Dr Ganesh Malhotra
Adv. Ronik Sharma
For thousands of years, India was ruled by emperors, kings and tyrants. Some of them were instrumental in rewriting the history of India with their great deeds, although some of these deeds destroyed India’s rich culture. But today, no king of the bygone era is loved by people more than that of Raja Hari Singh, erstwhile ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, A Great reformer. He carried out widespread and multifarious reforms in various sectors.
Maharaja Hari Singh set extraordinary attention to modernize the agriculture sector with decree of the Agriculturist’s Relief Act that allowed a debtor to bring his creditors in a Court of Law for the settlement. Agriculturist’s Relief Act freed the peasants and rural workers from the egocentricity of money lenders and creditors. Next in a line “The Land Alienation Act” has forbidden the transfer of agricultural land to the non agriculturists.” The agriculturists also were granted with proprietary ownership rights and immunity from the taxes or levies of Nazrana and Malikana. State Government encouraged providing loans for the improvements agricultural lands, livestock and rural economy with easy procedures and instalments. The rural population and peasantry without land encouraged and allowed to dwell the Khalsa land with ownership rights. “The Kahcharai Act” was also landmark step that removed the inequalities in circumstances applying of Kahcharai tax. It also granted exemption to the owners of livestock in respect of particular animals of a given number and age. For the improvement of livestock, a large number of bulls of Sindhi and Dhani breeds were distributed among certain peasants in some selected places. The period of the land settlement was extended to forty years. Begar or forced labour was completely abolished. The activities of the Agriculture Department, which were initially restrained to the Kashmir Province only, were progressively extended to the Jammu and other northern provinces.
RURAL DEVELOPMENT REFORM
Maharaja Hari Singh empowered village panchayats, which then were used to resolve community conflicts in village life. Department of Rural Development was established in 1937; the panchayats were also associated with the implementation of plans for rural Development.
Development in trade and industry sectors got new focuses and numerous taxes were abolished. State Government encouraged purchasing local products from the local enterprises. Maharaja Hari Sing himself was keen for industrializations in State of Jammu and Kashmir. Manufacturing units of matchboxes, tents, carpets, woodworks, crafts, tannery goods, silk yarn, food etc. were set upped during this period. Maharaja Hari Sing took a revolutionary by establishing “The Jammu and Kashmir Bank” in 1938 that took control over the government treasury. Branches The Jammu and Kashmir Bank were established in Srinagar, Jammu and other cities and towns in the state. These achievements brought an enormous incentive to industry, trade and local business, which further encouraged employment and social indexes of betterment. Industrial production was also increased
significantly. The State Government established a small silk factory in Jammu, with production unit in Srinagar, which expanded to four times of its original size. Besides providing employment to a large number of workers in the factory, it brought additional revenue to thousands of rural families who raisin cocoons. The opening of industrial centres and emporium in Srinagar in 1941 and later at Jammu further promoted the trade of the Kashmiri products. Maharaja Hari Singh also paid much attention to tourism sector. The Jammu and Kashmir knows for its natural beauty all over the world that always is fascinating the tourists. The number of tourists who visited Kashmir during 1931-32 was 8,604. It rose to 24,659 during 1936-37. Realising the benefits accruing to the people as well as the state from tourism, the Government of Kashmir tried to develop it in a planned manner. Various schemes were launched to further the beauty of Srinagar and to develop Pahalgam and Gulmarg as ideal hill stations. During the “Second World War” he paid significant attention to supply grain, wheat and rice at controlled price in state. Basic necessities, such as sugar and fuel, were also rationed. A special Price Control Department was created in order to fix the prices and regulate the distribution of the essential goods. The Maharaja also created a fund for the alleviation of distress of the poorest population.
INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT REFORM
Maharaja Hari Singh initiated modern communication services of telegraph, telephone, and wireless to all the important cities and towns in the state. He was keen to build road, bridges,
tunnel, hydro power station to facilitate his citizen with the best available technological solution and living standards. Upon his advice “Flood Control Department” was also
Maharaja Hari Singh has to be honoured one among the great educationist in South Asia . He set primary and secondary education free for all in the state. Primary education was made also compulsory for boys in all the municipal towns in 1930. The Scholarship Selection Board was established and scholarships were granted to the deserving students for higher and technical education in India and abroad. Educational loans schemas were also introduced. New schools, colleges and institutes were established to accommodate increasing number of students.
A campaign against adult illiteracy was also launched with considerable success. Urdu language was made the medium of instruction in schools but students had the option of choosing either the Devnagri or the Persian scripts.
Maharaja Hari Singh, was one among the great humanist of his age, addressed the issues of social evil such as torturing and trafficking of women, child marriage, low cost untouchables and others among the people of the state. To prevent female infanticide, the Maharaja constituted two committees in 1926 and 1929, which recommended including educating the people and severe action against the guilty of the crime. The Maharaja accepted both the recommendations.
He also established the Dhandevi Memorial Fund for the marriage of girls. He might always be admirable for prevention of child smoking. Maharaja Hari Singh, alongside taken the issue of child marriage up and promulgated an ordinance in which the marriage of boys and girls under 18 and 14 years respectively was prohibited, and its breach was punishable by one year’s imprisonment or fine up to rupees one thousand or both.
The Maharaja was the first ruler and reformer in Indian sub-continent who introduced the legislation against such category of social evils. He took strong initiative to curb women and children trafficking and established legislation against organizing prostitution business, which were declared a punishable crime. Encouraging or assisting in seduction or prostitution of minor girls was also declared crime and subject of punishment. Maharaja Hari Singh took bold step against the evil of untouchability traditions common against the low cost communities. He opened all public schools, colleges, and wells to the untouchables in 1931.
The next year, all the state temples were also opened for them, lastly in 1940 he proclaimed untouchability a crime.
His removal of legal disabilities on the marriages of Hindu widows, was regarded a doctrine in Sub-continent.
Maharaja Hari Singh initiated to replace a totalitarian administration into more secular and non communal practices. Srinagar silk factory’s worker strike in 1924 was turning point of political and economic dissatisfaction in state. Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League inflated in state. Political awareness embarked to rise on among the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Maharaja Hari Singh put his early focus upon the administrative reforms in state. The lack of local professionals and trained officers and administrator became seriously disadvantaged against the growth of various reforms since the time of Ranbir Singh. This crisis sharpened more during Pratap Singh’s reign when Urdu and English languages was declared the court and official languages respectively. English language was declared necessary in the civil services of state that caused a large number of employments from outsiders of the State. There was certain number of schools and colleges offering western education in the state, producing good number of locally educated young students every year, which was not sufficient to appropriate employment that gradually under the dominance of the alien from the Subcontinent. These generate a mass wave of local anger against the outsiders. The crisis was resolved by the government which decided that only inborn state subject holders could be employed in the state civil services. Inborn state subject holders were defined as “one who had been either born and residing in the state before 1846 or settled therein before 1885”. Muslims of Kashmir were traditionally educated in Persian and opted western education not as earlier, which caused them obstruction and living behind in comparison with other communities to their representation in the state services. Nobility of the Kashmiri Muslim community moved toward the government in 1929 with demand of reserving quota in the state services for Maharaja Hari Singh took a serious notice against the agitations and appointed a Commission to enquire the grievances of the Kashmiri Muslims and other communities. The Commission recommendations concluded for a “fair and adequate representation in services to all the communities, grant of freedom of press and platform, return of the confiscated religious sites and establishment of a representative Assembly”.
