Later Sikh Rule and Kashmiri Pandits

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Later Sikh Rule and Kashmiri Pandits

COL. Mian Singh turned a new leaf in the annals of Sikh Kashmir. On his arrival at Kashmir he found the affairs in a mess. Famine had impoverished the country in a very large measure. Cattle had perished by thousands. There was nothing left with cultivators to fall back. Mian Singh also appointed Ganesh Pandit Dar- as his Chief Minister. Both the Pandit and the Colonel devised plans for the rehabilitation of the uprooted people. Food grains were imported from the Punjab and sold here at very cheap rates. Besides this, cattle, cocks and eggs were imported and distributed amongst the people free of cost. Even crows and pigeons were brought in. Dues from cultivators which had persisted against them from the Afghan times were written off. &anesh Pandit made an assessment of land, and then distributed it amongst farmers, in an equitable manner. The result was that within two years the price of Shali per khirwar went down form sixteen rupees to one rupee. Besides this the judicial administration was also reorganized and was put under Pandit Raja Kak. Mian Singh next paid his attention towards ridding the country of lawless elements which were in main the result of unsettledness which prevailed during some past years. A number of people had organized themselves under the leadership of one Khaira, known as Galaban and were moving about the country-side on their swift steeds and carried fire and death wherever they went, and plundered the people of even their scanty belongings. Mian Singh dealt a crushing blow upon this group, captured a number of them and hanged them in public at Zainakadal Bridge. With the elimination of this group the high-ways in the country-side became safe for travel and trade and commerce began to flourish.

But the shawl trade which was the main source of the country's wealth was at a standstill, as most of the shawl weavers had during the recent famine migrated to such places as Amritsar, Ludhiana and Basohli in Jammu. In the Jammu province the weavers were very much encouraged by Maharaja Gulab Singh. Maharaja Gulab Singh had occupied Kishtwar which opened a shorter though a difficult route to Ladakh wherefrom the wool for shawls came. With the shawl weavers well settled in the Jammu Province, the Maharaja's attempt was to divert the raw wool direct to Jammu through his newly acquired district of Kishtwar. In this he succeeded to a considerable extent. The result was that shawl industry of Kashmir was considerably damaged. Only a few years back there were about 22000 looms working which came down to not more than 2200. The result was unemployment and consequent poverty. Col. Mian Singh tried to apprise Maharaja Ranjit Singh of this state of affairs, but due to the presence of Raja Dhyan Singh, the brother of Gulab Singh, who was the Chief Minister at Lahore, the information was kept back from the Maharaja. At last the Colonel in sheer exasperation sent a trusted servant with a letter and with this direction that he should deliver the letter directly in the hand of the Maharaja. This was done. The Maharaja expressed his great displeasure against Gulab Singh, with the result that some raw wool again began to pour into Kashmir. But Gulab Singh did not remain idle Soon after Maharaja's death he led an expedition to Ladakh and occupied that district. With this conquest he became the master of wool and the industry developed in Jammu, though on account of climatic and other conditions the results were not as satisfactory as in Kashmir. But for the time being the industry was revived in Kashmir and the unemployment abated considerably. During this period many European travellers, English, French, and German came into Kashmir. They took shawls with them as gifts to their friends at home and by this means a fresh impetus was given to the shawl trade in the European market. This gave rise again to a rich commercial class which lived in great pomp and glory and possessed enormous wealth. All these achievements, which were by no means small or insignificant, were the result of the humane and just administrative policy introduced by Mian Singh and executed by Pandit Ganesh.

