Robert Thorpe (1838- 1868) was a British soldier who was moved by the exploitation of the Dogra tyranny and penned Kashmir Misgovernment: An Account of the Economic and Political Oppression of the People of Kashmir By the Maharaja’s Government, a book that is masterpieces of Kashmir’s dark past. He died in highly mysterious circumstances in November 1868 and lays buried in Sheikhbagh Christian cemetery. This essay from his book offers a clear account of the system that Dogras implemented to fill their coffers
Of almost everything produced by the soil, Government takes a large proportion and the numerous officials who are employed in collection are paid by an award of so much grain from the share of the zamindars.
The following is a list of the different officials who are concerned in the collection and division of the land produce, and in the general government of the country outside the city of Srinagar, which is under the Governor of Cashmere and the Chief Magistrate.
The Principal of these is:
The Tehsildar: He has under him from two to five purgunnahs and he exercises a supervision over the accounts of the kardars within his district; he has powers of punishment up to a fortnight’s imprisonment and ten rupees fine; all complaints, in disputes, and offences occurring within his tehsil are referred to him; he has from 200 to 400 sepoys under him, and is responsible only to the Diwan or Governor of Cashmere, who resides in the city.
The Thanadar: Is the chief officer over each purgunnah; he has slighter powers of punishment and from 40 to 50 sepoy under him. His chief duties are to make inspections through out his purgunnah and to make reports concerning the crops and general matters to his tehsildar.
The Kardar: Is the chief of the officials who are personally concerned in the collection of the land produce. He has under him a certain number of villages, of whose crops he has to keep a strict account, and to each of which he goes in person at the time when the different crops ripen in order to superintendent the different distribution of each. He reports to his thanedar, and causes the Government shares of the crops to be despatched to the city, or elsewhere, according to the orders he may receive. In lieu of some of the inferior kinds of grain the Government will occasionally take an equivalent in money from the kardar. The zamindar do not however, benefit by this arrangement, since in these cases the kardar takes from them, the full amount of produce, and sells the amount, for which the Government has taken money, to his own advantage; and since this arrangement is greatly preferred by the kardars, there must be a large demand for these grains among the people: since, and in order to make their own profits they are, of course obliged to sell them at a higher rate than the vey high prices demanded by Government, a scale of which I shall give in the sequal.
Over each village there is a Mokuddum, whose duty is to report any irregularities or thefts, to collect coolies and carriage for Government or others, and to keep an account of the crops of his village, in conjunction with another official called the (Patwaree).
Patwaree: His special duty is to keep a separate account with each house of the zamindars of his village of the different crops belonging to it. To each village there is a patwaree; he is paid by the zamindars, and is a necessary expense entailed on the zamindars by the mode of collecting their tax. He is usually a Pundit’.
The Shugdur: There are from one to four shugdurs in each village, according to its size. Their duties are to watch the crops while in the ground, and the Government’s share of the same, after they have been set aside and are waiting their removal to the Government store-houses. It is said to be a common instance of oppression for the shugdur to extort money from the zamindars by threatening to accuse him of stealing the Government grain; in which case, rather than court an investigation whose justice he has every reason to doubt, the zamindar is fain to purchase the silence of his oppressor according to ability. The shugdur is also paid by the zamindars, and is supplied by them with russud gratis.
The Sargowl: He is the official who is over the shugdurs. There is one sargowl to about every ten villages; his duties are to inspect the shugdurs and report to his kardar. It is said that he commonly extorts money from the shugdur, in the same way as we have seen that the shugdurs retaliate on the zamindar; none of those who are thus oppressed ever seem to contemplate such a step as that of complaining to the thanedar of their purgunnah, or the tehsildar of the district as a curious proof of the estimation in which the justice of these officials, one of whose nominal duties is to receive complaints, is held. They are of course, Hindoos (Hindus).
The sargoul is frequently a Pundit, and is paid by the zamindars, as is also the Taroughdar.
Taroughdar: His duty is to weigh the grain when the government portion is taken from the zamindars. He is always in attendance upon the kardar.
The Hurkara: He is a police constable. There is one hurkara’s house to about every twenty villages, all the male members of his family being also hurkaras. He receives report from, and gives direction to the Dooms.
