Historically Mirpur was a district of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir. It was one district out of fourteen all spread out across 3 Provinces of unequal size and importance. In size, Mirpur District was approximately under 1700 square miles. Jammu & Kashmir State was approximately 84 – 86000 square miles; the Frontier Province accounted for the majority of the State’s landmass but a tiny proportion of the State’s population. The State’s borders in the North as they merged with Tibetan Plateau were never formally ‘assigned’ to the territorial powers of the day which accounts for the ambiguous nature of the Princely State’s actual size and China’s ongoing territorial dispute with India.

The configuration of Mirpur District was geo-administrative which means the ‘Rulers’ of the State divided up their territory and appointed officials to better manage, control and tax it. Like most ‘villages’, ‘towns’, ‘cities’, ‘districts’ or ‘provinces’ in any part of the world, there was no fixed size of the ‘area’ that the ‘inhabitants’ could claim as their own. This is about governance and ‘control’ by which the rulers get the most out of their territorial assets; no regard is paid for the people living in the designated spaces. To tax an ‘area’ comprehensively, you need to be able to see it on a map, and if you control tens of thousands of square miles, the task requires local actors ready to do the ruler’s bidding.

This is Mirpur’s history and the history of Jammu & Kashmir. The ordinary peoples of Jammu & Kashmir and the tribes of Mirpur were never reconciled with the new rulers of the territory and their local ‘clients’.

But, the actual founding of Mirpur and I’m strictly speaking about the original tribal principality from which the name of the later District was derived, predated the emergence of the Princely State by many hundreds of years. From the anecdotes at our disposal, and the historical archive of the Mughals who ruled these mountainous (‘Pahari’) lands beyond the lowland Plains of India, it would appear that Mirpur was founded in the middle of the 17th century by a Gakhar tribesman by the name of ‘Mir’ Shah Ghazi. The actual coinage of ‘Mirpur‘ refers to the settlement or ‘fortification’ (‘Pur’) of Mir. Whether there is any truth to the account, we know that Mirpur was a small principality inhabited by tribesman fighting other tribesman subsumed within a shared system of patronage, who were eventually vanquished.

There are other locally-sourced anecdotes about the origin of Mirpur that connects the area with Hindu-Muslim conviviality. It was claimed that the word ‘Mir’-‘Pur’ derived from the names of two saints, the one Muslim and the other Hindu. Before the partition of the subcontinent, Mirpur had a thriving Hindu community of affluent merchants and money-lenders who were forced from their homes and later resettled in Jammu, Indian-administered-Kashmir.

Of course there are many cities, towns and villages all over South and Western Asia named ‘Mirpur’. ‘Mir‘ is a popular name in the subcontinent and the Iranian Plateau and these various towns and cities named Mirpur have no relation with the ‘Mirpur’ of Jammu & Kashmir. A lot of online searches, images and content relate to these areas and not the ‘Mirpur’ of this post.

Mirpur within the Context of Jammu & Kashmir State

The Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir was founded by an Act of Treaty between the ‘East India Company’ and ‘Raja Ghulab Singh’ signed on 16 of March 1846.

In description, the actual lands of the State that included Mirpur were described as,

“the hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus and the westward of the River Ravi including Chamba and excluding Lahol, being part of the territories ceded to the British Government by the Lahore State according to the provisions of Article IV of the Treaty of Lahore, dated 9 March 1846”

No provision was ever made for the welfare of the ordinary people forced into this new territorial union.

For his part, Raja Ghulab Singh had been a client or feudatory of the Sikh Confederacy, the previous rulers of ‘the hilly or mountainous country’ that made up substantial areas of the new ‘Kingdom’. Following the defeat of the Sikh Confederacy during the first Anglo-Sikh war (11 November 1845 – 09 March 1846) aided in large part by Raja Ghulab Singh to the advantage of the East India Company, these lands were subsequently ‘transferred’ and ‘made over’ to him for an agreed price. Maharaja Ghulab Singh became the first ruling monarch of the new State with all the accoutrements of royal titles and gun salutes.

