of self-helping and industrious citizens.

 

In Chapter X, I have endeavored to describe some of the most striking points of the national character, and it will be wise to bear these points in mind when further reforms or changes are contemplated. A feeling of impatience may be aroused when the reformers see that the Kashmiris are opposed to changes that are obviously for their good. It should, however, be remembered that if it had not been for their essentially conservative nature the Kashmiris would have succumbed to the stern rules of social evolution, and would have been blotted out as a distinct nationality by their strong superiors the Mughals, Pathans, Sikhs and Dogras.

 

It is no exaggeration to say that these successive dynasties have left no impression on the national character – that there has been no progress in the ordinary sense of the word, and that the Kashmiris are now, in spite of many experiments in administration, very much what they were in the times before the Mughal conquest linked the valley with India. It is therefore necessary to be patient, and it is wrong to condemn the Kashmiri if he is sceptical regarding the advantages of progress.

 

The people have a keen intellect, and this joined to their steady aversion to change makes them a very difficult subject for administrative experiments. Many changes have been introduced by the Settlement, but they have been made after a careful study of the character and ideas of the people. Old institutions have been adapted to new wants, and in the future reform will be futile unless it proceeds on these lines. But in order to understand old institutions it is essential to learn the customs of the people, and the shortcomings of past administrations are chiefly due to the fact that the authorities considered the Kashmiris and their usage unworthy of study.

 

My experience is that in dealing with so peculiar a people nothing, however small, is unimportant if it gives a clue to the working of their minds. Take for instance the old practice of espionage, or the blind credence which the village people place in any news coming from Srinagar. The Kashmiris are well-styled Hawabin (watchers of the wind), and it would save much trouble and disquietude if the State would endeavour to suppress the evil system which still lingers on of disseminating false rumours. The Zina-kadal, or fourth bridge of the city, used to be the place where false rumors were hatched, but now the news makers have moved to the first bridge, Amiran-Kadal.

 

Though the wise knew that Khabir-i-Zaina-kadal was false, the majority are not wise, and much misery is caused to the villagers by the reports which emanate from the city.