J&K: Evolution of Communalism

The Hindu Right has evolved its own distinction in narrating and understanding history, especially of Kashmir. As efforts are underway to polarise the state in wake of Kathua rape and murder case, here are longer excerpts from the book of Dr Nirmal Singh, J&K’s former Deputy Chief Minister. The book Inter-Communal Relations in Jammu and Kashmir from 1846-1931 is basically his PhD thesis. In the first of the two parts, the focus is on the factors that the academic, now a politician, believes led to communalism in the state

From the new Tawi bridge: Gujjar Nagar, one of Jammu’s oldest Muslim habitations, facing Gukha Nagar, one of the latest Hindu habitations that comprises of non-state subjects

The moment the British Government appointed its permanent Resident in the state (1885) and subsequently took over its administration indirectly after deposing Maharaja Pratap Singh (1889), tension in the relations between Hindus and Muslims began to appear.

The reign of first two Dogra kings, Maharaja Golab Singh (1846-57) and Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1857-85) passed off peacefully. There was no communal problem between Hindus and Muslims. On the contrary, the Muslims belonging to the two sects, the Shias and Sunnis, quarrelled in 1872, but the timely intervention by the Government saved the situation. Maharaja Ranbir Singh provided financial help to the riot victims to the tune of Rs. 3,00,0002.

Economic Reasons

It was not till the last decade of the 19th century that the Muslims came in competition with the Hindus for various Government posts. Being educationally backward, they hardly fulfilled the qualifications required for the purpose. Their religious leaders had exhorted them that “so long as they truly followed the Quran and the Hadis, the Muslim community would make great progress. Adoption of the western system of education and western lifestyle would turn them apostates.” With the exception of Kashmiri Pandits and few urban Hindus, almost the whole of the Hindu population also had suffered from the same handicap. Consequently, almost all the civil posts had come to be occupied either by the Kashmiri Pandits and other Brahmins or by the Bengali Hindus and Punjabis, both Hindus and Muslims.

After Britishers appointed a Permanent Resident, Persian was replaced by Urdu and English. Now, the new appointee was supposed to know English as well as Urdu. It became another negative point, particularly for the Muslims who were unwilling to take to English learning due to their fear, of losing faith in their religion. Here again, Kashmiri Pandits, who once had taken to Persian learning to acquire civil jobs right from the time of the Muslim rule, took the lead in English learning and maintained their supremacy in the Government jobs. Many top positions were again filled up by the people from outside The State.

In 1889, Maharaja Pratap Singh was reduced to the position of a titular head and all powers were vested with the Maharaja-in-Council. The new establishment gave first priority to reforming the administrative set up of the State. On the pretext of introducing reforms in various departments, Europeans were appointed to various important posts. In 1892, only a few Europeans were found in the State administration, by 1907 about seventy higher posts came to be occupied by them. The Bengalis were completely out of the scene.

By this time, the Muslims also had awakened to the advantages of western education. Consequently, during the last years of the first decade of the 20th century, the All India Muslim Kashmiri Conference gave priority to making Kashmiri Muslims aware of the necessity of education. Its leaders passed resolutions in various conferences held under the auspices of All India Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental Education Conference, Aligarh, impressing upon the State Government to provide special opportunities to the Muslims of the State in securing the education. As a consequence of their strenuous efforts, coupled with those of some other organizations, such as Anjuman-i-Nusrat-ul-lslamia of Srinagar, the Kashmiri Muslims began to show interest in modern education. In 1891, there were only 20 percent Muslim students out of the total school-going scholars in the State. The figure rose to 41.51 percent in I9I4-15 and in 1931, the Muslims contributed 57 percent of this lot.

Naturally, the rapid spread of education among the Muslims gave birth to a new class of contenders for various posts in the State services. The newly middle class educated Muslims then also came to face another problem. In the competition to jobs, they found themselves inferior to both the Europeans and Kashmiri Pandits. Therefore, they stood little chances of success in the open competition. Finding themselves handicapped before the Europeans, whom they never wanted to antagonize at any cost, they expressed their resentment against the Hindus, especially the Kashmiri Pandits, whom they considered as their main rivals and responsible for their backwardness in every sphere of life.