The District of Mirpur (‘Zillah’) came into existence some years later, and was added to the Jammu Province (‘Subah’). It was made up of smaller tribal principalities that included for instance ‘Khari Khariyali’ and ‘Bhimbar’ that had been ruled earlier by the ‘Chibh’ Tribe. The later British designation ‘Chibhan’ based on earlier Mughal configurations of ‘Chibhal’, or ‘Jibhal’ was expanded to include an even wider area. For this reason, Mirpur District’s geographical size, or administrative form as a geo-administrative entity does not tell us anything about the people who were subsumed within it however we imagine the ‘Mirpuri’ label today.

In the centuries that followed, the small principality became a major conurbation from which many British-Paharis now claim their descent. Of the many stokers working on British merchant ships docked in Bombay during the latter half of the 1800s and the ‘Kashmiri‘ soldiers who fought in both World Wars had their roots in ‘Mirpur’. The neighbouring area of Poonch was also an important recruitment area for the British Indian Army once restrictions were lifted from recruiting outside British India. It does not come as a surprise to learn that the valley communities of Mirpur and Poonch have always had a shared history that stretches back many hundreds of years.

The smaller principalities that made up Mirpur District were in fact much older than the original tribal principality of Mirpur, and can be referenced in the documents of the Mughals. For instance, ‘Andarhal’ and ‘Kotli’ are mentioned in the ‘Ain-e-Akbar’ of the ‘Akbarnama’ of the Great Mogul King Akbar, (1556 – 1605). This Persian text was compiled during the 1590s. It is said of Bhimbar and Khari Khariyali according to the Tawarikh-e-Rajgan, Zilla Kangra, a history of Kangra’s ruling tribes, another Himalayan region eastwards that both principalities were founded some time during the 1400s.

Whenever we speak of ‘Mirpur’ within the context of ‘Kashmir State’, we are speaking about pre-modern governance models. Mirpur District was significant to the State as it generated considerable agricultural taxes in addition to being an important recruitment ground for the British Indian Army. Kashmir State had limited cultivable lands, and many of these were situated in the southern portions of the new district. These lands were some of the most fertile in the entire State producing harvests that could be taxed lucratively. A lot of these lands were taxed to the hilt by the State’s rulers and their local sinecures. Their owners became prey to unscrupulous money lenders who through the former’s desperation managed to misappropriate parts of these lands by false pretences.

Mirpur within the Context of “Azad” Jammu & Kashmir

A decade or so after the demise of the Princely State, Pakistan’s officials in ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir unilaterally decided to build a Dam in Mirpur to help irrigate the Plains of the Panjab whilst producing cheap electricity. The construction of the Mangla Dam between 1961 and 1967 flooded the most fertile lands in the entire polity of ‘Azad’ Kashmir. More than a 110 thousand people were uprooted and nearly 300 villages were destroyed. The local infrastructure of Mirpur and the surrounding countryside was decimated.

Some decades later in 2007, another 40 thousand people were displaced to make way for the expansion of the Dam. Its mismanagement and the enormous cost borne by ordinary people in Mirpur has been a source of constant friction between them and Pakistan Officialdom. The people of Mirpur were never consulted in the construction of the Dam, and numerous international studies have shown that they were inadequately compensated if not compensated at all. It is generally accepted by those observing the Kashmir Conflict that the political leadership of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir is treated contemptibly by their Pakistani overlords. Pakistan Officialdom has shown little concern for the welfare of ordinary inhabitants, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by international journalists and writers.

Migration to lands outside the erstwhile Mirpur Division has been a lifeline for the communities of ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir. The remittences they have channelled back to their extended families and the money invested particularly in Mirpur has given the area some semblance of prosperity. In contrast, Pakistan Officialdom has disinvested ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir allocating its tiny resources to the more affluent parts of Pakistan. Had there been no migratory outlets for the people of this area, the situation in Mirpur and the wider area would have been dire.

