KASHMIRI PANDIT LEADERS
Liberation of Kashmir
by Narender Sehgal
Kashmiri Hindus did not lose courage despite being victim of atrocities during 500 year barbaric rule of the foreigners. When the Hindu state was established in Punjab, Kashmiri Pandits, through their adroitness and alertness, established contact with Maharaja Ranjit Singh and established Hindu Government in the state. The hero of this work was Birbal Dhar.
The trend of religious conversion, which started with the reign of Shahmir, continued, without any interruption, for 500 years till the rule of the last Afghan ruler, Ajim Khan. The erstwhile Hindu Kashmir was converted to a Muslim state on the strength of the sword. During this era all cruel and destructive means were adopted for destroying the Hindu society but despite these cruel and inhuman measures foreign rulers could not finish the basic society of Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits, while maintaining their tradition of unique sacrifices, protected the Indian value of life.
Pandits did not accept defeat
The basic nationalist society of Kashmir had become tired while tolerating and facing atrocities up to the last Afghan Subedar's rule. But their mind for struggle was not tired. The major section of the Pandits was still capable of facing this situation with novel style and this section achieved success through their great sacrifice.
The last Subedar, Ajim Khan, felt the need of involving capable Pandits for running the administration systematically after silencing the flames of anarchy and mutual conflict. It is condemnable but a reality that every Muslim ruler in Kashmir fully banked on the calibre and wisdom of Pandits for running the state administration and for fulfilling their political objectives and then destroyed the Pandits, their families and their religion for their political interests.
This Subedar, Ajim Khan, too obediently followed the demonic traditions of his ancestors and entrusted all the powers of the government to Pt. Birbal Dhar, Pt. Sukh Ram and Mirza Pandit. These three Hindu sardars were competent administrators. But the Muslim sardars incited the Subedar against them by levelling baseless charges of embezzlement and misappropriation of Government funds. The Subedar ordered confiscation of the family property of Birbal after levelling false charge of embezzling crores of rupees. With this the Hindu society came under the cloud of misfortune. Ajim Khan gave full freedom to Muslims sardars for annihilating the remaining Pandits.
Pt. Birbal staked his life
Prominent Pandits of Kashmir decided to protect the Hindu society in this situation. A secret meeting was organised for carrying out the sacred duty of protecting their society in the interest of nationalism. Political, religious and social Hindu leaders from the entire state participated in the meeting which was held in the house of Mirza Pandit. Some decisions were taken after a day-long deliberations.
The question pertained not only to Kashmir but to whole of India. The question related not only to the Pandit society of Kashmir but to the misfortune having befallen the entire Hindu society. There was need for resolving this misfortune on the national instead of the regional level. After the deliberation it was decided to approach Maharaja Ranjit Singh for help. The responsibility of meeting the Maharaja was given to the seasoned person like Birbal Dhar.
Support of patriotic Muslims
Faint outlines of this plan became known to the Subedar. He immediately summoned Mirza Pandit and enquired from him about the plan but Mirza Pandit cleverly pacified the Subedar. By then Birbal Pandit had left the house alongwith his son, Raja Kak, in disguise. After halting at Devsar, away from Srinagar, the father and the son left for their onward journey. With the help of the local Muslim society they succeeded in crossing the Pir Panjal. These Muslims performed their duties towards the nation by giving assistance to them and the names of such Muslims will shine in the history of Kashmir.
The Subedar and the Muslim courtiers were highly irked and intrigued by the way Pandit Birbal and his son duped the Subedar and crossed the Pir Panjal with the help of some Muslims. On hearing about it, the Subedar rushed his soldiers who carried out massive search operations in the entire country but by then the arrow was out of the bow.
Those patriotic Maliks who helped Birbal and his son in going out of the state were hunted and killed. Those houses, in which Birbal and his son had stayed, were set ablaze and the family members in those houses were burnt to death alive. Their lands were seized and all Government grant and facilities were stopped in all those villages where Birbal and his son had crossed and stayed. The Subedar called Mirza Pandit for talks and the two discussed the situation. During this discussion Mirza Pandit concealed the plan of Birbal. He told the Subedar that if Birbal was successful in reaching the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, he would return to Kashmir with Hindu troops or otherwise go to Haridwar for penance.
It inflamed the Subedar. He was confident that Birbal would be successful in his mission. He was aware of the patriotism of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his faith on Hindutva and his powerful country. The Subedar turned mad with anger and through his dexterity Mirza Pandit weakened all the defence of the Subedar. The Subedar started visualising the fall of the Muslim rule in Kashmir.
Subedar Ajim Khan started grumbling like an insane animal and whosoever confronted him was killed. When he got wary of all this he ordered that all the women of the family of Birbal Pandit be arrested and brought in front of him. But in this field also he had to face defeat.
