Wednesday, February 14, 2024






“The day after my arrival, Knowles and I walked through the city … a walk not to be forgotten. I recall what attracted my attention most. The stench, the utter filth of the streets, notwithstanding the thousands of pariah dogs, starving donkeys and cows trying to get a living from this foulness . Most of the houses had thatched roofs. I was astonished to see not a single chimney, and only one house, that of the Governor, had glass windows.”……Tyndale Biscoe

This is how Cecil Tyndale Biscoe describes Srinagar city when he arrived in the Kashmir valley . He saw poverty , shabbiness and illiteracy everywhere. Opportunities for modern education were non-existent in the Kashmir valley, at a time when the rest of British India was much ahead. Traditionally, Pandit boys were taught Sanskrit in Pathshalas run by Brahmins, whereas Muslim boys were taught Arabic in Maktabs that were linked to mosques. In addition, some Pandits taught Persian to both Hindu and Muslim boys in their homes, in return for a nominal fee. With Persian becoming the court language, this, and some arithmetic , were added to the teaching. By 1872, the state had responded to repeated requests from the community and opened a few schools in Srinagar, but these mirrored the Pathshalas and the Maktabs. This situation changed dramatically with the arrival of the Christian Mission Society in 1864. This society set up the first hospital in the city, followed by a school in 1880, both in the face of enormous opposition from the orthodox residents.

Biscoe was appalled by what he saw when he entered the school for the first time. The boys, nearly all 250 of them came to school dressed in their pherans, many of them holding a Kangri (fire pot) under it. Many of them 20 years in age and most of them were married and were already fathers. Discipline was lax and there was no uniform. The school was supposed to start at 11 a m but the students would report in till midday. The boys refused to take part in sports. The Brahmins boys would not touch  the football or an oar for fear of being contaminated . Students abhorred any form of physical exercise as it would make them muscular and make them look like lower caste men. Biscoe found the Kashmiris coward, shabby, superstitious, haughty and lacking in sound moral education. However, he appreciated their great sense of humour, and  acting skills. Using unconventional teaching methods that challenged the orthodox social order and ultimately left an indelible mark in the Kashmir valley . He made the most sincere effort to reshape the educational landscape of Kashmir. He was a key player in pushing Kashmiris to modern education and a better understanding of the world around them.

Before his journey to Kashmir, Biscoe worked as a curate in poor areas of London. In December 1890, he arrived in Kashmir from Amritsar where he had come from England. At that time, James Hinton Knowles had already arrived in Kashmir and  started a school for boys. This school had 60 students . In March 1892, Knowles left Srinagar, leaving Biscoe in full charge of the four schools: the Central School at Fateh Kadal, the High School at Anantnag, and two junior schools in Srinagar at Habba Kadal and Rainawari.


 Since day one of his joining, Tyndale Biscoe placed emphasis on physical activities including mountaineering, tug-of-war, trekking, boxing, boating, football, and cricket. When football was introduced in the valley, there was resistance initially. Some Hindu students felt that touching the ball made of cow leather was against their religion. When asked to play compulsorily, Hindu boys played football with a wooden clog (known as Khraav in Kashmiri) in their feet. Tyndale Biscoe was adamant on extracurricular activities and football became immense popular in Kashmir. Now the school organizes annual Tyndale Biscoe Invitational Football Tournament held in honour of Tyndale Biscoe  at the Sheikh Bagh Campus. About introducing football in Kashmir  , Tyndale Biscoe writes this :-

