Maharaj Krishen Raina

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Afghan Rule in Kashmir

By Maharaj Krishen Raina

The period from 1752 to 1819 AD is considered the darkest period in the history of Kashmir. This was the time when Afghans ruled Kashmir and unleashed a reign of terror on the Kashmiri people, especially the Kashmiri Pandits. Under persecution, most of the KPs migrated to places outside Kashmir. Those who stayed back, were either forcibly converted to Islam or ruthlessly killed. It is said that only 11 KP families survived death.

How did Afghans take over the reigns of Kashmir?

According to Prof. Somnath Dhar, the death of Aurangzeb spelled the disintegration of the Mughal empire. The later Mughals, embroiled in internal dissensions, hardly cared for Kashmiris. Governors appointed by the Mughal emperors would nominate deputies to carry on administration on their behalf. Hindus and Shias were persecuted in the one-year regime of one such nominee Mir Ahmed Khan. Things came to a head with Ahmed Shah Abdali establishing supremacy over Afghanistan and making successful forays into north-western India. In 1753, he established Afghan rule in Kashmir. P.N.K.Bamzai adds: 'While back at Lahore (after his struggle with Muin-ul-Mulk, the governor of Punjab in 1751 when Ahmad Shah Abdali over ran the province and also entered into a treaty with emperor Ahmad for ceding Punjab and Multan to Afghanistan), Ahmad Shah Abdali received an invitation from the leaders of Kashmir to rid the kingdom of cruel governors of the decadent Mughal emperors, and bring it directly under his rule. He sent a strong force of Afghans under his lieutenant Ishk Aqasi on this mission, who after overcoming stiff resistance put up by the Mughal forces in Kashmir, annexed the territory to the expanding kingdom of Abdali.'

Walter R. Lawrence writes: 'As the Mughal empire began to decay, the subahs in Kashmir became independent and high-handed, and in the reign of the emperor Muhamad Shah, the Hindus were greatly oppressed by Abdul Gani and Mulla Sharf-ud-din. Kalashpura, a Hindu ward of the city was set on fire and the Hindus were forbidden to wear turbans. In this reign, the subahs fought among themselves and Kashmir fell into wild disorder. By the year AD 1751, the office of subah of Kashmir appears to have become hereditary and practically independent of Delhi. Then the unfortunate valley passed into the hands of new masters and Kashmir became subject to the Pathan rule, the cruellest and worst of all.'

Pathan governors were known for their savagery and inhuman treatment of Kashmiris in general, and Pandits in particular. Says Forster, "During my residence in Kashmir, I often witnessed the harsh treatment which the common people received at the hands of their masters , who rarely issued an order without a blow of the side of their hatchet, a common weapon of the Afghans. (The) extreme rigour has sensibly affected the deportment and manners of Kashmirians who shrink with dread from the Afghan oppression."

The first Afghan chief to rule Kashmir was Abdullah Khan Isk Aquasi (1753-54). He lined up all the rich Kashmiris and ordered them to part with their wealth or face death. He extracted one crore rupees from the local merchants. It is said that some traders committed suicide because of his torture. J.L.Kilam has this to say about Isk Aquasi: "Aqasi did not stay in Kashmir for more than six months, but even during this short period, he made the ruin of the country complete and left no stone unturned in giving the people a correct idea of what the future would be like. The houses of the poor and rich alike were plundered. Huge fines were imposed on the people. Their property was pillaged without mercy, and those people who incurred his displeasure, were murdered most brutally."

About Afghan rule in general, Walter R. Lawrence writes: 'When we pass from the Mughal period to the period of the Shahani Durani, we pass to a time of brutal tyranny, unrelieved by good works, chivalry and honour. Men with interest were appointed as governors who wrung as much money as they could out of the wretched people of the valley. Amir Khan Jawan Sher was perhaps the best of Pathan rulers, for at least he built the Amira Kadal bridge and the palace of Shergarhi, but on the other hand he showed petty spite in destroying the Mughal gardens on the Dal. Other Pathan rulers are now only remembered for their brutality and cruelty and it is said of them that they thought no more of cutting off heads than of plucking a flower.'

Regarding the miscalculation on part of the Kashmiris in inviting Afghans to rule Kashmir, PNK Bamzai writes: 'Their (Afghan's) rule reduced the Valley to the lowest depths of penury, degradation and slavery. While inviting the Afghans to take over the administration of the Valley, the Kashmiri nobles had mistaken them for a branch of the civilised and humane Mughal emperors of India. They had hoped that after the break up of the central Mughal power, Ahmad Shah Abdali and his successors would give them a stable administration. Little did they imagine that all the beauty and nobility, for which Kashmir and its people were famous, would be wiped off under their rule.'

