Dr Sudershan Kumar
The erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir with four provinces viz. Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and Gilgit Baltistan with area around 2.8 million square kilometers was founded by Maharaja Gulab Singh after signing treaty with the representatives of British East India Company at Amritsar on 16th March, 1846 after the first Anglo Sikh war. Prior to that Dogra warriors played a key role under Maharaja Ranjit Singh for merging small independent kingdoms with vast Sikh empire. Therefore, before highlighting Dogra warriors’ contribution in establishing one of the largest erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir under the suzerainty of British India Empire, one must get one self acquainted with the history of these four provinces (now bifurcated in two union territories Jammu – Kashmir, Ladakh. Some areas viz. Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan and Shaksgam valley, Aksai Chin are illegally occupied by Pakistan and China respectively). These four provinces,which are culturally, climatically and religion wise different were further sub divided into small small kingdoms/principalities ruled independently at different times. From the open literature it emerges that till half of millennium Kashmir region was important centre of Hinduism, followed by Buddhism and later on in 9th Century Shaivism.
Islamism in Kashmir Valley started sometime between 13th and 15th centuries. In last quarter of 16th century, Mughal Emperor Akbar’s Commander-in-Chief Qasim Khan led Mughal Army annexed Kashmir Valley and established sovereignty. Successive Mughal Emperors ruled Kashmir till 1752. Afterwards taking the advantage of declining of Mughal Empire,the Afghan Durrani empire under Ahmed Shah Durrani took the control of Kashmir Valley in 1752 and ruled till 1819, followed by Sikhs (1819-1846) and Dogras (1846-1947). Out of all these regimes, Afghan regimes was one of the most repressive regime. Similarly when one looks in to the history of Gilgit-Baltistan, one finds that in first century, the people of these regions were the followers of Bon religion and from second century onwards they followed Buddhism.There after the region was ruled by Buddhist dynasty till seventh century. Sufi Muslims from Persia and Central Asia introduced Islam in this region in fourteenth century. Gilgit Baltistan was also ruled by many local rulers amongst whom Maqpon dynasty of Skardu and Rajas of Hunza were famous. The.Last Maqpon Ahmed Shah ruled Baltistan between 1811 to 1846. Also the present Ladakh was divided in two provinces while the third one comprised of western Tibet. The area of western Tibet slipped away from the kingdom but was reunited in 16th century by famous Ladakh ruler Sengge Namgyal. Similarly, the Jammu region was also amalgamation of petty principalities. Each one was ruled by an independent king. But ironically the Rajas of these principalities were at loggerheads with each other thus resulting into chaos, mayhem making peace elusive since centuries for the region. It was the might of the Raja Gulab Singh, who through his innovative strategy fostered peace among them and united them under a single government. Thus it was through the valour and endeavor of the Dogra warriors, that these independent kingdoms of four provinces under Maharaja Ranjit Singh were integrated into a single entity known as erstwhile Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, to get acquainted about this Indo Aryan Dogra ethno-linguistic group in India consisting of the Dogri language speakers becomes all the more imperative.
These Dogras have very aptly earned their name as the bravest of brave warrior clan in military history. In the last few centuries, Dogras have produced large number of warriors. Notably among them were Mian Nath, Rup Chand, Man Singh, Raja Basudev, Jagat Singh Pathania, Chander Bhan, Raj Singh Chambial , Raja Dhiyan Singh, Raja Suchet Singh, Ram Singh Pathania, Bag Singh Jarnail, Mahajraja Gulab Singh, Gen.Zorawar and many others. The valour of Dogra warriors was recognized by Mughal emperors, Britishers and Sikh rulers. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan was so impressed with the valour of Man Chand Guler that he conferred him the title of Sher Afghan and his family name suffix was changed from Chand to Singh. Besides British East India also raised the irregular unit of Dogra known as Agra Levy in the year 1858. Sir Fredrick Robert, the then Commander in Chief of India was so impressed with the qualities and valour of Dogra soldiers that he added Dogra regiment in Bengal Army.
