Kashmir – A Story


Most call it “Heaven on Earth”. A Northern head of Indian subcontinent in PirPanjal valley, known for its famous DAL Lake in capital Srinagar, beautiful landscape of upper Indus and Jhelum river through its narrow valley, a point of entry over the Himalayas into the Subcontinent and in current day, de-facto divided between India, Pakistan and China.

To understand Kashmir’s cultural, political outline and its genealogy, going back in timeline of history since ancient times is a better way. Since 1947, it’s a politically sensitive and the main reason of conflict between India and Pakistan to the extent that in public imagination, the history of Kashmir begins in 1947 but actually it lies in its religious and cultural ancestry. Unlike the ancient history of plains, Kashmir had no major bloody conflicts and was mostly peaceful. Northern India was subjected to attack from Turkic, Afghans and Arab rulers from the ninth century onwards, but they generally ignored the mountain-circled Kashmir Valley in favour of easier pickings around Indus and Gangetic plains.

‘Kalahan’, an ancient writer is possibly the few source along with some Buddhist texts mentioning ancient era which was pre-dominantly Hindus and Buddhists. Hindus (Kashmiri Pandits) were native to Kashmir Valley under rule of Lohara Dynasty alongside Buddhists.

Early 14th Century while Khilji was busy fighting Rajputs and Mongols, Kashmir neighboured arears where Muslims were dominant, where some small rulers shared cordial relations but also facing Muslim influence in around this period in Kashmir. Mongols were a threat to this region too and in one of Mongol loot-campaign created anarchy followed by a void in Lohara kingdom. This triggered the start of Islamic rule in Kashmir. In-fact the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir was a Buddhist prince from Laddakh region who took the opportunity after this Mongol loot, called as Rinchan, established himself as King of Kashmir and in order to attain local acceptance, married Kota Rani, the daughter of Ramchandra, the commander of Lohara king Suhadev. Sahudev, the then Lohara King had already fled Kashmir after mongol attack and Ramchandra remained in Kashmir trying to build from remains. Rinchan also wanted to convert Hindu but denied by local lords in absence of any legit means to convert to Hinduism. He later converted to Islam. Rinchan ruled for three years with lot of internal opposition. He appointed his close aide Shah Mir as a trusted minister. Rinchan was killed by internal rebels, leaving a son. Kota Rani took charge by becoming a regent, making his infant son as king and ruled Kashmir for next six years but was overthrown by Shah Mir, who then after established his own kingdom and dynasty for next 200 years. Islam was firmly established in Kashmir during this dynasty. Shah Mir dynasty in their long tenure destroyed then prevailing culture of Kashmir by its rigorous sharia laws, intolerant religious standings which severely oppressed the Kashmiri population dominated by Hindus. The Small kingdom of Kashmir in view of their geographical conditions were mostly focused in containing their boundaries and were not expansionists.

Kota Rani is considered as the last Hindu ruler of Kashmir and a significant recognition is been given by Kashmiri historians. The account from other historians clearly suggests competing view of Kashmir on the lines of ethnicity/religion where it all started with rise of Buddhism during Ashoka period to the dominance of Hindus in medieval times. Buddhists were pro-active in propagation of their religion and they use to travel long distances in Himalayas and across to spread the teachings of Buddhism. During early and later medieval period Buddhists were persecuted while Hinduism expanded in these areas. Islam established in this region during 14th century and in the era when Mughals were ruling Indian plains. The small kingdom of Kashmir was under constant threat of inclusion to Mughal empire. Kashmir did not witness any direct Mughal rule till Akbar’s regime, who took control of Kashmir and added it to its important province of Kabul. Provinces (Suba) was then controlled by an administrators called as subedars and from here on Kashmir was stable during Mughal period and many mosques, gardens and structural development took place which can be witnessed even in current times. Chashma Shahi, Achabal Bagh, Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh are few gardens still attract tourists.

The Mughal rule in Kashmir lasted for more than 150 years [ till Aurangzeb ] in which some land marks of progress and advances along with lot of cultural exchange happened. They provided patronage to Kashmiri saints, men of art and letters, and nobles, irrespective of religious considerations.

End of Mughal Rule in Kashmir:

In 1753 when Ahmad Shah Abdali, conquered and plundered Delhi and came back to Lahore. Some influential nobles of Kashmir in order to achieve their own personal gains, invited Ahmad Shah Abdali to invade and annex Kashmir. Ahmad Shah Abdali took the opportunity and sent a formidable force of Afghan soldiers to conquer Kashmir and it was annexed without any major battle. The condition of Kashmir that time was not in a well shape because of a Famine just about 5 years back when Abdali took control. The famine there occurred due to flood which washed off the most of ripened crops. The loss was all the more unfortunate because the reserve food stocks was also exhausted and wiped off, more than three fourths of the population of the valley either died or migrated to Delhi. Afghan rule lasted for 50 odd years and during the rule in Kashmir (1753-1819) the local population slowly transformed with some sufferings which was result of multiple factors. The population was dominated by Muslims, yet, the socio-cultural fabric did not witness any radical change. The minority Hindu population was largely supressed during this period and were mostly involved in administrative office work of literates. Muslims were mostly farmers, bunkars, peasants etc. Persian was the official language of Mughals across India and continued to be an official language in Kashmir as well even in Afghan period. The learned community of Kashmiri Pandits who had attained scholarship in Persian, rose to the position of eminence in Mughal and later in Afghan governing culture. The revenue administration was exclusively handled by Kashmiri Pandits.

