Maharaja Hari Singh was the last Dogra ruler of a dynasty which did the improbable task of holding together the state. The Dogras created the state of Jammu and Kashmir which included Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan, Muzaffarabad-Mirpur, Aksai Chin and Saksham Valley with feudatories like Hunza and Nagar. It was one of the biggest kingdoms enjoying autonomy and internal sovereignty till 1947. Not only was the state multicultural, multi linguistic and multi religious, it’s far reaching frontiers were an evidence of its formidable military prowess, unparalleled in history.
Maharaja Hari Singh ascended to the throne in 1925. His reign was marked by complex political events, conspiracies, and sweeping changes which had the power to completely overwhelm a mere mortal. Despite his inner turmoil he stood tall and stoically behind his kingdom, while taking some of the toughest decisions that no other ruler had before him. The fact that he maintained a dignified silence in the face of vicious slanderous campaigns against him so that his beloved Jammu and Kashmir could get a fair chance in an independent India stands proof of both his love for his state and his nationalist nature. A Hindu king who ruled over a Muslim majority state is how he is often limitedly described, but that’s not right in the context of current events to see how he rose above the communal stereotyping and stood by his words: “Justice is my religion” – his first statement after assuming the high office in 1925.A man not keen on religious rituals, he did not discriminate between his Hindu and Muslim subjects. Indifferent to the opinions of his fellow co-religionists, he gave importance only to merit and appointed the best of Muslims in his court, administration and the army.
Going by history, the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir was adopted on November 17, 1956, defined a Permanent Resident (PR) as a person who was a state subject on May 14, 1954, or who has been a resident of the state for 10 years, and has “lawfully acquired immovable property in the state”. It was specifically devised to grant protection to state subject laws that had already been defined under the Maharaja’s rule and notified in 1927 following a strong campaign against the hiring of civil servants from Punjab because it affected local representation in the administration at that time and interference by British rulers through these recruitments was suspected and as such was intended to block the indirect entry of Britishers to create trouble in his state. Now comparing the peculiar situation faced by Maharaja at that time with the situation at the time of extension of constitution to Jammu and Kashmir was totally mischievous and uncalled for and despite protests from various quarters Nehru and Sheikh duo incorporated the 35 A clause. Nehru’s policy of sidelining and weakening Maharaja backfired and the fact was that a trap was laid and the whole nation got entangled in that and till date central government has not been able to correct that blunder forced on people of Jammu and Kashmir. In this world of globalization it’s ridiculous to have such clause in constitution to debar one’s own countrymen from purchasing land in own country.
In reality state subject was not the only progressive law enacted by Maharaja. In 1929, Maharaja Hari Singh increased penalty for abducting Kashmiri women from three to seven years imprisonment, plus the lashes and British India cooperated by making the offense extraditable. In 1930, primary education was made compulsory as also Maharaja decreed the child marriage as banned. It was during his reign that J&K had Agriculturist’s Relief Act that allowed debtors to seek judicial intervention in settling cases of usury with money lenders and creditors. The Land Alienation Act prevented transfer of agricultural land to the non-agriculture population. Even the Kahcharai Act was adopted in his rule. Beagaar or forced labor and prostitution were completely abolished. Village Panchayats were introduced by Hari Singh. Under his rule only Jammu and Kashmir Bank was setup in 1938, Srinagar Emporium in 1941, and SMHS hospital in 1945. He opened all public schools, colleges, and wells to the untouchables in 1931 as untouchability was pronounced a crime. He permitted re-marriages of Hindu widows. In 1934 Maharaja permitted setting up of Praja Sabha which was a prelude to the formation of state legislative assembly after 1947. Education up to primary level was made compulsory and free. The number of schools were increased from 1706 to 20728 in 1945.To attract Muslim students he appointed ‘Mullahs’ and ‘Maulvis’ as school teachers. He sanctioned 500 scholarships each of Rs 5 per month for Muslim and other needy children. Two more colleges, one at Poonch and other at Mirpur were opened.These actions of Maharaja only speak about his vision and intent to serve the people.
He is remembered as a true nationalist and his address in the First Round Table Conference at London in 1930-31 is a testimony to it wherein he spoke of self rule for Indians and from here itself he put himself on the hit list of Britishers. His declaration in 1942 conference that his state would be the first to join Independent India became rallying point for the political parties and rulers of other states. Those who are still in the mode of denial should at once turn the pages of history. Historical records reveal and confirm that Maharaja Hari Singh was a liberal and a tolerant ruler. He gave complete religious freedom to his subjects. He used to participate in the religious festivals of people of all faiths, and respected their religious sentiments. On Eid, he used to visit the Eid Ground to greet his Muslim subjects and remained with them so long as they were engaged in the prayers. Before virulent anti-Dogra campaign and many unholy nexus that changed the winds, his army was a fine blend of Dogras, Sikhs, Gorkhas, Pathans, Hindu and Muslim Rajputs from Mirpur and Poonch. Khusrau Jung, who belonged to the royal family of Hyderabad in the Deccan, was in the Maharaja’s employment. Malik and Nur Muhammad Khan from Baluchistan were his ADCs. Maharaja Hari Singh’s head cook and head waiter were also Muslims. His secretary was Abdul Qaiyyum Khan and one of his close friends was Sardar Abdul Rahman Effendi, an Afghan refugee related to King Amanullah. In his kitchens only halal meat was cooked so that Muslims could eat as well. He was the first Maharaja of Jammu who went to the mosque, standing respectfully throughout the prayer. After the prayer, he offered the Imam who had led the prayers, Rs 500 and a pashmina robe. His progressive views on religion caused much displeasure to his Hindu subjects and there were even rumors that the Maharaja had converted to Islam. He remained indifferent to all such talk. Malika Pukhraj, the legendary songstress and one of the gems of Maharaja’s durbar was not only appointed as a court singer but it was an example of the Maharaja’s progressive views on religion that he had her, a Muslim girl singing bhajans in the Mandi Palace during early mornings alongside shalokas chanting Pandits.
“Faiths should not be so weak that they be threatened by touch. Everyone’s God is same and the differences have been fabricated by us” was something he often said. It is this legacy of that great Maharaja whose path should be followed by the incumbent regimes in the state. He sacrificed himself at the altar of democracy for the sake of his people but his stature remains unmatched even today. “You could land up where you are because of good karma but it’s your thought and intentions that give you direction in life” this is the thought with which man of principle Maharaja Hari Singh lived and be remembered.
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