“The boys, as I’d expected, refused to play. They cried and blubbered and kicked. Some lay down moaning, so I took out my watch and said, ‘Now, you fellows; five minutes.You start kicking this ball in five minutes or I start kicking you’.They refused. They spat and whined. I held my watch and when the five minutes was nearly up I called off the seconds. Still they refused to kick, so I and the masters went after those boys with sticks. We made them kick and they did kick, quite furiously, while angry crowds on the side-lines jeered, hooted and cursed, but took no actual action. Soon one boy was smacked in the face by the flying ball. He fell to the ground in horror. Leather had touched him, touched his face-his very lips! His face was defiled. If he touched it with his hand his hand was defiled. So, as he could not do as he would and would not do what he could, he did the next best thing, which was to lie on the ground and call on his assorted gods to save him. The crowd, meantime, grew more menacing. They leaped into the playing fields and my masters deserted me. Luckily the idea of sacred waters entered my head. The Hindu considers many rivers sacred and holy; among them the Jhelum. ‘Take the boy down to the canal and wash him there lies his salvation,’ I commanded. This worked. Irate Hindus ceased threatening me and took the boy away to be bathed. The other players streaked for safety, but I brought them back and made them finish that game out. It took me twenty years of alternate threat and persuasion eventually to kill that opposition, but kill it we did, and today not only our school, but every school in Kashmir, has passable football teams.”

Biscoe’s desire to start boating, a loved activity in a city that had rivers and lakes was met with a cultural impediment .When boating was introduced , students did not like it because, in the orthodox Kashmiri society, boatmen weren't considerd respectable .However, due to determined efforts of Tyndale Biscoe, students of the Mission School became  efficient paddlers and rowers. Implementing the school motto , “In All Things Be Men “, he introduced boating as a much needed extra-curricular activity for the school students. The orthodox Brahmins resisted it for sometime but due to the relentless efforts of Tyndale Biscoe, students from all communities joined this activity . The school boys were taken to Dal Lake and also to Wular Lake

for boating and swimming .July 17, 1906 was a historic day in Kashmir when four swimmers – Darim Chand, Assad Joo, Gana Koul, and  Nedou – attempted the first-ever crossing of Wular Lake. Biscoe, accompanied by Dr Sam Barton in a boat as a precaution, joined them. Although three swimmers eventually gave up, Darim Chand and Biscoe persevered, completing the swim to Baba Shukr-u-Din. The annual regatta organised by the Biscoe school became an institution, and huge crowds started turning out on the riverbanks to watch the rowing and swimming events. All boys had to pass the swimming examination or risk paying double tuition fees.

Tyndale Biscoe was the first person to introduce boxing in Kashmir through Mission Schools. Here also he faced resistance as the boys initially refused to wear gloves believing that these were made of animal skin. Boxing also achieved popularity through untiring efforts of Tyndale Biscoe. Rcently two teenage players from Pampore in South Kashmir's Pulwama district have won gold medals at the second World Mixed Boxing Championship. 

Trekking and mountaineering started by Tyndale Biscoe in Mission School were readily accepted by Kashmiris . Both Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir had no issue with it. In fact Hindus were already familiar with many trekking and mountain routes that led to their sacred places in the Kashmir valley . Tyndale Biscoe named the four houses of the Sheikh Bagh school as Mahadev, Tatakooti, Harmukh and Kolhai, all names of  high mountains in the Kashmir valley .


Some time around 1890, Tyndale Biscoe brought the first bicycle to Kashmir. He would use it as his local conveyance. As and when,Tyndale Biscoe would move to downtown Fatehkadal on his bicycle , Pandits and Muslims would line up on the road to see what the metallic animal Tyandle Biscoe was riding . It was named as “Biscoe sahib ka djjin “.So a bicycle was a Djjin for Kashmiris initially. They also named it as –‘zal-gur’ later .There is a popular story in Kashmir that once a Kashmiri lady came with some animal feed and put it in front of Tyandale Biscoe’s bicycle . She presumed it to be some unknown beast of burden. I quote relevant excerpts from the book, ‘Tyndale Biscoe Of Kashmir ’:-


“we usually went to school by boat until I brought the first Bicycle to Kashmir, which caused even more astonishment than did the first motor car many years later.My first bicycle ride was at night .As I passed a coolie carrying a load , I heard a shriek and on looking back , I saw the coolie shouting in terror .“ moodus ha ! mooduss ha ! or I am dead ! I am dead !”  Poor fellow, he had heard much of the Djjins and had at last seen one with his own eyes .What a grand tale he must have had to tell when he reached his home !”


