Sense of Justice in Dogras

BD Sharma

Almost all the monarchs in the world have remained perpetrators of suppression and exploitation. Rack renting of the peasantry and extracting numerous illegal cesses in cash, kind or labour by the rapacious rulers, Jagirdars and landlords, the stranglehold of the cunning moneylenders were the order of the day. It is a fact that many rulers maintained law and order in their territories and brought a semblance of stability in the society. Many of them promoted art and culture and performed some acts of benevolence here and there also. But overall the institution of monarchy epitomized tyranny. It patronized and promoted the interests of the exploiters and looters.
The Dogra rulers in general and some of them like Raja Ranjit Dev, Maharaja Ranbir Singh, Maharaja Partap Singh in particular showed much of benevolence in the exercise of their power. We don’t come across the same type of eccentricities, vulgarities and absurdities in them as were seen in the rulers of other parts of India as has been depicted by Dewan Jarmani Dass. Since feudal lords like Jagirdars, Zaildars, Kardars, Shahukars etc were the essential instruments of the institution of monarchy so there was no escape of exploitation and suppression of the common man in our State also. The common man got crushed under the weight of caprices of this bunch of rentiers. So much so that even members of the ruling elite did sometimes raise their voice against the prevalence of mis governance and injustice. Mian Mota was one such Wazir in the Dogra Durbar who raised his voice against the depravation and degeneration prevalent amongst the rulers who succeeded Raja Ranjit Dev. But our focus today centers around some common people who did not bear the brunt of oppression lying down and revolted against the promoters of oppression and suppression. Though their voice was a cry in the wilderness yet their protests did stir the longing for justice amongst the common folks and awaken the almost dead conscience of the ruling elite, however small in measure it might be. Their sacrifices might not have brought about quantum change in the scheme of exploitation but if such persons had remained silent and tolerated the tyranny silently then God alone knows where the limits of despotism of the tormentors would have stretched. Majority of the Samadhis, Dheries, Devsthans, Shrines etc over the whole of Dogra land were constructed in remembrance of the sacrifices made by some brave men and women against injustice and oppression of the tyrannical order. It shows that these Dogras didn’t easily submit to the perpetration of injustice. Their number may not be significant but they have left behind them a rich legacy which inspires us even to this day.
One of the glorious chapters of fight against injustice in Dogra land was written by Bawa Jitto. Due to the efforts of Prof Ram Nath Shastri and Balwant Singh Thakur, his legacy has become part of our conscience. Bawa Jitto didn’t yield to the deception and cheating of the Jagirdar from whom he had taken land for cultivation on the condition of paying rent at the rate of one-fourth of produce. He toiled hard over the Banjar land and when a bumper crop grew thereon, the Jagirdar backed out of his word and demanded three-fourth of share of crop. Bawa pleaded to the Jagirdar not to back out of his Dharama but greediness had overtaken the mind of the Jagirdar. When the Bawa stood to his word, the Jagirdar sent his henchmen to forcibly take away whole of Bawa’s hard earned grains. Bawa Jitto resisted it tooth and nail. But when the goons of the Jagirdar overpowered him and he saw that his rights were being trampled upon, he thrust a dagger in his belly and took his own life. He fell over the heap of grains soaking it in blood. It is said that curse of the poor man fell upon the families of Jagirdar and his henchmen who remained agonized and traumatized for generations. Bawa’s sacrifice might not have shaken the roots and shackles of the well entrenched system of exploitation but a wave of fear did run across the spine of the cruel landlords and they avoided recurrence of such incidents. He was a martyr and redeemer of the oppressed poor. He gave his life to stir the conscience of the poor to fight for justice and not to give in to the tyranny of the feudal lords so easily. It was not something insignificant. It meant a great deal for those who were tormented and oppressed with impunity. Common people feel indebted to this martyr. They gather year after year to pay their homage to him and remember his sacrifice. This perhaps, remains one of the largest gatherings which is held regularly in the remembrance of a man who fought for justice. No Raja, no Maharaja, no feudal lord or even no political leader can ever dream of being remembered in the manner as this poor farmer is.
Another Dogra Nayak who comes to mind readily is Data Ranapat who laid down his life at the altar of justice. He was the Kul Purohit of the Charak Biradari who had control over vast area of land consisting of about 84 villages situated from Bahu-Birpur-Smailpur axis downstream to Allah-Charaba-Arnia. When the Bahu kingdom was on the downslide, one Bangi Charak emerged as leader of Darhahliya faction of the Charak clan. He was a cruel person who unleashed a reign of terror in his area. He was eager to snatch a big chunk of land of the other section of Charaks known as Birpuriay. The Data who apart from being Kul Purohit of the Charak Biradari, was an arbiter, the panch for resolution of any dispute between the two factions of Charaks. Bangi Charak tried to influence him first by inducements and then by threats to adjudicate the issue in his favour. When the Data sat on the seat of justice, he consulted the old record prepared by his grandfather some fifty years earlier and traced out the delineated and agreed boundary between the lands of the two factions. He found the disputed land falling in the share of Birpuriay faction and thus pronounced his decision in their favour. In the process, however he earned the wrath and enmity of Bangi Charak, the cruel and notorious head of the Darhahliya faction. Bangi took his revenge and murdered the youthful Ranpat by decapitating his head. Data didn’t yield to the machinations of the cruel landlord and stood firm and impartial in his conduct though he had to lay down his life for this act. While performing his duties, he kept the spirit of justice very high and is remembered by thousands of his followers at his Samadhi near Bari Brahmana with devotion.
