A positive upshot of the extended turmoil in Kashmir is the interest its youth have developed in history and reading it beyond the twisted narratives of a long time. Unlike preceding generations, they have relieved others of the burden of interpreting the past for them and are using their faculties to read it and draw their own conclusions. There is hardly any other development with a matching significance taking place here in recent years.
In a place like Kashmir where traditionally popular and State narratives are in serious conflict with history, the importance of separating fact from fiction cannot be overemphasized.
Often, people in their estimation of individuals and events of the past are led by information coming down to them without a filter or a fuller view of the objects. One needs to be sensitive, rather than sentimental, about one’s history. This sensitivity is constrained by selective access to the past and a consequent flawed conclusion. For any people seeking lessons from history or looking among the dead for their heroes, it is very important to have full facts before them.
Hero of a people need not necessarily be the perfection personified but before placing someone on a pedestal the least one can do is to satisfy oneself that the identified person did not contradict himself on the very ideals one seeks to eulogize him for. Who ought to know this better than a people who even after about a century are yet to decide whether a colossus figure of their recent history was a hero or a villain?
The other day, there was this discussion on social media about building a memorial in the name of Sheikh Imam ud Din, the last Governor of Kashmir under the Sikh occupation and setting up a Chair [at the University] after Muhammad Din Fauq, historian, journalist and an associate of Allama Iqbal.
There is nothing wrong in making such a suggestion but the moot point is whether we have full information about the individuals we seek to perpetuate in our memory? Without taking anything away from the two individuals, a couple of instances involving them would suffice to flag the importance of having a full view of history before deciding about a historical character or event.
Sheikh Imam ud Din represented the Sikh rule in Kashmir during its last days in 1846. He had succeeded his father, Sheikh GhulamMohiud Din, as Governor of Kashmir. The Sheikhs came from Hushiarpur city in the Punjab with a humble origin. The senior Sheikh’s association with the Lahore Darbar changed his fortunes that peaked with his appointment as Governor of Kashmir where he is remembered for some good public welfare works, especially unlocking of the Jama Masjid after 24 years of its closure by the Sikhs.
While the father remained at the helm for a year and half, the son’s tenure as governor lasted only for six months. After the defeat of the Sikhs in 1846, the Lahore Darbar was reduced to a position of subordination with the British Government letting the vanquished Sikh rulers to symbolically hold the throne for some time while it exercised the real power.
As regards Kashmir, the British instead of seizing the territory sold it to Gulab Singh of Jammu for Rs. 75 lakh as war indemnity and a nominal annual payment under the infamous Treaty of Amritsar. When the troops of Gulab Singh arrived in Srinagar to take control of Kashmir, Sheikh Imam ud Din offered resistance. A fierce battle ensued during which the Dogras suffered defeat and heavy casualties including the death of its commander, LakhpatRai. It was only through the British intervention that Gulab Singh was able to seize Kashmir. Sheikh Imam ud Din resisting and defeating the Dogra army is only one part of the story. The other part is that the resistance was offered by him as an employee of the Lahore Darbar on the instructions of its minister, Lal Singh, and ceased the moment the British army intervened.
The long and short of the story is that following the Treaty of Amritsar, Gulab Singh’s army headed by WazirLakhpat and WazirRatnu, arrived in Srinagar and asked Sheikh Imam ud Din to hand over control of the city which he evaded as instructed by Lal Singh, who had enmity with Gulab Singh. Singh had instructed him not to surrender or hand over control to the Dogras. As the stand-off between the two sides continued for some time, Imam ud Din handed over keys of the Koh-i-Mara’n Fort to WazirRatnu while avoiding handing over control of the Shergarhi Fort, the power-centre of Kashmir. WazirLakhpat along with his troops camped in the open field of Maisuma which during those days comprised the vast expanse from the present Tourist Reception Centre to the right bank of the Jhelum at Maisuma. The Sheikh did not pay heed to Lakhpat’s persistent demand of handing over the Shergarhi Fort upon which a battle between the two sides ensued. Lakhpat was killed. The Dogra army was defeated and its soldiers ran away in different directions, some hiding themselves in the Shankaracharya hill. WazirRatnu with a few hundred of his soldiers took shelter in the Koh-i-Mara’n Fort where they were besieged for forty days.
