Statues of bigotry are being removed worldwide, why they stand in Kashmir?

On May 25, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, knelt on the neck of a 46-year-old African-American, George Perry Floyd for almost nine minutes, while he was handcuffed and lying face down on the street saying “I Can’t Breathe”. George died minutes later. The incident happened when the police were responding to a call for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.

Derek was charged with Third Degree Murder and other officers with aiding and abetting. After the videos of George’s murder became viral, it triggered mass protests across 75 US cities against the systematic racism, and police brutality faced by African-Americans in the United States. Even though the police were charged, there is no let-up in the protests where BlackMatterLives protestors demand an end to police impunity and cessation of systematic police racism against African-Americans.

Protestors have been demanding the removal of many racist symbols including Winston Churchill. On the 7th of June, BLM protestors removed a statue of 17th century Slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and several others have been defaced. Thousands of people have demanded the removal of many statues, one among them being of M.K Gandhi‘s in the United Kingdom. The systematic violence and inhuman treatment of Africans during the slave trade resounds with the Dogra rule in Kashmir. Many such symbols should’ve never been erected in Kashmir. From colleges to parks, these names only invite disgust of the public.

On March 16, 1846, the British colonial empire transferred the territories of Kashmir to the Ghulab Singh against the wishes of Kashmiris. This was a gift for the services that Ghulab Singh had rendered to the empire during the Anglo-Sikh war where he didn’t even show up to fight against the British and was in constant touch with the Englishmen to inform them about the Sikhs. The leaderless Sikh army couldn’t withstand the British and surrendered. The Sikh Darbar being cash-strapped to pay the war expenses to the British, agreed to offer the territories of Kashmir, and all the mountainous territory situated between eastward of the Indus river and westward of Ravi to the British Government. British had no interest in keeping the state in their possession and transferred these territories to Ghulab Singh against the amount of 75 lac Nanak Shahi rupees.

The Dogra regime pounced on every penny they could extract from the hapless population of the valley. The taxes were even levied on coolies, those who lived off from the produce of Wular lake, and even on the number of family members and animals you had. When Ghulab Singh passed in 1857, Ranbir Singh took his place. That year he banned fishing and slaughter of any animal. Brahmin priests at that time believed that Ghulab Singh had taken refuge in a fish so fishing was banned. In the case of cow slaughter, not only the person who slaughtered the cow but the wrath of the Dogra regime fell on his family. It remained punishable by death. When Ahl Hadees wanted to educate local Muslims in South Kashmir, they were not allowed, but Ranbir Singh promoted sanskrtisation of Kashmir.

Apart from the heavy taxation that he levied on every sector of Kashmir, the Dogra regime forced young Kashmiris to carry supplies for their military in Yasin and Gilgit. The mountain passed from Gurez into Astor Valley. In 1860, an approximate of 10,000 Kashmiris were forced by Maharaja Ranbir Singh to carry supplies for the Dogra army in Gilgit. This became to be known as begaar.

People were rounded up by the troops and forced to carry the loads on their backs through the mountain passes. Many of the Kashmiris would never return from the 12-day journey, and some of them would be sold as servants when they reached the other side. In 1866, the Dogra army forced even the tradesmen and Boatmen to carry loads on their back for the military in Astor valley. Many who were forced to carry the loads died during the way due to starvation, cold exhaustion, and want of food. There was not even a single provision made for their clothing, food, and subsistence. The ones who returned were sent back with more supplies. Often it would occur that the people carrying the loads will consume some of it and will have to recompense with their own money when they reach to the other side. In the name of Payment, they would receive one seer of rice for a day which was too little for even a normal laborer let alone a person who was carrying supplies through snow-capped mountain passes.

When Lt. Robert Thorp reached Kashmir, he exposed the crimes of the Dogra regime in his book. He extensively wrote about it in Cashmere Misgovernent:

Through such scenes, heavily laden, the zemindars take their way. Powerful and hardy are the sons of Cashmere; patiently they toil onwards through the drifting snow, in the name of Allah and his prophet! Many encourage each other with the words of hope; It may be that they will yet reach the other side in safety. Alas, no! From two or three the strength is already departing, and the keen wind is paralyzing the sinews. Slowly the conviction fastens upon them, that they shall never quite those frightful solitudes, never see again their homes, nor those who dwelt there waiting for their return, far off in the sunny vale of Cashmere.

Cashmere Misgovernment/page 76-77

On April 29, 1865, weary of the heavy taxation that hardly left anything to eat protestors assembled at Zaldagar. They carried a mock coffin of the Dogra governor and chanted ” Raj kak is dead, who shall give him grave”. This infuriated the governor who sent hundreds of troops to charge at the demonstration. 28 were killed, many of whom died by jumping in the water. Before the world witnessed its Mayday, Kashmir had already given blood.

Like Robert Thorp, George Hayward exposed Ranbir Singh’s crimes in Yassen where he reported that the Dogra troops threw children in the air and hit them with swords as they fell to the ground. He is buried in AJK. There is no argument that the British had their reasons for sending Robert Thorp to Kashmir especially the fact that Ranbir Singh was annexing the hill territories violating the Treaty of Amritsar. It would’ve put them in direct confrontation with the advancing Russian empire. This was the sole reason the British didn’t rule Kashmir directly.

The British Suzerainty overlooked these crimes as it was Ranbir Singh who had assisted them during the Indian mutiny of 1857. Not just he sent his troops to assist the British, but also considered Indian fighters against the British as “faithless bastards”. However, when Robert Thorp was allegedly murdered by Dogra troops, fingers were pointed at Ranbir Singh who had enough reasons to kill him. The hue and cry forced the British Suzernity to take matters seriously. Forced begaar may have ended, but the symbols of it remain. Surely, Robert Thorp deserves a unique place in Kashmir, even though he was forced to leave, he came back to record the happenings when he didn’t have to. The parks, Streets, Library, and colleges named after the descendants of Ghulab Singh’s who skinned Kashmiris for years are prime examples of Kashmir’s own Christopher Columbus’s. JKCCS confers an award to acknowledge the work done by Thorp in Kashmir. He is buried in Sheikh Bagh, Emra Kadal.

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