Z. G .MUHAMMAD
In our history, there are lots of gaps and missing links. That, in fact, have left scope for conjectures and befuddled our narrative. For the nations in the struggle, a candid narrative is very important for achieving their goal. Nonetheless, it is history that provides sinews to the narrative of a nation. To quote a top British historian George Macaulay Trevelyan author of “History of England: “If one could make alive again for other people some cobwebbed skein of old dead intrigues and breathe breath and character into dead names and stiff portraits. That is history!”
There is a need for breathing a fresh breath in our narrative by resurrecting our history from the cobwebbed pages of our history. This, I realized while filliping through pages of a travelogue ‘Where Three Empires Meet’ by E. F. Knight and a reading a typed manuscript of ‘The Wrongs of Cashmere’ by a British missionary in Kashmir, Arthur Brinckman. Knight like G. T. Vigne has been quoted by many British and American historians who have written about the Kashmir Dispute- equally a few important Kashmir historians like Dr. Abdul Ahad have also referred to such works and untapped source materials. But, largely “scholars” of history in our Universities have chosen to maintain inexcusable silence on contested narratives and contentious issues. That is understandable in as much as our universities do not enjoy academic freedom but after bidding farewell to campuses nothing could have prevented them from doing honest and genuine research – if they did not suffer from the post-retirement-job syndrome that afflicts majority in academia.
Some British citizens visiting Kashmir despite being part of the Raj were not happy over their country having indulged in the slave trade and selling Kashmir to Raja Gulab Singh for consideration of a petty amount. Some horrified at ‘the majority community made to submit to the religious prejudices of a small minority minced no words in comparing dungeons of Hari Parbat to Bastille of Paris- a fortress, where prisoners were tortured. That was stormed during the French revolution. In Dicken’s novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ we see Madame Defarge leading the mob that stormed the prison for freeing the prisoners. It cannot be said if Knight while comparing Hari Parbat Dungeons Bastille of Paris was looking for someone like Defarge to storm the fort. However, he has beautifully summed up the grim situation as obtained at Kashmir towards the end of 19th century that had intensely angered visitors like him. Writing in detail about his experiences of travelling on the under construction Jhelum Valley Road and fear gripping people in the beautiful valley he writes, ‘that it was not mere risk of breaking one’s neck but of committing a sacrilege in the worst degree and making oneself liable to imprisonment for life in dungeons of Hari Parbat, the Bastille of Srinagar for running over a sleeping cow.’ ‘Many unfortunate Muslims are lying immured in Hari Parbat because that in time of famine had ventured to kill their own ox to save himself and family from starvation.’
On seeing the cruelties and brutalities inflicted on the majority, many British travelers pleaded for termination of the agreement for sale of Kashmir and demanded its direct annexation with the Raj. One of them was a missionary in Kashmir Arthur Brinckman. In 1868, he published a pamphlet ‘The Wrongs of Cashmere”. It carried a long subtitle explaining the objective behind the pamphlet. The subtitle read: ‘A plea for the deliverance of that beautiful country from the slavery and oppression under which it is going to ruin.’
To prick the conscience of his nation the missionary left Kashmir and returned to his country to bring ‘wretched condition of Kashmir into the notice of the public and press, and that Government will be called on to release the unhappy country from the oppression and miseries.’ Calling Kashmir an ‘ill-fated country’ he squarely blames his government for the sufferings of Kashmir. As clergyman- a missionary he sees it his duty to raise his voice against ‘injustice and oppression, and try to get wrongs redressed. Through this pamphlet, he held a mirror to his government and told it that by selling Kashmir to a “tyrant Raja” it had done a disservice to Christianity and christen missionaries.
It is the historical reality that the people of Kashmir had resisted the ‘Treaty of Amritsar’ denounced it as a ‘sale deed, raised a banner of revolt against and it was but for the British intervention that Gulab Singh was foisted on the people of Kashmir. Brinckman endorsing it in his pamphlet informs people back home that ‘Kashmir and its people were sold by us to Gulab Singh for 75000 rupees in 1846. That this sale was against the wish of the people, who were allowed no choice in the matter’. He also questions the validity of the agreement under which Kashmir was sold and asks his government, “Why they are not asked who they wish for their ruler Victoria or Hindoo diwans?
The author also tells us that as far back as 1820 that is one year after Ranjeet Singh’s soldiers had invaded Kashmir two envoys were sent to British government from Kashmir asking for protection. Instead of coming to their protection, he informs people in England that the British government committed ‘great injustice’ to people s ‘who had never harmed England by selling them into slavery.’
There is a lot more in the 56-page pamphlet that very subtly invalidates “The Treaty of Amritsar”, delegitimizes the rulers and their actions thereafter.” It is such gaps in the Kashmir narrative that need to be filled. That cannot be achieved at the individual level but at an institutional level. So far, as a society, we have failed to establish an independent research institution that could address issues like gaps in our narrative and sponsor and support independent research studies.
-Z. G. Muhammad is a columnist and writer born in Nowhatta, Srinagar, Kashmir