When the news about Sheikh Imam ud Din’s defiance reached Lahore, the British Government was not pleased. The Sheikh’s property at Hushiarpur was confiscated and his family put under siege. He was asked to immediately vacate Kashmir. Lieutenant Herbert Edwards promised him pardon if he presented himself quickly and produced evidence of having defied the British Government under the orders of Lal Singh. Colonel Jhon Lawrence with his troops proceeded via Rajouri to Kashmir to have Gulab Singh installed as its ruler. Another contingent proceeded from Baramulla. Sensing danger to himself and his family, Sheikh Imam ud Din relented and rushed to Thanna (Rajouri) to surrender to Jhon Lawrence. He pleaded with him that he had no objection to hand over Kashmir to the Dogras but since he was an employee of the Lahore Darbar it was imperative for him to obey Lal Singh. He produced written instructions from Singh to refuse handing over control of Kashmir. Eventually, he was pardoned and went to Lahore where, later, he was commissioned for service in Multan with a contingent of 2000 horse and foot soldiers. Subsequently, he was appointed for settlement of Jhang, bestowed with a khillat and his jagir of 2.5 lakhs rupees in Jalandhar restored to him.
None of the 19th century historians - Kripa Ram [GulabNama], BirbalKachroo [Majmoo-i-Tawarikh], GhulamNabi Shah Khanyari [Wajiz-ul-Tawarikh] and Hassan Khuihami [Tarikh-i-Hassan] – gives us any idea about the death of Sheikh Imam ud Din. G. M. D. Sufi, author of the 2-volume Kashmir published by the University of Punjab, Lahore in 1948, records his demise in the year 1859 at the age of 40, and his burial in the graveyard at the mausoleum of Hazrat Ali Hajveri Data Ganjbaksh in Lahore. He quotes a Persian inscription on his tombstone identifying the year of his demise.
Apparently influenced by Sufi’s work, the compiler of Hassan’s manuscript published in 1954 has added as a footnote the year of Sheikh’s journey to the other world as 1859. In the original manuscript, no such date is mentioned. Given the scholarship of Sufi and his meticulous and extensive research, it is difficult to believe that he could have erred in identification of the year of Sheikh’s demise, especially when he quotes from his tombstone.
However, an archival document accessed by this author clashes with the stated year of Imam ud Din’s death, and also highlights the irony of history where a person who handed down a humiliating defeat to Gulab Singh had to literally beg his grandson for employment for his own son.
According to the document, Sheikh Imam ud Din approached Maharaja Pratap Singh, the third generation Dogra ruler of Kashmir, with a request for a recommendation for his son to get employment in the Punjab Government.
On 31 December 1895, Singh wrote a letter to Sir Denis Fitzpatrick, Lieutenant Governor of Punjab seeking his indulgence in providing employment to Sheikh’s son. In response, Fitzpatrick expressed regret for not meeting the recommendation in view of “all civil departments in the Punjab being already over full”. The Lieutenant Governor’s letter of 9 February 1896 reads:
“I find on enquiry from the Inspector General of Police that some relations of the late Khan BahadurGhulamMuhaiyud Din, who was well known to Colonel Tucker, have already been provided for by this Government, and I am sorry I cannot see my way to do anything towards providing employment to the son of Sheikh Imam-ud-Din whom you have recommended to me in your letter of the 31st of December, the lists of candidates for employment in all civil departments in the Punjab being already over full.”
