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Muslim Kashmir under Sikh Rule

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.


The subcontinent was earlier ruled and by the Hindus. From the ninth century onwards the Indian subcontinent was in raided by Muslim Turkish invaders. Within about 200 years Muslim rule spread all over India and continued for 900 years. The Hindus were the people who were ruled by the Muslims and they had to obey all the laws enacted by the Muslim rulers.

However, for a brief period in Indian history, the Muslim state of Kashmir was conquered by the Sikh- Hindu army of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. It is worth examining what was the condition of the Muslim population under the rule of Maharajah Ranjit Singh.

Kashmir is a state of the Indian union and presently is divided into 3 parts. One part (the valley) is controlled by India while the west and eastern parts are under control of Pakistan and Peoples Republic of China. Kashmir has always been part of India and was an integral part of the Mughal empire. After the collapse of Mughal rule, Kashmir passed into the hands of the Durrani clan who ruled it from Kabul till 1819.

Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim state but earlier the people were Hindus and Buddhists.

The Muslim rulers of Kashmir had forcibly converted the Hindus in the valley to Islam and in some cases, the persecution was so severe that 100% converted to Islam. The tables were turned when the Sikh empire consolidated its rule and conquered Kashmir.

Southern boundary of Sikh empire as per Treaty of Amritsar

Southern boundary of Sikh empire as per Treaty of Amritsar

Rise of the Sikhs and Treaty of Amritsar

In 1802, Ranjit Singh united the Sikh states and forged the Sikh empire. He made Lahore his capital and assumed the title of Maharajah. The British recognized his power and were keen on accommodation with him. Ranjit also was wary of the English and this led to the Treaty of Amritsar in 1807. This treaty gave legal recognition to the Sikh empire and also demarcated the southern boundary of the state. It was accepted by both parties that the river Sutlej would be the southern limit of the rule of Ranjit Singh's rule.

This treaty limited the expansion plans of Ranjit Singh who had built up a formidable force trained by French and Italian generals like Allard and Venturi. He also had competent Sikh generals in Hari Singh and Zorawar Singh. Ranjit was an adventurer and as per the norms of that period decided to venture westward and northward in quest of more land for his empire.

Hari Singh Nalwa

Hari Singh Nalwa

Conquest of Kashmir and Battle of Shopian(1819)

Ranjit Singh conquered Multan and Peshawar in the west. He decided to conquer Kashmir which was under Afghan rule. The Afghans had already been defeated at the Battles of Multan and Peshawar and the Sikh force under generals Hari Singh Nalwa and Zorawar Singh invaded Kashmir. The Sikh army advanced in 3 columns of 10,000 each aided by heavy artillery. The commander of the Kashmir force Jabbar Khan tried to flee the battlefield but was captured. It was a decisive Sikh victory that allowed the Sikh army to enter Srinagar.

There was no other opposition to the Punjab army and Kashmir became an extension of the Sikh empire. Hari Singh was made the first governor of Kashmir.

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Ranjit Singh

Ranjit Singh

Kashmir Under Sikh Rule

Kashmir became an effective part of the empire. On taking over as governor Hari Singh promised to rule benevolently. But after a year he left to lead the Sikh army against the Afghans in the west. His successors were not that benevolent and extracted heavy tribute from the Kashmir people by way of tax and levies. The remoteness of Kashmir from Lahore allowed the Sikh rulers to enact anti-Muslim laws. It started with the ban on cow slaughter which became a capital offense with mandatory death for killing a cow. The Sikh governor also banned the Azam, the Muslim call to prayer. The Muslim masses accepted this at the point of the sword. This has not been substantiated by any written record of the period.

The Sikhs also closed down the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar and troops of the Sikh army pillaged the countryside. There is a possibility that many Kashmir girls were abducted as well, though records of this are scanty.

Many Europeans also visited the valley and commented on the poverty of the people. The news reached the Lahore Durbar and Ranjit allowed remission of taxes in 1832. He ordered loans for the peasants. However overall the Sikh rule over Kashmir though benevolent by medieval standards was harsh as the Sikhs collected tribute and the state became the largest contributor to the revenue of the empire.

Last Word

Much water has flowed down the Sutlej since the time the Sikhs ruled Kashmir. But after the annexation of Punjab by the British the state of Kashmir was gifted to Gulab Singh the prime minister of Ranjit Singh for his role in betraying the Sikh army in the two Anglo Sikh wars. However, one stark fact that needs to be mentioned is that during the Sikh rule, the population of Kashmir decreased and many a time near-famine conditions prevailed. The Sikhs did suppress the Muslims but it was on a lesser scale compared to the acts of Ghazni and Taimur.

In hindsight, Kashmir under Sikh rule can be termed benevolent, considering the violence and mayhem unleashed by other invaders and rulers of that period.


shaheen on October 29, 2017:

Cannot write name if taxes

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 28, 2017:

Yes, you are right but I have written about these soldiers. Do read if you get the time

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