The forgotten Dogras
Armed militancy, growing religious extremism and cross-border firing have hijacked the headlines of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, since the early 1990’s. Today, this region is amongst the most militarised zones in the world, with nuclear-tipped armies of India (in the state of J&K), Pakistan (in Pakistan occupied Kashmir), and China (in Aksai Chin) facing each other in a hostile standoff that often sparks with blazing intensity. The wounds of Kashmir were inflicted at birth itself in 1947 with the Pakistanis initiating the first of the four wars to be formally fought between Pakistan and India – armed Afridi Lashkars along with Pakistani irregulars threatened to take over the state, leading to the Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh to sign the treaty of accession and merge his state with the Union of India.
Since then, the narrative and history of the fractured state vary on both sides of the Line-of-Control. However, Pakistan has steadily chosen to ignore the terms and conditions set forth as part of the much-bandied plebiscite in 1948, it has conveniently chosen to disown the subsequent Shimla Treaty and its mandated bilateralism, and finally, Kargil was a frightening testimony to the Pakistani adventurism, belligerence, and dangerous misreading of the ground situation that continues till date in the misplaced hope that India will eventually let go of Kashmir.
Irrespective of the reality, the externally stoked fire in the Kashmiri insurgency has led to the unnecessary spilling of blood and precious lives, besides the slow decay of the syncretic culture of Kashmiriyat in favour of the wholly imported strains of the puritanical and alien Islam, i.e.
Wahhabism. Amidst, this tragic saga of external interference, regressive religiosity, and misplaced distrusts – the story of the non-Kashmiri population of the state emerges as a mere footnote, with nearly 30 percent of the population residing in the Jammu and Ladakh regions.
The largest “minority” of Jammu and Kashmir are the indefatigable Dogras, whose glorious history of ruling the state of Jammu and Kashmir aside, have an unparalleled (and unsung) role in the sacrifices made for the security and safety of the nation-building process of modern India. Hidden from principal frame and telecasts that beam regularly out of the troubled J&K mess, is the genteel, yet ultra-gallant people of the erstwhile Duggar lands, who are tucked between the Pir Panjal mountain range in the North, plains of the Punjab to the South, the LOC in the West and the Ladakh in the East – composed of nearly 28 percent of the state of J&K’s population. A caste and religion agnostic description, the Dogras are predominantly Hindus, though there are Sikh and Muslim Dogras as well.
However, public memory and modern perceptions do not do justice to the multiple legends of this race who famously include, “India’s Napoleon”, General Zorawar Singh whose legendary conquests include Tibet, Baltistan, and vast swathes of Ladakh. The unfinished narratives of the post-Independence saga and the subsequent state rules, predominantly by the Nehru-Sheikh Abdullah imprints, have almost given a pejorative twist to the perceptions of the Dogra rule, fuelled by their own individual and political outlooks. A statistical “minority” existence within the state has ensured that no major state leader emerges in the arithmetic of electoral democracy, with Kashmiris ruling the state predominantly, whilst, even at the national level no significant leader was allowed to flower and occupy a prominent place in public imagination (Dr. Karan Singh, a titular inheritor of the ruling Dogra family, was never a mass leader in the political sense).
Strictly speaking, the Dogra population spills over into the adjoining mountains of Himachal Pradesh and the fertile plains of Punjab. This lesser-known race is the home to an unprecedented four Regiments of the Indian Army that essentially take their manpower from the Dogra catchment areas: Dogra Regiment, Jammu and Kashmir Rifles, Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (which has a half-half composition of the Dogras and the Valley-based stock), and even Punjab Regiment (nearly half of its manpower are the Punjabi Dogras). The combined gallantry awards to the Dogras in the Indian Armed Forces could shame any other race or region in the country – with Military heroes like Brigadier Rajender Singh Jamwal (the savior of J&K in 1947-8 whose gazette notification reads, “Brigadier Rajinder Singh and his band of soldiers carried out the orders of the Maharaja to the letter and spirit. Fighting bravely for every inch of land, they delayed enemy advance by two crucial days during which important decisions were made.
The Indian Army joined the fight and the J&K State was thus saved for India by Brigadier Rajinder Singh…”), Major Som Nath Sharma (India’s first Param Veer Chakra), Captain GS Salaria (India’s first Param Veer Chakra for gallantry outside India, in Congo), to more recent PVC winners like Honorary Captain Bana Singh (for action in Siachen) to Kargil’s immortal, “Yeh Dil Maangey More”, Captain Vikram Batra, the list is endless and unmatched. For these simple yet battle-hardy folks, soldering comes as a natural instinct and their locational geography, martial history, and sensitivities of state politics have afforded them an inherent sense of patriotic dignity that is bereft of any political colour, chest-thumping shenanigans, or touristy trumpeting.
Jammu as the historical, provincial and emotional “capital” of the Dogras is reflective of the neglect and ignominy of Dogras in modern India. A forgotten city that has grown shapeless, unplanned and without the trappings of any modern amenities of urban development is the proverbial “other” city in the J&K dynamics. Forever considered for necessary attention “after the valley” – the nondescript existence of Jammu cannot boast of any substantial industry, commerce, or infrastructural wonder.
The muted response to including “Dogri” ensured that it got recognised as one of the 22 scheduled national languages, as late as 2003 with the 92nd Constitutional Amendment – the delay ensured the virtual disappearance of the unique Takri script, a sad price to pay for silently waiting on the sidelines of the other regional movements that often deployed aggression against the nation.
This oasis of calm since Independence has seen historical ravages of Alexander, Babur, Ghazni to the more recent tumult in neighbouring Punjab in the 80’s, Kashmir from 90’s onwards, and a perennially hostile Pakistan that fires brazenly into the long border stretches that run through the Dogra lands. Today, the Dogras need to be acknowledged and recognised for the invaluable role that they play in services to the nation – the region is forever devoid of the largesse in the form of the grandiose “J&K Packages”, that are essentially directed at the Valley.
Providentially, a Jammu/Dogra representative in the form of a Deputy Chief Minister of J&K is there (Dr. Nirmal Singh) and two important ministers in the Central government including Dr. Jitendra Singh and JP Nadda (he is a Dogra from Himachal Pradesh). Technically the ruling dispensation in the J&K state and the Centre are also aligned and therefore should be in a position to push through the much-needed development and upliftment of the Dogras.
From the heydays of the Dogra rule in the region to the current status of a forgotten people, the Dogras have typically punched above their weight in other fields like arts, culture, and sports but have never got their due of recognition and support. Planned development in these areas will usher in the much needed opportunities for the Dogras, as indeed to the Kashmiris and Ladakhis who often have to venture far into the hinterland to partake in education, medical care, and other job opportunities - the madness that has consumed the valley can have its polarised soul healed with the balm of national integration and opportunities, in its nearest area of calm and order.
Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands &
Puducherry. Vews expressed are strictly personal.