Maharaja Hari Singh : Kind and Patriotic

03 Jan 2018 14:00:35

Maharaja Hari Singh was the ruler of 'Princely State of Jammu Kashmir' who signed the instrument of accession on 26th of October, 1947, and made Jammu Kashmir an integral part of Indian Union. This great patriot was the ruler of the largest of the 562 Princely States of that time. All the kings, Maharajas of the country at that time had formed an organization called “Narendra Mandal”. Maharaja Hari Singh was its President. He was given a special title, which is as follows -


“Shriman Indar Mahindar Rajrajeshwar Maharajadhiraj, Jammu and Kashmir Naresh tatha Tibet adi Deshadhipati”.


Being the president of the 'Narendra Mandal', he participated as representative of all the rulers of Princely States of India in the First Round Table Conference organized in London in 1930. The British did not want him to favour India's demand of Independence. They believed it was in the interest of the rulers of Princely States. But the Maharaja surprised them with his unmistakable words expressing support for full Independence of India. This made the British angry with the Maharaja and they started conspiring against him. Even Congress, which was leading the freedom movement, could not understand the conspiracy. Despite his patriotism and kindness towards his state-subjects, the Maharaja was discredited, even dishonoured at some occasions. It is because of these misunderstandings that history failed to do justice with him.


In order to get the correct information about Maharaja Hari Singh, one should read “The Rich Heritage of Jammu and Kashmir” written by Prof. Somnath Wakhlu, and the speech of “Ashiq Humdani Saiyad” delivered at 50th death anniversary of the Maharaja. This speech has been made available by United Kashmir Publication House. Without going into much details, we are providing here some information about the Maharaja, and some of the major works he did.

It is a special coincidence that his date of birth and the date of his coronation, both are the same – 23rd of September.


He was born in 1895 and assumed the throne in 1925. He got his education from Meyo College Ajmer, and military training from Dehradun. Highly qualified Maharaja was kind-hearted, well-wisher of the subject of his state, and of progressive thoughts. He was very prudent towards the well-being of his people and was determined to lead all segments of the society towards a bright future. He effected many reforms regarding education, social structure, family planning, eradication of untouchability, land reforms etc. during his tenure. While talking about his works, we must keep in mind that these were done 80-90 years ago when not many people dared to even think about such reforms, and must be evaluated accordingly.


In order to keep the social fabric strong and moral values healthy in the society, a thoughtful definition and regulation of the relations between men and women is of vital importance. This is why the custom of marriage is considered very important in our society. It has been given the status of a religious rite. Maharaja was well aware of its importance. He introduced some rules to weed out some inappropriate and harmful practices that had crept up into this holy tradition. The main points of these rules were –


  1. He prevented child-marriage by declaring it a crime. He set the minimum age for boys 18 years and 14 years for girls to be eligible for marriage. At that time, it was a revolutionary step. Those violating the law were sentenced to one year of jail and one thousand rupees penalty.
  2. To prevent inappropriate age matches, he made it illegal for a 50 year old man to marry a girl of less than 15 years. Not only the marrying man was penalized, a penalty for the father of the girl was also provisioned. 4 years of imprisonment and a penalty of Rs. 2000 was prescribed for this offense.
  3. In 1940, dowry was also made a criminal offense by passing a resolution by Praja Sabha. This malpractice still exists in our society, while the Maharaja initiated its eradication so early in his state.
  4. Usually widow marriage was strongly opposed by the society. Although Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Mahatma Phoole of Maharashtra had supported widow marriage earlier, Maharaja Hari Singh removed the major hurdles by making a law to support it. The law in this respect was passed in 1933.
  5. Multi-wife marriages, and in some areas, multi-husband marriages were quite common at that time. Maharaja completely prohibited it by making laws against it.
  6. In some social segments, girl-child was killed at their birth due to dowry and girls being considered inferior in society. The parents did it to avoid the hassles of parenting, marriage and dowry etc. Maharaja created a rule to grant the father of the girl one acre of land at the time of her marriage, along with some cash.
  7. To prohibit the shameful practice of prostitution, Maharaja introduced a law in 1934. It is always challenging to enforce such laws, but Maharaja successfully realized it with his strong determination. The prostitutes were provided opportunities to live normal life by associating them with respectable families, or were made economically self-dependent by providing them various kind of productive trainings.


Besides such social reforms, Maharaja also paid attention towards education system. When we talk of 'education-for-all' today, it seems an impossible target to achieve. Maharaja Hari Singh had made primary education for all the children compulsory by 1930. Education up to secondary level was free-of-cost for everyone. Special provisions for scholarship were made for brilliant students. Even a separate board was established for this purpose. Scholarship for higher and technical education abroad was considered in this board. Similarly, education-loans were also made available. Considering the growing number of students, new school – colleges and other institutes were established. A special movement was started for adult education. Another point worth noting is that Urdu was made the medium for education at school levels, but the students were given liberty to write Urdu in Devnagri or Persian scripts.


