Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The nettle story!

The Kashmiri proverb about the sowing of the nettle ironically applies to Kashmiris themselves for the self-inflicted slavery of the last four centur Sometime back Omar Abdullah had declared that the Kashmir issue remains still unresolved. In early fifties similar statement by his grandfather resulted in his dismissal and arrest. During the upheaval of 1953 when the Lion of Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was deposed and arrested, over a thousand people were killed in firing by the police. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad suppressed the uprising by the use of stick and carrot. The word subsidy was introduced which we are not able to get rid of even after half a century of so the called “self-rule”. During the agitation of 1953, one often heard people quoting a Kashmiri proverb, “Anim soai, wuvem soi, lajim soi pansi”! (I brought the nettle, sowed the nettle, and got bitten by it myself). This quote was to emphasise the fact that the Kashmir’s charismatic leader had himself brought Indians to Kashmir and they had bitten him after he had supported their entry here. Quite often one speaks about the four centuries long oppression suffered by Kashmiris at the hands of the Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras. However, when one analyses the historical happenings of the onset of foreign rule in Kashmir, one thing which stands out most is the role played by some of our own fellow countrymen in inviting and facilitating the foreign rulers. Dr. Abdul Ahad in his book, “Kashmir Rediscovered” has given details of the happenings of those days and the people who went from Kashmir to various foreign rulers to seek their intervention. Most of the time the interventions were sought because of the violent internecine tussle within Kashmir. Prior to Mughal intervention, Kashmir was experiencing the worst kind of sectarian violence between Sayyids or Mawalis and the locals. Sayyids or Mawalis had been expelled twice. They were first expelled by Budshah and subsequently by Hassan Shah. They were considered foreigners and allegedly had been held responsible for all the mayhem in Kashmir. There was also lot of violence between Sunnis and Shias even before the Chak rule. This conflict was fomented by the mutual bickering of Magreys representing the Sunnis and the Chaks representing the Shias. The Magreys approached Mughals and implored them to intervene while as Chaks approached Sher Shah Suri for aid. During the rule of Mirza Haider Dughlat which had been facilitated by Sunnis, there was worst persecution of Shias. He wanted to exterminate them. Subsequently when the Chaks came to power, they started massive persecution of Sunnis. All this time Akbar, the Mughal king had been keenly watching the developments in Kashmir. He was waiting to strike when the iron was hot. The opportunity came when he was entreated for intervention by Sheikh Yaqub Sarfi and Baba Daud Khaki to save Kashmir menaced by sectarian crises. Ultimately Mughals captured Kashmir by diplomatic treachery by trapping and arresting Yousuf Shah Chak, the last ruler of the independent Kashmir. The Mughals drained out every bit of chivalry from the blood of Kashmiris and turned them into demeaning serfs. Kashmir became their pleasure garden, a “Paradise on Earth” for them only! Similarly, the Afghans too had local invitation and facilitation in making Kashmir a part of their kingdom. Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali fragmented the Mughal Empire and it remained confined to Delhi and some adjacent territories. At that time Kashmir was in shambles. The severe famine of 1745-46 had wrought havoc. Dead bodies were lying all round being eaten by vultures. The Mughal Subehdars had been exhausted by rendering assistance in removing dead bodies strewn on the streets. Kashmiri nobles perceived that the Afghan rule would be a deliverance from further suffering. Secret negotiations were opened with him and Mir Muqim Kanth and Khawaja Didamare promised all assistance against the Mughals. Abadali accepted the invitation and the Afghan contingent entered Srinagar in triumph in 1753 and Kashmir became an Afghan Subha! The Afghan rule in Kashmir was a nightmarish experience. Kashmiris had hoped that the Afghans would bring order and treat them generously. However, they got what Dr. Ahad calls a “Culture Shock”! The Afghan experience has been summed up in a Persian couplet. “When the poet asked the gardener, who laid waste this garden? With a deep sigh he replied, ‘it was the Afghan’!” The worst part of the Afghan rule was the imposition of variety of taxes. They squeezed every penny out of the already impoverished Kashmiri. There were taxes on everything. The protection tax, the land tax, the tax on shawls and they even imposed a smoke tax. The early marriage custom in villages which persisted for a long time was to protect the girls as an Afghan would not touch a married woman! The end of Afghan rule came by the Kashmiris yet again soliciting an external saviour. There occurred yet another terrible famine in 1814. There was a shortfall in the tax collection and the Afghan Governor Azim Khan held Birbal Dhar, his tax collector responsible. Fearing retribution, he fled from the valley and landed in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh whom he persuaded to invade the valley. Maharaja dispatched an army of 30,000 soldiers who after two battles routed the Afghans and brought Kashmir under the Sikh rule in 1819. Even though the rule lasted for only 27 years, yet it is supposed to have been the worst of all. This period is generally known as the “Bebuj Raj” in Kashmiri, a term coined by Hameedullah in his Bebujnama, an eyewitness account of the happenings during this period. The value of a Kashmiri during this period of utter lawlessness was put at rupees twenty. This was the fine imposed on a Sikh for killing a Kashmiri. If a Kashmiri killed a Sikh, he would be straightaway hanged! This brazen savagery is also known as the Sikhashahi, a word even now used to describe any lawless behaviour! The condition of Kashmiris during the Sikh rule is described by Jacquemont, “A few thousand stupid brutal Sikhs with swords at their sides or pistols in their belts drive this ingenious and numerous, but timid people like a flock of sheep”. Cow slaughter was made an offence punishable by death. Butchers were hanged in public. Neo Muslims were forced to reconvert to Hinduism. There were forced conversions to Sikhism. Muslim zamindars jagirs were confiscated. In reality, whatever civility or strength was left in a Kashmiri, it was squeezed out of him during the Sikh rule. Dogras bought Kashmir from the British along with the Kashmiris lock, stock, and barrel under the most infamous Treaty of Amritsar. At that time Kashmiris had been reduced to virtual wretches. However, at long last there was awaking and the Kashmiris rose en masse to overthrow the yolk of slavery in 1931. The movement was inspired by similar movements against colonialism and imperialism all over the world. Unfortunately, when the goal was almost near, the fate locked them in the most intractable tangle. Again, our own people played the role of nettle sowers. The story is too well known to be recapitulated. We are still suffering the consequences of the last nettle crop. Nettle rash is quite painful. An old local remedy is to cover the rash with mud and then wash it when it dries up! One wishes there was a similar remedy to remove the political nettle rash! We seem to be destined to suffer as long as our own people go on bringing the nettle and sowing it here. It is time to introspect in the light of the tragic episodes of our history. Will our leaders do it? That is the million dollar question! (Comments at

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