Biscoe did not shy away from tackling deeply entrenched social practices that would normally be considered outside the ambit of his functional duties. Some areas where he played laudable  role could be summed up as under:-

(1)    Child Marriage

He opposed child marriage tooth and nail. Boys who got married before the age of eighteen were charged double tuition fees, in an attempt to put an end to this custom.

(2)    Widow Remarriage

 Dr Kate Knowles spent three decades (1888-1917) in Kashmir to treat Kashmiri women in small dispensaries in Srinagar and finally was able to establish ‘Church of England Zenana Hospital’ which is now called JLNM Hospital, Rainawari. Through her work, Dr Knowles discovered the grim conditions in which women lived, particularly the detrimental effects of early marriage, early widowhood, and the prohibition on widow remarriage. The school took up the thorny issue of  widow remarriage, going to the extent of organising marriages for widows and finding priests  who would officiate at them. In fact the first remarriage of two young widows took place in May 1928 through the efforts of the school .The Brahmin priests who had agreed to perform the ceremony dropped out at the last minute, but the headmaster of the school, himself a Brahmin priest, stepped in and married them. This event was followed by relentless campaigning with the Maharaja to end this practice till he finally enacted a State Law permitting widows to remarry in 1933. Biscoe took the first step toward ending the curse of widowhood, and here is the official church report on this issue:

“After much preliminary spade work, two men and two widows had been found willing to face the music and go contrary to orthodoxy. So, on the day before Ascension Day, 300 Brahman guests marched to fetch the bridegrooms, and brought them to the house of the two waiting brides at 6.30 am. But when the ceremony should have begun it was discovered that the padres had bolted! However, one of our Sanskrit teachers is a priest, so he performed the ceremony, for which heinous sin he is the target for the poisonous darts of the enraged priesthood.”

And Tyndale Biscoe writes this:-

“On a May morning in 1928 at six-thirty, Shanker Koul, Headmaster of the C.M.S. school, Srinagar, led his school staff and 100 old students, all Brahmans, to a house where two Brahman bridegrooms, who were brave enough to face the music, were ready to march to a house a mile distant, where two young Brahman widows were also prepared to face the ordeal. Shanker Koul had arranged with three Brahman priests to perform the marriage ceremonies. But their courage had failed and they bolted. So one of our school staff, a Brahman priest, a brave fellow, married them . This marriage caused a great uproar in the city. But like all storms, this one blew itself out in time. Shortly afterwards, Shanker Koul led a deputation of old school students to His Highness the Maharajah to ask him to enact a State Law, permitting the re-marriage of Hindu widows. But their request was refused. Undismayed, two years later, he tried his luck again with the help of Mr. Wakefield who was Secretary to His Highness, and this time his request was granted. The remarriage of Hindu widows became law in Kashmir, but the Brahman Sabha refused to accept it. The President, however, of the Yuvak Sabha (grandson of a late much-feared President of the Brahman Sabha who was a great enemy of the C.M S schools) persuaded his party to put an end to the persecution and cruelties perpetrated on Hindu widows, and so at long last brought victory! I never expected in my lifetime to witness this miracle. “

.In his book ,’ Kashmir Under Sunlight And Shade’ , Tyndale Biscoe pays glowing tributes to Pandit Shanker Kaul and  writes this :-

“ I must express my thanks to my headmaster, Mr Shanker Pandit, B A , who has allowed me to draw upon his knowledge of the ancient history of Kashmir, and of the various rites and ceremonies, both of Hindus and Mohammedans, with respect to birth, death, marriage, etc. What my friend Shanker does not know concerning his country is not worth knowing.”