In appraising this history, there is nothing especially remarkable or unique about the settlement of Mirpur, whether as a small tribal polity or a political sub-division of a larger territory to warrant its people as ‘locals‘ or ‘emigrants‘ a special status, good or bad in comparison with neighbouring hill principalities and hill communities. Today, the majority of individuals with roots to erstwhile Mirpur Division actually live in the Diaspora. Britain has the largest Mirpuri community anywhere in the world, and there is also a sizeable Mirpuri community in Indian ‘Jammu’ originally comprised mostly of Hindu and Sikh refugees.

But, expectedly, there is no such thing as a ‘Mirpuri’ ‘people’ or a ‘Mirpuri’ ‘language’ and/or dialect sui generis. To use a modern analogy, to speak of Mirpuris in these terms by virtue of their origin in the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir is akin to speaking of regional communities in England seperate to or exclusive of the wider English people that live beyond the city of Bristol.

It is absurd to categorise or think of the inhabitants of Mirpur as an ethnic community, social group or fringe people as distinct from related-ethnic communities in a broad area that includes the Pothohar Uplands and the Hazara Hills. Granted that the Mirpuri label is very recent in origin it is also misleading and value-laden.

Many British-Mirpuris are however becoming conscious of the label and are using it as a badge of self-affirmation to connect them with the heritage of their forebears. In this respect, the label is essentially ‘positive’ as it empowers a mostly British-born community to demand recognition on the basis of its community’s emerging ‘identity’ in the UK.

For all the wrong reasons, the term has become popular in British-Pakistani circles as a designation for British-Paharis. The district of Mirpur by virtue of its connection with ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir and the wider Kashmir conflict has a chequered past, creating dynamics that have pitied Pahari-Mirpuris against Pakistan officialdom.

Mirpuris are Paharis and the language they speak is called Pahari. Mirpur is a small part of a much vaster region we call the Pahari-cultural-sphere otherwise known natively as the ‘Pahari-Patwari Ilaqa’. One cannot understand the culture and history of Mirpur without understanding the history of the wider area. The Kashmir Conflict complicates this undertaking all the more.

See related posts;

The View from “Azad” Jammu Kashmir; Myth making and territorial claims; whose “Kashmir” is it?

Call them Mirpuris. Don’t call them Pakistanis!

Are we ‘British’… Pakistani? Kashmiri? Mirpuri? What are we? Understanding our Identity Labels and the Kashmir Conflict

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Associate Editor and researcher at the Portmir Foundation. Born and raised in England. Parents from Pakistan-administered-Jammu, from Mirpur which is not part of Kashmir Province or the Valley – these are themselves separate places; Mirpur is part of the disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir “STATE”.

Love literature, poetry, film, art, music, sufism, Islam, travel, free thought, liberalism, and lots of other things. Have a particularly strong desire to learn about Indian history, the place my forbears are from, and I have no qualms identifying with India – partition made us ‘Pakistanis’ – not necessarily those of ‘us’ from ‘Azad’ Kashmir. I think partition was a bad idea, but I’m not averse to Pakistan either. I’m happy to have multiple identities and love the Pakistan of the ordinary person – the real Pakistan of the ordinary man, woman and children.

Okay, the official bit…

My opinions are not necessarily those of the Portmir Foundation; the Foundation does not do censorship and neither does it endorse my opinions; if you disagree with any us, and you’re from our background, write your own opinion piece and we’ll publish it.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Mirpuris and the all the other Azad Kashmiris got jack **** from Pakistan.

    Instead in Britain we get insults instead.

    Sums up what Pakistan is.

