The Day Kashmir Was Sold

After East India Company sold the entire land and people situated between the Ravi and Indus rivers to Jammu’s Raja Gulab Singh for Rs 7500000 in March 1846, a soldier set up a heterogeneous Kashmir state that became J&K. Historian Ashiq Hussain Bhat revisits the issues and circumstances that led to a historically notorious Treaty of Amritsar, and exploitative misrule for 100 years of a state to which NC lawmaker Ajatshatru Singh, the son of ‘heir apparent’ Karan Singh, staked a claim more than 160 years later, last week.


Srinagar in 1860: The photograph taken by Samuel Bourne is part of an album entitled ‘Photographs of India and Overland Route. Photo: British Library

It had come for the first time from somebody who belonged to the last ‘royal’ family of the state. Ajatshatru Singh told the state legislative council that if the incumbent rulers are unable to run the state, they should return it to those it “belonged to”.

Though the brief statement by the NC lawmaker and grandson of Hari Singh, the last Maharaja of J&K, was by and large ignored, the ‘prince’ was correct to the level that the state “belong to” their family. It was their family that had purchased the entire estate (read Kashmir) along with people from East India Company under the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846. But the situation in which it happened was interesting.

During 1830s the British Company’s India Government wanted to push its western frontier from river Sutlej beyond Peshawar, set up a puppet regime in Afghanistan and use it against Russians. But across Sutlej was the mighty Sikh empire led by Ranjit Singh with his capital at Lahore. The reason was British fancied India?s invasion by Russia, though impractical at that time given the Sikh territory, Afghanistan and Western Turkistan as buffers in between.

The plan was to dethrone Amir Dost Khan in Kabul and set up Shah Shuja, the grand son of Ahmad Shah Abdali in his place. British and Shuja approached Ranjit Singh, who was in his twilight years of life. Singh agreed only if his title over erstwhile Afghan provinces like Peshawar, Kashmir, Derajat of Indus was confirmed. In June 1838 a tripartite alliance was created secretly. Dost Khan was captured and brought to Delhi in January 1841. His son Akbar Khan led a ruthless insurgency that led to Shuja’s killing a year later, and release of his father in 1843 after British suffered worst defeat.

(Gulab Singh: Painting:British Library)

By then, Sikh empire was on decline. Ranjit Singh died in 1839 and in quick succession his son and grandson were killed in a self-consuming civil war. Defeated in Kabul, British government wanted to devour the Sikh empire. It was at this point that marked the emergence of Gulab Singh as a major player in this part of the world.

Gulab Singh had joined Ranjit Singh’s Army as a Sawar, cavalryman, in 1810. In a few years his father Kishore Singh, and his brothers Dhian and Sucheet Singh became important in Lahore Durbar. In 1820 Ranjit Singh granted Jammu as jagir to this Dogra family subject to the condition that they will liquidate Dogra freedom fighter Mian Dido and punish the king of Kishtwar Raja Mohammad Tegh Singh for sheltering Shah Shuja, the fugitive Afghan king and the owner of Kohinoor diamond.

In 1821 Gulab Singh attacked Kishtwar, took its Raja prisoner and sent him to Lahore where Maharaja Ranjit Singh slew him. Kishtwar eventually served Gulab Singh as a springboard to launch his Ladakh campaign. A year later in 1822 Gulab Singh’s army surprised Dido in Trikota hills in the compound of Vaishno Devi shrine and killed him there. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was so happy with him that he came to Akhnoor in June 1822 to perform raj tilak (marking of the forehead as a sign of prince hood) of Gulab Singh. Thus Gulab Singh became Prince of Jammu. His influence in Lahore touched skies.

During Anglo-Afghan War Gulab Singh as the vassal of the Sikh State had met the East India Company agent, Colonel Henry Montgomery Lawrence, at Peshawar in 1841. It marked the beginning of his relationship with Lawrence which he used to his advantage later. In the civil war that plunged the Sikh empire, Gulab Singh’s dynasty was liquidated in Lahore. His two brothers, Dhian and Sucheet Singh, his nephew, Hira, and his two sons, Udham and Sohan Singh were killed by ending 1844. Then, the British had annexed Sind in 1843 and were readying to take over Lahore.