Another factor which put pressure on Government services was the absence of any developed modern industry or private enterprises which could have provided additional opportunities to the newly educated class of people. This fact was further heightened as a result of the economic depression which set in the State after the First World War, owing to increase in prices and the shortage of food. During the War, Jammu province supplied about 18000 recruits for the British Imperial troops, in addition to the people enlisted in the State forces. The major contribution of recruits was made by Mirpur tehsil, Rajouri and Poonch illaqa. When the War was over, their services were no longer required. So a large number of soldiers, sailors, contractors and policemen were forced to return to their homes.

Besides adding to economic depression, these people, having been exposed to various national and international politico-religious movements, viz., Indian freedom and rise of pan-Islamism became an instrument of further discontentment. To add fuel to the fire, in the beginning of 1931 a large number of Muslim peasants, living on the State borders with Punjab, returned to their homes when the various projects in which they were employed there as workers were suspended. Consequently, the sources of extra income which provided a great relief to them in the payment of land revenue dues were blocked.

It was under these circumstances that the relations between the Hindu money-lenders (Sahukars) and the Muslim indebtors became strained and took the shape of communal distrust. In Jammu province, and especially in the Muslim majority districts, the peasants were largely under the debt of moneylender’s belonging to the Mahajan caste of the Hindus. As a result of their business, slowly and steadily the money-lenders were acquiring land from the Muslim peasantry under the mortgage system. But with the introduction of land assessment programme in the last decade of the 19th century, the latter became aware of their proprietary rights. Moreover, the general economic depression made them resistant to the ill designs of these Sahukars. The problem between these two classes of people was thus essentially economic in nature. But because all the moneylenders were the Hindus and most of their clients Muslims, this state of affairs made a fertile ground for communal propaganda.

In Kashmir, on the contrary, the Khoja Muslims were engaged in the same money-lending profession as was being followed by the Hindu Sahukars in the Jammu province, but no disturbance took place there because both the money-lenders and the debtors belonged to the same ethnical group, with the result that the religious factor could not be exploited.

Anyhow, the root cause of Hindu-Muslim riots of Rajouri in 1914, and Mirpur in 1931 was the strained relations between the Hindu money-lenders and the Muslim peasantry. During the Rajouri trouble, the rioters forced the Hindu Sahukars to leave the lands acquired by them under the mortgage system and also made their Bhaiees (account books) as their target. Again, during the Mirpur riots of 1931, the Muslim rioters, besides destroying the property belonging to the Hindus, also looted the houses of those Muslims who were engaged in the money-lending business.


Besides the Ahmediyas, the Ulema belonging to different sects of traditional Islam also had their share in disturbing the peaceful communal atmosphere in the State. A number of maulvis belonging to Wahabi and Hanfi sects of Islam in Punjab visited the State and tried to bring about traditional revivalism among the Muslims, especially of Jammu.

A number of religious fanatics indulged in anti-British and anti-Hindu Raj propaganda. In 1914, one Maulvi Abdur Rehman was turned out of Rajouri illaqa for his anti-Hindu preaching’s. Although he took up mostly economic issues, his expression of the long-standing grievances of Muslim peasantry through the medium of theology led to Hindu-Muslim tension in the area. When the State Government tried to put a check on the Maulvi by directing him to leave the area, a Hindu-Muslim riot followed.

In 1917, the State police took from the possession of one Haji Abdul Wahid about 8554 copies of 19 books containing inflammatory material, written with the purpose of exciting the anti-Hindu and anti-British feelings among the Muslims.

Hindu Revivalism

In Jammu and Kashmir, the rise in Hindu revivalism and Indian national awakening were contemporary and more or less the result of the efforts of the same set of people. It is significant that besides spreading their religious ideals, the Arya Samaj activists were also engaged in spreading the nationalist principles. The Shudhi and Swadeshi propaganda went hand in hand. Sant Singh, who was expelled from the State in 1907 for writing a pamphlet The first step of India towards Independence was a leading activist of the Arya Samaj.

The literature, which the police took from the possession of one Vishwanath in 1909, contained books on both nationalist movement and Arya Samaj.

As a result of the activities of Arya Samaj leaders, the impact of nationalism and Hindu-revivalism became quite distinct in the polito-religious and social outlook of the people of the State. But it was confined to a little majority of Hindus. To many, and especially to the Muslims, the word ‘nationalism’ was nothing but synonym of Hindu nationalism.

