Oral Memory: Kashmiri proverbs as political commentary

A Kashmiri woman’s innocent take on politics has won hearts on the Internet as she talks about the new Governor. But Kashmiris have always had intelligent and sarcastic takes on political dispensations and rulers. 

As the video of a Kashmiri woman is being shared on social media, one must appreciate the capacity of the Kashmiri mind to provide a fuller theory of politics, by virtue of having enough knowledge regarding statecraft. To gauge this, one only needs to hear the street discussions and it would make one stand in awe of the level of the political discourse an ordinary Kashmiri produces.

Kashmiris have always reacted to the injustices meted out to them by through protests, rebellion and when they couldn’t do it, they have immortalised feelings through folklore.

These feelings have lived on in oral memory, as folk tales, and proverbs.

Proverbs were used by Kashmiris, often accompanied with dark humour, to denounce injustices and tyrannies caused to them from time to time, regime after regime. Some of these historic political proverbs coined by unknown Kashmiris, in reaction to the political situations they encountered are compiled below.

Burdened with tax, a Kashmiri would say:

Yele baaj gav, tele barkat geye.
When you levy tax, you lose abundance.

Regarding Governor Punno the proverb coined was:

Waziir tsalih, Kashiir balli.
When the wazir is ousted, Kashmir will heal/prosper.

The Pyaadaas (cavalry) of Sikh and Dogra regimes came at the harvest time and share of the state (tax over the grains that were harvested by the poor peasants) was taken away. Some of it was even taken as booty by the cavalry. Hence, the proverb:

Bate bate, pyade pate.
Cry for rice, after tyranny by cavalry.

Most of the departments were corrupt during the Dogra rule and nothing could be done without offering a bribe. Corruption was most prevalent in the revenue department and hence the following proverb was coined:

Yed dagg chhe bed dagg.
Stomach ache is the worst ache.

Funnily, the term yedd doad is still used for someone’s greed for a bribe.

According to Lawrence, Hindu priests were said to get their living by:

Nalam, Kalam, ya halam. 
Lying, writing or begging.

Similarly, regarding the Pandits in the revenue department whose job was to collect taxes, the following proverbs were often used:

Batte yaar be-rozgar. 
A Pandit is your friend when he is out of employment.

Batte kaar gatte-kaar. 
A Pandit’s work is dark/dirty.

The peasants’ demands were often not taken seriously by those in power and many proverbs give a fair idea of the condition:

Kenh matte dittam, Kannas tall nittam. 
Don’t give me wages, but at least listen to me.

Some more political proverbs, sometimes against the government officials, sometimes against corruption, and other times against the unjust societal practices go as follows:

Aram kadd ne mujj,
Fakiran deares kisht.
Before the peasant has pulled a radish,
The beggar has pushed forward his bowl.

Patte paadshahas geabath.
Backbiting a bygone King.

Tel tel talao khanun, padhshahas looth Karun. 
Looting the King by digging beneath the ground.

Hakeemas te Hakimas nish najaath. 
Oh God, save me from the ruler and the hakeem.

Dastaras chhune moul, darbaaras chhue moul. 
You aren’t important, the Darbar you work for is important.

Khaamas seaith garre karun, te aamas seath harr karen. 
To partner with the inexperienced, is to make enemies out of everyone.

Mukdamas ne phokdam asiha, gaamas kasiha shaamas taam. 
Had the headman not have limited powers, he would destroy the whole village in a day.

Pathan deeshith gacxe Farsi phorun. 
One must have the courage to speak Persian to an Afghan.

Zerr booz bahhi weher zi Badshah mood.
The deaf heard the news of Badshah’s death after twelve years.

Badri Nathin adder mohar.
Badrinath’s unauthorised seal.

Partap Singhun dastare.
Partap Singh’s turban.

Sher Singhun drag. 
Sher Singh’s famine.

Azim Khanin chett. 
Azim Khan’s burden.

Lawrence seabun bandubast. 
Settlement of Lawrence.

Hence, the Kashmiri would always render a political condition into a satire. This has continued till date with various nicknames for politicians and funny proverbs as reactions to various political situations.


The list is a work in progress and open to updates.
Suggestions and additions can be mailed to [email protected]

Khawar Khan Achakzai is a published author, a medical Doctor by profession, and student of history. 


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