Historian Hangloo


On the eve of the publication of his ninth major book, historian Prof Rattan Lal Hangloo spent a few days in Srinagar after a protracted absence of nine years. Living outside Kashmir since 1978, now shuttling between Hyderabad and Jammu, especially after quitting as Vice-Chancellor of Allahabad University, Hangloo is dedicated full time to the study of Kashmir.  In a brief interaction with Masood Hussain, he talked about the protracted Kashmir mess, migration, and the highs and lows in Kashmir history

Prof R L Hangloo with his wife Sharika Kaul, also a teacher, in the University of Kashmir. KL Image: Hilal Shah

On the lawns of the Kashmir University guest house, Prof Rattan Lal Hangloo has his phone ringing uninterrupted. It is a student on one call and a colleague on another one. In the middle of the interaction, one of his colleagues moves into the frame only to seek his blessings. Another person comes to accompany him to his remote village down south, Hangulgund, on the Breng belt, almost 15 km from Anantnag, where he was born and brought up, a village where almost 47 Pandit families lived till the 1990s.

Son of an emancipated Kashmiri Pandit farmer, Pandit Radha Krishan, Prof Hangloo received his primary education at Breng. Later he was admitted to a high school in the town followed by his graduation in Arts from the Government Degree College, Anantnag. In December 1975, he was enrolled in the University of Kashmir, Department of History.

Hailing from a modest background, he did not know much about research and PhD. In the university, he met Hamza sahib, a historian and a researcher who suggested he study the Persian language in case he wishes to be a researcher, especially in medieval Kashmir.  Since he belonged to the Urdu medium, Hangloo, unlike his wife did not know Persian. So he started studying Persian as an additional subject and soon he had his master’s in history.

With a master’s in hand, Hangloo moved to Delhi where he enrolled himself as a scholar at the Jawahar Lal University (JNU). Upon the conclusion of his pre-doctorate, the M Phil, his mentor, Prof Mohammad Ishaq Khan asked him to join the History department at the University of Kashmir. After teaching at the university for around two and a half years, he went back to JNU for his PhD. Later, he did his post-doctorate and got appointed as an Assistant Professor at North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, where he taught for three years and nine months. Afterwards, he was appointed as an Associate Professor at the Central University of Hyderabad, where he taught for thirty-five years. Eventually, it was Hyderabad that became his second home. It was from there, that he went as a fellow to America and France, headed Indian chair two times besides doing research and teaching in foreign universities. He was also honourary Chancellor of the Nobel International University, Toronto in Canada.

Somewhere in 2013, he joined Kalyani University, West Bengal as Vice Chancellor for three years and later was appointed VC of the University of Allahabad for four years, a position he quit in early 2020, owing to a number of administrative issues.

Author of a number of papers and books, Prof Hangloo has three books on Kashmir to his credit. His 1995 book Agrarian System of Kashmir (1846 -1900) is a major contribution to the history of the Kashmir peasantry. It basically was his doctoral thesis. In 2000, his State in Medieval Kashmir offered the first scholarly map of the erstwhile Kashmir state. Post-2019, his Kashmir Before the Accession and After emerged as a major seller on Amazon.

During his brief Kashmir stay, Prof Hangloo spared some time for an interaction in which he spoke on various facets of Kashmir history.

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What occupies you these days after leaving the academic administration?

PROF RATTAN LAL HANGLOO (RLH): It is the history of Kashmir that engages me for most of my time, in the light of which my book, Kashmir: Before the Accession and After got published. It topped the Asian book section at Amazon. In fact, the book I am currently writing also is about and around Kashmir. Most of my works are Kashmir-centric. This is what I revel in.

KL: You have authored many books on Kashmir. At a personal level, I see your book on the agrarian system of Kashmir as your magnum opus. I see it as your seminal work. How did you probe into the subject of your research and what did you broach?

RLH: That was the outcome of my personal background. I knew the miseries of the peasants. Personally, I came from a farming background. My father was a Kashmiri peasant. He was not a government employee and had not even studied up to the tenth class. I often observed the testing times they went through, both Muslims and Pandits. They were not getting much out of agriculture. The Jagirdarana system during the Dogra rule had impacted them negatively. Inspired by the times and the circumstances, I researched the rural economy in which the focus remained on the agrarian system.

