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Laren Sahab: He deserves commemoration

Lawrence was the people's man fondly called “Laren Sahab' by the peasantry and urban people of the vale.
01:00 AM Dec 21, 2023 IST | M. J. Aslam
laren sahab  he deserves commemoration

“Bandobast Sahib”


Sir Walter Roper Lawrence was the “Bandobast Sahib” of the peasants of Karnal, Ambala, and his “work may last from three to five years, but the Bandobast i Sahib goes on, never tiring and always interested. He naturally becomes fond of the people, because he knows that their happiness for twenty or thirty years will depend on his valuation”, he wrote in his memoirs of 1928. Doubtless, he was fond of the people of the valley, especially, the poor Kashmiri Muslim peasantry who lovingly called him “Laren Sahab” .


Great memory of Subhana, the Kashmiri:


Sir Walter Roper Lawrence “has created immortality to his name in the history of Kashmir”, reads the Financial Commissioner’s webpage. The British journalist and author, O’Connor, in his 1920-travelogue noted that the fame of Sir Walter Lawrence was “beyond all other white men in Kashmir” and “the name of Lawrence, who gave the unfortunate Kashmiri peasant his rights, is written imperishably upon their hearts”.


The British journalist and author, Vincent Clarence Scott O’Connor, in his 1920-travelogue noted that the fame of Sir Walter Lawrence was “beyond all other white men in Kashmir” and “the name of Lawrence, who gave the unfortunate Kashmiri peasant his rights, is written imperishably upon their hearts”. One day, during his spring sojourn in Sind valley, he was joined by the headman of Manasbal and a shikari of Nanninara of Sumbal. They halted under the shade of a mighty chinar at Harzo Panzin by the side of a brook. A villager came in with a great memory about “Laren Sahab” when he had come “walking along this very road on his way to Wangat, and I stood before him” “and said: Huzoor, here is great zulm; yon field is mine, but another from the next village, who has friends at court, has stolen it from me ‘; and Laren said, 'What is your name? and I said Sobhana the son of Futto and he put it down in his note book ; and then he said, “what is the name of your field ? and I laughed and said, ' Huzoor, they call my field Bamjoo,' " And he put that also in his book, but said no more and took his way ; and lo ! In the fullness of days when the Settlement was accomplished, my field was given back to me, and Justice was done…..” said the Sobhana. “Who was Laren?” , asked Vincent Clarence Scott O’Connor. “Laren was the great Sahib who made the Settlement”. He “was our great benefactor and our children's children will remember his name”, replied the villager.


People owe him a debt of gratitude:


Kashmiris owe him a great debt of gratitude for completing the pioneering work of permanent land settlement of the valley. He also recorded firsthand observations about the condition of Kashmir, its people, culture, language, water bodies, festivals, mountains, food, dress, habits, flora and fauna, and whatnot, in his monumental work, “Valley of Kashmir” which was first published in London in 1895. He also wrote a number of articles for newspapers. It is well described that:


“Perhaps no foreigner had greater opportunities of studying the character of the people of Kashmir than the late Sir Walter Lawrence, who was for [six] years the Settlement Commissioner of the State, and in that exceptionally advantageous capacity amassed highly useful information, which he utilised later in his famous and authoritative work, called The Valley of Kashmir.”
Keshu Ram and Satar Bhat: Two confidantes

During his six years’ stay in the valley, the then government had allotted him a kothi for living and a separate building for completing his assignment. He was given the staff who assisted him in completion of his settlement work[ Bandobast i Qanooni]. Two Kashmiris in particular are mentioned by him. They were: Keshu Ram, his “best of head-clerks” and second was his “loyal and devoted chief orderly, Satar Bat, a patriot in the best sense, and an enthusiastic believer in his Kashmiri fellows”.

Hawa-Kadal and “Hawabins”:

Satar Bhat cautioned him of the intrigues that were hatched up at “Hawa Kadal”[ Haba Kadal] , “the Bridge of Air”, “ the haunt of gossips and the hot bed of propaganda”. “The Kashmiris are called "Hawabin," "those who see the air," and they loved and lived on rumour”.

