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Seven Influential Men of Kashmir History

Kashmir’s history is shaped by conflicts, springing from its geographic position, diversity and economy. Located in South Central Asia, it’s unique nature has attracted historians since centuries. Xuanzang travelled to this fascinating valley in 600 AD. Historian Kalhana in twelfth century laced its origin being thousand-years-old.

Neither historic roots nor coercion has justified morality of ruling over Kashmir. What has set the precedent is who ruled and with what standard.

Budshah Zainul Abidinn and Shahmir hailed from Swat. King Laltadatiya belonged to Kangra. Similarly, Kanishka was an ethnic Turk. Dogras who assembled the separate Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh provinces were aborigines. It was the people of Kashmir who invited Mughals and Afghans to rescue them from tyrant regimes. Even then, many people positioned that the Kashmir populace was subjugated since past four centuries.

When Gulab Singh facilitated the British arrival, it was people of Kashmir, who supported Imam-ud-din, the last governor of the Sikh era to oppose it. For three months, following the Treaty of Amritsar (1846), Kashmiri people held the advances of Dogra forces at Sheikh Bagh – the battle continued until Dogra forces defeated every opponent, killing all of them – who were then buried in mass graves in Srinagar’s Shaheed Gunj.

However, with India’s territorial claim over Kashmir, after 1947, the region has plunged into acute psychosis. Reflecting the nuances of politics and socio-economic conditions, here are the seven influential men of Kashmir history:

Sayyid Ali Hamdani

It is believed that Sayyid Ali Hamdani was instructed to travel to Kashmir with the message of Islam by Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] who came to his dream with this tiding. He was prophetically assured that its populace will embrace Islam and be its flag-bearers in future. His arrival along with hundreds of followers brought along the avenues of trade and economy: papier machie, embroidery, shawls, and woodwork which Kashmir is famous for.

In Kashmir: A disputed Legacy, Alastair Lamb writes that under the Shahmiri Dynasty that ruled Kashmir for two centuries from the middle of 14th centuries to mid-16th century, numerous Muslim preachers visited Kashmir, notably the Persian Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani or Shah-e-Hamadan, who consolidated the dominance of Islam among the people of the Vale of Kashmir. Many argue there were twelve thousand idol makers in the valley then, who were accommodated by Shah-e-Hamdan in stone-carving practice and other arts and crafts work.

Of his writings, Awradh-e-Fathiya and Zakirat-ul-Mulq are taken as the most revered texts in the Valley. The former emphasizes the oneness of a Creator, while the latter stresses more about the rights of subjects against the ruler.

It is said that Shah-e-Hamdan not only converted people of Kashmir from a confusing to a vibrant way of life, but also transformed their way of living, their modes of dress, eating, architecture, script and language – using Kubrawi Silsila of Tassawuf – as a catalyst to revive Islam in the subcontinent. Shah-e-Hamdan adhered to Shafi’ school of thought (Lawrence: 1895).

Sultan Sikander, a Shahmiri king (1389-1413) who also renovated Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid built a seminary Khanqah-e-Maula along the banks of the river Jhelum in the old city in the honor of Shah-e-Hamdan.

Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah

After his family was picked by an Afghan governor from the Tral area to deliver sermons in Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid, the concept of Mirwaizship took cognizance in Kashmir. Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah, taking his uncle Mirwaiz Ghulam Rasool’s place in March 1931 tried to follow the legacy but somehow missed the lead as the family got marginalized during his tenure as Mirwaiz-e-Kashmir.

His role in the freedom struggle of Kashmir prior to and post 1947 resulted in his exile from the Vale. He became the President of Pakistan-administered Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) twice in 1952 and then in 1956.

After his exit from presidentship, he apparently softened his political position. In longing for his roots, he even wrote letters to Jawaharlal Nehru to facilitate his return. But that availed him nothing (Hussain: 2016).

When Abdullah showed sympathies towards Ahmadiyya community taking Khanqah’s Mirwaiz-e-Hamadan on board, Mirwaiz Shah became apprehensive about the future of the political movement. The ‘false theory’ propagated from India about Abdul Qadeer, after the 1931 firing incident, being a Qadiani, added more doubt over the overall political picture in Kashmir that led the rise to Sheer and Bakra rivalry. The former was taken from Abdullah’s reference as Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir), while the latter was referred as “goats” after the beards worn by Islamic clerics such as Mirwaiz Shah.

Shah’s translation of Quran in Kashmiri language is his most important contribution. He died in 1968 and was buried in Muzzafarabad.

