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Khirm, Sirhama - 1948

When a Dacoity looked like ‘Raiders’ attack

By Kuldeep Raina

Sirhama and Khirm are the two picturesque villages located on Bijbehara-Pahalgam road. Khirm is the last Kashmiri village, which opens above into Ashtadhar-Wularhama forests. While Khirm is one and a half km away from Sirhama, the latter is close to the main road and nine kms from the tehsil headquarters of Bijbehara.

Sirhama, derived from Suryahama has remained a great centre of Sun-Worship in by-gone times and also finds mention in the Amreshvar Mahatmya.

In 1948 there were eighteen Pandit families-all Bhats, who lived in Sirhama. There were just six Pandit families, Rainas and Bhats in Khirm. It was the first day of the moon-lit fortnight of Savan and the other day villagers were going to celebrate Idd. The impact of the raiders’ attack was still fresh in the minds of people, as raiders had been pushed across just three months back.

Attack:

In the evening, villagers had come out of their houses to look for the moon. A few Pandits had also joined them. Moon had been sighted, but suddenly the tranquility was disturbed by the shouts of Jia Lal, son of Thokur Bhat. He was trying to warn the villagers that the raiders had come. The villagers thought he was making fool of them. Soon the sound of a firing shot was also head. It was around 8 PM and darkness was gradually setting in.

The raiders’ had the reputation of looting and killing Kashmiri Pandits. When the first news of “raiders” reached Sirhama, Gh. Qadir Dar had come out with a lamp in his hand. He was going to invite the “raiders” to his home for dinner so as to give time to Pandits to flee. As the light of the lamp made the movement of “raiders” visible, the intruders got annoyed and fired at Gh Qadir. A bullet hit him in the abdomen and he collapsed down.

The family of late Sat Lal Bhat had a marriage function to be solemnized the following month. They had stocked everything for this purpose. After the firing shot was heard, the family shifted the women-folk to the house of a neighbour Ghani Nengroo. Sham Lal Bhat, son of late Sat Lal Bhat hid himself among the bhang bushes. His two brothers, Gopi Nath and Shamboo Nath accompanied other Pandits, who went to inform police. Mirza Afzal Beg, the Revenue Minister was also camping in Anantnag. After half an hour, the family managed to retrieve 4-5 boxes, containing valuables and hid these in the bushes.

Massacre:

Soon three more shots were heard. Sat Bhat, Raghav Bhat and Tarachand were closely related. Their houses formed sort of a single complex. These families were taking dinner. They used to keep bored-firearms to protect maize from bears. ‘Raiders’, numbering 10-15 in number forced their way into their houses. They called Sat Bhat, Tarachand and Raghav Bhat down and lined them up. Sat Bhat was shot in the temple. He died on spot. Raghav Bhat was injured in the thigh. Tarachand was lucky and received a mere kissing injury.

‘Raiders’ went to search all the Pandit houses in the locality. It took them three hours. Gold and double blankets (Jora Pachi) were special attractions for looters. Ladies handed over Tulsi, Talraz and Dejhoors. The ‘raiders’ broke upon the metal boxes to see if any money was hidden. A family had hidden silver coins in ash in a wok. This was taken away.

Raiders also thrashed few Muslims. When raiders entered the house of late Sat Lal Bhat, Razak Rather, the numberdar had tried to mislead them. He told them the house belonged to a Muslim family. Rather was thrashed by the raiders. Few pushthu-speaking villagers from the neighbouring Dodu were moving with the raiders and possibly helping in the identification.

The Muslim families had also fled from their homes. Only the brave ones had stayed behind. Injured Raghav had been taken by the villagers to the hospital in Bijbehara. The incident created tremendous fear among the villagers, who did not dare enter their houses again. When the raiders first reached Sirhama, they had tried to befriend local Muslims, telling them to save their lives. The killing of Qadir Dar was ample warning to Pandits that no one could save them.

Khirm:

From Sirhama the ‘raiders’ went to loot Khirm Pandits. The Pandits had taken dinner and gone to sleep. Mrs. Gopi Nath Raina, holding her 2½ year old son in her lap was still awake. There was a gentle knock at the door. It was Nand Lal. Before Mrs. Gopi Nath could respond, he left to knock at the door of Narayan Joo. Nandlal told Narayan Joo that raiders had reached Sirhama. He had gone to Sirhama to meet the Patwari. Nandlal added that the raiders had already killed two people in Sirhama and advised him to immediately shift the family somewhere. Naryanan Joo felt terribly disturbed. Nandlal also woke up other Pandit families. Sona Kak’s family escaped to the neighbouring Ashtadhar forests. Naryanan Joo’s family and others escaped to surrounding villages.

