Recently as the exiled king of Kashmir fared on the media, the debate started about his tragic life turn and how his ‘descendent’ became his grave custodian at Biswak in Bihar. Now, the tricked king’s another ‘descendent’ settled in Qatar has come with his “myth-busting” response to the sudden ‘shout out’ at the last native sovereign.
Lately, there has been a paroxysm of sorts, primarily on various social media platforms, concerning the final, resting place of Kashmir’s last king, the legendary Yusuf Shah Chak.
With noble aspirations of sparing his people from the undue bloodshed, the king accepted a peace invitation from the Mughul Emperor Akbar in 1586.
Tragically, upon his arrival into the Mughal Imperial Court, he was arrested, imprisoned, and eventually coerced to live out his last, miserable days in Bihar – far away from his beloved homeland.
Since that day, this despondent tale of dispossession has been woven into the very tapestry of Kashmiri society, retold in every Kashmiri household ever since.
Henceforth, when India’s English daily The Hindu recently picked up the story, they had no clue that it would ignite such immeasurable angst. Unbeknownst to them, the story led to a massive outpouring of sentiment targeting Indian hegemony in Kashmir.
But the question is — Why has the story gone viral?
The answer rests in the complex intersection of Kashmir’s contested history, electoral politics and New Delhi’s attempts of undermining Kashmiri agency through deliberate obfuscation of both its past and present.
In the betrayal, capture, and death of King Yusuf Shah the entire tormented, ongoing tragedy of Kashmiris resonates, and is relived, again and again.
Today, Kashmiris feel that very same sorrow – of treachery, captivity and, humiliation as a consequence of the dominance of the unyielding state.
Therefore, in a very living sense, King Yusuf Shah’s grave serves as a powerful symbol; reminding us of a sordid tale of deception and denial, in which his wife’s, the poetess Habba Khatoon’s melancholic hymns etch the pathology of longing, unrequited love and perfidy in the hearts and minds of generations upon generations of Kashmiris.
It goes without saying, that history/historical personalities are always contested. This contestation is heightened in a state of subjugation and suppression, in which case it becomes ever more insidious.
Accordingly, in the context of Kashmir, the unforgiving state utilizes several strategies to capture the natural, positive development of those it subjugates. After all, the nature of hegemony is to usurp, belittle or erase alternative histories that could compete with their narratives. It is no different in Kashmir, where, almost singularly, the target is Kashmiri Muslim identity; its past, people, religion and culture.
This hegemon, whether pseudo-secular or avowedly Hindutva, is exclusively interested in surrender. And, is terrified at any signs of struggle.
Henceforth, the ‘people’ must be undervalued – especially their heroes, even negated, at all costs. Whether that means emasculating them, or inventing traditions, or propagation of a fictitious Kashmiriyat or celebrating a docile Kashmiri Muslim identity.
All this, in order to prevent them from claiming their rightful inheritance as the dominant ethical /political force.
Similarly, in this light, we should understand the pervasiveness and interest in the grave of King Yusuf Shah Chak as a strong, indomitable symbol of struggle.
When the recent piece in The Hindu titled ‘Grave of an exiled Kashmiri king lies in ruins in Bihar’ talked about the condition of this symbol of Kashmir’s history, it had already been given a facelift. Dr. Khalid Latif Chak, a New Jersey based Doctor, had reached out to Yasir Chak, the caretaker and claimant descendent of the King, and financed the renovation of the historic site.
Even though, Kashmiri history is replete with narrations of courage, bravery and dedication, apologists have distorted Kashmiri history to humiliate the life-force of the people.
This is the how the hegemon, first takes your beliefs, muddles your history, disparages your dignity, then, ends your life.
Still, it is not enough.
Through literature, sloppy academics and false history, the attempts to undermine the true picture continues. Specifically, the entire story of the Chaks provides ample evidence of this.
The Chaks have existed in the Valley, and surrounding areas, since the late 12th to early 13th century. Factually, the Chaks arrived in Kashmir, traversing through Dardistan – though are not ethnic Dards.
Historically speaking, two brothers named Hilmat and Hikmat Chak, would become the scions of two major branches of the Chak tribe – Trehgam Chaks and Kupwara Chaks. Since that time until now, they’ve been intermarrying into the local Kashmiri population. Hence, over the course of the successive eight centuries, Chaks became indistinguishable from other Kashmiris.
Moreover, several historians document the familial relations Chaks developed with leading Kashmiri families, including the Shahmiris, Sayyids, Magreys, Dar and Bhats. In fact, soon after Chaks arrived into Kashmir, they were welcomed under the patronage of the Shahmiri Dynasty, even intermarrying with them on several recorded instances.
In spite of this, Kashmiris are constantly being informed that Chaks were foreigners.
This absurd claim is repeated ad nauseum only to falsely convince Kashmiris that the courage of the Chaks is something alien, foreign and does not belong to them. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
But again, many claim that Chaks are originally from Gurez. At first, when I came across this statement, I spoke to the elders in my family. They rubbished the claims.
Chaks have no association to Gurez, historical or otherwise. In fact, there is no evidence to base the association of Chaks, in both oral tradition or written in any historical text, to that area.
And then, the question arises, who is declaring this association of Gurez to Chaks, and why?
Consider this: the militarized area of Gurez—nestled near Line of Control—produces little opposition. In fact, a few months back a propagandist, misleading piece in the New York Times spoke of Gurez as ideal Kashmiri oasis of peace in Kashmir. This, because, it has submitted in the face of massive military footprints.
Raking Gurez roots of King Chak is to give an impression: ‘You see, your hero had to submit, so did his people…’
The arsenal employed by apologists is multifaceted and sophisticated. It targets, most devilishly, the cultural and ideological fabric of society, the sense of self-worth and attempts to undermine religious convictions – or convictions of any sort.
In particular, take two popular medieval accounts – Baharistan-i-Shahi and Tohfatul Ahbab, poorly translated by Kashinath Pandit. How this sloppy academic has manipulated history is quite telling.
In the Baharistan-i-Shahi, Pandit’s Persian to English translation takes considerable liberties and negates every instance of that classic text referring to India as a foreign land.
Moreover, the translator goes as far to ridiculously suggest that among the early Chaks to arrive in the valley was Langar Chak who was actually named ‘Alamachakra’. Yet, he doesn’t offer a single piece of evidence to support this statement.
Again, to feed the false imaginary of greater Hindutva, even the much-acclaimed Indian academic, Chitralekha Zutshi’s book Kashmir’s Contested Pasts: Narratives, Sacred Geographies, and the Historical Imagination is riddled with precisely that – imaginary facts, especially when talking about Kashmir’s history, just in a more sophisticated manner.
Zutshi falsely equates India to Kashmir and unsubstantiated claim of the Chak name being a distortion of Chakra. Again, no evidence is provided and someone writing for Oxford University Press should do better.
Yet, no amount of disingenuous scholarship can alter the hard reality that Kashmir has its own unique history and culture. And to uphold that, Kashmiris have been collectively struggling.
And therefore, courage is not just the domain of a select few individuals or families – as some would have us believe. It is the heritage of all Kashmiris. The story of Kashmir’s last native king tells us the same thing.
Dr. Farhan Mujahid Chak (PhD) is the Manager of the Leadership and Civic Engagement Department and an Associate Professor of Political Science, Qatar University.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir. Feedback and counterviews on the debate are welcome at [email protected]
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