Judging the activities of the Arya Samaj, they felt that they could serve their interests not only by staying away from the nationalist movement but also by opposing it. This thinking brought the Kashmiri Muslim leadership closer to the British. Sensing threat from the Hindu nationalists, the latter pinned great hope in the Muslims who were all out to resist any eventuality which they expected from the Hindu Nationalists.

Speaker, Dr Nirmal Singh calls on Chief Minister

Naturally, the fact that the Nationalist Movement and Arya Samaj activities went side by side and, moreover, were the handiwork of same class of people, left a far-reaching impact on the State politics. In turn, it affected the Hindu-Muslim relations also. Firstly, in the State, nationalism carried the meaning of Hindu Nationalism only. This led to complete Muslim isolation from the national struggle. Differences in their political ideas became evident in their day to day activities also. Mutual suspicions were aroused, which became a major factor in creating dissensions in their inter-relations. Secondly, it helped in pushing the State Muslims towards the English. This fact also explains the sustained Kashmiri Muslims loyalty towards the British Empire over such a sensitive issue as the fate of Turkey in the Great War.

Ahmediya Intervention

The All India Muslim Kashmiri Conference played a significant role in creating feelings of separatism among the Kashmiri Muslims. Though the position of various Hindu castes was no better than its Muslim subjects, the Conference gave the impression that it was only the Kashmiri Muslims who were suffering in a Hindu State. It spared no efforts in creating class consciousness among the Muslims through press and platform.

A number of them were working on higher posts in the State services. In the initial stages, however, they took little interest in the Muslim affairs. But gradually they acquired considerable influence and by 1930 they became the sole spokesmen of the Kashmiri Muslims in Punjab.

SM Abdullah, the young and up-coming leader of the Kashmiri Muslims, also worked on the instructions of the Ahmediya Khalifa. But the Ahmediyas were the staunch supporters of the British. There is, therefore, the possibility of the Britishers working behind the scene as instigators to flare up the anti-Hari Singh feelings among the Muslim subjects.

Media Role

The Jammu and Kashmir being a Muslim majority State ruled over by a Hindu king became a matter of concern to both the Hindu and Muslim journalists. While it was the attitude of the Muslim newspapers to write against the Maharaja and Hindu religion, the Hindu papers often came to their rescue. The latter also never hesitated to write against the Muslims. As no paper was published in the state owing to ban on press, its inhabitants read newspapers coming from the Punjab.

As early as 1888 that some Muslim papers of Punjab, like Rafiq-i-Hind of Lahore, had been advocating the cow-slaughter which was banned in the State. Similarly, the Anglo-Indian papers were busy in publishing the alleged atrocities on the Muslims here.

Ahmediyas owned Al Fazal, Qadian, Hakam, Qadian, and Paigham-i-Saleh, Lahore. Similarly, the All India Muslim Kashmiri Conference of Lahore published Kashmir Gazette, Kashmir Magazine and Kashmir. All these newspapers went a long way in creating not only misunder-standings but also hatred among the Muslims and the Hindus.

In J&K, the slaughter of cows was banned since the time of the Sikh rule, and the guilty were imprisoned for ten years. Since Muslims abstained from beef eating, a cow-slaughter incident hardly became a cause of major communal tension. But towards the close of the 19th century, when communalist propaganda clouded its peaceful atmosphere, the situation began to change. The cow-killing crime increased. During the 1890-1910 period, the average cow-killing cases reported were only 13 per year and the number of people involved was 49. During the 1911-1931 period, these figures reached the average of 36 cases and 125 persons respectively. Owing to this increase in cow killing cases, in 1910 there prevailed tension in various parts of the State, viz., Sopore, Kotli, Bhimber, Rajouri etc.

Obviously, the Muslims of the State did not slaughter cow for food purposes. The incentive for cow-killing was purely religious. The Muslims began to make a vow to offer the sacrifice of a cow on the fulfilment of a particular objective.

They also slaughtered cows for sacrificial purposes on certain religious festivals, especially Id-i-Qurbani, when their relatives, friends and the village community joined in performing the rite. Apparently, sometimes the crime was committed with the connivance and knowledge of the Headman of the village, whose responsibility it was to report such a crime to the police.

Minor Irritants

There were certain mosques which had either been under the Government control since the time of Afghan rule or were closed down due to quarrel between two rival groups of the Muslims. The Muslims now wanted their restoration to them.

