Dr. Abdul Ahad
Apart from offering them a refreshingly delightful respite from the blazingly scorching heat of India, Kashmir was exceedingly vital for the British both strategically and politically. It could well extend the sphere of their influence and also protect their imperial interests against a possible foreign military adventure or political disaster from across the North West. She could also be expediently used as a strategic base for their military expansion, beyond her borders, into Central Asia.
The good things of science and technology, which made Kashmir’s transition from medieval to modern age possible to gear up its people to aspire for a better life reached Kashmir through the British. They inspired the Kashmiris to chase the dreams of freedom, liberty, democracy and self-rule: the hall marks of the Western civilization.
On the 19th century Kashmir the British have exercised an immensely weighty, insightful and significant impact which has been formidably ennobling, enduring, profound and civilizing in countless ways. There is hardly any sphere of the Kashmiri society that hasn’t been affected by this heavy effervescent impact.
Though coming, as they did, through a much despised route of East India Company’s’ wily and manipulative politics to the accompaniment of a buzzing noise of a merchant, a stinking sting of an unproductive, barren bee, and cold, calculated, indifferent, inhospitable attitude of an imposing master and air of a haughty English dandy, the British didn’t allow their ruthless trade streak to outdo their superior strategic interests in Kashmir. They were not willing to subordinate all else to the Company’s aim and, thereby, let the geo-physical potentialities of Kashmir idle away to their disadvantage’. They were unprepared to put in jeopardy all that the Valley offered to fulfil their cherished dream of expansionism beyond its borders. Thus, soon after recognizing its strategic worth and political potential they began to evince real, keen interest in Kashmir affairs and did everything possible to elevate its socio-economic level to gain huge strategic paybacks and a natural security cover against their enemies.
By embarking, little by little, on a programme of sweeping reforms, the British succeeded in their efforts to bring a dash of delight and desire for change to the Kashmiri heart at a time when it was at its lowest ebb; sinking fast under the heavy weight of ignorance, illiteracy, feudal atrocities, exploitation, poverty and misery. They transformed the archaic way of Kashmiri life thoroughly; leaving such a distinct impact on its ethos, etiquette, architecture, history and institutions that is clearly noticeable even today when the English are no more ruling the Asiatic roost. It is clearly discernible from its culture, its ideas, its imaginings and almost every facet of its life.
Land, communication, public health and education, the most important prerequisites for socio-economic transformation, however, became fundamental areas of their concern. To these they paid their attention immediately after they welded Kashmir together with the territories of Jammu in 1846 and created a new State of Jammu & Kashmir. After having identified various blemishes and flaws that had crept into its socio-economic system and rendered its political structure increasingly obsolete, overwhelmingly corrupt and devastatingly oppressive, the British took laudable, effective and progressive steps to eradicate these systematically to put the Valley on a novel mode of transformation which, ultimately, gave it a whole new modern look. They demonstrated their inherent competence and largesse to rejuvenate and overhaul the outmoded and ailing Kashmiri society on sound and healthy lines; enabling it to transcend stealthily all the constraints and hassles that had mounted up there, over a long span of time, not only to squeeze it heavily and constrict its advancement terribly but also to make the plight of its constituents ghastly unhappy, shockingly gloomy and contemptibly miserable*. They left no stone unturned to pull the people of Kashmir out of the swamp of despicable wretchedness, appalling poverty, dreadful disease; awful ignorance they were steeped in since centuries.
Adopting an unstintingly methodical approach towards the troubles and tribulations Kashmir was beset with; they treated its societal evils, cultural adversities, economic discrepancies and political travesties with an adequate strategy, foresightedness, social engineering and technology which they had brought to India to facilitate the diffusion and affluence of their Trading Establishment, the East India Company”. In Kashmir they espoused, thus, the cause of socio-economic justice by ameliorating the lot of the natives; by instilling in them the confidence they were really in need of to stand up on their own legs; by inculcating among them the spirit that encouraged them to combat oppression, exploitation and fallacy and; by adorning them with the ornament of education that equipped them with the tools, skills and attitudes indispensable to fight ignorance, backwardness and superstition. They made, thus, Kashmir’s transition from medieval to modern age possible smoothly without any trouble and, subsequently, geared up its people to aspire for a better life, for equal rights and opportunities and inspired them to chase the dreams of freedom, liberty, democracy and self-rule: the hall marks of the Western civilization.
The blessings of science and technology wouldn’t have penetrated deep into the soil of Kashmir had not the British gone there to pursue their own interests. They made their way into its territories in the middle of 19th century essentially for ensuring the wellbeing of their growing Indian Empire and the safety of their Trading Company,
Kashmir was exceedingly vital for them. Nestled in the womb of the colossal Himalayas and in close proximity of Afghanistan, it was a meeting place of the three great Empires of the East: The British, the Russians, and the Chinese. It was, therefore, strategically very crucial for the very existence, extension and augmentation of the emerging British Indian Empire. It could well protect its imperial interests against a possible foreign military adventure or political disaster from across the North West, besides offering its managers and supervisors a refreshingly delightful respite from the blazingly scorching heat of India. Also, it could be expediently used as a strategic base for the British military expansion, beyond Kashmir borders, into Central Asia.
Thus, there existed ample scope for the British Imperium to pierce through the high mountain ramparts of Kashmir and become noticeable by bringing about, incessantly, an insightful change in the attitudes of its people through a variety of good things of modern age which they brought with them into the Valley. It used Kashmir’s hard realities: the indigenous scarcity, illiteracy and poverty as a pretext for intervention and exploited these ugly features to the hilt to get, ultimately, a breathing space there. It raised an eat-splitting cry for reforms which act endeared the British to the masses, enabling them to strengthen their position considerably.
Dr. Abdul Ahad is a well-known historian of Kashmir. He presents a perspective on the Kashmir issue and talks about Kashmir’s history and individuality and personality.