|Breathtaking in beauty, but spoiled by geo-politics, the tragic story of modern-day Kashmir.|
WHEN the fourth Mughal Emperor, Shahenshah Jahangir or Mirza Nur al-Din Khan (1605-1627), was on his deathbed, one of his courtiers had asked him what was his most ardent desire. His rasping reply had been, “Kashmir, only Kashmir.”
The Mughals had annexed the territory in 1586, and Shahenshah Jahangir had fallen in love with Kashmir, using it to escape the oppressively hot and stuffy summers of his palace in Delhi. Indeed, for any visitor, Kashmir’s traditional hospitality and picture postcard beauty are intoxicating.
“Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast,” Emperor Jahangir is reported to have said after his first visit to Kashmir, “If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.”
François Bernier (1620-1688), a physician to the Mughals and the first European to enter Kashmir, commented in 1665 that it surpassed in beauty everything that his ‘warmest imagination’ could anticipate. A sixth century Tang Dynasty Chinese source describes Kashmir as being ‘enveloped on all sides like a precious jewel by snowy mountains’, with a valley in the south that serves as a gate to the kingdom.
Buttressed against the Hindu Kush – or the western Himalayas – which soar to nearly 8,000 metres, geographical Kashmir has a northern mountainous zone consisting of the Hindu Kush, the Karakoram and the Himalayas, the rugged Ladakh district to the east and the valley region to the southwest. The Indus River, which flows through Pakistan into the Bay of Bengal, rises from the Siachen glacier in the Karakoram.
By virtue of its central position in Asia, Kashmir commands a strategic location: it is bordered by Afghanistan to the northwest, the Sinkiung-Uighur region of China to the east, Pakistan to the west and India to the south. It also stands on the centuries’ old Central Asian trade route, and long caravans used to trek annually between the plains of India and the high, snowy reaches of Central Asia.
Kashmir enjoys a rich and variegated history. It is one of the homes of Sanskrit, the oldest-known human language. Sanskrit is regarded as the argot of Hinduism, where it was said to be a means of communication by the Hindu gods, and then used by the ancient Indo-Aryans. Sanskrit was also the written language of the Buddhists, who moved into Kashmir from China.
Kashmir is the only region to have a complete written historical record going back well over 3,000 years, the historian Kalhana recording its dynasties. This led to the 11th century Islamic scholar and geographer, Al-Biruni, to remark that the Indians to the south lacked a sense of history.
Kashmir was known to the Greeks via Alexander the Great. The Roman historian, Ptolemy, mentioned it in his writings. Genghis Khan’s armies swept through in the 12th century, depopulating vast tracts of countryside. Timur, the Turco-Mongol conqueror having razed Delhi to the ground in 1398, contracted boils when he travelled into Kashmir, and had to traverse the Hindu Kush in a palanquin, instead of his horse.
Kashmir, translated from the Sanskrit, means a land dried up of water: ‘ka’ (water) and ‘shimeera’ (to dry up). Tradition says that Kashmir was originally a lake called ‘Satisara’ that was drained by the great saint of ancient India, Kashyap. Interestingly, modern geological science reveals that Kashmir was once a lake.
In a letter sent to Maharajah Hari Singh on 27 October, the Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten accepted the accession, saying, ‘it is my Government's wish that as soon as law and order have been restored …the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.’
That ‘reference’ – despite Indian promises of a plebiscite by Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 – has never come, and 70 years later, it is still an open question as Kashmir lurches from crisis to crisis, and India and Pakistan from war-to-war, the indigenous civilian population suffering the brunt of systematic state terror. It has taken a heavy toll, with 41,000 people having died due to clashes in the past 27 years alone, at an average of four conflict-related funerals per day.
|Resistance against occupation in Kashmir has taken a heavy human toll. Pic: csspmspk.com|
The Indian army, seen as an unwelcome occupying entity, has been fingered in numerous human rights reports. Significantly, no army officer has ever been prosecuted in a civil court for crimes against civilians, or human rights abuse, in Kashmir.
