The Reformist

D R Bhagat
Maharaja Hari Singh was the fourth and the last Dogra ruler of princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. He was born as a son of Raja Amar Singh who was the brother of Maharaja Partap Singh. He succeeded to the crown in 1925 after the death of his uncle Maharaja Partap Singh. He was the most liberal and reformist Maharaja of the state and was much interested in the welfare of all sections of the society. He made many social, economic and administrative reforms.
Due to the prevailing caste system in the society, the condition of the depressed people of the society was quite miserable. They were not allowed to draw water from the common well or the pond. Their children were segregated from other children while studying in the schools. They were not allowed to enter and perform pooja in the temples. He announced that all wells and schools shall be open to all and there shall be no discrimination on the basis of caste. He ordered that all the untouchables should be allowed to enter and perform pooja in all the temples of the state. A formal proclamation was issued in this regard on 31 October 1932. There was wide spread opposition from the priests and other orthodox people of the society. The head priest of Raghunath temple in Jammu resigned in protest but the Maharaja did not succumb to the pressure and got the orders implemented strictly. He was the first ruler of any Indian princely states of India to have courage to stop discrimination against untouchables. He also granted scholarships to their children to help and encourage them for education.
There were many evil customs in the society which draw the attention of the Maharaja. The widows were prohibited to remarry and therefore forced to lead a miserable life. He passed a law to allow remarriage by a Hindu widow and also banned the practice of Sati. He prohibited the child marriage which was very common in the society. He passed the Infant Marriage Prohibition Law which prohibited the marriage of a boy below the age of 18 and that of a girl below the age of 14. In 1934, he banned the immoral trafficking of women and as a result many brothels in the state were closed. These women were rehabilitated by providing them training in various handicrafts. The female infanticide was common in Hindus especially in Rajputs who considered the daughters as a curse. The poor Rajputs were not able to meet the dowry demands of in laws of the daughter at the time of marriage. To put an end to this nasty practice, he proclaimed that the parents of each daughter in Rajput family shall be given one acre of land and financial help at the time of the marriage of a daughter which discouraged this inhuman practice. He also made reforms in the field of education. He made primary education compulsory for the children of the state. Many primary schools were opened. The number of primary schools increased from 700 in 1925 at the time of his coronation to 20700 in 1945. To encourage higher education, the college fees were reduced to very low. He granted scholarships to brilliant students who wanted to go for higher studies outside the state. He also abolished polyandry which was the practice of marrying all the brothers of a family to one woman and it was prevalent among the Buddhist community in Ladakh.
There were also some notable achievements on the economic front. To give relief to farmers from high handedness of money lenders, he passed the Agriculture Relief Act by which a debtor could settle his accounts with the creditors in the court of law. The peasants were given the propriety rights. The trade and industry were encouraged. Small scale industry like carpet, leather goods and silk were established which provided employment to the local people. In 1938, The Jammu And Kashmir Bank was established and its branches were opened in main towns of the state. Important towns were linked with telephone, telegraphy and wireless services. To give maximum employment to the people of the state in government services, he passed the State Subject Law. With all these measures, the economic condition of the people improved to some extent. On the administrative front also some important reforms were made. A legislative assembly called the Praja Sabha was established in 1934 which had 75 members. Out of these 33 were elected members whose strength rose to 40 in 1939. Panchayats were associated with the implementation of various schemes for the welfare of villagers. In the health sector, he opened the Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar which was one of the biggest hospitals in the sub continent. At the time of coronation, he said, “Justice is my religion”. So he took steps to improve the justice delivery system in the state. He established the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 1928 with one chief Justice and two other judges. These judges were appointed by the Maharaja from best legal experts. In the matter of religion, he had a secular temperament. He respected the religious sentiments of all his subjects. At the time of Eid, he joined his Muslim subjects in Eid prayer. He did not discriminate Hindus and Muslims in the matter of important appointments. He had appointed two Muslims namely Malik and Noor Mohammed Khan as his ADC’s. The legendry singer Malka Pukhraj was the court singer who used to sing bhajans in the palace. Abdul Qayum Khan was his secretary. He was a true nationalist and in the Round Table Conference held in 1930 in London, he forcefully spoke in favour of independence of the country which annoyed the Britishers. He also acceded the state to India despite being the Muslim majority state and pressure from Pakistan to accede to that country.
The welfare measures taken by him went in a long way in ameliorating the woes of the people of the state which was one of the biggest kingdoms enjoying the autonomy and the internal sovereignty. He was much ahead of many princely states in making social, economic and educational reforms. But despite all these good works done by him, his tenure as Maharaja was not an easy going affair. Due to his nationalistic character, the British government in India was not happy with him and so they supported the communal forces in the state which were rising against the autocratic rule of the Maharaja. Some ugly communal incidents took place. This movement was being led by Sheikh Abdullah who also became the Prime Minister of the state after independence. With the support of Nehru and Sardar Patel, he was successful in sending him to exile. On 20 June1949, he left for Bombay and never returned to see his state and its people who were so dear to him. Only his ashes were brought here when he left the world on 26 April 1961while still in exile in Bombay now Mumbai. Recently, the demand for declaring his birthday as a state holiday has gained the momentum. This demand is just one as the Maharaja is considered as the architect of modern state of Jammu and Kashmir now J&K UT.