As proactive British army annexed parts of Sikh empire in 1845, Lahore, then led by 7-year old Dhileep Singh (he ruled through his mother Rani Jindan), panicked and finally sent its army. All its three commanders fled well before fighting. In this chaos, Jindan invited Gulab Singh and appointed him as Chief Minister. British won and Governor General of East India Company, Henry Hardinge, declared his desire to negotiate the fate of Lahore State with only Gulab Singh because he was the only chief in Punjab who did not seek hostility with the Company’s Government. By February 15, 1846, Gulab Singh was negotiating. Many think it was a fixed match because a leader would have helped Sikhs to route the British who feared soaring temperature and were only 35000.

Chinar Bagh Dal Lake in 1860: The photograph is from the Edward Molyneux Collection: Album entitled ‘Indian Photographs’

The outcome of the negotiations was interesting: Lahore Sikh state became a protectorate. British imposed a war indemnity of Rs 1.5 crore on Lahore for being guilty of “unprovoked aggression” against East India Company! British were informed in anticipation by Dina Nath, a Kashmir Pandit living in Delhi who was Finance Minister of Lahore government that the total amount in Lahore coffers was only Rs 50 lakh. Nath was part of the team that negotiated the deal!

Indemnifying the Lahore State was a device to divest it of vast territories and at the same time reward Gulab Singh. British demanded that in lieu of the remaining one crore rupees Lahore State should cede all the territories situated between rivers Beas and Indus; and that Lahore should recognize Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu as an “independent sovereign” so that the British Government could “admit him to the privileges of a separate treaty”. The scheme was formalized between the British and Lahore State on March 9, 1846, through Treaty of Lahore, courtesy of Gulab Singh. By 1846 Jammu had grown into an empire surrounding Kashmir Valley.

Ladakhis in 1890 – Pic: British Library

The British Government was extremely indulgent towards Gulab Singh. Prior to admitting him to the privileges of a separate treaty, they elevated him to the status of Maharaja at Amritsar on March 15, 1846, during a state ceremony. It was on this occasion that he stood up, joined his hands in an expression of gratitude to the British, and declared himself to be their zar kharid gulam (a bought slave). It was on the next day, March 16, 1846, that the two entered into a separate treaty Kashmir knows as Treaty of Amritsar.

Given the customs and the traditions in empires that dependant princes were obliged to come to the aid of their overlord with men, money, and materials in times of foreign war or domestic strife, Gulab Singh was duty bound to help Lahore State. Lahore only needed one crore rupees. Then, Gulab Singh was the richest feudal lord in the Sikh empire. His Jammu State had grown into an empire within the Sikh Empire. Besides, he possessed jagirs in Jhelum and Gujarat districts of Punjab and the lease of salt mines in Jhelum and had appropriated the treasures of slain ones like Queen Chand Kour (Kharrak Singh’s widow), Raja Sucheet Singh, and Raja Hira Singh. But he did not do this. In Lahore crisis, he got his own pie.

Through Article 1 of this Treaty, British transferred all the territories situated between rivers Ravi and Indus (which included Chamba, Kashmir Valley and cis-Indus Hazara in addition to Dhian Singh’s jagir of Poonch – Bhimber, and Sucheet Singh’s jagir of Ramnagar, Hira Singh’s jagir of Jasrota, Rani Chand Kour’s jagir of Kharikhariali, and Gulab Singh’s dominions of Jammu, Kishtwar, Ladakh and Baltistan) into his “independent possession”. He would pay them Rs 75 lakh (Nanakshahi) rupees (Article 3). Also, he would acknowledge British supremacy (Article 10) – independence gone!

Kashmiri Village Family in 1890

But did Gulab Singh actually pay to purchase Kashmir from the British? History clearly records that he paid them one instalment of Rs 25 lakhs. British also accepted his slain brother’s (Sucheet Singh) treasure worth Rs 15 lakhs. The treasure was found in 1844 buried on the left bank of Sutlej river near Ferozepore. After Suchet’s assassination in Lahore, his servants were trying to remove it but were caught by the British. The British finally took the treasure as part of the Treaty obligations. For the rest of the amount, history offers conflicting versions. It is highly doubtful whether Gulab Singh paid them any more money on account of purchase of Kashmir.