Another example of standing against tyranny was set up by Mahal Dev, the scion of Jasrotia clan of Kathua and ancestor and progenitor of the Sambyal Rajputs of Samba. Actually Mahal Dev was the younger brother of Raja Jhujhar Dev, the Jasrotia Raja and was employed on a superior position in the Delhi Sultanate. When once he had come to his ancestral home he came to know that a poor Brahmin had sacrificed his life against the tyranny of his elder brother. Since he was a just and righteous person he got highly perturbed and consequently severed all his links with his family and proceeded to Samba along with his wife where his in-laws lived. It was a rare example where a member of the ruling class didn’t tolerate the injustice being meted out to a poor man by his own brother. Interestingly enough there is a layer over layer of fight against tyranny in this episode. The other character in this story, the poor Brahmin who had sacrificed his life, was also an embodiment of resistance to the tyranny of the feudal lord. Under the despotic regimes a number of exactions in cash, kind or labour (Begar) were imposed on the people. One such tradition was an extortion in the form of paying a gift of five Paise as Dhamol (gift) by every household on the marriage of son of the ruler. This poor Brahmin, Kaura Ram had not five Paise to pay to the royal family when a marriage in the royal family took place. The deputies of the Raja didn’t find anything worthwhile except for a “Ghadabi”, a brass utensil used for carrying 2/3 liters of water with this Brahmin family. They confiscated it in appropriation of five Paise due to their lord. Kaura Ram, the Brahmin could not bear the loss of the utensil, essential for him to carry water for offering to Lord Shiva. He appeared before the Raja and pleaded to him to give him back his utensil and to ask his employees to eschew from resorting to such type of highhandedness. But the cruel Raja didn’t pay heed to him and took side of his deputies. He refused to return his utensil. Taking this as an act of extreme tyranny of the ruler, the poor man committed suicide before the Raja himself in the open Durbar. Everyone was stunned and disgusted that a poor man had to loose his life for such a tiny amount of money. Mahal Dev held his brother responsible for taking the life of the poor Brahmin and considering it to be an act of sin, he severed all links with him. It is said that while Mahal Dev was wandering clueless Pandit Kaura Ram came in his dream and consoled and encouraged him not to worry and establish his residence at Samba where his clan would be flourishing. As per the wishes of the martyr, Mahal Dev settled at Samba and became a vassal of Delhi Sultanate there. He constructed a Samadhi of the martyr and his successors, especially the new weds, never fail to pay their homage to him over his Samadhi, even after 600 years.
According to the Indian tradition whole of the land belongs to God and the King/Sarkar holds the same on His behalf. In turn it used to be given to the Jagirdars for its proper management and collection of land revenue. In our area the Bagal Rajputs were the owners of a big chunk of land stretching from Rahya-Suchani through Patti-Jakh to Jhang-Chimana Chak on the Pakistan border. Some part of this land was cultivated by the land owners themselves and the other part was given to the farmers for cultivation. The farmers were given the land after they formed a group and elected a group leader who was to bear the responsibility of managing the group as also to act as bridge between the farmers and the owners. When our forefathers consisting of about 16/17 families approached the Bagal owners for grant of land for cultivation, they were given a chunk of about 5000 kanals of land. Out of this a flat piece of land was selected for construction of houses in a conglomerate manner for reasons of security. They chose one of them as their leader, termed as Panch. The Panch conducted a survey of the whole land and carved out the appropriate number of plots out of that land ensuring that land of both Naaqis (poor) and Kaamil (good) quality fell in each plot. When it came to distribution of plots to different families his deep commitment to justice and fair deal came into play. He allotted the plots falling near the village site to those families who were weak being deficient in human or animal resources. All the Biradari members asked the Panch to first choose the plot, even the best of the lot, for himself as he had devoted much time and efforts in working out the distribution of land. But he declined the offer and distributed the plots first to the rest of them and for his family he kept the plot which was farthest from the village site and which bore a number of encumbrances for cultivation and crop protection. Everybody appreciated the Panch for acting in a fair manner. A leader of merely seventeen families has left a very useful lesson to our present leaders who are representing lakhs and crores of people. It enjoins upon them to act fairly and not to look after the interests of their near and dear ones in preference to the persons who deserve it the most. Then and only then, nobody will raise any finger against them.
No doubt these men were from the common stock of people. But they stood for lofty principles. A fight against the exploitive and tyrannical rulers was not a small thing during those dark days. Some of them set high standards of ethics when a duty was cast upon them to adjudicate upon some disputes. Others revolted against the tyranny of the system. They didn’t hesitate to even sacrifice their lives for the protection of their rights. It has to be borne in mind that the size of the men in the fight didn’t matter but what mattered was the size of the fight these men took up. They were not influenced by the might of the powerful or by the love of their nears ones.
Though such instances were few and far between yet they provided us reason to feel pride in inheriting such legacy. With the passage of time materialistic tendencies overtook our lives and such commitments did get diluted gradually. Some stray incidents do take place in our lives even now which convey us a message that there are still people who stand by principles of ethics and morality. Few incidents in this regard which came across my way will be recounted in a subsequent write-up in the coming days.(The author is a former civil servant).