(3( 3)Money Lending Practice

He tried in his own way to raise his voice against blood-sucking practices of money lenders in Kashmir. Tyndale Biscoe writes this  :-

I discovered, quite accidentally, that more than half of my staff were in debt, mostly to blood-sucking moneylenders, who charge 36 or 40 per cent interest per mensem, and are not at all anxious to be paid off. A fund was started, and we took on all their debts, so that they might be in debt to the school; for how can a man be free when he is tied hand and foot to a blood- sucker? We charged them Io per cent, 5 per cent to go to the person who advanced the coin, and 5 per cent to the School Benevolent Fund. The result is that nearly all the original members are out of debt, and we used the fund for helping others in monetary difficulties.”

(4( 4 )Cholera Epidemics

Despite the challenges, during the Great Cholera Epidemic of 1892, Biscoe endeavoured to maintain certain school activities, such as cricket, to counter the prevailing terror. However, these efforts were eventually halted. During cholera epidemics, they would get involved in cleaning drains and courtyards, advise the residents on the need for hygiene and cleanliness, tend to the sick, take patients by boat to the Mission hospital and escort them in, or simply take the chronically ill for boat rides on the lake so they could get some fresh air, without making any distinctions of religion, caste or social standing. The bravery exhibited by the teachers from the Mission School during the epidemic was commendable, and six boys even volunteered to assist in caring for the sick, tragically resulting in the death of one. In his autobiography, Tyndale  Biscoe writes  this :-

In 1892, 500 to 700 persons died of cholera per day in Kashmir valley. The Mullahs and the Brahmin priest won't allow people to take western medicine. The Mullah and the Brahmin priest wrote Allah and Shiva on a piece of paper and asked people to swallow it with Jhelum water that was already full of cholera germs. Later people started visiting Mission Hospital and lives of so many could be saved. One incident relating to a cholera patient is worth mentioning. He was in the third stage of cholera. The only option was the blood transfusion. Dr Arthur  Neve did it by opening a vein in his own arm and transferring it with a rubber tube into his vein. Dr Neve and I spent a night at the hospital and hoped for the best, but it was not to be .

(5)    Girls Education

Most of Biscoe’s clashes with the orthodox Kashmiris   cropped up because of women, and since he was continually landing in hot water over females, he decided to add a girls  school, first of its kind in Kashmir where according to him ,” 95 per cent of the women are kept veiled and under guard ” . Both Biscoe and Knowles recognised the urgent need for a girls school in the city. Drawing upon her teaching experience in England, Knowles was ready to establish one. Biscoe provided the school buildings at Habba Kadal, along with some of his staff, to start a mixed school. The girls school commenced in November 1907  in the same buildings where the dispensary had previously operated . The idea of educating girls had intrigued Biscoe since Knowles’s work from 1907 to 1912, but it truly came to fruition in the mid-1920s with the arrival of Muriel Mallinson, who would oversee the girls school and the successful remarriage of two Hindu widows.

The end of 1940 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Biscoe’s arrival in Srinagar, where he embarked on his life’s work. Despite being 77 years old, he still held the official position of principal for the six boys schools and one girls school, although the primary responsibilities had shifted to his son Eric for the boys schools and Muriel Mallinson for the girls  school.

(6)    Stopping Prostitution

Prostitution had existed in Kashmir since ancient  past.  Kalhana, in his Rajtaranghni, has censured some of the kings for patronising prostitutes and courtesans. The Afghan period in Kashmir was the worst period in this regard. Amir Khan Jawan Sher the Afghan Governor  institutionalised this activity and all those involved in the trade were registered. Kashmiri slaves, both women and men were exported to Kabul. With the licensing of prostitution, certain unscrupulous elements found the job profitable which assumed a shape of business venture for them. The people came to be known as ‘Kanjar’ or ‘Dalla’ and worked as agents for supply of girls for the red lights areas outside Kashmir, such as Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, Delhi, Lucknow and Kolkata. In Srinagar city, the red light areas of Maisuma, Gawakadal and Tashwan( Fatehkadal ) became prominent. Under directions of the British, after the devastating famine of 1877-78 the Maharaja’s government conducted a survey in 1880 revealed that there were about 18715 licensed prostitutes involved in flesh trade in the valley. A survey made by the Church Mission Society in Srinagar, revealed that during the years 1877 to 1879, the total number of patients treated in the Mission Hospital were about 12,977 cases and 2,516 out of them were venereal diseases. The syphilitic disease was spreading like wild fire throughout Kashmir. No political leader of the period  raised his voice against the flesh trade. Neither did plight of the innocent young girls engage attention of the leaders of the religious reform movements. It was a gallant barber from Srinagar by the name of Mohmammad Subhan Hajam who went on a crusade against the flesh trade in Kashmir. Subhan owned ‘Prince Hair-Cutting Salon’ near present day Lal-Chowk, Srinagar. Despite his meagre income and frail physique, he was equipped with great moral courage to face all challenges.