The snub from “My honoured and valued friend” left Maharaja Pratap Singh embarrassed. On 12 February, he wrote back to Fitzpatrick explaining how he was compelled by Sheikh Imam ud Din to write a letter of recommendation when he knew that his son was not “able and competent” to get employed in a civil department, and when the Lieutenant Governor did not like to fill the list of candidates “when the vacancies are very limited”.
He further explained that he had told these facts to Sheikh Imam ud Din but the later cited instance of PanditDayaKishenKoul who had been lately taken into government employment, and that the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of his district were ready to take his son in government service. The letter attempts to cover the awkwardness Fitzpatrick’s communication had created. In flattering tone, Pratap Singh, who had been earlier reduced to a puppet by the British through divesting his powers - later restored partially in 1905 and fully in 1921 - for his alleged hobnobbing with the Russian Czar, wrote:
“I am extremely glad to receive Your Honour’s kind letter of 9th instant which reached me today. Previous to my writing a letter of recommendation I had already spoken to Sheikh Imam Din that his son is not so able and competent as to be taken in a civil line under Punjab Govt. but he insisted and compelled me to do so, moreover I had spoken to him the present Lieutt. Governor does not like to fill the list of candidates when the vacancies are very limited in reply to which he told me that although the number of the candidates was already great but RaiBahadurPanditSurajKoul’s son, PanditDayaKishen was taken only lately and was deputed to learn the work at DeraGazi Khan and that his late brother [Did the scribe err here by writing ‘brother’ instead of ‘father’?] GolamMohyuddin Khan Bahadur’s rights and claims upon the British government were not less than those of the Punjabis. Hence I wrote the letter and gave the trouble and besides this he expressed me that the Commissioner & Deputy Commissioner of his District are quite ready to take his son under them only. Imamudin was of this opinion that when Your Honour’s order will be passed according to his request as RBP SurajKoul had obtained without any delay his son will be enlisted at once owing to such strong and most valuable recommendation. I have strong hope when District Officers give him similarly plain reply Sheikh will be definitely satisfied and will have to give his son some other employment under any native chief.”
Muhammad Din Fauq was a prominent author, poet and journalist and very well known for his Kashmir connection and being the first Muslim editor of a newspaper in Jammu and Kashmir. He had close association with Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the most influential voice of Kashmiri Muslims tormented by an oppressive feudality. When Fauq’s newspaper, Panja-e-Faulad, did not click Iqbal wrote a eulogy in verse whose publication in the newspaper shot up its sales. Fauq has authored more than two dozen books including Tarikh-i-Kashmir (History of Kashmir), Tarikh-i-Badshahi (History of Badshah’s Era), Khawateen-i-Kashmir (Women of Kashmir), Shabab-i-Kashmir (Youth of Kshmir), Tarikh-i-Poonch (History of Poonch) and Tarikh-i-Aqwam-i-Kashmir (History of Social Groups of Kashmir).
However, he is remembered more as a journalist supporting the cause of Kashmiri Muslims by highlighting their plight in his newspapers which - like Panja-e-Faulad, Kashmiri Gazette and Kashmir Jadeed - he issued and edited one after the other.
Interestingly, while Fauq’s memory perpetuates in the minds of Kashmiris as a fellow Kashmiri and a passionate journalist who fought the Dogra oppression with his pen, his own description about himself and his newspapers belies this impression. In an application made to the Government, asking for official favour, not long after the killing of about two dozen unarmed Kashmiris on 13 July 1931, he introduces himself as a “faithful to the throne” whose newspaper’s policy and his own services were “acknowledged by the Government of Jammu Kashmir”.
To substantiate his point, he produces official documents like a letter of appreciation from Maharaja’s Office, Inspector General of Police’s communication to the Prime Minister and the District Magistrate’s letter to the Political Secretary to His Highness.
The signed application written in Urdu on 22 October 1933, beseeches the Governor of Kashmir to issue advertisements to his newly launched newspaper, Kashmir Jadeed and also solicits orders for its purchase by the cooperative societies and government schools. The two-page letter, swearing by author’s loyalty to the throne and the moderate policy of his newspaper, opens with his own introduction as having been associated with the Akhbar-i-Kashmiri for 27 years during which “the policy of the newspaper was always moderate”.
