Were Kashmiri Pandits Big Landlords?

By DN Dhar

June 2012

When the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits was forced during 1989-90, a canard was spread that Kashmiri Pandits were big landlords and had ill-treated peasantry in the state. It  was lent credence by the political vested interests from Kashmir and some neo-illiterate politicians in India, though subsequently such politicians recanted their statement.

When the Big Landed Instates Abolition Act of 1950 was passed, the land had been concentrated in the hands of big landlords. There were 27 families (including three religious institutions) which owned 518, 811 kanals of land among themselves, each having more than about 3000 kanals. Out of this total land, 3,30,301 kanals were held in Jammu Province, 1,52,924 kanals in Kashmir and 65,586 kanals in Ladakh. The break up of 1,52,924 kanals held in ownership in Kashmir is given as under:

Out of these proprietors of land in Kashmir Province (excluding two religious institutions) six belonged to Jammu and five to Kashmir. Out of five Kashmiris two belonged to Kashmiri Muslims, two to Kashmiri  Pandits and one to non-resident Kashmiri Hindu.

There were also holders of Jagirs in Kashmir. They occupied large chunks of land. Whole villages were assigned as Jagirs. The practice of granting Jagirs owes its origin to the Sultanate period and it had taken enormous dimensions then. Under Fateh Shah, his Prime Minister Usman Malik distributed the whole Valley among three powerful nobles as Jagir. Kachi Chak under the orders of Sultan Ismail Shah divided the Valley between himself and Ibrahim Baihqi leaving one part for the Sultan. We have examples of the Wazirs in this period distributing whole land among their relatives. Actually the land belonged to the Kings. They bestowed large areas to their favourites on Subjective considerations.

Akbar discouraged Jagirdar-nobility of Kashmir. In fact after Yadgar rebellion he made Kashmir as one of the Subas of his empire. He declared whole Kashmir as his crown land and the management of its finances was given to the authority looking after the finances of the Punjab.

As is well known, during the lime of early Sultans like Sultan Sikander the iconoclast, Sultan Alishah and Sultan Hyder Shah, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits had to migrate to various parts of India. A chunk of these migrants had settled in one of the small states of Madhya Pradesh called DharR. Due to their hard work, scholarship and language skills they carved out a respectable place for themselves. One Miro Pandit, making humble beginning in the Mughal Army, after winning laurels in the field, reached to the position of General and was placed at the head of Nurjahan’s Army. Earlier he had become the Chief of Golkanda Fort in South India, lie had proved his valour in the battle of Kabul also. He was instrumental in getting the Emperor freed from the clutches of Mahabat Khan. To reward him for this good act, Jehangir granted Kamraj (Baramulla) as )agir to him which was later inherited by the descedents of Pt. Gulab Dhar and others down below who got petty shores out of it.

Although land always belonged to Kings yet the Dogra rulers had carried the conviction that it was their personal property as they had paid Rs,75 lacs to East India Company against it, This conviction was real with them. Once when Maharaja Gulab Singh was on his tour, he met a lady who complained to him with the words, “we are hereditary residents of Kashmir and we had built a pakka house, but a sepoy demolished the house saying he would build the house for himself on the spot.”The Maharaja replied, ‘The land owner is someone else, the Nizam (Hakim ala) or the Hakim (Kotwal) who can build a house, he is the owner of only the material (stones, bricks and wood etc.) and not of land.” Even Maharaja Ranbir Singh, in his Duster-ul-Amal sanctioned on la Sawan 1939 declared. ‘This State has been created by my honoured father, the late Maharaja Bahadur (Culab Singh) which is confirmed by the Treaty of 16lh March 1846 A.D. (Treaty of Amritsar) in our possession without anybody else having any claim on it,..” Maharaja Pratap Singh was more forthright when he wrote to his Chief Minister in a letter dated 13th Dec, 1918, “As you a re already aware the proprietary rights in all lands of Kashmir belong to the ruling Chief exclusively for the simple reason that the territories of Kashmir were purchased by my late lamented grandfather, Maharaja Gulab Singh ji, and hence any sale of such land by anyone else is illegal,”

Maharaja Hari Singh was modern in outlook and was a patriot, He upset the British applecart when he declared in the Round Table Conference in 1930 AD, “As Indian and loyal to the land where we derive our birth and infant nurture, we stand as solidity as the rest of our countrymen for our lands enjoyment of a position of honour and equality in the British Commonwealth of Nations” Not only this much but he dared to remove the Union Jack from the Residency by a detachment of state forces. He stopped British Resident to move to Jammu during winter months, In Gilgit he made them to fly State flag along with Union Jack. He got British troops replaced by State troops. He even proposed to Britishers to close the Gilgit Agency. But with all these qualities he was cast in feudal dispensation. He too granted Jagirs in his time. No Jagir was granted to a person belonging to Kashmir, least of all to a Kashmiri Pandit. All these Jagirs were granted from the Kashmir Valley.  Following is the detail:

1,            Kaviraj Muraridhar village of Wakura, assessed to the revenue of Rs. 3,015.

2,            Thakur Puran Singh Ji: Two villages, Mimender and Pani in Kulgam Tehsil

3,            Rao Raja Hukam Singh Ji,Two villages, Hardohajam and Arabal in Tehsil Awantipura assessed at Rs,1036 and Rs, 1037, respectively.

4,            Rao Rattan Singh Ji: Village Walahama, Tehsil Anatnag, assessed to the revenue of Rs.1011.

5,            Thakur Kartar Singh Ji: Two villages, Warapora and Chinakpora assessed to revenue ofRs.2033.

6,            Wazir Sobha Ram: Village Malangam, assessed to revenue of Rs, 2033.

No doubt, some Kashmiri Pandits were Chakdars. What were Chaks? These were land grants and not purchased lands. When during the time of Maharaja Ranbir Singh the land revenue dwindled, he granted some fallow lands to certain people under different categories, These categories were Chaki Zarnias, Chaki Ishtihari, Chaki Halkari. Chaki Mukraridari and Chaki Hanudi. Kashmiri Pandits were granted Chaks mostly under Chaki Hanudi category. Under this category, grants were made to Hindus. They had to pay revenue under a given schedule. This land grant was subject to three conditions, Number one was that the land granted is a wetland, number two was that the grantee continued to remain a Hindu and number three was that no cultivators were employed. Chakdars of other categories had other conditions attached to their land grants. By 1950 when land reforms took place, the share of the produce of Chakdars had petered down to pittance due to law of inheritance with some exceptions,

In any case Kashmiri Pandit was not a big landlord and he had under no circumstance ill-treated peasantry in Kashmir. In fact he was instrumental in imparting education to the multitudes of illiterate population of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh, History will write it in golden letters.

*(The author lives at Dwarika, New Delhi)

–Courtesy: Naad