The ‘raiders’ fired a few more shots. Sona Kak’s two sons Amarnath and Dina Nath came down from the forest to find out what the firing was all about. When they reached home, they found two raiders’ standing guard at the main door of the house. Other ‘raiders’ had gone in to collect the loot. The raiders took Amarnath  and Dina Nath as captives.

Meanwhile their brother Gopi Nath also reached home. He too was caught. Somehow Dina Nath managed to escape. After bringing the looted goods down, they packed these into bundles. They then went to loot other Pandits houses of the locality. Nidhan Bhat, son of Bhagwan Dass and Shavjee, son of Thokar Ram were also taken as hostages.

Gh. Mohd. Bhat was among the first to learn that raiders were likely to come to Khirm. His in-laws lived in Sirhama and they had intimated him. Gh. Mohd. decided to inform Pandits. Before he could reach Pandits' locality, the raiders caught hold of him. They asked him to show his house. He was a rich man. The ‘raiders’, information was accurate as they were guided by the Pushtu-speaking locals from Dodi. Gh. Mohd. led the raiders to some other house. As the raiders entered that house, Gh. Mohd. escaped.

The ‘Raiders’ loaded the looted goods on the shoulders of Amarnath, Gopinath, Nidhan Bhat and fled towards forest. The ‘raiders’ told Amarnath since he was a bachelor they would try to arrange a match for him. When raiders and the hostages had walked 8 kms, they decided to rest. Hasan Gujar, the tenant of Sona Kak lived here. The ‘raiders’ demanded food from him. ‘Raiders’ were four in number, while others were locals from Dodi. One of these locals was quit friendly to the hostages. They too decided to befriend him and requested him to help them escape. The local man from Dodi told them, “Sirhama Pandits have gone to inform the police. When the police will come, I will blow the whistle. You should run away then.”

Police Station:

Meanwhile Sirhama Pandit delegation met Mirza Afzal Beg and related what had happened. Gopi Nath, son of late Sat Lal Bhat was a good friend of the Revenue Minister. Mirza Beg told Pandits, “How is this possible that the raiders have descended on Sirhama. We have already pushed them back”. The Revenue Minister made them wait till 5 AM. Mirza Afzal Beg along with a big contingent of police left for Sirhama at 5 AM. Why the police was not sent immediately remains a mystery? Sirhama Pandits had met Mirza Beg at 9 PM. The police force under the leadership of SHO Prithvi Nath ‘doctor’ chased the ‘raiders’ right upto Gutli Bagh. The dacoits threw the looted goods into Sindh. One of the dacoits was reported killed. As soon as the police reinforcements reached the foot of Ashtadhar forest, the Dodi local whistled the hostages to run away. They freed themselves as the ‘raiders’ were deep asleep and began descending down through the short-routes.

When the hostages reached Herakhal, the local maidan, the whole Khirm had assembled to give them a grand reception. They embraced and fondled them in sheer joy. It looked like a festive occasion. The villagers accompanied the freed people to their homes.

Retrospection:

Earlier in the morning Dina Nath, son of Sona Kak (Khirm) had brought his family from Ashtadhar forests to home. A family member recalled, “It looked as if ghosts had descended down on our house. Clay and dust was all strewn around. The looters had broke open the boxes and made topsy-turvy of these. They had taken away everything”.

In Sirhama not only Pandit ladies had gone in hiding but the whole village had taken shelter in the neighbouring villages of Mahind, Nowshehr, Hogam and Wapzan.

As the dust settled down, people and the administrators began re-thinking on the entire episode. Was it a raiders’ attack or simply a dacoity committed under the guise of raiders? Surmises were made that the attack may have been the handiwork of some group of raiders, who may have stayed back. Others said the ‘raiders’ were from Gutlibagh, a village inhabited by Pathans. Some generations ago, few of these Pathans had come to Marhama (Dodi) and settled there. The two groups may have collaborated to commit a dacoity. As the raid was fresh in the public mind, the dacoits used it as a cover. Lastly the terrain was also favourable. Sirhama is the first entry point into the forest, while Khirm was the last village. In Kashmir myths and the history mingle too often.

*The author is General Secretary, Panun Kashmir

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

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