Ram Chander Kak

Believed to be a ‘visionary’ statesman, Ram Chander Kak, before joining ‘civil service’ worked as an archaeologist. In 1937, he was appointed by the Dogra regime to the post of chief secretary. He became minister of military affairs in 1941, and then the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir from 1942 to 1945.

During the transfer of power in 1947 in British India, Kak was the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir from June 1946 to August 11, 1947. With his orders, Jawaharlal Nehru was detained for few days in Uri near Muzzafarabad, to limit the violent tussle between Muslim Conference and National Conference in the state.

Kak, along with Mohammad Ali Jinnah posed a challenge to the 1946 “Quit Kashmir Movement”. His lobbying with the Muslim Conference and Chatriya Sabah of Jammu to pass the resolution for Kashmir to remain independent in the constitutional Monarchy of Maharaja, left him powerless. Both National Conference and Congress party men didn’t like Kak’s administration efficiency. MK Gandhi’s interference and Nehru’s ‘personal grudge’ got Kak removed from his PM position and was replaced with the ‘pro-India’ Maher Chand Mahajan.

Soon after his replacement, tremendous tragedy befell over the people in the form of the Jammu massacre wherein hundreds of thousands were massacred and exiled “for having Pakistan lineage”, suggests Abdullah in his biography Aatish-e-Chinar.

On 12 August 1947, Kak was arrested and put behind jail for several years. Prior to his detention, filth and shoes were showered over him by NC workers on his way to the court.

After his release, he lived in seclusion, away in exile and died in 1983.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah

The ‘Only’ charismatic leader Kashmir masses felt they cherished in the previous century, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, with his organizing ability, used religion for ‘publicity’. Under the patronization of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah who paved his way in politics during 1931 modern Islamic politics against Dogra rule, Abdullah emerged as the ‘leader of the masses’.

Abdullah was among the first graduates who had studied Chemistry in Aligarh Muslim University and found no job because of Kashmir Pandit domination in the state who were “notoriously corrupted and avaricious” (Lamb: 1991).

His role at the Fateh Kadal Reading Room and political mobilization in 1931 led to the formation of the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference which later became the present National Conference.

Abdullah’s proximity with the financially affluent Ahmadiyya community in Kashmir created a serious rift with the orthodox religious figure who intuited that such a strategy will boomerang the political struggle in longer term. Abdullah-Shah parting ways divided the follower-ship between Sher and Bakra rivalry, an important phase of politics in the region.

Prioritizing secularization also led him to marry the daughter of a rich European hotelier Harry Nedou thus reshaping his economic credentials.

In 1944, Abdullah launched “Quit Kashmir Movement”, the motivation behind which Abdullah stated was: “the sale by the British of the Vale of Kashmir to Gulab Singh in 1846 was an invalid act. The Dogra Dynasty, therefore, should leave Kashmir forthwith” (Lamb: 1991).

Earlier, in 1931 over twenty people died and hundred others got injured when Abdullah was arrested suggesting his popularity among people.

With Gandhi’s interference and Abdullah’s apology letter to the Maharaja, he was released on the condition that he will end this opposition. When the autocratic ruler was having second thoughts about the fate of the princely state, it was Abdullah who persuaded him to accede with the Indian Union.

In 1953 under Abdullah’s rule, 75 members of the assembly supported his position. Once he was dismissed and imprisoned under Kashmir Conspiracy Case, almost all the members backed Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Abdullah’s aide-turned-archenemy. Once ousted from power, Abdullah patronized Mahaz-e-RaiShumari (The Plebiscite Front), led by Mirza Afzal Beigh. Both of them were implicated in a conspiracy case and imprisoned for fourteen years (Hussain: 2016).

Abdullah is praised because he made a ‘revolutionary change’ in land reforms which lifted masses from crisis, socially and economically. And is doomed because “Nehru saw in Abdullah something of a reflection of himself” that led him walk away from the Kashmir’s freedom struggle which consumed his for 22 years.

He died in 1982.

Prem Nath Bazaz

Prem Nath Bazaz was a journalist who edited daily newspaper Hamdard. His influence forced Sheikh Abdullah to transform the then All Jammu Kashmir Muslim Conference to National Conference (NC) in order to facilitate minorities’ participation.

His association with Abdullah made him believe that Abdullah was a ‘visionless’ leader who was getting exploited through Indian National Congress – that eventually led him to support the Muslim Conference, and also became an impetus for the creation of Kisan Mazdoor Conference, a peasant movement led by Abdul Salam Yatoo.