In 1993, Human Rights Watch reported that Indian security forces had assaulted civilians, tortured prisoners, summarily executed detainees and killed civilians in ‘reprisal attacks’. Resistance fighters had also targeted civilians, but to a far lesser extent than Indian security forces. In fact, an examination of human rights reports shows up a litany of mass killings, massacres, enforced disappearances, suppression of freedoms and rape used as a weapon of intimidation.
This year, the United Nations, in its first ever report on human rights in Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, said that there was an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations. Justice had to be delivered to all people in Kashmir, who for seven decades had suffered in the deadly conflict.
The 49-page report details human rights violations and abuses on both sides of the Line of Control, and highlights a situation of chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces.
“The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been centre-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights, and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein in a damning indictment, rejected by the Indian government.
However, despite the abuses and the killings, Kashmiris carry on with their daily lives. As the blogger, Moazam Iqbal, writes:
In the midst of all this, life goes on. People go to offices, bazaars, on picnics, weddings, schools, banks. People laugh, cry; they get angry, all felt as anyone else (in the world) feels. And yeah, in cricket matches, we support Pakistan. NOT because we are Pakistanis, NOT because we want Kashmir to be part of Pakistan. We just like to see the (Indian) army guys in grief (lol)…
Kashmir was a Hindu and Buddhist stronghold for centuries until the advent of Islam. The Ummayad general, Imad al-Din Muhammad ibn Qasim, was the first to enter Kashmir in the early 8th century, this after establishing himself in Pakistan’s Sind and Multan districts. The Ummayads made their last attempt to occupy Kashmir during the Caliphate of Hisham (724-53), but failed.
Mahmud of Ghazni, originally from southeast Afghanistan, also made attempts to subjugate Kashmir by force in 1015, and again in 1021, but like the Ummayads, could make no headway. However, by the time of the Ghaznavid invasions, Muslims had permanently settled in Kashmir.
It is to the Sufis that the people of Kashmir became attracted to, luminaries such as Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman, who arrived from Turkistan circa 1324. His shrine is located in Srinagar at a place called ‘Bulbul Lankar’. A local myth about the Shaykh is that he would become so engrossed in prayer that a nightingale (a bulbul) would sit on his head.
In Kashmir, there were six main Sufi Orders: the Qadiriyyah, the Suhrawardiyyah, the Kubrawiyyah, the Naqshbandiyyah, the Nurbakshiyyah and the Rishiyyah. While the first five originated from Iran and Turkistan, the sixth one – the Rishiyyah – was an indigenous development. ‘Rishi’ is originally a Sanskrit word denoting ‘sage’, but understood generically as Sufi.
An important 16th century chronicler, Abul Fadl, wrote that the most respected people in Kashmir were the Rishis. He noted that they followed Shari’ah, and did not denounce other faiths. He added that they ‘did not have the tongue of desire’, and planted fruit-bearing trees so that the public could obtain benefit from them. They abstained from meat in deference to the Hindus, and did not marry.
Among Rishis, the most famous was Shaykh Nur al-Din, affectionately called ‘Nandrishi’. He preached communal harmony, non-violence and tolerance. His shrine – visited by Hindus and Muslims alike – is located in Chrar-e-Sharif, a small town adversely affected by the ongoing conflict. Also a famous poet, Shaykh Nur al-Din once wrote:
We belong to the same parents.
Then why this difference?
Let Hindus and Muslims (together)
Worship God alone.
We came to this world like partners.
We should have shared our joys
And sorrows, together.
Historically, the relationship between the more expansive Sufis and the conservative ‘ulama has not always been cordial. But whereas Sufis were often pushed to the margins, in Kashmir they were dominant. This empowered Shaykh Nur al-Din, for instance, to condemn Mullahs who recited the Qur’an for money, as hypocrites and criminals.
Kashmir would experience Muslim rule from 1339 until 1819, a total of 480 years. The founding Mir Shah dynasty would be followed by the Mughals in 1586, the Afghan Durrani Empire in 1747 and the largely secular Sikh Empire in 1819, who took over Kashmir until its defeat to the British in 1846.