The Government of Jammu Kashmir, he adds, has “always acknowledged its policy and services”. He quotes an instance of his positive intervention in February 1927, when panic-stricken Punjab based Kashmiri labourers had started rushing back to their homes after they heard that anyone among them who did not return to Kashmir by 15 February will be imposed a fine of 15 rupees by the Maharaja and allowed to enter Kashmir only after paying the fine. He reminds the Governor that he sent a telegram to “His Highness Maharaja Bahadur” to confirm or contradict the news which was responded through a return cable describing the rumour as absolutely incorrect, calling for immediate refutation. He recalls that he received a letter also from the Private Secretary to His Highness and forwards it as “Annexure 1 to this application.” The letter further reads:
“During the 1931 Agitation, notwithstanding many an inducement and actuation and incurring huge financial loss, the Akhbar-i-Kashmiri stood by its moderate policy. Accordingly, the Inspector General of Police, Government of Jammu Kashmir in his letter of 27 October 1931 addressed to the Prime Minister, acknowledges the newspaper’s and my services. Please refer to Annexure 2. The District Magistrate Kashmir in his letter addressed to the Political Secretary to His Highness, Government of Jammu & Kashmir, draws his attention to my services. A copy of this letter forms Annexure 3 to this application.
“Now, from September month of the current year, I have started from Srinagar a newspaper, Kashmir Jadeed, whose policy will always be moderate, and its main objectives are as under: (1) propagating peace and loyalty to the throne (2) publication of agriculture related articles for development and welfare of farmers of the State (3) social reforms (4) propaganda in favour of cooperative societies and farmers’ banks, and publication of activities of cooperative societies (5) educating students, through the newspaper and my own writings, on loyalty, historical information [places] of the country and peace (6) propagation for eradication of flesh trade, and welfare of women.
“I request that my newspaper Kashmir Jadeed be approved for [purchase by] cooperative societies and schools and attention of farmers of the State, especially Zaildars, Nambardars etc. be drawn to its circulation. Special attention of the High Court, Revenue Department and other departments like Military and Forest etc. may be drawn towards issuing advertisements, and my approved books, which are extremely useful for students, be especially patronized by the Education Department. I hope that the Government would oblige me by actually according consideration to my request.”
It goes without saying that when Fauq affirmed allegiance to Maharaja Hari Singh for a monetary consideration, Kashmiris were fighting the latter’s oppression with raw wounds inflicted on them only two years back. Iqbal, his patron, was writhing with pain in his soul on observing from Lahore the sad developments in Kashmir.
Fauq does not appear to be the only companion of Iqbal who tried to balance both the worlds – oppose the Dogra oppression in Kashmir and also demonstrate loyalty to the oppressor. There was this wealthy man from the Valley who we knew as Iqbal’s friend and admirer and on whose personal tragedy the Allama wrote an elegy which forms part of his poetry on Kashmir. He was also thick with Maharaja Pratap Singh for whom Iqbal had no love lost, and who distinguished himself with a deep dislike for his Muslim subjects. When a son was born to the Maharaja, the gentleman joined the King’s men in felicitating the ruler through a cable and “thanking God” for the birth of the crown prince. “Will present myself tomorrow after distributing niaz (offering in cash and/or kind made at a shrine as an act of thanksgiving) etc”, the telegram added. He also sent a similar cable on behalf of the residents of his area. Sadly, the crown prince did not survive and died an infant. A couple of years later, Pratap Singh more than paid back for the loyalty of the wealthy man by passionately writing to H. V. Cobb, British Resident in Kashmir, to recommend to the Viceroy of India the title of Khan Bahadur for the gentleman. The letter, written on 16 November 1908 just before the Maharaja left Kashmir for Jammu, is the most eloquent commendation a ruler can make for his subject.