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421 years of foreign rule in Kashmir

The history of rebellion in Kashmir is not new and dates back to sixteenth century when the last indigenous ruler was overthrown in Kashmir. Haroon Mirani traces the unmentioned and forgotten chapters of Kashmir history through 421 years of foreign rule.

On the night of November 19, 1586, Yaqub Shah Chek, the last independent king of Kashmir after being defeated by the Mughals, mounted the first guerrilla attack on Mughal army. It was highly successful raid in which dozens of Mughal army men were chopped to death, entire treasury was looted and magnificent palace of Yusuf Shah, wherefrom Mughals ruled Kashmir, was burnt. After returning to his hideout along with his elated army, Yaqub Shah Chek told his official army turned ragtag guerrillas, “Independence is just a day away, as we will soon finish off the Mughals from Kashmir.”

Unfortunately that tomorrow never came and 421 years have passed since that fateful attack, which started the culmination of armed struggle against foreign rule in Kashmir and is still continuing. Mughals were succeeded by Afghans, Sikhs, Dogras and the current situation, but the fight never ceased. In one form or the other Kashmir has been on the warfront for the last 421 years.

Kashmir fate was sealed on October 16, 1586, exactly 421 years from today, when Mughal army invaded the independent country of Kashmir. Kashmir's last independent ruler Yaqub Shah Chak couldn't hold back the onslaught of Mughals under the command of Qasim Khan. However, it was not because of Kashmiris being cowards, as they had thwarted many attempts of warriors like Mahmud of Ghaznavi, but due to the cunning internal conflicts, which still makes this battle go on indecisively.

Those who couldn't bear their motherland under foreign rule took up arms as at that there was no scope of political solution. Mughals came down heavily against these insurgents. Yaqub Shah Chek was arrested and finished off in exile, just like his father Yusuf Shah Chek.

Not to be cowed down by the arrests, the insurgency moved on to the next line of leadership, which included Malik Hassan, Mohammed Naji, Yusuf Khan and Abdul Khan. These were eliminated too but this armed struggle still continues and has evolved into the world’s longest freedom struggle.

To quell the rebellion of this nation and diminish their fighting spirit, Mughals denied the entry of any Kashmiri into the army and encouraged the use of long Cloak and Kangri (firepot). They further divided the Kashmiris into seven groups, to propagate their divide and rule policy.

The same policy was later continued by Afghans and Sikhs. Afghans banned wearing of arms by Kashmiris. Dogra ruler Ghulab Singh stopped a game like mimic warfare played with the help of slings and stones as he thought it encouraged fighting spirit in the Kashmiris.

Mughals ruled Kashmir for 167 long years, with the help of 35 governors under rulers ranging from Akbar through Aurangzeb up to Ahmad Shah. These governors used to come, loot, plunder and go. There was no end to tyranny and any whimper of rebellion was crushed mercilessly. Numerous souls laid their life in the process for the sake of independence. Guru Teg Bahadur, the 9th Sikh guru was so moved upon hearing the plight of these people that he too jumped into the arena. His protest unnerved the then ruler Aurangzeb who got the holy man beheaded on November 27, 1675 AD. Thus one of the greatest luminaries of its time entered the long list of martyrs of Kashmir.

Mughals used to call Kashmir as Baag I Khasa, (Garden of Elites), where they used to come for recreation and enjoyment. They built 700 gardens for this purpose, alongside continuous repression of Kashmiris.

Nevertheless, this monstrous Mughal rule came to an end in 1753 AD. People would have never wished the end of this rule if they had foreseen what was in store for them. Their simultaneous capture by Afghans proved to be a worst nightmare-coming-true. It was like jumping from frying pan into fire. Afghans crossed all boundaries of civilisation - killing, rape, plunder, loot, eyes gouging out, ears, noses been cut off, whipping was the order of the day. As goes the saying not even a damsel was safe in her house during this brutal Aghan rule. Amir Khan, one of the governors, even plundered 700 Mughal Gardens. During this era too, the rebellion raised its head. One Sukh Jiwan tried to give respite to their brethren but he was defeated by Afghan governor Nur-u-Din Khan.