The era of 19th century colonialism would tear Kashmir apart. With its natural beauty and economic promise, Kashmir would become a contested territory, its local inhabitants the biggest victims of a continental power struggle, now between Britain’s colonial stepchildren – India and Pakistan. China would annex a chunk of its eastern flank, Aksai Chin, during the Mao era.
Today, Kashmir is a partitioned state, and the Kashmiris – like the Palestinians, the Kurds and the Rohinghyas – are a partitioned and marginalised people. India controls 43 per cent of its territory, Pakistan 37 per cent and the Republic of China 20 per cent. The population of Jammu (occupied by India) is 12 million, Azad (occupied by Pakistan) four million. Aksai Chin, which is a high altitude desert with acidic soda lakes, is largely unpopulated.
The Indian occupied sector has two capitals, Srinagar (summer) and Jammu (winter), whilst Azad Kashmir has Muzaffarabad as its chief city. The economy of Kashmir is somewhat moribund due to the conflict, though tourism is still its main money spinner, together with agriculture and handicrafts such as carpets and the famous Kashmiri shawls.
Politically, the ultimate Kashmiri injustice – and the roots of today’s conflict – are to be found in 1846 when Gulab Singh, an influential noble in the court of Ranjit Singh Dogra of Lahore, would buy Kashmir from the British East India Company as a personal fiefdom for 75 lakhs (about R 1.4 million) in the Treaty of Amritsar. It seems to have been a really good ‘deal’ for some 2, 22,236 square kilometres of ‘real estate’, also involving an annual payment of one horse, twelve goat shawls and three Kashmiri scarves.
Muhammad Iqbal, the famous Pakistani poet who was of Kashmiri descent, sadly lamented what he aptly called ‘the sale of Kashmir’: ‘Their fields, their crops, their stream/ Even the peasant in the vale/ They sold, they sold all / Alas, how cheap was the Sale!’
Lieutenant Robert Thorpe, an officer in the British-India army of Kashmiri parentage, wrote in his 80-page book, Cashmeer Misgovernment, that the Treaty of Amritsar was a wanton outrage, a gross injustice and an act of tyrannical oppression. He died in Srinagar in 1868, under suspicious circumstances, and is regarded as the first anti-occupation martyr in Kashmir.
Gulab Singh’s accession to power was greeted with massive disquiet, as he was a Hindu regent foisted upon a Muslim majority, with resentment not only building up in Kashmir, but also neighbouring Pakistan. In 1931, the first mass protests began, sparking local resistance and Pakistan calling for Muslim-dominant areas to enjoy autonomous rule.
By 1947, the grandson of Gulab Singh, Mahajarah Hari Singh, could no longer contain the simmering discontent. People in the Jammu Province engaged in the historically forgotten, and deliberately ignored, indigenous Poonch uprising. The Muslim Poonchis of western Jammu liberated large areas from the Maharaj's control, creating what would become Azad Kashmir. In the upheaval there was a spate of inter-religious violence, resulting in the deaths, and possible massacres, of thousands of Muslims.
On 26 October, Mahajarah Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. It granted Delhi dominion of Kashmir without the consent of the people, and the Indian army marched into Kashmir, never to leave. The agreement was regarded by India as legal under the provisions of its Independence Act, but as outright fraud by Pakistan leader, Muhammad ‘Ali Jinnah.
Indeed, tap into the heart of any Kashmiri and the desire for freedom beats proudly in every chest, young or old. To most Kashmiris, India and Pakistan are the same – two ego-driven countries fighting over a piece of land that doesn’t belong to either of them.
Go into the streets of Srinagar, Jammu, Muzaffarabad – or any town or village from the Hindu Kush to the lowest valley – Kashmiris will tell you that in this battle, it is Kashmir and the Kashmiris who have suffered, not India or Pakistan. They want the conflict to end. They want peace and stability, law and order, economic development. And, finally, one thing is made abundantly clear: no one is going anywhere, Kashmir is the beloved motherland.
The article first appeared in the Habibia Mosque Diary 2018-19.