Our agrarian system distinguishes us from the rest of India and South Asia because there is a scarcity of agricultural land in Kashmir. This is the reason our agricultural economy has not been a primary source of our economy since ancient times. It always depended on supplementary contributions from the pastoral sector and craft production. Since the abrogation of article 370, which was not a suitable step, there has been a buzz about the introduction of industrialism to Kashmir. Sometimes, I laugh over the fact that how our policy planners have not taken note of the fact that there is no land – which land they are talking about? It is hilly beyond Awantopore, Shopian, Bandipre, Ganderbal, Sopore and Baramulla. In actual fact, we lost most of our agricultural land resources to urbanization.

There was a time when Kashmir alone had 123 varieties of rice and now we are left with no particular variety. All those varieties need to be revived.

In my research, I have tackled the bureaucratic apparatus that was linked to agriculture. I have also investigated the impact on our traditional agricultural methodologies, the consequences of the begar (forced labour) system and the unaffordable land revenue demand. Excepting few urban pundits and the families of Syeds, all farming community was taken on forced labour.

I had established a table that outlines the duties imposed on peasants and their share despoiled by the then government. This reveals how the Dogra regime exploited our land resources and pushed peasants to the limit.

If you see the Dogra rule minutely, you will see some big names who are being talked about as illustrious people. When you see the agrarian records and link their contributions, you come to understand that they were big thieves. One of them was Dewan Badri Nath, in whose name a school is being run in Jammu. How he exploited a widow and took over her entire inheritance is well documented. He changed her revenue records and it became a major issue then.

The fact is that the Dogra rule exploited Kashmir and literally devastated the agrarian economy. I have dealt with all these things in my book.

KL: Studying the Persian language might have given you access to some key resources on Kashmir history like the details written by Khawaja Saifuddin Mirza?

 RLH: Saifuddin was appointed as a news writer by Maharaja. He used to retain a copy of his writings between 1846 and 1856. All the 13 volumes, he had concealed the mud wall of his home. Lamentably, the thirteenth volume got damaged by the rain hitting the wall from outside. The rare asset was proclaimed after Safiuddin’s death, by his son, who perhaps was a judge. It happened when the wall collapsed during renovation. The treasure of thirteen volumes was bought and preserved in the SP Museum Library. Later, it was transferred to the Research Department library.

I remember to have spent Rs 1800 at that time of my research and created a micro-film of this asset. Moreover, I have a photo film of one of its volumes. This book is an authentic source of information regarding Kashmir. A number of researchers including scholar Chitrlekha Zutshi have used this key document though did not acknowledge it.

Prof Rattan Lal Hangloo, Kashmir hiistorain who was VC of Univerisdity of Allahabad and Kalyani University, West Bengal. KL Image: Hial Shah

KL: While studying Saifuddin – the family was friendly with Sikhs as well as East India Company – what did you feel about Kashmir’s poignant past?

RLH: The fact is that Kashmir has suffered uninterrupted since the fall of the Zainulabidin era. When I compare Kashmir to other nations, I wonder where from Kashmiris got this resilience. After Sultan Zainulabidin, see what happened – it was first civil war, then Mirza Haider Duglat came, then in 1586, Kashmiris had serious problems with Mughals as a result of which Yusuf Shah Chak was banished to Bihar where he was hanged.

Then Afghans came. Some people say they were good here and there but the fact is that they did not torment Hindus alone but Muslims as well. The Kashmir identity was bruised irrespective of faith. However, the most atrocious era, Kashmir has gone through was the Dogra regime. Even though the Dogra rule has ended, the fact is that Kashmir’s current situation has originated from the Dogra rule.

KL: What is the history behind the taking over of the land resources in Kashmir by the rulers? I believe it started much before the Dogra Rule?

RLH: See, Zainulabidin worked quite well for Kashmir. Mughals started to notify land taxes in Kashmir. However, Akbar provided some relaxation in revenue collection. Afghans lacked any connection or sympathy with Kashmiris so developing Kashmir was not their priority. Sar Buredan Peash Eein Sangeen Dilan Gul Cheda Ast, goes a noteworthy saying, which means in the Afghan era, Governors used to say that it is impermissible to pluck a blooming flower from the garden unlike beheading a Kashmiri.