Farewell from brave wife
When Pandit Birbal initiated the plan he had visualised such a possible attitude of the Subedar. He had the inkling of his wife and children getting killed and insulted. He had decided to give this sacrifice in the interest of the nation. He had preferred safety of the land of Kashmir, the Indian culture and the Hindu society to the gradual sacrifice of individual families. Before his departure Birbal Pandit had met his wife who bid farewell to him with her tearful eyes and with the assurance that she would never hesitate performing her duties even if she had to undergo severe pains and miseries. While placing her hands in the hands of her husband she had pledged that she would not hesitate embracing death and will not allow any foreigner to touch her body so long she was alive. How emotional farewell would it have been for Birbal when he was confronted by his wife pledging to sacrifice herself for the cause of the nation?
Her son, Raja Kak, too touched his mother's feet for seeking her blessings. She embraced her son knowing fully well that that meeting with her son was the last. She entrusted her son to the care of his father and bid a customary farewell to her husband and son who had to go on a right course of action. Both the son and the father left the house with their chin up and the brave husband saw his brave wife the last time and the son waved his hand to his mother. The brave mother went inside the temple for prayer. She worshipped both Shiva and his trident and her daughter-in-law, wife of Raja Kak, too joined her in her prayers.
Patriotism of Qadis Khan and Pandit Bassa Ram
Prior to his departure, Birbal Pandit had entrusted the task of protection of his family to one of his trusted Muslim associates, Qadis Khan Gojwari. Therefore, both the mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law, went to the house of Qadis Khan.
The soldiers of Ajim Khan launched a massive hunt for the two women but Qadis Khan had made elaborate arrangements for their security and the two women were made part of the family in order to prevent any suspicion from taking shape.
One Hindu, Pandit Bassa Ram, knew about the whereabouts of the two women. He had left the two women in the house of Qadis Khan. Bassa Ram was a close friend of Birbal Pandit. Subedar Ajim Khan learnt about the whereabouts of Bassa Ram who was arrested and brought to the subedar. The Subedar gave him the allurements of estates, gold and top post in the Government but the strong-willed Pandit refused to divulge anything. The Subedar ordered that the Pandit should be tortured For nine days he was kept hungry and was subjected to torture. His flesh was peeled off with hot iron rods. His eyes were gouged out and for each of these nine days he was fined Rs. 9,000. But when he refused to open his mouth despite undergoing all these ordeals and tortures, on the 10th day his belly was ripped open with red hot sword and this way Bassa Ram Kak achieved martyrdom on the altar of the nation.
Subedar Azam Khan made all possible efforts to search out these two ladies but it was of no avail. Qadis Khan spared no efforts to hide them. It was destined that these two women would sacrifice their lives for Kashmir. This news reached Subedar through one of the trusted friends of Qadis Khan because of his selfishness and anti-national bent of mind. Whether this friend of Qadis Khan was Hindu or Muslim is not known from any historical source. It may be due to this fact that a traitor is to be condemned everywhere. The house was besieged by Qadis Khan because of the news of this hated person. Qadis Khan tried his best to hide these ladies but he was killed by Subedar's Soldiers. Both the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law were arrested.
While these ladies were being taken by Subedar's soldiers, the mother-in-law swallowed one diamond, she was having round her throat but the daughter-in-law could not do so. When both of them were brought before Subedar, the wife of Birbal looked at Azamkhan with contemptuous eyes and said bravely, "The reign of terror leashed against the Kashmiri Pandits will end and the rule of the Afghans will collapse. My husband and son have reached Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Darbar". She died before she could conclude her talk. She fulfilled her promise and did not allow any person to come bear her while she lived. Azamkhan was very much sad.
But Pandit Birbal's daughter-in-law and the wife of Raja Kak was sent to Kabul through one Afghan Subedar. There is a lot of difference between these two cultures. The students of history know when the Maratha soldiers defeated a Muslim Subedar at Kalyan near Pune, the weapons, artillery and the fort of the Subedar fell into the hands of the Marathas. The Maratha soldiers presented the young daughter-in-law of Muslim Subedar before Shivaji. Shivaji reprimanded his soldiers and asked them not to repeat such a type of action in future. Then, he addressed Subedar's daughter-in-law as "Mother" and offered her golden ornaments and sent her back to Subedar. Here lies the difference between these two cultures.