But Gulab Singh’s entry into Kashmir was not smooth. When Kashmir was being transacted in March 1846 at Amritsar, its Sikhashahi Governor, Sheikh Gulam Mohi-ud-din was on death bed. He died on March 25, paving way for his son Imam-ud-din to takeover. In June 1846 Gulab Singh sent his troops under Lakhpat Rai to take Kashmir. Lakhpat Rai occupied Kohi-Maran Fort. Imam-ud-din was instructed by Lal Singh, the Chief Minister of Lahore State, that he should resist Dogra troops. With the help of men furnished by Sher Ahmad Khan of Karnah, Imam-ud-din’s troops attacked Dogras’ and killed many of them including Lakhpat Rai.

Gulab Singh was desperate for possession. He represented his case before Colonel Lawrence and requested him to fulfil British treaty obligations. Lawrence headed towards Kashmir via Mughal Raod at the head of a 10000 strong Sikh force towards the end of October 1846. He encamped at Thana in Rajouri. Imam-ud-din gave up and surrendered before Lawrence who sent him to Lahore as a prisoner. On November 9, 1846, Colonel Lawrence set up Gulab Singh as Maharaja of Kashmir or rather Jammu and Kashmir State.

A painting by James Duffield Harding showing Gulab Singh’s Jammu Palace being guarded by his army in 1847. A British Library Photograph

Post-installation, Gulab’s first act was to crush the tribesmen of Sher Ahmad Khan, the Bombas, the ancestors of the people now inhabiting Muzaffarabad. Soon after, he imposed heavy taxes on everything that could be brought under the purview of taxation. He and his family for the next 100 years made many million times more for what they invested by purchasing land and its people. Kashmir yielded the family more than Rs 25 lakhs a year, by an average, in the nineteenth century. For example, the revenue collected in the Valley in 1868 was Rs 28,36,718.

From Sikhashahi to Dograshahi, the people felt being thrown from the fire into boiling water. A nation started working, surviving and procreating for one man and his many monsters. They became tenants, taxed to the core and would be ponies for his armies – taking load on their backs and vanishing in the Himalayas on way to Gilgit.

For nearly 11 years of his misrule, nearly three-fourths of land produce went to the state as revenue. The highly exploitative systems in vogue broke the back of Shawl industry in Kashmir. Finally, Gulab Singh died on August 2, 1857, in Srinagar. He was consigned to flames at Rambagh, a Samadhi, still exists protected. He had installed his son Ranbir Singh in his lifetime.

Painting of life in Srinagar with Shah-e-Hamdan shrine in the background by James Duffield Harding in 1847. A British Library Photograph

Almost 167 years later, a sixth generation member of the family, nominated to the lawmaking body, advises the government to return the state to whom “it belonged” if they are unable to govern it!

(Ashiq Hussain Bhat is the author of Jammu Kashmir Conflict or The Great Game published in 2007.)

The Man Who Purchased Kashmir


  1. Respected Editor,
    I appreciate the author of this item Ahiq hussain. This is a good item and in my opinion our young generation should know the facts of the kashmir problem, It is clear that kashmir along with people are slaves as per the Amrit ser Treaty, because we were sold, and it is because of this treaty every indian treat kashmiris Ghulams . I am a regular reader of Kashmir life and my suggestion is that few more items regarding kashmir history be published

  2. While I understand that this well written copy is about the sale deed and the circumstances that led to it, ideally it should have offered some more details about the person Gulab Singh was. He was uneducated, brute and so greedy that anybody who would carry a coin in his hand and seek the maharaja’s attention will get the first priority. I think the author must offer a detailed copy about the life and times of Gulab Singh who was romanticized as Jammu fox by various historian. You can do it any time when you have a date that links contemporary history with Singh – may be on his birth or death anniversary.


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