The news about the achievements of Ganesh Pandit did in course of time reach the Sikh ruler. He expressed a desire to meet the Pandit. Ganesh Pandit accompanied by some other Pandits such as Pandit Himat Joo Fotedar, the head oif the Accounts Department, reached Lahore. Ganesh Pandit was very well received by the Maharaja. Accounts were presented to the Maharaja who was so much satisfied with their accutacy that he compelled Ganesh Pandit much against his will to take the responsibility for the Revenue administration of the country. The Pandit was made to enter into a stipulation to make yearly payment of a certain amount into the State treasury out of the realizations made by him. After having stayed at Lahore, the Pandit returned to Kashmir not without receiving costly gifts, a Khillat and a Sanad from the Sikh ruler. The Pandit discharged the fresh duties with great skill and honesty. He appointed Kardars witk the duties of looking after cultivation of the land and realization of land revenue. With agriculture coming to normal, the land revenue also began to increase. Ganesh Pandit now earmarked a sum of Rupees three lacs out of the revenues received by him for payment to some Hindus and Muslims as Dharmarth and Mustamaris. This payment was to be made annually. By this means he created a strong party at his back and no wondet if the historian Hassan calls him as Panditi Nek Akhtar.

Ranjit Singh died in the year 1839. A.D. After his death pandemonium reigned supreme in the Punjab. Army now freed from the iron grip of the late Maharaja became all powerful. Rival factions sought the help of the army for their self advance, and made lavish promises to it. The Sikh army in Kashmir also showed signs of restiveness which in course of time broke into open rebellion. Both Ganesh Pandit and Col. Mian Singh tried to stem the tide of growing unrest but did not succeed. The result was that in spite of the Pandit, Col. Mian Singh was murdered by the insurgent soldiery, though the Pandit succeeded in saving the Colonel's son. But Ganesh Pandit himself died within a fortnight of the Colonel's death. The result was that for some time the country fell into a complete grip of lawlessness and misrule. Ganesh Pandit left behind himself a son, Pandit Mahanand Joo. He was confirmed in his father's Jagirs and besides that adequate - arrangements were ordered to be made from the Lahore Durbar for his education. Mirza Imam Vardi a famous scholar of Lahore was appointed as his teacher.

After the murder of Col. Mian Singh a change was introduced in - the policy of appointing Governers to Kashmir. Hitherto no Muslim was appointed, as Governor of Kashmir. But the lawlessness at Lahore had greatly weakened the military, might of the Sikhs. In Kashmir. the Sikh army had made itself very unpopular by its unruly conduct. What was needed was to somehow secure the good will of the Muslims of Kashmir which might secure stability of Sikh rule in Kashmir. Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din a trusted servant of the Sikh State was appointed as the Governor of Kashmir in 1841 A.D. He appointed Pandit Tilak Chand Munshi as his Chief Ministar. The Jama Masjid which was kept closed for public prayers from tbe time of Dewan Moti Ram was now left open for prayers. This act of his went a long way in winning the goodwill of the Muslims. Having created a sound base for his regime the Sheikh dealt a crushing blow to the frontier Muslim hill chieftains who having taken advantage of prevailing turmoil had become semi-independent. Pandit Raja Kak Dar was appointed in charge of Kamraj - the northern province of Kashmir, which on account of the contiguity of the frontier tribal area required the vigilance of a skillful administrator. By such means the Sheikh introduced some life in the administration left dead on account of the disorder in Lahore. Both the Sheikh and his Pandit Minister laid two gardens which to this day commemorate their names. The garden known as Sheikh Bagh was laid by Sheikh Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din and the other, known as Munshi Bagh, by his Pandit Minister, Tilak Chand Munshi. The cluster of chinars planted in Munshi Bagh in a well planned manner bespeaks even today the artistic sense of the Pandit.

Sheikh Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din died in Kashmir and was succeeded by his son, Sheikh Imam-ud-Din who was then present in Kashmir. The younger Sheikh who also appointed Pandit Tilak Chand Munshi as his chief Minister will be remembered for long for his tactfulness with which he tackled the problems relating to shawl weavers. With small advances made to them by their employers, the shawl weavers were reduced to the status of mere slaves. They could not leave an employer and work elsewhere, and their wages were very scanty and meagre. Imam-ud-Din freed them from the virtual slavery of their masters and further ordered an increment in their wages. Besides that it was ordered that State paddy be supplied to the weavers from the State granaries at a price which was less by two annas in a rupee. The shawl manufacturers had now to give to the weavers a bonus of three percent from their profits. But in spite of his good intentions he was not destined to remain long in Kashmir. After a short stay of six months, the country is handed over to Gulab Singh as a result of the treaty between the Sikhs and the British Government.