Jagmohan has this to say about the invitation extended to Afghan rulers: 'Those who invited Ahmad Shah Abdali did not realise that they were really calling a barbarous horde to their garden of nature. The unfortunate people virtually jumped from the frying pan into the fire. And 67 years of brutal Afghan rule caused them untold miseries.'

During Afghan rule, there was a custom among the Pandits to send alongwith the bridegroom, another boy, called 'Pot Maharaza' who would also be dressed like the groom. In case some untoward event happened to the bridegroom, the 'Pot Maharaza' would immediately take his place. It is widely believed that the custom was introduced under stress because in the Pathan times, it was not uncommon for the bridegroom to be seized as he went to wed his bride.

How cruel were Afghans and how they tortured and brutally killed people in general and Pandits in particular? According to Lawrence, the victims of these fiends (Pathan rulers) were the Pandits, the Shias and the Bombas of the Jhelum valley. First in the rank of oppressors, comes Assad Khan who boasted that the savage Nadir Shah was his prototype. It was his practice to tie up the Pandits, two and two, in grass sacks and sink them in the Dal lake. As an amusement, a pitcher filled with ordure would be placed on a Pandit's head and Musalmans would pelt the pitcher with stones till it broke, the unfortunate Hindu being blinded with filth. Mir Hazar was another fiend who used leather bags instead of grass sacks for the drowning of Brahmans. He drowned Shias and Brahmans indiscriminately. A locality on the bank of Dal lake is still called Bata Mazar, the 'Graveyard of Pandits'. PNK Bamzai describes the terror unleashed by Afghans on Kashmiris like this: 'Rude was the shock that the Kashmiris got when they witnessed the first acts of barbarity at the hands of their new masters. Abdullah Khan Ishk Aqasi let loose a reign of terror as soon as he entered the Valley. Accustomed to looting and murdering the subjected people, his soldiers set themselves to amassing riches by the foulest means possible. The well-to-do merchants and noblemen of all communities were assembled together in the palace and ordered to surrender all their wealth on pain of death.' According to PNK Bamzai, those who had the audacity to complain or to resist (the Afghan brutality) were quickly despatched with the sword and in many cases, their families suffered the same fate. Red hot iron bars were applied to the body of a rich Muslim nobleman, Jalil by name. Another, Qazi Khan had to pay an enormous fine of a lakh of rupees, but suspecting that he had not surrendered his all, his son was put to such physical torture that he ended his life by drowning himself in the river.

The kind of torture inflicted on Pandits, as narrated by Lawrence, explains the savage mentality of these fiends. 'Atta Mohd. Khan was a ferocious libertine and his agent, an old woman named Koshib, was the terror of Brahman parents, who rather than allow the degradation of their daughters, destroyed their beauty by shaving their heads or cutting their noses.'

During the Afghan rule, 'Jazia', the poll tax imposed on Pandits, which was earlier remitted by the great king Zain-ul-Abidin, was revived. In those days, it is said that a Muslim, on seeing a Pandit, would jump on his back and take a ride. During the rule of Raja Sukh Jiwan, who asserted his independence from the Kabul in 1754 with the aid of Abdul Hassan Bandey, the Kashmiris enjoyed a brief respite. Sukh Jiwan's career ended in 1762 when Ahmad Shah Abdali sent Nur-ud-Din Bamzai to overthrow him. Sukh Jiwan was captured by Afghan forces and presented before Nur-ud-din Khan, who ordered him to be blinded. In this miserable condition, Sukh Jiwan was carried to Lahore where Ahmad Shah got him trampled to death under the feet of an elephant. Nur-ud-din however returned to Kabul after a year and handed over the administration of Kashmir to Buland Khan Bamzai.

Nur-ud-din Khan Bamzai was again deputed to rule Kashmir in 1764. He appointed Pandit Kailash Dhar, a leading noble of Kashmir as revenue collector. Another noble man Mir Muqim Kanth, whom Nur-ud-din Khan had appointed as his Dewan and whose relations with Kailash Dhar got strained due to their rivalry at the court, induced Khan to force the Pandit to make the payment of stipulated revenue on the daily basis as against monthly basis. This put Kailash Dhar in a difficult situation and at this time, Mir Muqim Kanth was murdered. Kailash Dhar's hand was suspected to be in the murder and to make a clear case, Mir Muqim's relatives produced manipulated proofs against him. Nur-ud-din Khan however did not implicate Kailash Dhar in the conspiracy. Mir Muqim's son Faqir Ullah, not being able to have his grievances redressed at the hands of Nur-ud-din, fled the Valley, with a strong vendetta against Kailash Dhar and his family.