Father and son reached the destination
Pandit Birbal Dhar and his son, Raja Kak, were marching towards their destination carefully after surmounting many hurdles in the way. As a result of their strong faith in their objective they could secure assistance of many in the way. Many more Hindus from Kashmir followed Pandit Birbal. All these Hindus were successful in reaching the court of Maharaja Gulab Singh in Jammu. Maharaja Gulab Singh gave a letter for Raja Dhian Singh, Prime Minister of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and made arrangements for their trip to Lahore. On reaching Lahore, Raja Dhian Singh made arrangements for their meeting with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Pandit Birbal narrated the entire story to the Maharaja. He influenced the Maharaja with his oratory and learning.
The Maharaja listened to Birbal attentively. He was dismayed over the misfortune on Hindutva and Indianness in Kashmir. He felt that the entire problem should be viewed in the national context. He was a true Sikh who recalled the sacrifice of Guru Teg Bahadur. The picture of young children of Shri Gobind Singh being embedded in the wall loomed large in front of his eyes. He could see the severed head of Hakikat. After discussing the matter with his assiociates the Maharaja immediately ordered that the troops be kept ready. He suggested to Birbal to remain with the Army officers for acquainting them with the topography of the state. Pandit Birbal accepted all the conditions and kept his son in the Lahore court as a pawn.
When Subedar of Kashmir, Ajim Khan learnt about it and about the ensuing invasion of Kashmir by the Sikh soldiers, he felt scared. He felt he would be asked to give an account of all his evil deeds. He was so terrified that he sent his harem, his entire gold and wealth to Kabul under the supervision of Sehaj Ram. After some days he also left Kashmir and handed over power to his brother, Jabbar Khan. Even while fleeing Kashmir Ajim Khan committed condemnable act of taking a wealthy Pandit, Suraj Tikoo, with him so that he could grab his wealth. But when he could not lay his hand on anything the Subedar killed Suraj Tikoo near Baramulla.
Victory campaign of Sikh soldiers
Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent his five top and brave Army commanders along with 30,000 soldiers to Kashmir under the guidance of Pandit Birbal. Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu, and other powerful Army officers including Hari Singh Nalwa, Jwala Singh, Hukum Singh and Shyam Singh uprooted the troops of Jabbar Khan with their might. Jabbar Khan took to his heels. The Sikh soldiers emerged victorious and this way brought about an end of the Afghan rule. On June 20, 1819 A.D. Pandit Birbal entered with Sikh soldiers into Kashmir as a victor. Even the Muslim historians have praised the contribution of Pandit Birbal.
According to Mohd. Din Fak, Pandit Birbal was a person of bright character. In his view any great sacrifice was much too small for any noble cause. He was not perturbed even by the suicide of his loyal wife, abduction and forcible conversion of his daughter-in-law and by the merciless killings of his friends and relations. He kept on marching with determination on his path so that he could throw out the Afghans from his country. But in the hour of his triumph he did not forget his Muslim countrymen and his duty. The Sikhs wanted to loot the city but he came in their way. And when Phool Singh started demolishing the sacred shrine of Shah Hamdan, Pandit Birbal, without caring for his safety, told Phool Singh that the history will condemn him for his evil deed. This deed of Birbal is sufficient to make him immortal. He is a symbol of innate qualities of Pandits and of their permanent strength to fight the onslaughts of time.
A question worth consideration
The character of Pandit Birbal reveals that if a single person desires, he can change the course of history. Success is assured if one remains above self-interest and works with dedication and determination during the hour of national crisis. The role played by Pandit Birbal and his son for finishing the cruel rulers of Kashmir has its background in the encouragement of two great women who lost and sacrificed everything for completing the national task.
Had Pandit Birbal desired he would have sought revenge after his victory. He could have avenged the destruction of temples and educational institutions during the last 500 years from mosques and tombs. He could have reconverted those who had been forced to adopt Islam but as a great man he did nothing like this.
In the context of the current problem in Kashmir it is worth consideration and debate whether Pandit Birbal should have destroyed all the foreigners on Kashmir and all their signs with his sword under the "tit for tat" policy in consonance with the requirements of history, political wisdom and in order to caution foreign powers in the future.
Temples echoed with the sound of Arti (prayer)
After conquering Kashmir, the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh lasted for 27 years. During this period 10 Governors were appointed in Kashmir. The Government policies were liberal and the victimisation and suppression of Hindus by Muslims had stopped. Muslim landlords, who would commit atrocities daily, took to their heels and the women folk used to live and roam about honourably and freely. Bells in the temples started ringing and the tunes of Arti reverberated in the temples and it seemed as if the golden age had dawned again.
But with the advent of this era no such system and practices were adopted which could have given a permanent and stable shape to this era. It was never thought that this era would end some day and result in the same age of darkness. After achieving freedom from 500-year long slavery no attempt was made to link the state with its ancient foundation. No plan was formulated for the renovation of the ruined temples and the centres of culture, education and spiritualism. There was no possibility of starting activities in order to strengthen nationalism because by this time the British had established their foothold in rest of the country.
