Changing masters and the political geographies have not altered one routine, the summer tensions. Masood Hussain reports the peak crises that have frequented Kashmir during summer for many centuries
Given the limitations of working season, Kashmir has almost everything restricted to summer. From weddings to farming and from home construction to road-laying, summer is the only option. Even for displaying anger or resorting to unrest or giving yet another push to Tehreek, a movement not older than Emperor Akbar and not younger than Burhan, the teen icon who was killed in July 2016, Kashmir keeps the summer calendar.
But if deaths are an indicator, Kashmir’s worst summer was summer of 1953 when the valley jumped into a chaotic situation after Pandit Nehru ordered deposing his friend Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as the Prime Minister of J&K on August 9. Sheikh, who had played key role in Kashmir’s accession to India, had, according to noted Kashmir expert A G Noorani, opted for transparent consultations “on possible solutions” when Nehru started pressing him for “ratifying the accession”. As the right-wingers peaked with J&K’s merger demands, Sheikh was arrested from Gulmarg health resort, where he was holidaying with his family and thrown into jail for hobnobbing with West to create a sovereign state. A protracted trial followed which was later withdrawn after nearly two decades.
Sheikh was history’s most popular leader. His arrest triggered a serious crisis for his successor, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad, and for two months the government forces were literally fighting a war with the people.
In his Tehreek-e-Hurriyat-e-Kashmir, journalist and historian Rashid Taseer offers some details of incidents otherwise obliterated from the history. “In the August 9, peoples estimation suggest more than 1500 people were killed and thousands were injured,” Taseer wrote. “The initial announcements by the state government said only nine persons were killed.”
Delhi also followed the state government. On August 10, Nehru told Lok Sabha that there were a few small protests in Kashmir. His initial narrative was that Sheikh’s arrest was not a conspiracy that he dictated but a local coup. He said the police used three (live) rounds at one place and four at another spot killing three persons.
On August 25, however, Nehru told Congress parliamentary committee that 30 people were killed. Soon after, Bakhshi government put the toll at 33. Taseer was informed by Syed Mir Qasim, who later became the Chief Minister that 200 persons died. Besides, the author was informed by Molvi Mohammad Sayeed Masoodi that when he and Bakhshi met Nehru, Bakhshi told India’s Prime Minister that 53 people were killed. “I interrupted him,” Masoodi told the author, “and informed that 1500 people were killed.”
But erasing so much of blood from Kashmir history is not so easy. “The number and names of the slain and the areas to which they belonged to could not be compiled because of the worst situation around,” Taseer says. “In fact, nobody had the courage to make such an attempt and nothing is available in the government records as well.” The government “cleansed” its own libraries from the particular records of that era, informed sources said.
Freedom fighter Munshi Mohammad Isaq’s son Munshi Ghulam Hassan published his father’s memoir Nida-e-Haq in 2010. “The government set up the Jia Lal Kilam commission of inquiry to look into the affairs but it did not submit its report,” Munshi says. “But in disturbances that spanned two month 2000 people were killed, mostly from Pattan.” Hassan, who served the government for various decades, insists that he got the information from his own sources.
In his biography Aatish-e-Chinar, Sheikh Abdullah blames his Deputy Home Minister Durga Prasad Dhar for orchestrating 1953 and later killing the protestors personally.
In numbers, even the historic milestone of July 13, 1931 seemed small. That day the Dogra soldiers guarding the Central Jail in Srinagar fired upon the people who had assembled to witness the trial of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the butler whose fiery speech in Khanqah-e-Mohalla against Hari Singh infused a fresh dose of adrenaline to Kashmir Tehreek and was arrested. Nearly 180 live rounds fired by Dogra soldiers led to 17 deaths on spot as five from the 40-odd injured succumbed later.
With the entire freedom-seeking camp arrested, Kashmir was in chaos. Almost everywhere across Kashmir, there were protests. Jhelum Valley Road that was then the main highway for Kashmir remained closed for 13 days with no traffic moving around.
In his Kashmir Ka Siyasi Inquilab, Shabnum Qayoom reports that more than 150 people were killed by Dogra forces across the state. These included 37 in Srinagar and 25 in Islamabad. Some historians say more than 250 were killed.
After purchasing Kashmir in 1846, the Dogras have remained very possessive and ruthless in retaining their fiefdom for 101 years till Hari Singh fled in October 1947 after part of his state rebelled.
Post-purchase, Gulab Singh reached Srinagar on August 12, 1846 but it was a disaster. Under orders from Lahore’s Sikh durbar, Kashmir governor Imamuddin attacked Singh’s army. Most of his posse along with their commander Lakhpat Rai was annihilated.