  2. Just go on to twitter and you’ll discover how rampant the hate is. I’ve tried to challenge it even as I try to challenge hatred against Islam from the far-right extremists but I’m a lone voice when it comes to defending my own community. Everyone seems to have an opinion on Mirpuris and when I mean everyone, I’m really speaking about British-Pakistanis, ‘Patwaris’, ‘caste-Kashmiris’, ‘Panjabis’, ‘Pathans’, who want to tell us who we are even as they know nothing about their own identities LITERALLY NOTHING. Most of these ‘Panjabi’ caste-Kashmiris don’t even know they have roots in the Pahari areas of Jammu & Kashmir, they think they all descend from Valley-Kashmiris who historically were treated horribly because of their occupational backgrounds, but now think they are important because India and Pakistan is fighting over ‘Kashmir’ (i.e., 85000 square miles of territory; neither country cares about the people stuck between the LOC). They don’t know that their ‘Kashmiri’ caste-backgrounds were adopted by their predecessors fleeing from their former lives, nor do they know that colonial writings exist explaining how this happened. It was colonial administrators who created a blanket ‘Muslim Kashmiri’ label for census purposes in Jammu & Kashmir State and they noted how in subsequent censuses the numbers exponentially increased over and beyond natural growth projections. Everyone who was landless, poor, whether in the Vale or outside it, started to identify as ‘Muslim Kashmiri’; no one wanted to be returned as a butcher, weaver, boatmen etc. The landed castes (Zamindar) including the Kashmiri Pandits continued to self-affirm on the basis of their own clan and caste backgrounds. It didn’t mean that all the ‘Muslim Kashmiris’ were all ethnic ‘Kashmiris’ from the higher castes. How many of these caste-Kashmiris are aware of this history, LITERALLY UNAWARE OF THEIR PEOPLE’S DISPOSSESSION. There is a reason why so many people fled ‘Kashmir’ during its many famines; poor people were treated like slaves abused by the State. There are people dying in the Valley today, but these Pakistani caste-Kashmiris seem obsessed with racial fantasies of who Kashmiris are even as they have no connections with the Vale. One girl told me Mirpuris “aint Kashmiris cus they look like Punjabis”, she had her picture up claiming to be a “real Kashmiri”, and it didn’t even occur to her how contradictory her statement was. When I made reference to her appearance as proof that she didn’t even look like the ‘real’ Kashmiris of her imagination, she seemed lost for words accusing me of hate. I told her to google the pictures of Valley Kashmiris to realise how silly her impressions were, she blocked me. They seem to be obsessed with imaginary ‘racial’ and ‘cultural superiority’ ideas never having questioned the anecdotes they’ve inherited from their parents. Their bigotry is so shallow, that they’re quite insecure when they have no responses. A lot of the…”Mirpuris are not Kashmiris” comments are coming from these people.

    When you question them, you quickly realise how ignorant they are, and then they complain that they are the ‘victims’ as they spurt out horrible statements about our community. What kind of ‘British-Pakistani’ community is this that we supposedly belong to? I am sick and tired of it, and so this website is a breath of fresh of air and I have learnt a lot from it. There needs to be more focus on the heritage, language and culture, although I’m happy with how the politics of AJK is explained. We have our own community in the UK and we should focus on that now. Plus our loyalty should be to the people of AJK and not Pakistan because no one cares for AJK in Pakistan; Pakistan’s Government is merely destabilising AJK to the disadvantage of its own people.

    • Also I need to add, this one ‘Patwari’ girl told me that I wasn’t a Pahari but a ‘Mirpuri’! Can you believe how deluded some people are, their parents have been insulting our parents for being Pahari (‘hillbilly’) for decades usually behind their backs in their little ‘Pakistani’ bubbles, overcompensating to fit in, and now they are telling us we’re not Pahari but Mirpuri, as if there is something more negative about being ‘Mirpuri’ than ‘Pahari’! Are these people for real. Obviously she doesn’t know the internal configuration of Mirpur Division to realise how stupid her comments are, or that there is no distinction between ‘hills and mountains’ in Indo-Aryan languages, the Pahar as typography and landscape is distinct from Plains. But this is what we’re dealing with, some of the most deluded people you could imagine advising everyone else about our nefarious activities. Mirpuris need to start speaking out, they’ve been demonising us for decades, and we didn’t even know about it, and now as one of the posts here explained, their baseless allegations are seeping into the mainstream. Mirpuris need to wake up and smell the coffee.

  3. Plus I should add your tweets are good, keep up the good work. Hopefully more of us will be joining you, so don’t lose hope.

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