This regiment along with other units participated in overseas operations and earned many battle honours. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a great admirer of Dogra warriors’ bravery and loyalty. He not only nurtured them in his court but also shrewdly used the Dogra warriors for accomplishment of his vision for extending the boundaries of his empire up to Central Asia.
In fact during his time Raja Gulab Singh hatched a plan with his favourite lieutenant Gen.Zorawar Singh for conquering Ladakh, Gilgit Baltistan and some part of Tibet. As per plan General Zorawar Singh acclimatized nearly 5000 Dogra soldiers for high altitude warfare and started his mission via Eastern Kishtwar to Ladakh. Gen. Zorawar Singh truly believed in offensive action with manoeuver warfare. With his offensive mind set he applied the forward positive policy which guided the destiny of Jammu and Kashmir under Maharaja Gulab Singh and Ranjit Singh. He not only conquered Ladakh, Gilgit Baltistan but also conquered 500 miles in Western Tibet and reached up to the city of Toklakam. Gen. Zorawar Singh’s indomitable courage and mountain warfare skills had mesmerized even the enemy resulting into honouring him despite being the General of enemy army. This incident has been unmatched and not even once repeated anywhere. Moreover, the defeated Tibetan army raised a memorial in honour of the General killed in the battle simultaneously mentioning him with great respect in its history. In Toyo General Zorawar Singh’s Samadhi is venerated even today. Colourful flags flutter over the mount of rocks on the hill of Toyo, where he was cremated by his men. It is unfortunate that this bravest of brave general who was also known as the Napoleon of India is a forgotten Hero of Military.
The respect honour and recognition which this great warrior deserved was not accorded to him in Jammu and Kashmir even after seven decades of Independence, leaving aside him even the other Dogra warriors who laid down their lives for the sake of motherland remained unsung heroes. The younger Dogra generations do not know even their names. On the contrary Israeli Government,and its people have accorded greater honour to Indian soldiers from three Indian cavalry regiments Mysore, Hyderabad, Jodhpur Lancers, which participated in first world war as a part of 15th Imperial Service Brigade of British Indian army in the battle of the Haifa, a coastal city of Northern Israel. The bravery and indomitable courage displayed by Major Dalpat Singh, Capt Aman Singh Bhadur and Dafedar, Joor Singh in the battlefield not only liberated the city of Haifa from Ottoman empire but also changed the dynamics of first world war. During century celebration of this event in the year 2018, the Mayor of Haifa Yona Yahav had told the gathering assembled to pay tribute to fallen Indian soldiers that “Major Singh and Bold Indian Soldiers are very dear to us”. As a mark of respect and honour they have also included battle of Haifa and role of Indian soldiers in liberating Haifa from Ottoman empire in the curriculum of Primary Education of their children.
But the pertinent questions which remains to be answered is that, did all these Dogra warriors get due place and honour in Jammu and Kashmir even after seven decades of Independence? The author leaves at this stage for each and every Dogra of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir to think and introspect. This year the nation is celebrating 75th year of India’s Independence as Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav. Many events are being organized at state and national level through out the year. Therefore it is high time that UT and Centre Governments examine the grave injustice meted out to the valour of Dogra warriors including Gen Zorawar Singh , Maharaja Gulab Singh and many other unsung Dogra Heroes and take appropriate action to revive the lost legacy of Dogra valour.
To start with, the followings steps, are required: First and fore most is to raise a war Memorial in the honour of these unsung Dogra heroes either in Jammu or Akhnoor or at Reasi. Also highlight the accomplishments of all Dogra Warriors.Make documentary Films on General Zorawar Singh and Maharaja Gulab Singh highlighting their accomplishments for the knowledge and awareness of younger generations not only of Union Territories of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh but also for entire nation. .Second,history of Dogra warriors and their valour be included in the curriculum of schools at primary level.This will certainly inspire future generation of Dogras.Third, the most important is that Dogri Script (Dogri Akkhar) be introduced in all Government/private schools from class-I onward for inculcation of Dogra. pride among children.Fourth, as a befitting tribute to the bravest of brave General Zorawar singh ( Napoleon of India) the Jammu Air port be named after General Zorawar Singh. Lastly, as a mark of respect for these unsung Dogra warriors the function be organized by UTs government every year with peoples participation.