Nothing not even a simple stare in their eyes was tolerated by these Afghans. If Mughals invented Phiran (long cloak), then these Afghans made it mandatory for having two pockets on either side. It was for Afghan soldiers to mount on their shoulders and keep their feet in these pockets for ease particularly during crossing rivers.

Afghan governor Khorram Khan (1770-1777) during his second term quelled a rebellion raised by Kashmiris. Haji Karim Dad Khan (1776-1783) destroyed whole Kant family for intriguing against him with Raja Ranjit Dev, the ruler of Jammu. If Mughals indulged in suppression, Afghans employed violent suppression. Kashmiris were so much crushed and subjugated that Afghans needed only 3000 soldiers to control these meek souls, instead of minimum requirement of 20,000.

Mass migration of people particularly Kashmiri Pandits also took place in this era. The Afghan behavior was beautifully summarised in a Persian couplet which read as "Sar buridan pesh in sangin dilan qul chidan ast" (These stone hearted people thought no more of cutting of heads than of plucking a flower).

The Afghans were defeated by the forces of the Ranjit Singh in 1819, thus came to an end 67 darkest years of Kashmir's history, which left Kashmiris with only skin on their bones. But the Sikh didn't prove any better. Jamia Masjid was closed down, congregations were banned, severe restrictions were hurled on religious movement. At that time if a Sikh killed a non-sikh a compensation of Rupees four was given, but if the victim was a Muslim then Rupees two was enough. Killing as usual was rampant.

It is believed that crows were brought during this period in the valley by Deewan Kirpa Ram (1827-1831), who thought them to be necessary for the performance of funeral rights of Kashmiris. He was fed up of seeing funerals all around without any crow hovering above.

In this era too the flame of independence was not diminished. In 1843 Sikhs had to suffer causality to the tune of hundreds in their fight with daring Bomha leader Sher Ahmad at Shilbal.

On February 10, 1846 the English defeated the Sikhs at Sobroan. As a reward for being neutral a treaty was signed between them and a Dogra leader Gulab Singh, and the present day J&K was sold to him for 75 lac Nanak Shahi rupees. During this period 1845-1846 Sheikh Imamudin was the governor of Kashmir. Seeing this entire topsy-turvy situation, he –assisted by his foresighted wife – started to dream independence and raised the banner of rebellion. He twice defeated the forces sent to capture Kashmir by Gulab Singh, under Mathra Das and Lakhpat Rai. Gulab Singh panicked and begged for help to Sir Henry Lawrence, who sent the required assistance and helped snatch Kashmir from Imamudin.

Gulab Singh entered Srinagar on November 9, 1846 to start a puppet rule of Dogras with their threads attached to British. He was later succeeded by Ranbir Singh (1857-85), Pratap Singh (1885-1925) and Hari Singh (1926-47).

As there was no accountability, people continued living under miserable conditions. The rulers got new punishments invented, the most dreaded one being Begar (transport of materials to distant areas through precarious mountainous roads, without pay). The taxes were always skyrocketing with each passing regime. Robert Thorp wrote numerous articles on the plight of Kashmiris under Gulab Singh but he too was finished off in sync with rest of similar counterparts.

In 1857 for the first time Kashmiris didn’t celebrate Eid ul Azha, as it was the year when Gulab Singh had died and there was a total ban on killing of any animal. Another dreaded punishment used in Dogra era to thwart any possible uprising was that of fleecing a Kashmiri thought to be against administration. Prostitution was also legalised during this time.

But the rebellion never ceased to exist. In one way or other it raised its head. The prominent among this was Shawl Bauf Agitation, in which 28 Shawl weavers were martyred at Zaldagar on April 29, 1865. Another 21 persons were brutally killed during Central Jail uprising on July 13, 1931. Thereafter a civil disobedience movement started which culminated in open armed rebellion, about the end of January 1932 in Mirpur, Rajouri and Bhimber of Jammu Province.