Another complaint of the Muslims was that whereas the Muslim Bakarwals had been branded by the State Government as a criminal tribe, the Hindu Gaddis, who followed a similar profession, bore no such stigma.

A few incidents of Hindus’ interference with the practice of Azan and Khutba gave opportunities to the Muslims to raise the cry of restrictions on their religion. Such incidents happened mostly in those areas where Hindus predominated.

British Contribution

When Maharaja Ranbir Singh was on his deathbed, the British authorities decided upon appointing a Permanent Resident in the State after his death. They also then felt the urgent need of introduction of some reforms in its administration. This was to be done, in addition to other reasons, to placate the Muslim opinion also in their favour. While explaining the outline of the new policy, Lord Kimberley, the Secretary of State to India, wrote in 1884: “The intervention of the British Government on behalf of the Mohammedan population has been already too long delayed”. Obviously, it was then that the British had decided to use the State Muslims as a tool in the advancement of their interests here. The disclosures about the subsequent deposition of Maharaja Pratap Singh, on his alleged secret correspondence with the Russians made by a Muslim paper of Punjab in June 1888, much earlier than the official declaration.

A little later, the rise of extremism in the Congress and emergence of Lala Lajpat Rai, a leading Arya Samaji, as its formidable leader in Punjab, had its repercussions on the State politics also. Under the influence of Arya Samaj, some of its activists undertook a nationalist propaganda in the State. The subsequent aloofness of the Muslim elements, however, from this campaign became a major factor in cementing the Anglo-Muslim friendship. It was not without reason that it were the important Muslim leaders of Kashmir, viz., Khawaja Hassan Shah Naqashbandi, Maulvi Rasool Shah and Khawaja Aziz-ud-din Kausa, who submitted a petition in 1906, informing the Resident about the nationalist activities in Jammu.

The pro’ British role of the Kashmiri Muslims during the first World War and their condemnation of Turkey joining the anti-British camp also helped the Muslim leadership getting through the test of loyalty. Their almost total aloofness from the Khilafat-Non-cooperation movement further strengthened their bonds with the British. Consequently, the British seem to have kept the Muslims on their priority list and fully supported their communal demands whenever made.

But it must be borne in mind that the British support to the Muslims was a part not of their anti-Hindu policy but an attempt to gather Muslim support against the nationalist activities which had its roots among the Hindus of the State. Moreover, the English also wanted to use Muslims as a check on the Dogra administration whenever necessary.

Maharaja Pratap Singh offered no challenge to the British designs in the State. On the contrary, he always showed eagerness to make their policies successful. But the situation changed when Maharaja Had Singh ascended the throne in 1925. Contrary to his uncle’s nature, he was too much tough and lover of freedom.

Maharaja Hari Singh, knowingly or otherwise, created an impression that he was ‘anti-British’ and, therefore, invited their displeasure forever.

One is convinced that Maharaja Hari Singh’s ideas were not less patriotic than those of any other nationalist leader of the time. How could he, therefore, go unpunished.

Moreover, the Ahmediyas, who were the main spirit behind the 1931 agitation and whose Head worked as SM Abdullah’s godfather, were staunch British loyalists. Loyalty to the British Empire was, indeed, one of their main principles. Obviously, they won’t have dared to spearhead the agitation in Kashmir without Britishers’ blessings.

There seems to have been some secret understanding between the British and the Muslim leadership, and the British were using them in their own interests. The coincidence of Maharaja’s Round Table Conference speech and the emergence of 1931 Muslim agitation further strengthens this viewpoint.

Furthermore, a number of Britishers themselves were actively involved in the 1931 agitation. One British lady, Margaret Nethersole, was expelled from the State for supporting SM Abdullah and inciting the Muslim rioters in the Kashmir disturbances of 1931. The other Britishers who were involved in this agitation were Mrs Devis and her son, E. Devis and Mr and Mrs Eric Biscoe. But there is nothing to suggest that these people acted according to a worked out plan.

The attitude adopted by the British Government during the course of the 1931 agitation emerged to be yet another factor which encouraged Muslim communalism in the State. Instead of checking the activities of the Ahmediyas and the Ahrars in the Slate, who were working from their headquarters in Punjab, the British brought increased pressure on the Maharaja to appoint an English officer to enquire into the alleged grievances of the Muslims.

(References have been edited out for the reasons of space and certain interventions were made for the reasons of clarity. The analysis solely belongs to the author.)


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