Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Kashmir’s new “Damaras”!
Pandit Kalhana in Raj Tarangani speaks about the King makers of ancient Kashmir which he calls, the “Damaras”. Because of their agility and ingenuity, these people have survived all the historical upheavals and continue to play their role of King making even now! On the unveiling of the statue of Maharaja Hari Singh in Jammu, a columnist posed a question whether Kashmir had really got rid of the monarchy in 1947? The event shows that Maharaja Hari Singh continues to be regarded as the beloved King of Jammu & Kashmir by one part of the state even though he had an ignominious exit and died in exile in Mumbai! The present day monarchy has a different connotation. It is the dynastic rule of a single family for almost half a century. We have given birth to new line of maharajas. Similarly, we did not get rid of the feudal lords in 1947 in spite of the revolutionary land reforms but gave birth to a new breed. Earlier the Brahmins used to be the feudal lords but now we have “Muslim Brahmins”! Aristocracy has been part of the Kashmir Society from the earliest times. Kalhana mentions Damaras as the powerful semi-independent feudal lords who controlled the Royalty of ancient Kashmir. Damaras were feudal land-owners or barons. They mostly lived in the fertile cultivated portions of the valley and their seats formed strong-holds capable of defence. These territorial lords were the true king makers. These earliest aristocrats or nobles continued to be an influential element even under the Sultans of Kashmir. The advent of Islam in the valley introduced a new element. These were the Sayyids who had accompanied Shah-i-Hamadan from Iran. They considered themselves to be superior to the local converts to Islam. Their progeny started a new class of aristocracy. Mughals patronised some of these aristocrats who had sided with them during the capture of Kashmir. However, the rule of Afghans and Sikhs was so harsh that nothing of aristocracy or sophistication survived. They were uncouth and ruthless rulers. Dogras created new land barons by importing Rajputs from Jammu as also patronised the erstwhile Damaras. In ancient Kashmir, Damaras played a very significant role in making and sustaining of Kings. Some of these barons were very powerful and no King could survive without their support. The Dogra Maharajas also got support from the feudal landlords which they had created. The Kashmir’s first movement in 1931 was mainly against the oppression of these landlords and the peasantry supported it whole heartedly. Even the manifesto of the party leading the movement was quite revolutionary based on Communist ideology. In fact, the manifesto of Naya Kashmir was also formulated by BPL and Freda Bedi, two staunch communists. Ironically, the party flag was red with a plough on it like the sickle and hammer red flag of the Russian communist party. The main spot where gatherings took place was also named Lal Chowk, the Urdu rendering of the Red Square of Moscow! Incidentally, the uprising was hailed in Moscow papers as the awakening of the proletariat in Kashmir. The new dispensation led by Sheikh Abdullah after coming to power did take the most revolutionary step of the land to the tiller which is unique in the whole sub-continent. All the land barons or the Maharaja’s Damaras disappeared overnight by this unique act! However, there are two significant dates which completely changed the character of Kashmir’s progressive movement and resulted in the recreation of monarchy with the contagious feudal lords though without land but with tons of money clout. These are 1953 and 1975. Sheikh Abdullah during his earlier stint as the Prime Minister of Kashmir did initiate a number of steps to try to make the state self-sufficient and economically independent. However, the events of 1953 put a stop to this movement and money flowed in from Delhi like water to buy the loyalty of Kashmiris. Every pretence of getting self-sufficiency by being frugal was given up and the notorious measure of “subsidy” on almost everything was introduced. That was literally the end of the Naya Kashmir manifesto. That was the first initiation for the creation of a new breed of Damaras. At the same time, the neighbouring country also pumped in tons of money to prevent Kashmiris from extending their loyalty to Delhi. This money too led to the creation of another breed of moneyed people as all the money received was not spent on the purpose for which it was given. It went into real estate and many other businesses. Thus the two neighbouring countries helped in the creation of a new aristocracy in Kashmir. In 1975, we again had the re-installation of a virtual monarch who continued the dynastic rule by imposing his progeny on the people. His close associates and followers too tried to make up for the lost time and collected tons of money which they too have invested in real estate and various businesses within the state and outside. Incidentally, Kashmir has also seen growth of honest and genuine people who have earned lot of money. These are the non-resident Kashmiris who migrated abroad for various jobs. They too have unfortunately invested the bulk of their money in unproductive real estate. However, some of them have been pinning for investing in a number of productive sectors like the healthcare but feel helpless in front of the new “Damaras”! Thus the question posed by the columnist whether Kashmir really got rid of the monarchy in 1947 can be answered by saying, no not at all but at the same time we have not been also able to get rid of even the ancient “Damaras” who still hold sway over everything! (Comments at firstname.lastname@example.org)