Obituary: Dr Ali Mohammad, An Astute Research Scholar; A Historian

Ashraf Ali

Dr Ali Mohammad Principal Govt Degree College, Utrasoo, Anantnag left this world for heavenly abode on 12th of April. He was a great scholar of Kashmir history who spent decades examining the land structure of the valley through ages.

I have always admired his hard work especially the way he would dig deep for historical evidence and the way he would preserve and catalog that evidence. The material he had collected from different sources including different state archives was voluminous and literally awesome. He had a personal collection of almost all the books that had a reference to any aspect of human life in Kashmir throughout history.

He would discuss for hours anything specific to his subject that he had chosen for his speciality and then critically examine the truth behind any narration on the subject by different authors. He would painfully separate the historical truth from any rhetoric to come up with an unabiased opinion and that was where he excelled all others. He would never get influenced or carried away by popular narrative. To him history had to be unbiased even if historical events might be distasteful.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the occasion to meet him for more than two decades but I remember every moment the two of us had together in the nineties of the last century. I am not sure if he has published his research work but I can vouch for its immense value to any student of history. I shall have to tax my memory to give the main features of his work.

It was from Nilmatpurana times that Kashmir had a land structure always bordering around feudalism in different shades and colours under different regimes with the tenants or the agricultural workers having no security of tenure and the tenants having to pay one half to two thirds of their agricultural produce to the state. The plight of the rural peasants throughout ages being higly miserable that would increase during periods of drought and other calamities like floods, disease and earthquakes. To escape this misery Kashmiri peasants would at times permanently migrate to the neighbourhood of Punjab with the result a huge section of Kashmiri population had settled in and around Amritsar that ultimately produced great political leaders of the subcontinent like Allama Iqbal and Dr. Saifudin Kitchloo.

Another feature that I learnt from my discussions with Dr Ali Mohammad was that the City, the town population and the social elite had to be fed at any cost even if that meant the rural peasants to sleep hungry.

There was no concept of private ownership of land although Dr Ali pointed out some private sale deeds of immovable property during the time of Zainul Abidin. It was only during the twenties of the 20th century that the concept of private ownership in immovable property gained ground and security of tenure of the peasantry in agricultural land began to emerge and subsequently demanded. The capricious officials and middle men always multiplied the misery of the peasantry and Dr Ali would usually discuss the role of this class in the politico economic landscape of the valley.

Dr Ali Mohammad besides being an astute research scholar was a noble soul. He would never hesitate even for a moment to share his collections with anyone including me, that as I said, he had assembled so painfully. I was lucky enough to have a chance to go through this huge compilation. I am and shall always remain personally indebted to him for his generosity. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

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