Agitations, demonstrations followed. Ahrar party in Punjab started sending Jathas (groups of people on a mission) to relieve the oppressed Kashmiris. Thousands came forward for arrests. Inquilab - Lahore based paper carried stories of oppression. Gauhar Rehman led the agitation in Mirpur Tehsil. Other areas like Kotli, Bhimber, Rajouri and Poonch also started giving shock waves. Bakerwals were denounced as criminal tribes for their rebellious acts. Disturbance, police firing and deaths started a periodic cycle.

The situation continued until the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. When Maharaja was left to himself for the first time he couldn't decide what to do and the result was the first Indo-Pak war, which ended in the disintegration of the state into Indian administered Kashmir and Pakistan administered Kashmir. The Indian Prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru promised a plebiscite to decide the future of Jammu and Kashmir which people are still awaiting for being fulfilled.

In the contemporary history when non-violent measures gained ground, Kashmiris too dreamt of resolution with their active political participation right from 1947. But here also they were politically tortured, maimed and killed.

Such has been the fate of Kashmir that Mahatama Gandhi, who is considered to be the doyen of non violence, is said to have justified war on Kashmir. "Beautiful Kashmir was worth fighting for" said Mahatma Gandhi on December 25, 1947. (Religion in four dimensions by Walker Kaufmann, 1976, p. 248).

As the success eluded Kashmiris on all political fronts, and failure started to mount on them beyond imagination, there was a regeneration of armed struggle in 1989.

The people had hoped that the Indian rule might be a better one, as their Numero Uno leader Sheikh Abdullah had said so. But all went wrong. In addition of the all wrongdoings, India couldn't even protect the integrity of Kashmir and got them deprived of its 38,000 square km Aksai Chin area in 1961 during Sino-Indian war, in which India was thrashed beyond humiliation.

The cycle of tyranny, rebellion and bloodshed continues and the current phase is simply the continuation of four centuries of black past. Some of the worst war crimes were committed here. Kashmir as is known became one beautiful prison where nobody ever comes out of the range of Army sniper.

Of course there has been a difference in the size of death, which has come down from three feet sword to three inch bullet. During the last 18 years the death has visited Kashmir in every form and every shape. Some people were killed en masse in processions, some liquidated singly.

Children were killed in schools, some shot playing cricket. Others were exterminated trying to puff a cigarette for having some fun outside marriage parties.

Who could ever forget women the ever sacrificing, the ever suppressed lot. The more you write about the victims of Kunan Poshpora and Dardpora and many more unreported ones, the more pained one is.

During the last 19 years, people of Kashmir have gone through the situation that can be easily said to be a cruel summary of all the methods of suppression of last 421 years under different occupiers.

In all these five different kingships people suffered, resulting in rebellions and mass migrations.

This is also one of the most important factors why India has unofficially banned teaching Kashmir history in schools.

When people call it 18 or a 60-year-old problem or say just 80,000 persons had laid their life for it, they are making a gross injustice to millions of those who sacrificed their life for the just cause during the more than four centuries of foreign rule.

It seems that India has not learnt lesson from Kashmir’s history. Kashmir has remained independent for thousands of years and the Kashmiris will continue to yearn for the day when they can breathe an air of freedom even if it means fighting for another thousand years. The recent poll by CNN-IBN is an eye opener, which showed 87 per cent Kashmiris still want independence.

The Jews (who claim Jerusalem in full) had to wait and fight for two thousand years before they got hold of the holy land. Some historians with concrete evidence say that Kashmiris are the lost twelve tribes of Jews, so fighting for two thousand years is no big deal for them. In fact the current period of 421 years struggle is just the beginning.

These defiant people still hope for that tomorrow of Yaqub Shah Chek as for them time, life, money and other such essentials are no constraint in its pursuit.

No doubt world has moved on and almost half of world population actively opposes their independence and the rest, tacitly supports that opposition. It is very rarely that one can find a nation still surviving and longing for freedom for 421 years.

(The writer can be mailed haroon@kashmirnewz.org)

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