Lal Khan Khattak, a jagirdar of Biru Pargana, attacked governor Jan Muhammad Khan's forces in 1765, defeated him and proclaimed his independence. He let loose his orgy of terror on the Kashmiris, especially the Pandits. He put the members to sword or got them drowned in Dal lake, looted their valuables and thus wiping family after family. Shias also suffered during his time, when it is said, one Hafiz Abdullah, a Shia by faith, was beheaded by a leading Qazi on the allegation that he was propagating the doctrines of his religion disguised as a Sunni. Lal Khan was replaced by another governor Khurram Khan in 1766 who appointed Kailash Dhar as his chief minister.

Faqir Ullah Kanth, who had taken refuge with Raja Muhammad Khan Bomba at Muzaffarabad, induced him to make a bid for the throne in Kashmir. The Bomba chief, carrying his forces to the Valley, out-manoeuvred Khurram Khan with his strategies, as also the superstition of an inauspicious omen seized him (Khurram Khan) and he ordered his forces to retreat. After making a junction with the followers of Lal Khan Khattak at Biru, the Bombas marched into Srinagar. Khurram and Kailash Dhar fled to Kabul and the city fell into the hands of Faqir Ullah Khan and his Bomba supporters. PNK Bamzai writes: 'For a week, the furious Bombas, the traditional enemies of Kashmiris, satiated their thirst for murder and arson on the poor citizens. Shrieks of orphaned children and the wailing of old and infirm women rent the sky. For weeks, the streets of Srinagar emitted nauseating odour from putrefied bodies.'

In order to avenge the murder of his father, Faqir Ullah Khan who ruled the Valley for one year (1767), slew a large number of leading Hindus and forcibly converted 2000 Hindus to Islam. To escape Khan's fury, many left Kashmir leading to a fresh mass exodus of Pandits to the plains of India. PNK Bamzai adds: 'Faqir Ullah Khan, like his predecessors threw off the allegiance to Abdali. And then he gave himself up freely to wine and women under the influence of which, he issued the most cruel orders. A Tyrant as he was, he took special pleasure in perpetrating the most heinous acts. On a trivial provocation, he got his maternal uncle trampled to death under the feet of a horse. No wonder that nearly half the population of Kashmir left the terror-stricken land for good.'

During the governorship of Haji Karim Dad Khan (1776-83), Kashmir entered into the darkest period of its history. He perpetrated untold cruelties on the Kashmiri people during his seven years of rule. He levied numerous taxes and reduced the populace to utter poverty. For the sake of sheer pleasure, he got the numberless Kashmiris drowned in the Dal lake.

Regarding continued oppression of the people at the hands of Haji Karim Dad Khan, PNK Bamzai writers: 'The thirst for blood and money induced Haji Karim Dad Khan to commit the basest acts on the Kashmir people. Without consideration of caste and creed, he levied numerous unjust and killing taxes which resulted in complete impoverishment of the People The rich jagirdars and nobles had to pay a tax called Nazrana, which amounted to four and even six times their income. The traders and shopkeepers had to pay Zari Ashkhas, a sort of levy on goods imported into or exported from the Valley. The farmers had to pay an enormous tax on their produce, and in order to meet the remorseless demands of the tax gatherers, the peasants cut down all the fruit growing trees in the villages, selling them as firewood. Within a month, the whole Valley was denuded of its fruit wealth. Haji Karim Dad took special pleasure in inventing new and novel methods of levying taxes. Once, for example, he purposely kept the tax gatherers, Aslam and Babu in hiding, accusing the Pandit community of their murder. He collected their leading members and keeping them in close confinement, subjected them to suffocating fumes from cowdung. The heartless Haji would not release them until they agreed to pay an annual tax Zari Dood of fifty thousand rupees. He also imposed a heavy tax on Kashmiri shawl trade, innovating the system of Dag Shawl or excise tax on shawls, which later on became such a heavy burden on the poor shawl weavers that they pre ferred death to the weaver's profession.'

Karim Dad Khan died in the year 1783, paving the way for his 18 year old son Azad Khan to take the chair. Azad Khan (1783-85) proved to be more ruthless than his father. He instilled such a terror into his courtiers that they used to tremble before him. In order to end the menace of marauding raids of Khakha and Bomba chiefs of Muzaffarabad into the Valley, Azad Khan collected together an efficient and experienced army, and ordered a host of Kashmiris to collect and carry provisions for them, free of any wages. This forced the peasants to leave their fields unattended, which resulted in a severe famine and heavy toll of human life due to starvation.

Azad Khan committed suicide in 1785, when Islam Khan, Madad Khan's general tried to capture him alive to be produced before Timur Shah, who was thirsty for the revenge of execution of his generals by Azad Khan.