Hajam was helped in his mission by Tyndale Biscoe and his wife, Blanche Violet Burges . It was with Biscoe’s help that he could publish pamphlets for distribution among the people about the immoral menace in society. Master Mohammad Sidiq of Biscoe School provided much needed support to Hajam.

After selling his shop and losing his government job, he was rendered jobless. It was Biscoe who instilled courage in him and gave him the job of shaving the heads of 100 British boys and teachers of the Biscoe School. Tyndale Biscoe and Hajam knew each other already as the former was a regular customer at the latter’s shop.

Finally, the Maharaja was approached through a number of memorandums and appeals, drawing his attention towards the evil and seeking his intervention.  Besides, the durbar was requested to help trace the girls who were sold out by their relatives to the brothels under the pretence of marriages outside Jammu and Kashmir. Tyndale Biscoe wrote about it: “This has not cured the evil, but it has put temptation at a distance.”

(7)     Floods  and Fires

 During the devastating flood of 1893, the Mission School boys made use of the school boats to rescue people stranded on rooftops, exemplifying their courage and selflessness. During subsequent floods , Tyndale Biscoe would lead a contingent of the school boys for assisting people affected by floods . The boys would come with boats , dry  food and  clothes .Similarly during fires , he would take his boys to the spot and help people  in dousing the fire apart from keeping watch and ward on  goods retrieved from burning houses . These facts have been recorded in detail in the book, ‘Kashmir Under Sunlight And Shade’. In this book , Biscoe writes this :-

 “Opportunities for social service in a city like Kashmir are endless, so we tackled the most obvious first—viz. the distress of the owners of houses when their property took fire ; and in the early days of which we are writing I suppose there must have been as many fires in the city within twelve months as there are days in the year.”

Biscoe dedicated a life-time of service to the cause of education in Kashmir, spending the best part of 60 years in Srinagar. He uprooted himself reluctantly from the State in 1947, soon after India became independent, but only because he was advised that his presence might cause difficulties for the new Principal. He moved to Rhodesia, where he passed away eighteen months later at the age of 86. During his brief stay there, he worked on his autobiography and remained in touch with his trusted staff, offering them advice and encouragement. Each of his letters ended with the words, “My body is in Africa but my soul is in Kashmir” . Eventually, on August 1, 1949, he passed away and was laid to rest beside his wife, with whom he had shared 56 years of marriage, in the cemetery near Salisbury Cathedral.

At the time of his departure, there were six CMS schools for boys and the first school for girls, the Mallinson School, which was started in 1912. After 1947, at least four Chief Ministers and several government ministers, senior bureaucrats, engineers, media personalities, doctors , and  lawyers  were alumni of the Biscoe school. The six schools underwent several upheavals and reversals of fortune in the decades that followed.  At present, there is a functioning Biscoe School for boys and a Mallinson School for girls in Srinagar city. Both the schools kept the light of education beaming even during the dark days of Pakistan sponsored terrorism in Kashmir .


“Mein akela hee chala tha janibe manzil magar,

 log saath aate gaye aur caravan banta gaya!”…..Majrooh Sultanpuri


(I set off alone towards my goal, but,

 people came along and it began to turn into a caravan!)


( Avtar Mota )







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