Doom or policeman, of which there is one to every village, the inhabitants of which are obliged to supply him with russed.
Such is the small official family which the Cashmere zamindar has to support, the greater part of whom are rendered necessary by the complicated system which a collection of land produce entails. According to the custom of the country, the land owned by any one house is common; the patwaree of the village has therefore to keep an account of the amount of grain produced by each different kind of crop belonging to each separate house arid to calculate the amount due to Government according to the scale which I shall now proceed to give.
There are two kinds of crops in Cashmere as in Hindostan, called the rubbia and the karreefa. The first of these consists of those which ripen in about July, and the second of these whose harvest time is about 2 months later. Of the kareefa, all the crops except the rice are second crops, i.e are produced from land which has already yielded a crop. The rice ground alone produces nothing but rice; it is sown in May and reaped in September.
The Government scale of weights used in collecting their proportions of grain is as follows:
6 seers = 1 trak
16 traks = 1 kharwah
but in scaling the grain afterwards to the people the scale is
6 seers = 1 trak
15 traks = 1 kharwah
The extra trak thus gained by the Government in each kharwah is in order to liquidate the expense of carrying the grain from the village to the city, which, considering the easy rate at which carriage is paid for by the Government, it must amply do.
The amount taken by the Government and the Government officials upon the rubbia and khareef crops is as follows:
Out of every 32 traks of each grain of the rubbia crop, the following amounts are taken from the zamindars:
Government share 20 0
The Surgowl 0 1.5
The Shugdur 0 1
The Taroughdar 0 ¾
The Hurkara 0 1.5
The Patwaree 0 1.5
Servants of the Kardar 0 0.5
Total taken in kind out of every 32 traks of each grain of the rubbia crop 20 trak 6 plus ¾ seer
The rubbia crop consists of the under mentioned grains, and the sums annexed to each are a money tax levied on every 32 traks of each grain of the rubbia crop, in addition to the tax in kind which I have just detailed
A Chilkee anna = about l/2 Company’s anna.
Kunuck (a kind of wheat) 3
Uiska (barely) 1
Kurre (peas) 1
Tilogogole (a grain from which oil is made) 3
Marhar (from which dal is made) 3
Krotur (a grain used for cattle, & also by the poorer classes of the people for food) 1
Total taken in money upon every 192 traks of the rubbia crop 22 Chilkee anna
Out of every 32 traks of each grain of the khareefa crops, the following amounts are taken from the zamindars:
Government share 21 2
Mundeer (or temple) tax 0 2
Jullos-us-gowl (said to be for the use of the Maharaja’s guests) 0 2
The Patwaree 0 1.5
The Hurkar 0 1.5
The Shugdar 0 1
The Surgowl 0 1.5
Servants of the Kardar 0 ¾
The Taroughdar 0 1.5
Total taken in kind out of every 32 traks of each grain of the khareefa crop: 21 trek and 11 plus ¾ seer.
The khareefa crop consists of the following grains, and the sums annexed to each of a money tax levied on every 32 traks of each grain of the khareefa crop, in addition to the tax in kind which I have just detailed:
A chilkee anna = about l/2 company’s anna
Shalee (rice in husk) 2 +3/4
Mukki (Indian corn) 2 +3/4
Trombu (a grain used extensively for food
by zamindars) 2 +3/4
Shawul (grains used for food by the people) 2 +3/4
Kapas (flax) 4
Total taken in money out of every 142 traks of the Khareefa crop = 15 chilkee annas
Russudart: In addition to these money taxes upon the different grain of the rubbia and khareefa crops, there is also a tax called Russudart, which is levied annually upon each house throughout the villages, from 4 annas to 20 annas, according to the number of inmates.
Fruit tax: Of the more valuable kinds of fruits such as walnuts, apples, pears, apricots, almonds and quinces, three-fourths of the annual produce are taken by the Government. The duty of preserving them for this purpose falls upon the surgowl and his shugdurs; the above proportion is collected by the kardar and his assistants, and transmitted according to the orders of Government.
Animal Tax: Sheep and Goats. From every village or villages whose land produces 500 kharwahs of grain, two or three of these animals are taken annually, and half their value returned in coin to the zamindars.