Maharaja Hari Singh voluntarily accepted these recommendations by his proclamation, which declared on July 9, 1931 that “while in the matter of services prior consideration is and always shall be given to public interest, and the obligation of maintaining the efficiency of the administration at the highest possible level can never be
overlooked, the police of his government would be to give adequate representation to all communities in the services without giving any preponderance to any community”. New rules of state services were framed accordingly. He appointed Molvi Abdul Rahim, one of the leaders of the 1931 agitation, as a judge in 1934. Continuing expansion in the representation of the Kashmiri Muslims in the Civil Services became significant as in April, 1932 there were 3,052 Muslim officials, including 55 gazetted ranks, out of a total strength of 8,683. Their number rose to 5070, including 150 gazetted officials, out of 13,790 in April 1945, giving them about 40% representation in the total strength of the State Civil Services.
Although Muslim elite, gradually became satisfactory with the Administrative reforms of the Maharaja, but yet it was showing its discontentment with political system in state. Since the early days of 1846 to 1889 the state government was run by Maharaja’s personal assignees and advisors headed by a Prime Minister. It was the Maharajah Pratap Singh who shared his powers to State Council In 1889, which an effort to regulate the conduct of the administration. Each member of State Council held charge of a number of departments. With a short break from 1905 to 1922, this arrangement continued till 1934. Muslim nobility established All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference in October 1932 under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Maharaja Hari Singh endorsed the formation of a Legislative Assembly called the Jammu and Kashmir Praja Sabha in 1934. The Praja Sabha which earlier declared as recommendatory body was consisted upon 75 members- 12 government officials, 16 state councilors, and 14 nominated and 33 elected members. The last were named categorically including with 21 Muslims, 10 Hindus and 2 Sikhs. The Muslim Conference won 14 seats out of 21 reserved for the Muslim In the first elections to the Praja Sabha, in 1934 covering 3 to 6 per cent of the population. In the next election of 1936, it was able to raise its strength to 19. This established the claim of the Conference to be called the major political party in the State. In June, 1939, however Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah dissociated himself from the Muslim Conference and established a new party, the National Conference, which succeeded in securing a large following. It demanded that the Praja Sabha be given more powers, and that it be composed entirely of members elected by adult pollution based on a joint electorate, with some seats reserved for the minorities.
Respecting popular demand, the number of elected seats of the Praja Sabha was increased from 33 to 40 in 1939. Its powers were also enhanced and non-official members were more closely associated with the state administration to work as undersecretaries. Praja Sabha was empowered to make laws for the state subjects, pass all legislation pertaining to the taxes as distinguished from fees and penalties, and to vote on the demands made by the government for budgetary allocations with the exceptions of a few non-voted bills. A noteworthy step towards the establishment of a popular government was,
however, taken in 1944.
On October 2, that year, Maharaja Hari Singh sent the following message to the Praja Sabha: “I have after careful consideration decided to call upon the Praia Sabha to nominate a panel of six (three to be Muslims) of its members, three from Jammu and three from Kashmir (including the Frontier District). The Assembly will determine its own procedure for nominating the panel, official members taken no part in the proceedings. Out of the panel so nominated I shall appoint two (one of whom will be a Muslim) as my Ministers.
These Ministers will hold charge of portfolios to be determined by me. They will draw the usual salary of Ministers unless the Praja Sabha desires to vary it, in which case the Sabha may submit its recommendations to me through the usual channels.
The Ministers so appointed by me, while if they still continue to be members of the Sabha, they will be eligible for re-appointment”. This message was welcomed with great enthusiasms by all of political groups in the Assembly and led to the appointment of Mirza Afzel Beg from National Conference and Ganga Ram, a Dogra politician as the Ministers. Changes were introduced in the constitution of the municipal committees as well by establishing same criteria of the voter eligibility as set it for the Praja Sabha elections.
Keeping in view the reforms carried by Maharaja Hari Singh clearly shows and proves loudly that he was a progressive and a great reformer of his time. It clearly demeans those voices that raise questions about Maharaja’s credentials.
He was a great democrat as depicted by his reforms who clearly wanted to side with a democratic country like India.
Dr Ganesh Malhotra is a J&k based researcher and Advocate Ronik Sharma is legal and political analyst.
Dr Ganesh Malhotra