“We had not been many days in the city, before we learnt that the governor had made up his mind to drive Gulab Singh’s small force out of the valley and seize us,” John Nicholson, one of the two British officers accompanying Singh wrote in a letter, according to Captain Lionel J Trotter’s The Life of John Nicholson, “We had great difficulty in effecting our escape, which we did just in time to avoid capture.” They took southern Kashmir passes to flee and later rejoined in Jammu on September 20.
After British ensured Din’s surrender, Gulab Singh, “the cleverest hypocrite in existence” accompanied British agent Colonel H K Lawrence into Kashmir on November 9, 1846 as its new master. He would stay in Srinagar even during winters. He rarely left Kashmir after taking its possession with British help and died here.
A firm believer ‘object lessons’, Gulab Singh resorted to terror to retain his possession and enforced his writ.
“I went out this morning in my boat, and we sailed towards the open plain beyond the precincts of the city, where two gibbets were standing, garnished by horrible skeletons of men in chains hanging, propped up (by wires) in wooden cages,” records Mrs Hervey in her travelogue The Adventures of a Lady in Tartary…in August 1850. “Their clothes were still on them, and these ghastly skeletons looked very revolting, leaching in the bright sunlight. They have been hanging for two or three years; their crime was murder. The family of one of the two lives close-by. How very callous must the wife and mother be, who continue to inhabit such a neighbourhood!”
“A few minutes after, I passed one of the first marks of civilization — the skeleton of some poor murderous wretch, I suppose, who had been starved to death in a cage suspended fixed in a gibbet,” records John B Ireland about his entry into the city of Kashmir in December 1853, in his Wall Street to Kashmir. Ireland noted in December 1853 about his entry into Srinagar. “This being purely a Hindoo and Sikh town, the killing of a cow is punished by death. The wretch I saw hanging in a box as I arrived had been hanged for that offence.”
Singh clan continued the tradition of skinning its opponents, stuffing them with straw and keeping their bodies dangling down the poles on walkways to spread terror and scare his subjects. The last such fleecing was reported in Poonch which led to the rebellion in 1947.
In between, however, they would use bullets too. His son Ranbir Singh on April 29, 1865 sprayed bullets on a procession of shawl weavers at Zaldagar in Shehr-e-Khas who were seeking reduction in taxes and change in working conditions. In one of the world’s oldest recorded event of labour movements, Singh used guns and spears to kill 28 artisans and nearly 100 survived with injuries.
Dogras (1846-1947) actually improved the systems that Sikhs (1819-1846) had continued during their 27 years of misrule. French botanist Victor Vincelas Jacquemont spent 1831 summer in Kashmir. “On the road side, I saw the body of a man hanging to a tree, apparently executed that morning,” he wrote his family on April 23, 1831. “I asked who he was, and why he had been hanged, but all the passengers seemed so indifferent to the spectacle that no one knew more about it than myself.”
As he reached Srinagar, he was shocked. “There were a dozen suspended on trees near my camp, on the banks of the river,” Jacquemont wrote. “When the governor visited me, he told me, with a very careless air, that in the first year of his government he had hanged two hundred, but that now, one here and there was sufficient to keep the country in order.”
In barbarism and mis-governance, Sikhs were not any different from Afghans (1752-1819) who exploited Kashmir for 67 years. Most of the 14 governors that Kabul appointed wanted to exploit the distance from the durbar and emerge as sovereigns. Some of them remained independent for some time but were eventually reined in.
Kabul would seek huge monies from their governors to fund its expansion. Abdullah Khan, one of the first governors extorted one crore rupees from Kashmir traders which bankrupted them and eighty traders from plains lost everything and fled the Vale. Historian P N K Bamzai has recorded how wealthy would be treated with “red hot iron bars” and how one nobleman Qazi Khan committed suicide when he could not afford watching his son’s physical torture.
William Moorcraft who was in the region between 1819 and 1825 reported a ridiculous dichotomy. While Afghans were extorting Rs 30 lakh a year from a population of seven lakh people, their 3000 strong army was unpaid for two years and surviving on chestnuts! Massive demand and less availability of resource was another factor for governor’s to rebel. Sukh Jewan Mal, one of these long time governors who wanted to be sovereign, was eventually captured, blinded and later trampled to death.
George Forester who visited Kashmir at the peak of Azad Khan’s misrule in 1783 has recorded this telling detail in his A journey from Bengal to England: “I often witnessed the harsh treatment which the common people received at the hands of their masters, who rarely issued an order without a blow if the side if their hatchet, a common weapon of the Afghans, and used by them in war, as a battle-axe. Though the inhabitants of this province are held under a grievous subjection, and endure evils the most mortifying to human nature, being equally oppressed and instead, the various testimonies brought home to me of their common depravity of disposition, made me the less sensible of their distress and, in a short time, so faint was the trace of it on my mind, that I even judged them worthy of their adverse fortune.”