Maharaja Gulab Singh
During his lifetime, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had appointed Gulab Singh as the ruler of this state. But in 1846 under the Amritsar Agreement, which was forged after the battle between the Sikhs and the British, the Britishers secured penalty for the Sikh-British war from Gulab Singh even after recognising him as the ruler of Kashmir. One British agent was appointed in Kashmir. In Reality the Britishers established their control over Gulab Singh through the Agent.
Chivalry of Gen. Zorawar Singh
Gulab Singh converted Jammu and Kashmir to a strong state by uniting small states with the help of his military missions and political influence. Through the efforts of Gen. Zorawar Singh, well adept in mountain warfare, Gulab Singh annexed Ladakh. This brave Gen. Zorawar Singh attained martyrdom while fighting the war in the mountain region of Ladakh. Famous historian, K.M. Pannikar, has praised his troop command and war tactics. He has written that it is most amazing to see him carry the soldiers to the heights of 15000 ft. above the sea level in Ladakh and Baltistan's snow covered cliffs where it is difficult for the people from the plains to live because of paucity of oxygen. Carrying the troops to these heights more than six times and launching one attack after the other for conquering the state in order to establish peace is unique and matchless in the history of India. His greatness as a great soldier will shine in the pages of the history of India.
Maharaja Ranbir Singh
After Gulab Singh his son, Maharaja Ranbir Singh, occupied the throne of Jammu and Kashmir. People remember him as an ideal Hindu king because of his interest in Hindutva, Sanskrit and the Indian culture. He opened many centres for the teaching and study of Sanskrit, built libraries and made efforts for re-establishing the values of Hindu life. Under the guidance of this Maharaja a Dharmarth Trust was set up for the construction of many temples. As a result of these efforts a wave of Hindutva swept the state. The Hindu society too started to get up and the people of Kashmir became impatient in restoring to the state its ancient glory.
Anti-national crime of Pandits
The impact of the wave of Hindutva was so powerful that even the converted people started making up their mind for adopting the religion of their ancestors. Muslims from Poonch and Rajouri and some from the Kashmir valley assembled and appealed to the court of Maharaja Ranbir Singh praying that they be accepted in their basic Hindu religion. It can be treated a misfortune for the country that some contractors of religion always tried to create hurdles. When the Maharaja asked the Pandits about the reconversion of their relations, the Pandits clearly refused to accept them back in Hindu religion. These very Pandits had not allowed Rinchan to adopt Hindu religion which led to the trampling of Kashmir under the feet of Muslim rulers for 500 years. And when the Muslims expressed their wish to return to the Hindu religion, these very Pandits created obstacles because of their narrow outlook.
Had the Maharaja himself declared the converted people as Hindus, the problem would have ended for ever. History can never forgive the Pandits for this antinational work.
When Raja Pratap Singh succeeded Maharaja Ranbir Singh, he had to face opposition from his younger brother, Amar Singh. Amar Singh had challenged the occupation of the throne by Pratap Singh. The British Government assisted Maharaja Pratap Singh and this way it further strengthened its foothold in the state. The British Government appointed political Agents in Srinagar, Leh and Gilgit.
A British Parliamentarian, William Digwe, had given an account of the political powers of these agents. He has written that the powers of the Resident have been supreme and the fact is that one cannot do anything without written orders from him. His wish is law, he is a ruler. He has allowed himself to be surrounded by sycophants and friends and has ousted old and loyal servants of the Government. No one, in that country, can open one's mouth and in case any weakling raises a voice of protest, he is warned of dire consequences.
Maharaja Hari Singh stood for complete independence
Maharaja Hari Singh ascended the throne of Kashmir after Maharaja Pratap Singh. On assuming the throne this young ruler brought about many constitutional reforms in the state. Having been baptised in the Indian culture, Hindutva etc the Maharaja was a nationalist. His patriotism is testified by the way he supported total independence for India as a representative of the Chamber of Princess in the roundtable conference in London in 1931. The Maharaja said candidly "It is the first occasion when the Indian princes have come to discuss the political future of India with the representatives of the British Government and the British India. As Indians we want our motherland to enjoy a place of honour and equality in the British Union".
For the first time in the British rule in India that a ruler of a state had raised the question of India's independence with determination. The British Government was alerted. Feeling that patriotism of Hari Singh may come in the way of their scheme, the Britishers started hatching conspiracies for creating an atmosphere of opposition for the Maharaja. They thought of projecting a Kashmiri leader as a British "stooge" and the then Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, projected Sheikh Abdullah in the guise of the "stooge" through Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.