The Valley Of Kashmir | Sir Walter Roper Lawrence | Part 6
The interests of the city have from the earliest times been opposed to the interests of the villages. The city people want grain and other villages produce at rates far below the cost of production. ‘What the eye does not see the heard 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 for Srinagar, 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 has unwittingly done so much to pauperize and emasculate the population of its summer capital, has splendid work now before it in raising the Shahr-bash to the position of self-helping and industrious citizens.
In Chapert X, I have endeavoured 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 of changes are contemplated. A feeling of impatience may be aroused when the reformer sees that the Kashmiris are opposed to changes which 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 impress on the national character – that there has been no progress in the ordinary sense of the world, 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 skeptical regarding the advantages of progress. The people have a keen intellect, and this joined to their steady aversion to change makes them very difficult subjects 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 reforms 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 as 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, and it would save much trouble and disquietude if the State would endeavour to suppress the eveil system which still lingers on of disseminating false rumours.
The Zaina-Kadal, or fourth bridge of the city, used to be the place where false rumours were hatched, but now the news makets have moved to the first bridge, Amiran-kadai. 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 opposition they have now passed to friendly cooperation. 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 Tahsildars had been imported from Punjab as was at one time suggested. But apart from 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 farmers and soldiers have been obliged to seek other occupations.
Happily owing to the large influx of silver into he 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 with indulgence, and for another ten years, they will continue to be privileged, though their revenue will be somewhat higher than 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 Collection, 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