In his Travels, Moorcraft offers an interesting story of Azad Khan and his father Hadji Kareem Dad Khan. “Notorious for his wanton cruelties and insatiable avarice; often, for trivial offences, throwing the inhabitants, ‘tied by the back in pairs, into the river, plundering their property, and forcing their women of every description,” Moorcraft recorded people terming him a “systematical tyrant” who used atrocious system through fixed medium to attained his purposes, unlike his son Azad. The junior Khan at 18 was named Zaulim Khan. “In the three first months of his government, (he had) become an object of such terror to the Kashmirians that the casual mention of his name produced an instant horror and an involuntary supplication of the aid of their prophet.”
On the very day of taking over, he had killed a spectator watching his arrival using his musquet. Later, he committed suicide in 1785.
Barring a few peaceful patches, Kashmir has historically remained embroiled in wars among classes for one-upmanship, often benefitting third-party outsiders. But the fall of Chak rule, after half a century long Mughal campaign starting from attack by Babar’s brother in 1531, added a new phase of resistance that every subsequent ruler had to face.
Chaks were able fighters but lacked administrative skills which led to their undoing within 31 years. They fought within the clan and with other stakeholders. Ghazi Shah, their first major ruler, emerged only after he blinded Daulat Chak in 1555. Ali Shah (1570-78) whom historian Mohibbul Hasan, in his celebrated Kashmir under the Sultans, sees as “able, just and liberal” is credited for discontinuing “the practice of the blinding and cutting of limbs of political opponents prevalent since the time of Ghazi Shah”.
Amid serious sectarian tensions, finally Akbar took over Kashmir forcing Yusuf Shah Chak, the last but one ruler, to die of “insanity and deep melancholia” in Bihar, according to G M D Sufi, the author of Kashir, Being a History of Kashmir. With Akbar’s takeover on June 5, 1586, Kashmir’s 166-year long Mughal era started.
But Chak’s continued resenting foreign rule. Every summer, managing this resistance would be the key element of subsequent rulers including Mughals. The first turmoil started within days after Akber left Kashmir in June 1589 after spending a month here. It lasted for 51 days as warring factions, neither of them local, want to seize power.
After it was managed, Qalich Khan, the first Mughal governor, focused more on Chaks. History has recorded this Khan, in his six years, “extirpating the Chaks and suppressing the malcontents”. His successor Saadat Khan, according to Sufi confiscated their properties forcing them to do menial jobs.
But the great Mughals could not manage this crisis. As Chaks were driven away with their assets seized, they went to jungles and became Galwans, the horse-thieves who would create insecurities to the regimes and their subjects. People in Afghan era would pay rulers per head for safety of their herds.
In his Travels in Kashmir, Ladakh, Iskardo, the Countries Adjoining the Mountain Course, G T Vigne offers details of this rebellious class in 1838-39.
“They have rarely intermarried with any other caste, and resided in the jungle, changing their place of abode whenever the chances of detection rendered it necessary to be on the move,” Vigne wrote. “A long heavy club, with iron rings around it, was their principal weapon.”
Sikh governor Kurpa Ram, Vigne says, “killed some seven or eight of them on the spot (at Damudur), and afterwards hanged seventeen of them at one time from the Amir’s bridge, nearly opposite the Governor’s residence.” But they survived even in Dogra era when some of them were banished outside Kashmir.
Post Mughals, resentment to foreign rule had only two options: to get into woods and join the Gulwans or to leave Kashmir. In 300 years, tens of thousands of families actually migrated to Punjab forcing Dogras to guard the passes round the clock for preventing migration. Vigne knew yet another form of resistance. In Shahabad belt, he met a Sudu Bayu, a Muslaman Fakir, aged 110, who was respected by the Sikh rulers as well. “He had witnessed the decline and fall of his country. He told me that in his younger days he had visited Hindustan, had been at Calcutta, and that he still hoped to see the day when Kashmir would be in the possession of my countrymen,” Vigne has recorded. “Mihan Singh, the Sikh Governor, made several attempts to gain an interview, and offered him large presents of money; but I was informed that he spurned the offer with contempt, and refused to have anything to say to an infidel, and one whom he looked upon as the oppressor of his country.”
Despite Mughal era being longer, it was much peaceful than subsequent eras. Mughal army faced stone pelting by Dilawars, the then stone pelters according to satirist Zareef Ahmad Zareef, forcing them to insulate their garrisons and keep soldiers away from the civilian population. Akbar’s first order, according to Sufi, was that soldiers should not “molest a citizen”. Later, they built a walled city, the Nagar Nagar, to separate the two populations. Mughals were so attached to Kashmir that during Jehangir’s reign, Srinagar was almost the summer capital of India. He visited Kashmir 14 consecutive summers.
“During the entire period of 166 years in which Kashmir was under the Mughals, there are, out of 63 governors, only six instances of high handed treatment of the Kashmiris,” Sufi asserts in his magnum opus, Kashir, Being the History of Kashmir.