Ponies: One pony is taken every year under the same conditions, half of his value being returned to the zamindars.
Puttoo: One loie or woven (woolen) blanket, is taken annually under similar conditions, half of its value is returned.
Ghee: For each milk cow half a seer of ghee annually is taken.
Fowls: From one to ten fowls yearly from each house, according to the number of inmates.
Honey: In the honey districts, as the Lidar and Wurdwan valleys, two-third of the produce are taken yearly by the kardar and others; but I am uncertain whether this is an authorised Government tax.
The accounts of all these taxes are kept by the patwaree and mokuddum and the distribution of returned money is made by them.
The above are the taxes levied upon the zamindars of Cashmere i.e upon the population of the country, exclusive of those who live in the large towns, such as Srinagar, Islamabad, Soper and Pampur; and it should be borne in mind that all those taxes, including the amounts both in money and in kind, taken upon the rubbia and khareefa crops, are the regularly authorised Government taxes, and not exactions made by officials. It is highly probable that exactions are made in excess of the legal amounts herein laid down, but of this it is not possible to speak with perfect certainty. Of the evils of the above system, (independently of the enormous percentage of produce taken by the Government), it is not necessary to say much, since they are tolerably apparent.
For instance, if a zamindar wishes to complain that he has been mulcted of a larger proportion of grain or money than he ought to have paid in accordance with the above complicated scale, he goes to the thanedar of his purgunnah who makes enquiries, and sends for the kardar and patwaree.
If the man’s complaint is just, and if the thanedar has not been bribed by the kardar, he gets redress on payment of a rupee or two, besides the loss of his time. If the thanedar has been bribed, the zamindar can appeal to the higher tribunal of the tehsildar, but here again there is the risk of his being forestalled by the united bribes of the kardar and thanedar, so that usually the zamindar finds it a wiser course to pocket his money in silence.
The chief way, however, in which the evils of the system are felt throughout the county, is in the prevention of all trade and barter between the people of the towns and the people of the villages. The latter, (except a few shawl-bafs who may be located in some of the villages), are all zamindars, the former are chiefly shopkeepers, shawl merchants, karkandar, shawl-bafs, sada-bafs, boatmen, and artisans of all description.
Thus, the people of the towns and the people of the country constitute two large classes, with different wants; the former require the things that the zamindar posses – rice, corn, fowls, sheep, milk, etc. and the later requires money which the city people would willingly give him for his produce, to buy these comforts and luxuries which the city can supply, chiefly imported articles as spices, cotton, cloth.
But this natural system of exchange is entirely prohibited by the above arrangement; so that, as 1 have been informed by the best English authority, there were people in Srinagar, some two or three years ago, with money in their pockets, in a state of semi-starvation. The zamindars had, of course no surplus supplies to sell them, and the Government kotas were shut for the time.
In fact, it is only vey recently that regulations have been made whereby the people are permitted to buy, as much grain as they require from the Government and for this poor boon they are exceedingly thankful.
At some of their spring melas this year, I was struck with the increased number of people as compared with the year before, and, on enquiry, was told that this year they have been allowed to buy food enough to eat and are consequently able to come out and enjoy themselves a little. Such is the boon which a paternal Government has recently accorded to the Cashmeries – permission to buy their own rice at a very exhorbitant rate: and (poor wretches) so accustomed are they to oppression and misusage of all kinds, that they look upon this as a concession deserving of the utmost gratitude.
It has been truly said that the present system of land produce taxation is no new one introduced by the present dynasty, but had its origion at some remote period. There is, however, an important point of difference, which to the people makes all the difference between mild system and an oppressive one, and this is in the prices of the grain sold by the Government.
Now, when Gulab Singh began his iniquitous reign, he found the system pretty much the same as I have described, with certain important exceptions, and the prices of the grain thus collected in the Government kotas were as follows: –
- Huree Singh-rupee = 8 annas.
Shallee (unground rice)
1 HS Rupee per Kharwah
Uiska (barley) 1
Mukki (Indian corn) 1
And the remainder in proportion.
When the change in the coinage was made by Gulab Singh of which I shall have occasion to speak hereafter he also raised the prices of everything sold by the Government to a rate higher than the present one to which they were lowered on the occasion of the present Maharaja. The prices at the present time are as under:-
A Chikee rupee = 10 annas.