A journal Past and Present used to be published in Moscow that carried research suggesting that the largest revenue collected by Afghans was from Kashmir. This research is based on Afghan archival material. But when we compare Afghans with the Dogras, the latter were more dangerous. They did away with the private sector in the agrarian economy and monopolised it. Only Dogras monopolised Kashmir’s agrarian economy and not Afghans.

Sikhs also exploited Kashmir. They considered Kashmir as a source of their income.

Kashmir occupies a specific strategic position. Its physiography is important. See the world map and you will see the centrality of Kashmir. You have trans-Himalayan countries on one side, the rest of India on the other side, and then there is China and Russia. Kashmir craftsmen till 1871 when the Franco-Prussian war took place, would be in Europe, the Arab world, China, central Asia and we had one route that went through Ganderbal. After the Franco-Persian war, the idea of nationalism came in vogue. The path to central Asia was blocked with the introduction of the Russian revolution and then came the Chinese revolution. The same thing happened in Europe. Then the Kashmir strangulation by Dogras added to the mess. So the crisis is where will our people go? More than half of our income would come from crafts and that has taken a hit.

KL: What is the focus of your book The State in Medieval Kashmir?

 RLH: Muhibul Hassan wrote a book on Kashmir Sultanate. Then R K Parimu used a title suggesting it was a book on Muslim Rule in Kashmir, which I think, it was not. This led me to think that there is no book on the characterization of Kashmir and how we evolved as a state. It discusses how Kashmir evolved as a state along with the institutions that we were given to adopt. It details Kashmir’s tribal transition, the change of our territoriality, political ideology, bureaucratic apparatus, and our type of legitimacy. The book mentions the political consequences and political legitimacy of the conversion of Kashmir and how were we incorporated by the Mughal regime.

KL:  Identity has been an earnest element for Kashmiri and a concurrent debate. Some believed Kashmir carries tribal traits in a global village. A scholar, Shonaleeka Kaul has worked on identity used Rajatarangni as a reference. Was Kashmir having an identity debate in Kalhan’s era too?

RLH: I have met her and read her book. The fact is that some of our Kashmiri brothers have left Kashmir quite early in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. They mostly belonged to urban areas. Most of the migrations earlier have taken place from urban Kashmir.

As for understanding the identity politics of Kashmir, it is essential to access rural Kashmir. Rural Kashmir is vital to Kashmir and Kashmiriyat and has played a key role in identity politics. So these authors have not been able to properly understand that aspect of Kashmir. They may use sources and other things to write on anything but not on identity politics.

Kashmiri identity has evolved in the early medieval period. In the lecture I delivered yesterday (at the University of Kashmir) on Composite Kashmir: Literature and Lived Experience, the idea was to locate and explain when the identity started getting established. When we notice it closely, Kashmiri identity has not been there before the times of Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani or Lal Ded and they have played a major role in the establishment of Kashmiri identity though it took many centuries. Our Sufi poets weaved the identity gradually and that is very important.

We have had relations with Afghanistan, Kandahar, Persia, China, Turkey, and other countries. As a matter of fact, Turks have been partly responsible for the craft and technology in Kashmir. Even now we say Turka-Chaan (the Turk carpenter) or we had Turkshikas, the Turk fighters. The fact is that Turks had a huge influence in India since the eighth century. The empires of Vijaynagar, Tamil and Delhi Sultanate had Turks dominating life as soldiers, rulers and weapon makers. They were brilliant. Many Kashmir armies had Turk dominance. Kashmir owes its technology improvement to Turks. Locally, we had Udhambaras, who later became Dhars, Tantrins, Magray, Rains, and Ikangras – they were all tribes. So the real Kashmir identity is a medieval phenomenon and not an ancient idea. We say Kashmiri Pandits, which is the outcome of ‘othering’ that started after the Muslim era. Otherwise, Kashmiris were contributing to Buddhism earlier as well but they were not called Pandits. So this was non-local labelling.

KL: You say Kashmir’s centrality has been quite a deadly affair. This might have been triggering migrations. One major migration, we witnessed was in the nineteenth century when Amritsar has more Kashmiri population than Srinagar. How many migrations has Kashmir faced until now?

