By CKS Affiliated Scholar Amit Kumar
My paper questions the assumption of many south Asian historians that there was only one form of British empire in South Asia across time and space. I argue for a multiplicity of policies, ideas and experiences of British Empire, which made it work differently in different regions and times. I discuss the presence of certain contextual features of British rule in Kashmir, which made Kashmir a very different space and polity as compared to various other parts of South Asia. I specifically focus on the agrarian relations in Kashmir and show how British intervention through new land assessments, opened up the space for peasant assertions in later decades.
The main focus of the majority Historians working on post-1846 Kashmir has been on the urban elite and middle class Kashmiri leadership which came up by the first and second decades of twentieth century, while they completely ignore the process which had radicalised the Kashmiri peasantry in the first place. Kashmir historians, like most post-colonial Indian historians, are more interested in finding faults within the British Colonial state, rather than understanding the multiple forces that were unleashed by the British Colonialism. This is a very safe position where one will not be called names by the supposedly ‘morally superior anti-colonial activists and scholars’. But for Kashmiri history, it leaves many questions unanswered– for example was the position of the peasants same after the new settlements? I go into the detailed microhistory of the new settlements brought by the British colonial officers and try to unravel the ways in which these officials worked and the results these settlements produced. Towards the end of my paper I ask whether the knowledge of Assami rights and the amount of revenue he was supposed to pay to the state mean nothing to the politics of the Kashmiri peasant? And most importantly, if nothing had changed for the peasant in Kashmir after the settlements, then what explains the peasants becoming the rallying point for the independence of Kashmir from the Dogra Rule?
I end my paper by suggesting against the homogenous and monolithic understanding of British empire and by highlighting the dialectics between past and present; where I argue that Historians writing on Kashmir will do well by not falling in the trap of good empire/bad binary. They should rather engage with the empire in its multiplicity and its entirety. That might even have some clues for the present. Was the story of divergence of aspirations of today’s Kashmir and India written in the annals of British colonialism? May be yes!