Historical site:

The office building [ Bandobasti Imarat] was located between the alley leading to S P Higher Secondary School and [Holy family] Catholic Church, M A Road, Srinagar. The building which was used by him for completion of the gigantic work in relation to the land settlement [Bandobast i Qaooni], was called the Settlement Department, which held in its compound a big statue of Sir Walter Lawrence in Maharaja Hari Singh’s reign. The Settlement Department became later popular as “Mahafiz-Khana”, holding the land and survey records of Kashmir valley from the Lawrence time. From a recorded observation of Edward Frederic Knight, who was close a friend of Sir Walter Lawrence and who was in Kashmir in spring-1891, it becomes manifestly clear that there was Lawrence’s “own garden”, about the Settlement building and his Kothi, abounded “ with foreign fruits and vegetables”. The settlement building still exists as on date but in utter dilapidated condition just on left side of entry-gate to the modern day Institute of Management, Public Administration and Rural Development [IMPA], M A Road, Srinagar. In 1986, to note, when Management, Public Administration and Rural Development [IMPA] was created, it was housed initially in old building, which was reminiscent of the British-Dogra architecture in Kashmir, just behind Holy Family Catholic Church, M A Road, Srinagar. Was that building residential Kothi of Sir Walter Lawrence? Well, the “Mahafiz-Khana”, which also housed the erstwhile State Human Rights Commission for some time after its creation in 1997, was shifted to new building at the Directorate of Land Records, Bemina Srinagar, probably in 1998-1999.

Sir Walter Lawrence was a “good and constant friend from 1889” of the Maharaja Pratap Singh and after he left India, the two “maintained a regular correspondence”. It is really sad that the “historic building“in which he worked and completed the gigantic operations of the land settlement was not preserved by the governments of the time. On recorded evidence, the statute of Sir Lawrence which existed in the compound of the settlement building even in Maharaja Hari Singh’s time was demolished but, which hands did it and when they did it, it cannot be precisely said. He was friend of all but, few considered him inimical to their age-old hegemonic exploitation.

This author was told by several witnesses that there were several buildings within the precincts of IMPA till recent times which were once used by the officials of the Forest Department, Home Science and the Settlement Staff. Nothing of them exists now. New infrastructural structure of IMPA has came up over years in their place. There is not a single monument or government building in the area under discussion dedicated to the memory of Sir Walter Lawrence. Some of the concerned officials of the Revenue and Land Records departments, whom this author met, besides being non-co-operative for historical investigations, were totally clueless about the historical significance of the site and existence of Sir Lawrence’s settlement building and statute in its compound. The old dilapidated building with a compound stands and urgently calls for attention of the concerned authorities and departments of the Kashmir valley.

Need for equal commemoration:

It goes without saying that Dr. Marc Aurel Stein was the contemporary of Sir Walter Lawrence in Kashmir. Stein spent several summers from 1888 till completion of English translation of Pandit Kalhana's Rajtarangini in the alpine meadows of Mahand Marg Ganderbal. He used to camp in the open meadows in the company of Kashmiri Brahman scholars during the years he was working on translation work of the Rajtarangini.

Recently the Tourism Department Kashmir has raised a museum in his memory in the forest meadows at Mahand Marg Ganderbal. The contribution of Sir Walter Lawrence for Kashmir is prima facie far higher than that of Sir Marc Aurel Stein and he deserves equal respect and acknowledgement for his contribution to Kashmir by the government. Lawrence was the people's man fondly called “Laren Sahab" by the peasantry and urban people of the vale.

It is suggested that the departments of Tourism, Land Records, INTAC-Kashmir, and Financial Commissioner, should rise to the occasion and take necessary steps for converting the old Mahafiz-Khana building at M A Road, Srinagar, to a monument in loving memory of Sir Walter Roper Lawrence. That is how the thankful people commemorate their benefactors.