RHL: Migration has taken place because of oppression, civil war, lack of resources and opportunities and they have quite frequent. It is nothing new. Migration to me, as a historian, is quite a normal transition in society. Kashmir has observed various migrations since ancient times. There are many books but I would mention one Andre Gunder Frank (February 24, 1929 – April 25, 2005, he was a German-American sociologist and economic historian) has detailed how lakhs of people from central Asia were migrating towards Kashmir and how they were then moving towards newer places. These included Kashmiri as well who would move.

It might interest you to know that Kalhana’s uncle, Bilhana was angry with King Harsha and left for Banaras. He never returned. Later in the fourteenth century, a major Kashmir migration took place from Kashmir towards Kishtwar and other places. In the Mughal era, Kashmiris picked up Persian as a language and they migrated to hold high offices in the Indian plains. Then, Faizabad was filled with Kashmiris. These included the family of Brij Narain Chakbast and the Nehrus. So many families went to Allahabad because the Mughal era gave them space to serve.

Then there were migrations in Afghan era and Sikh era and even in Dogra regime. It is a constant feature of any society regardless of the times. It happens in other societies too regardless of the reasons which could be opportunities, oppression or other things.

KL: In post-migrations, the follow up did lead to certain reversals as happened in the latter Dogra era. But it is not happening in the case of Kashmiri Pandits who migrated in the 1990s. What are the lessons from history?

RHL: Once migration takes place it automatically gets linked with the material resources. The migration of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s has attracted many opinions. The perspectives differ in nature. Some see it as the outcome of Jagmohan’s policy. Some see it as voluntary. Some say it was the outcome of the killings. These are different perspectives, which require to be examined. The migration coincided with the rise of liberalization and globalization in the world. It had brought many opportunities for various regions in the world including ours. People migrated to regions that were rich in technology, in and outside Kashmir. Some moved to the USA, some to Europe and some to China, Russia and France in addition to a lot of places within India.

Migrated people have always been observed to return to their roots but the material opportunities always hold them back. But the opportunities are so tempting that it becomes difficult to move back. For instance, my generation is nostalgic about Kashmir. But the generation that was born outside Kashmir lacks the temptation to be in Kashmir. Yes, they will come to see the Janate-e-Baynazir for 10 days but they will not understand the challenges of living here. That is why the migrants move ahead and avoid looking back as is the case of Nehrus.

KL: The migration of Kashmiri Pandits was on a mass scale.

RHL: Certainly, it was a mass migration. The government of India misrepresents the figures saying there were 50,000 people. But the near-exact figure that I along with T N Madan and many other historians surveyed suggested number was three lakh eighty-seven thousand.

KL: But the eighteenth-century migration was mostly because of the 1857 war and primarily for opportunism?

RHL: I have a book Bahar-e-Gulshan Kashmir. It is in Persian and written by Kashmiri Pandit and I secured it from the Allahabad museum. That migration was because of opportunities and not because of miseries. That book included a list and details of thousands of people who served the Mughal empire. It details the positions they held. Then, their knowledge of Urdu was a key element in popularising the language in Lucknow. There were almost three thousand people who were Urdu poets.

KL:  You are a historian, a Kashmiri Pandit and have lived at various places in your career. This all has not evaporated Kashmir from you. What could be done to undo the wrongs of the past?

RHL: Both communities need to understand the delicateness of the time they are going through. They have to decided if at all they will leave a war to their new generation. My father used to tell me that ‘this shall also pass’. We will have to close this chapter and help the new generation to coexist peacefully by showing them the dream of a good Kashmir. Our children become what we provide to them. Hence, reconciling the relations is the only solution to our problem. Hindrances will be there, brotherhood is the only element that can overpower evil. If you see, at individual level, Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmir Muslims have excellent relationships. Some elements trigger controversy and add to the crisis. Though lot many people have sold their inheritance, but if the Kashmiri Hindus wish to return they will have to first contribute to the amity. The wedge has to be managed to mend the fence. The conspiracies need to be stopped. Politicians come and go. Asoka is not around but we will have to see what is good for us.

History is unpredictable. It has its own mechanism to work on. The way our nation is suffering presently, nobody was aware of a decade ago. Who knew the rise of militancy, the interventions of the army or the abrogation of Article 370?

KL:  Be it the climax of Buddhism or the peak of Hinduism, Kashmiris have always contributed to knowledge and literature. Do not you feel you should return home and work?

RHL: I would return home, sit back, and write about Kashmir. I would love to return and start living permanently in Kashmir. I have my lands here. I am keen to return home.


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