Once upon a time in Kashmir

From centuries Kashmir as a Nation has witnessed the successive foreign regimes of imperialism, oppression, tyranny, and authoritarianism. The ruler has been a brute alien to the ruled as the Land of Kashmir was never free, at least in past four hundred years. Kashmir ceased to exist as an Independent Sovereign state in last quarter of sixteenth century when foreign invaders, the Mughals invaded the once prosperous city of Srinagar. This occupation since dusked the sovereignty, the freedom of Kashmir till today.



Some six centuries ago, the valley of Kashmir had a glorious past when it was ruled by its native rulers of an indigenous kingdom. The last time when Kashmir existed as an independent territory was under Chaks from 1561-1586. But prior to Chaks, the Shah Mir dynasty or Sayyid dynasty ruled an independent Kashmir for 222 years. The kingdom founded by Shah Mir in 1339 led to the basis of an organized and ordered administration in the then sovereign state of Kashmir. During the regime of Shah dynasty, the golden era started with the coronation of Bud Shah in 1420.

Zain ul Aabdin popularly known as Bud Shah is considered as the greatest and the most revered ruler in the history of Kashmir. His reign is called the Golden age of Kashmir history. At the time of his coronation in 1420 AD there was chaos in the kingdom as the administrative setup had broken due to the incompetency of his predecessors. The king requested the old officials, the Pandits who had left the valley to return to Kashmir giving them every facility and guaranteeing them religious and civil liberties. He allowed them to celebrate their festivals and religious ceremonies without any hindrance. Srivara, his court writer records that the Sultan erected two temples for the Hindus and also renovated the ones that were plundered and damaged. He proved large-hearted to settle the cases of the Hindus in consonance with their laws and customs. He revoked the ban on dance, drama, music, painting and other artistic and aesthetic pursuits of the Hindus.

He dealt ruthlessly with all types of crime and corruption and ensured the termination of all the corrupt officials in his administration. He proved to be harbinger of relief for peasants of Kashmir by reducing their revenue to 1/4th and even 1/7th at some places. The Sultan also prohibited his revenue officials from taking gifts from farmers. He started extensive irrigation schemes owing to which, the draining of marshes and reclamation of large areas for cultivation, Kashmir became self-sufficient in food, and rice was cheap.

According to the modern Historian, M. Hassan said, “Of all the Sultans who sat on the throne of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin was undoubtedly the greatest. He ushered in a period of nearly half a century of peace, prosperity, and benevolent rule for his people. He introduced many arts and crafts for which Kashmir has become famous ever since. He promoted learning, music and painting and made Kashmir the centre of great culture. He won the loyalty and affection of his subjects who called him Budshah or the great king, a name by which he is remembered even today by the people of Kashmir. He acquired a halo in popular imagination which still surrounds his name in spite of the lapse of nearly 500 years."

Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin is credited for inspiring the genesis of Kashmiryat – a socio-cultural ethos of religious harmony and Kashmiri consciousness. He lived a pious life. He respected and treated all the religions equally. He did not take any money from the State Treasury for his personal use but lived on the income from a copper mine in Aishmuqam. He was the benevolent and generous king for the people of Kashmir, the Budshah of Kashmir. His death in 1470 was widely lamented by his subjects especially Hindus as they had lost their great king.

Zain ul Aabdin’s successors ruled for a century more till the Chaks came to power in an independent Kashmir in 1561 .The short reign of chaks marked the end of Independent Kashmir. The Last chak ruler Yusuf shah Chak was attacked by Mughal army in 1586 AD. The king tried hard to protect his territory and was successful initially. This was the first armed resistance against the foreign occupation in Kashmir. Yusuf Shah Chak told his official army who had turned diehard guerrillas now, “Independence is just a day away, as we will soon finish off the Mughals from Kashmir. But unfortunately today after 426 years Kashmiris are longing for that day of Freedom. The King could not hold back the onslaughts of Mughal Army and finally lost the valley of Kashmir to Mughals. since then fate of an independent Kashmir was sealed.

With the advent of Mughals, Kashmir lost its freedom and sovereignty completely giving rise to an occupied state continuing till today. For Mughals, Kashmir was Bhag i Khasa (Garden of elites) for enjoyment and recreation. They spent lavishly on their royal tastes and built around 700 Gardens with oppressed Kashmiris being taxed heavily. Mughals were followed by Afghans who conquered this landlocked country in 1747 and unfortunately they were more oppressive. Afghan era marked the darkest phase in the history of Kashmir. Their governors were ruthless and great despots. Afghans crossed all boundaries of oppression killing, rape, plunder, loot, eyes gouging out, ears, noses been cut off, whipping was the order of the day. A Persian couplet based on Afghan occupation of Kashmir reads . “Sar buridan pesh in sangin dilan qul chidan ast" (These stone hearted people thought no more of cutting of heads than of plucking a flower).

For ill fated kashmiris it was not enough as they were squeezed by yet another brutal occupation of Sikhs. From Afghans the colony of Kashmir came in the repressive hands of Sikhs in 1820. The Sikh Governors were tough masters who were also repressive. During Sikh rule, Jamia Masjid in Srinagar was closed down, congregations were banned (which ironically happens even in today’s Kashmir too), severe restrictions were hurled on religious movements. The British colonialists used Ghulab Singh, a Dogra Hindu and a trusted army officer in the Sikh dynasty, in engineering a defeat of the Sikhs and the valley of Kashmir came under the paws of British crown. And in the notorious ‘Treaty of Amritsar’, Kashmir including its people, crops, mountains and lakes were sold to Gulab singh for Rs.75 lacs. The Dogras with their unbridled absolutism went heavy on an ailing Muslim majority. It is said that Gulab singh squeezed blood from already starving Kashmiris to recover the price he had paid to British. Later Hari Singh’s so called accession to India is for which we are paying till today. And its the 65th year of Kashmir’s unjustified and deceptive accession to India and the centuries old occupation of Kashmir continues. Unlike Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, Dogras, India proved far ahead in suppressing Kashmiris with new techniques of political gambling and deception. With 8 Lac troops to hold Kashmiris and credits of about 1 lac killings, 8 thousand enforced disappearances, 2700 unmarked graves/mass graves, curfews and razor wire, cruelty rules the roost in Kashmir.

Amid this chronology one wonders as how a prosperous and peaceful Kashmir was like under the generous rule of Sultan Zain ul Aabdin, the Budshah when it was a free Kashmir once upon a time.

The author is a MERC pass out. He can be mailed at aarif.nadaf@gmail.com