Giving an account of the enormity of crimes committed by Haji Karim Dad Khan and his son Azad Khan against Kashmiris, Forester, who visited Kashmir valley in 1783, writes: ' Though the Kashmirians exclaim with bitterness at the administration of Haji Karim Dad, who was notorious for his wanton cruelties and insatiable avarice often, for trivial offences throwing the inhabitants, tied by the back in pairs, into the river, plundering their property, and forcing their women of every description; yet they say he was systematical tyrant, and attained his purpose, however atrocious, through a fixed medium. They hold a different language in speaking of the son, whom they denominate the Zaulim Khan, a Persian phrase which expresses a tyrant without discernment; and if the smallest portion of the charges against him are true, the application is fitly bestowed. At the age of 18 years, he has few of the vices of youth; he is not addicted to the pleasures of Haram, nor to wine, he does not even smoke the hukha. But his acts of ferocity exceed common belief; they would seem to originate in the wildest caprice and to display a temper, rarely seen in the nature of man. While he was passing with his court under one of the wooden bridges of the city, on which a crowd of people had assembled to observe the procession, he levelled his musket at an opening, which he saw in the pathway, and being an expert marksman, he shot to death an unfortunate spectator. George Forster, an officer of the East India Company, recounts the story about Asad Khan, that was current at that time: 'A film on one of his eyes had baffled the attempts of many operators, and being impassioned at the want of success, he told the last surgeon who he had called in, that if the disorder was not remedied within a limited time, allowing but few days, his belly should be cut open; the man failed in the cure and Azad Khan verified his threat. Azad Khan had in the first three months of his government, become an object of such terror to the Kashmirians, that the casual mention of his name produced an instant horror and an involuntary supplication of the aid of their Prophet.'

Next to step in was Madad Khan. He tried to alleviate the people's sufferings, but the mischievous elements among the officials, started their old game of intrigue and poisoned his ears against the masses. Being enraged, he let loose an orgy of repression and cruelty on his enemies, which in certain cases outdid the acts of his predecessors. Madad Khan was succeeded by Mirdad Khan (1786-88). He appointed Mulla Guffar Khan as the collector of revenue, with whom, he soon entered into a conflict. The gulf between the two widened and not foreseeing any reconciliation between the two, Nishan Khan Durani, Timur Shah's trusted minister whom he had sent to Valley to take stock of the situation, declared that the one who undertook to pay the highest revenue to the Kabul treasury would be accepted as the governor. Mirdad Khan, on providing such undertaking, continued as the governor, but to fulfil his undertaking, he levied enormous taxes and resorted to extortion. After two years of severe rule, Mirdad Khan died.

On the death of Timur Shah in 1793, his son Zaman Shah occupied the throne at Kabul. Mir Hazar Khan, the governor of Kashmir at that time, took advantage of Timur Shah's death and declared his independence. He even imprisoned his father Mirza Khan, who was sent by Zaman Shah to advise his son against taking such step.

Hazar Khan acted right in the footsteps of his tyrannical predecessors. He let loose a reign of terror against Shias and Pandits. Thousands of innocent Pandits tied up back to back in pairs, were once more thrown into the Dal lake. The unfortunate victims' survivors could only wail and cry in distress, without any effect on the ruler.

Jagmohan writes: 'Ruthless exactions and violent suppression were inherent in the attitude of the Afghans. And they went all out to break the will of the people to resist. The Kashmiris were so much subdued that in the latter part of their rule, the Afghans could hold the entire Valley with just 3000 soldiers. In the beginning, they required at least 20,000 soldiers.'

Another Afghan governor, Ata Muhammad Khan had earned notoriety for his insatiable lust for beautiful Kashmiri women. The Hindu parents became so apprehensive that they had the good looks of their girls sullied to evade the attention of the governor's agents.

Jabar Khan was the last Afghan governor to rule Kashmir in 1819. He persecuted the Pandits relentlessly. It is said that he once wanted to test the common notion among Pandits that snow falls invariably on the night of Shivratri. He ordered Pandits to observe this festival in June-July instead of February-March. It so happened that even on this night there was a snowfall, rendering the atmosphere very cold. Jabar Khan ruled Kashmir for only four months.

Tired of persecution by Afghans, Mirza Pandit Dhar and his son Birbal Dhar secretly persuaded Maharaja Ranjit Singh to annex Kashmir. In July 1819, Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent his forces under the command of Misser Diwan Chand, Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu, Sardar Hari Singh, Jwala Singh Padania, Hukum Singh and others. A fierce battle ensued at the top of Pir Panjal and the plateau of Shopian where Afghans were defeated. Jabar Khan hastily fled to Kabul after being wounded in the battle. Thus came an end to the Afghan rule, and Kashmir, after a long period of about 5 centuries, passed again from the Mohammadan rule to Hindu rule.

Source: Milchar



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