Shalee 2 Ch Rs per Kahwah
Muttur (peas) 4
Mong (from which dal is made) 7
Kuttum (from which oil is made) 6
Mout (a grain used chiefly for cattle) 2
Tilogogolo (from which oil is made) 8
Tromba (for food) 2
Pingi (Grains used for food by the Showul people) 2
Kupas (flax) 16
These prices, it will be seen are more than double from those, for which the same things were sold, when Gulab Singh got the county. And, moreover, it can scarcely be pleaded on behalf of a bad system, that it has been a long time in operation.
The Government kotas are both store-houses for the grain and also the places where it is sold to the people in small quantities.
Anyone in want of a large amount must go to the officer-in-charge of the kotas who give them an order upon some one of the kardars, for which the officer takes the payment and places it to the credit of the kardar in his accounts. There is a considerable loss in buying from the Government kotas, from the amount of dirt accumulated by transit from the villages &c so that the purchaser does not, in point of fact, obtain a kharwah of shalee for his two chilkee rupees, but about a trak less. It will be remembered that the Government kharwah when they sell to the people, is only 15 traks (instead of 16 traks)
The Chief points, then, with regards to this system of taxation are:
(a) The prevention of that traffic, and consequent intercourse and union between the city and the country people which are manifestly essential to their comfort and well-being.
(b) The comparative poverty which it produces among the zamindars, and the actual want and misery which it helps to produce among the shawl and sada-bafs, of whom I shall speak hereafter.
(c) The opportunities afforded to Government and Government officials, of creating temporary famines by closing the Government kotas10 and thus raising the prices of grains.
(d) The countless opportunities for chicanery and oppression which it affords to the numerous local officers employed in carrying out its most complicated arrangements.
In consequence of the want of intercourse and traffic between the city and country people which this system produces, there has grown up a feeling of distrust and jealously between them, most detrimental, of course to the happiness and well-being of the community, but which it is probable that a mean and selfish government like that of Jamoo would rather foster than diminish.
Nevertheless, such ignorance is equivalent to guilt; and the desire for the happiness of his subjects, if such a feeling be known to the Maharajah, must be feeble and worthless indeed, since it cannot even rouse him to ascertain for himself the condition of the people from whom he derives his wealth, and for whose we1 or ill-being he is responsible.
It is rarely, even, that he takes the trouble to visit the Cashmere valley. He sits apart in his luxurious palaces at Jamoo contented to receive such reports of the state of his country as his officials may choose to furnish him with.
From time to time some of the numerous complaints of his baneful administration, which circulate in newspapers and in the talk of society, must penetrate the seclusion of the royal chambers. He hears them apparently unmoved with indifference or contempt and never seems to have conceived the idea of investigating their truth or falsehood for himself; or of seeing with his own eyes, and hearing with his own ears the actual condition of his people. He trusts everything to his dihwans and wuzeers, who are Hindoos of a different caste from his own, are ill educated, totally ignorant of English forms of Government and of English ideas of justice.
There is not only no link between the governing class in Cashmere and the native inhabitants of the country, but there are all those deep rooted antipathies which must exist between Mussulmen and Hindoos. Those who know the feelings that exist between the two races, do not require to be told that a country whose population is entirely composed of followers of one creed, and whose governing power is entirely composed of adherents of the other, must be oppressively and unjustly ruled.
That Mussulman and Hindoo to a certain extent amalgamate in Hindostan is no evidence to the contrary. They have the common feelings of dislike to the English; and moreover, the Musulmans of Hindostan have lost almost all the distinguishing characteristics of their race and religion.
None of the noble qualities which once animated the followers of that creed in so many quarters of the globe are to be found, in the semi-Hindooized, and consequently debased, Mussulman of Hindostan.
The people of Cashmere, however, (as I hope to show in a future work), are possessed of many characteristics, both intellectual and moral which command our respect and admirations. Amongst them the religion of Mohamet (Mohammad – the Islam) although sullied by long contact with idolaters, is still kept up with much of its ancient purity, and with a devotion and enthusiasm that would not have disgraced the best days of Islamism.