The Maharaja considered all castes and communities equal. He tried his best to improve the social status of so called untouchables, dalits and harijans. In his very first speech after his coronation, he said - “All the castes and communities and religions are equal for me. Justice is my first duty”. Because of his “All are equal” policy, he even had to face dissatisfaction and distension initially from hardcore conservatives. He opened all the schools, temples and water resources, wells etc. for everyone. Before that, harijan kids could neither go to schools, nor did they have the right to use water from public wells. Entering temples was absolutely restricted for them. The Maharaja even got the doors of the popular Raghunath temple opened for them. He had done all this by 1931. Later, in 1940, the practice of untouchability was made a criminal offense.

Another very important fact of Maharaja Hari Singh's tenure was government's awareness and policy towards health services. He established two large hospitals in Jammu and Srinagar. He also established a chain of hospitals and dispensaries throughout the state. Jammu Kashmir was probably the first state where a separate department was set up for eradication of Tuberculosis. He started special movements to eradicate deadly diseases like plague and cholera. When cholera was spread in the state in 1935, a total of 15 lakh injections were given to the diseased for its cure. It was perhaps the largest movement of its kind. In order to get an idea of what it would have been like, it could be compared with todays polio eradication movement that was first conducted in Delhi on initiative of Cabinet Health Minister Dr. Harshvardhan, then in the entire world.


It was because of the tireless efforts of Maharaja Hari Singh that the state got completely free from epidemic diseases like plague and cholera.


Land reforms of Maharaja were quite admirable. He introduced two laws in this respect. First - “Krishak Relief Act” and second - “Land Ownership Change” law. Under the first law, an indebted farmer could force the money lender for a compromise by appealing in the court. Under the second law, it was provisioned that a farmer could not sell his plough-land to a non-farmer. By enforcement of both these laws, the farmers, especially the indebted ones, got huge relief. To understand the importance of this system, one can consider the plight of farmers today. Indebted farmers are stressed to the point of committing suicide. In those times, several kinds of traditional taxes existed. Farmers were freed from notorious economic exploitations like “Nazrana” or 'Tributes', and were given the right to ownership on their farming lands. Systems were developed to make the paperwork and availability of loans easy enough. In the same manner, several farm labour welfare plans were implemented to provide relief to them.


The government also encouraged animal husbandry. In order to encourage cattle breeding and breed improvement of the animals, 'Sindhi' and 'Dhani' breeds of bulls were distributed in large numbers in certain areas. The duration for 'Land Settlement' was increased to 30 years. Labours were freed from forced and bonded labour. These extensive reforms in farming sector brought happiness and prosperity to the farmers of the state.


Before finishing this chapter, one very important topic remains, and that is ensuring people's participation in administration. Even though Maharaja was a symbol and representative of monarchy, he took firm steps towards democracy by developing democratic system of governance. He gave 'Gram Panchayats' the right to settle their local disputes by expressing his support and strengthening them. When 'Village Development Department' was established in 1937, the Gram Panchayats were even given the duty of participating in its activities and monitoring it to some extent. Like the Gram Panchayats, the Municipal Councils in cities were also made more powerful and responsible by properly organizing them and making widespread changes to their rights and functionalities. In order to establish democratic system at state level, the Maharaja had begun his efforts in 1931. A constitutional system was implemented in the state in 1934. He also took the initiative to organize the 'Praja Sabha'. It was consisted of 75 members. Of these, 33 were directly elected by the people of the state. In order to ensure proper execution of its functions, 12 of the members used to be government officers. 16 were State Councilors and 14 were nominated members. The 14 nominated members used to be specialists of different subjects. Later, the number of directly elected members was raised to 40.


Sometimes later, the Maharaja began his efforts to formulate Council of Ministers and started with two ministers initially – Mirza Afzal Beg who represented Kashmir valley, and Gangaram Dogra who represented Jammu region. Maharaja was strongly determined to take democratic system further step-by-step. He had also established a commission for the purpose that advised him on the advancement of the process.


Unfortunately, some power hungry separatist political forces grew strong in the process later that succeeded in misleading the people in their favour. The contemporary political conditions of the state developed in such a way that gradually took away all the powers from the Maharaja. Conditions of Indian Independence, Pakistan's military invasion of Kashmir to forcefully capture it, the wrong policies of country's first government, especially its Prime Minister caused the conditions in Jammu Kashmir to go from bad to worse. A time came when the Maharaja was even forced to leave the state temporarily and he left for Bombay (present Mumbai). Although the departure was temporary, he could never return to the state and died in Mumbai in 1960.

Thus we see the life of patriotic, people-caring, social reformer Maharaja Hari Singh, who helped everyone among his people live a dignified life, is highly respectable and admirable for all of us. He is among the most honorable personalities of the state of Jammu Kashmir.


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