Remembering KASHMIR’S ‘first martyr’
Young British army officer, Robert Thorp gave his life while fighting for rights of Kashmiri people against Dogra rulers
|| ZAHOOR GULZAR
His epitaph reads he gave his life for Kashmir. Some historians believe that his was the first voice that stood against the tyrannical rule of Dogras against Kashmir. His name was Robert Thorp, a solider from Briton army who gave his life for motherland. Amid the winter chill, on November 22 afternoon, a group of civil society members gathered in the Christian cemetery here, on the banks of river Jhelum, to remember the Thorp. “Kashmir was his motherland…he gave his life to fight our cause. The least we owe to this departed soul is that we want to commemorate his contribution,” said Dr Altaf Hussain who led the delegation of civil society members on 148th death anniversary of Thorp. On the occasion the members pledged to create awareness among people, particularly young generation, about Thorpe’s contribution to Kashmir cause. “There is a need to at least properly maintain his burial place and it has nothing to do with Kashmir politics and present situation. We owe this much to him (Thorpe) who laid his life for people of Kashmir,” said noted human right lawyer Parvaiz Imroz, on the occasion. Every year, on November 22, members from Kashmir civil society and human rights organizations assemble in the British era cemetery to pay glowing tributes to the man – many describe him as the first martyr of Kashmir – who gave up his luxurious life to stand for the oppressed people of the Valley.
Who was Thorp?
Thorp’s farther, E Thorp was an officer in British army who had fallen in love with a girl, Jana, from central Kashmir’s Budgam district, during his tenure in the Valley. Historians argue that the senior Thorp would often visit the Sugen Yarinar village where Jana lived. And one find day he proposed he expressed his love to Jana. But things didn’t mature until the senior Thorp took up the matter with Jana’s relative Habibulla Teli who was a soldier in British army. The family argued to marry off Jana to the British official but with a condition: that the senior Thorp would have to embrace Islam. He agreed and the marriage was held in Islamic tradition in the village before the couple went to England. After some years the junior Thorp was born. As Robert grew in the lap of her Kashmir mother, the tales of suffering of her people must have been his lullabies while growing up in the United Kingdom. He followed his father’s footsteps and joined British army years later. As a young British army officer he arrived in the Valley, as a tourist in 1865 to cherish the beauty of his motherland. But soon he came across the stories about suffering of its people. Thorp had got the permission from the British authorities to stay in Kashmir for two months. But after being moved by the oppression of people in the Valley at the hands of then rulers, 27-year old Thorp decided to stay longer to join the struggle of people of Kashmir against the Dogra rulers. Leafing across the pages of Amritsar Sale Deed between Maharaja Gulab Singh and the British government in 1946, a brief mention of Robert would announced the first act of resistance to the bizarre trade. As sale deed made Kashmir people slaves it was thorp who not only questioned the agreement but also criticized his own country as well,” said a historian.
As Robert grew in the lap of her Kashmir mother, the tales of suffering of her people must have been his lullabies while growing up in the United Kingdom.
Kashmir lullabies would have shaped into memories. Quite evident from his book, ‘Cashmere Misgovernment’— which is one of the most authentic accounts of bonded labor under the Dogra kings— Robert was appalled to see the condition of Kashmir people. Therefore, he took on to himself to inform the general British public in England about the plight of helpless Kashmir people. He started writing against the oppressive Dogra regime in publications like ‘Friends of India’. Posthumously published book ‘Cashmere Misgovernment’ which also chronicles taxation system and shawl industry during early Dogra rule gives a clear insight into Robert’s mind. In the book he writes: “Those gaily-coloured threads of wool are not the only ones which these looms weave to their completion. Threads of life, more costly than those of the soften pashm, whose price will be demanded by Heaven yet, are spun out there on the loom of sickness and suffering. Death or flight is the only doors of release open to the heavy-laden shawl bafs; and thus we have arrived at an understanding of the causes which have produced those extensive emigrants of the Cashmere shawl bafs to the Punjab.” Thorp felt the British were responsible for the plight of Kashmiris, as it was they who had sold it to the Maharaja under the “Treaty of Amritsar.” Thorp pleaded before the government to release Kashmiris from the wretched condition, oppression and misery.
But after being moved by the oppression of people in the Valley at the hands of then rulers, 27-year old Thorp decided to stay longer to join the struggle of people of Kashmir against the Dogra rulers.
He believed that public opinion was paramount to influence the government to do what was needed. According to historical accounts, the Dogra rulers were disturbed by Thorp’s fight for the right of Kashmir people. He was deported and spent next three years in awaking the British government officials and the general public. Historians say, on November 21, in 1868, the chronicler of Kashmir’s pain managed to sneak back into Valley much to the angst of the Dogra rulers. On the morning of next day after having breakfast he was found dead on Suleman Taing (Solomon Hills). It is believed that Thorp was poisoned to death by Dogra rulers. The same day, Thorp was laid to rest at Sheikh Bagh Christian graveyard. It took locals some time to realize that with the death of Thorp, a strong voice had fallen silent. Kashmir had lost its saviour. Kashmir civil society has been visiting the grave on November 22 every year. “Thorp died because he raised his voice for Kashmiri people who were under suppression. Still today we are facing something like that,” said Father Sunny on the occasion, adding there was a need to educate people about Thorp’s contribution even as he stressed that his struggle should be made part of curriculum in schools.