Later, he turned Hamdard into MC’s ‘mouthpiece’, which earned him a serious backlash from Abdullah. He was fired upon by ‘NC bigots’, and subsequently arrested for three years, and forced to live in exile during Abdullah’s administration.

“Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris and neither the Maharaja had, nor any outsider has, however powerful he may be, any right to dictate anything about its future,” he wrote in 1954. Bazaz’s support for struggle against injustice made him vulnerable in his own community of which most had stakes in Dogra rule.

However, many blame Bazaz for softening his stand on India’s rule in Kashmir during the 1960s; even then, he still favoured a distinct position for the state of Kashmir.

His opposition of Abdullah-Indira Accord in 1975 landed him in an orchestrated union between Awami Action Committee of Mirwaiz Farooq and Political Conference of Mohi-ud-din Kara with the Janta Party of Morarji Desai (1977).

Bazaz’s important work remains: (i) Inside Kashmir – 1942, (ii) Azaad Kashmir: A Democratic Socialist Conception – 1951 (iii) History of Struggle for Freedom of Kashmir – 1954, (iv) Daughters of Vitasa: A History of Kashmiri Women – 1959, (v) Kashmir in Crucible – 1967, (vi) Democracy through intimidation and terror – 1978.

He died in 1984.

Abdul Aziz Mir

Born in Srinagar’s Rambagh in 1923, Abdul Aziz Mir did his graduation from Punjab University Lahore.Working as a columnist at newspaper Hamdard, he also edited Millat and Jawahar.

Mir was among the intelligentsia who were banished from the Kashmir for their ‘radical’ views. Christopher Snidden writes Mir was “the font of information”. He was the motivation behind the peasant movement, Kisan Mazdoor Conference, started by Abdul Salam Yatoo, after taking inspiration from M N Roy.

In exile, he started a weekly newspaper Awaz-e-Haq from Rawalpindi and worked as secretary general of Muslim Conference. His paper was banned in 1958. He was arrested for nine months under Defense of Pakistan Rules for he always questioned Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. It was Mir’s efforts that changed the perspective within Pakistan about assessing Kashmir. “Unless Kashmir policy of Pakistan is “Valley-centric” and oriented towards democratic governance of Azad Kashmir, it is unlikely to succeed,” Mir believed (Hussain: 2016).

Upon his release, he, along with Maqbool Bhat established The Plebiscite Front in Pakistan administered Kashmir and Pakistan, while acting as its secretary general. His association with Maqbool ended after he realized Maqbool was ‘taking advantage of party’s president position’, for creating JKLF without taking other members in cognizance.

According to Mir, the way Hindus and Muslims are two nations, same way Kashmiri Muslims and Muslims of Indo-Pak subcontinent are two different entities. “We should not overlook either of these facts to achieve our objectives. I favor an autonomous Kashmir within the federation of Pakistan,” Mir believed.

His writings have appeared in The Pakistan Times, The Muslim, Frontier Post, Mag and journals of Pakistan.

He died in 2000.

Ashfaq Majeed Wani

What iconic Burhan Wani became to the youth in 2017, Ashfaq Majeed Wani was for the young men in 1990s. Like Burhan, he was also an Islamist ideologically. At a young age, his demeanor and political consciousness reflect that he was ahead of his times. Hailed to be a fountainhead of the guerrilla warfare in Kashmir, his stature has only increased ever since.

Grown up in the dingy Sarai Balla in Srinagar’s city, Ashfaq was a science student at Shri Pratab Higher Secondary School when he founded Islamic Student League with the help of other like-minded friends. Soon, he rose up in his ‘circle’ and became the area commander of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front in 1988.

He often refused to take refuge inside houses, and he would sleep inside pipes in Srinagar’s Idgah on many occasions. However, a day after the incident, on March 29, 1990, when eleven people including a child sleeping in the lap of his mother was killed by Central Reserve Police Force in downtown Srinagar, Ashfaq attempted a counter attack at Hawal where he was killed.

Prior to his death, in an interview to a foreign television news channel, he opined: “We are all agreed on one point, that is, we have to get India out of this country (i.e. Kashmir). And, secondly as Muslims, our basic fundamental lies in our being Muslim. We have our energies reserved in Islam and we want to utilize it at this juncture of our history. Since we don’t believe that religion and politics are separate we will have to adopt a theo-democratic approach.”

Honorable Mentions

Yaqoob Sarfi, Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas and Ghulam Ahmad Mehjoor


(The list has been prepared by the author and doesn’t necessary reflect FPK’s view. An independent journalist from Kashmir, Beigh is a graduate from Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, JMI, New Delhi.)

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