While during Mughals then Afghans and carrying ancestry from Hindus and Buddhists, the culture of Kashmir is blended which strongly reflects in food , language and their outfit. The cuisines of Kashmir is poles apart from any other part of India and has more shades of Afghan-Persian cuisines. Kashmiris, be it Hindu or Muslim are voracious meat eaters and are known to cook around 18 different variety of meat preparations.  The same also is with drinks and bakery. The famous “waazwan”, usually prepared in marriage ceremonies usually consists of as many as 36 variety of delicacies. It would need a separate blog to describe the culture, food and their language, may write soon….

Fall of Afghans and rise of Sikh / Dogra rule

There was a drastic change in entire geo-political and socio-cultural flip in this region where the growing powers of Sikh Empire under Ranjit Singh annexed Kashmir from Afghans ending Durrani rule from this region. Ranjit Singh’s capital Lahore was the centre of power in the region of Punjab and regions of Jammu. Ranjit Singh was pushing Afghans from their territories one after the other and in 1819 in continuation and more so over to control over routes on Indus river, Kashmir became important for Ranjit Singh and to secure this trade and supply route. A decisive Battle of Sophian took place with victory of Ranjit Singh on capital Srinagar and afterwards it took no major effort to capture remaining areas, Kashmir came under Sikh Empire.

Earlier, in 1808 Jammu was already annexed by Sikh Empire and one of army commander and Jagirdaar Kishore Singh rose to the occasion and was rewarded Governorship of Jammu by Ranjit Singh. Gulab Singh, the son of Kishore Singh conquered some strategic areas around Srinagar for Ranjit Singh and after the death of Kishore Singh, Gulab Singh was given governorship of Jammu region by Ranjit Singh and titled as Raja of Jammu. He was also the most powerful hand in the Sikh Empire and gradually built a strong army. He also appointed Zorawar Singh as his army General, Zorawar Singh showed good results in expansion in hilly terrains. Ranjit Singh died in year 1839 and British East India company was in war with Sikh Empire. Ranjit Singh died just at the onset of first Anglo-Sikh war post which there was a succession struggle within Sikh Kingdom. Gulab Singh was then responsible for the security of Lahore where Ranjit Singh’s family and relatives were trying to capture Lahore for its excessive wealth and power. When mutual peace was made on both sides Gulab Singh took huge amount of wealth and went back to Jammu. When British East India company annexed Lahore ending Sikh empire and as usual a war indemnity of one and Half Crore was imposed on then nine year old son of Ranjit Singh [ Dilip Singh ] The Maharaja of Lahore. British company also took all their lands and since Company didn’t wanted to administer hilly regions between River Beas and Indus, including Kashmir. Gulab Singh had some friendly relations with the company, so he offered 75 lakhs as war indemnity imposed on Sikh King and in return, taken administration and control over Kashmir. This is the basic reason which in general discussions said as Gulab Singh bought Kashmir from British. Since Gulab Singh helped the company in the final rounds of their war, East India Company agree and it was signed as in Treaty of Lahore & Amritsar in 1846. It was the start of Dogra Rule over Jammu and Kashmir including Laddakh which Zorawar Singh earlier with his exemplary war skills had annexed in Dogra Rule.

This was the turning point in History of Kashmir for next 100 years to come with Jammu and Kashmir established as a large princely state and prime ally of British India. Dogras also known as Jamwal Rajputs ruled J&K for next 100 years and since they were a close ally of British, it remained stable throughout. After Gulab Singh his son Ranbir Singh ruled for 30 years and Pratap Singh for 40 years. Some very small new territories were added in the region around Gigit.

The map of Jammu and Kashmir at the time when, THE most important personality in history of Kashmir, Raja Hari Singh, the nephew of Pratap Singh ruled.

Dogra ruled Map of Jammu and Kashmir - Pre Independence
Dogra ruled Map of Jammu and Kashmir – Pre Independence


1930s, the days when nationalism was trending against British in most of British India, in J&K it was brewing against rule of Maharaja. In the year 1932, a political party was formed named The Muslim Conference by a young Kashmiri, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah that demands social and political reformation of Muslims in Kashmir and an end to the monarchy. Soon, In view of not to be seen as a religious group, the party was renamed to National Conference including all Kashmiris, basically including population where Kashmiri language were been spoken. Dogra kingdom also included Punjabi dialect speaking people in and around Poonch, Pashto speaking in Gilgit and Laddakhi in Laddakh.  When a separate Islamic state becomes a strong possibility during Muslim League lead by Muhammad Ali Jinnah negotiating it hard with British, some of National Conference followers were unhappy with the secular nature of the party and with Sheikh Abdullah. Abdullah revives Muslim Conference and launched a “Quit Kashmir” movement against the monarchy with lot of anguish. In order to kill the movement, Hari Singh, the Maharaja got Sheikh Abdullah arrested for sedition leaving Kashmir in even more anguish. Jawaharlal Nehru was a political ally to Abdullah, rushes to Kashmir to demand his release, the Maharaja promptly had Nehru arrested as well and unceremoniously escorted out of the state. The Kashmir then had more than 75 percent of Muslim population under a Hindu monarchy and the entire agitation was focused only to overthrow the Monarchy. Maharaja Hari Singh was under tremendous pressure to deal with this situation which he or his predecessors never faced.

In the year 1935, British Parliament had already passed Government of India Act which has somewhat given the signs of Indian independence. The sequence of events of Independence starts with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in Feb 1947, wrote to then Indian Viceroy Mountbatten too make India an independent state and also instructed to negotiate with princely states, one of which was Jammu and Kashmir. BUT by June it was clear that the Subcontinent would be divided in two dominion state of India and Pakistan. The provinces not in direct control of British, known as Princely States, would be given an option to choose sides based on geography and population, also they need to sign an Agreement of Accession. One of the biggest Princely state of Jammu and Kashmir under Maharaja Hari Singh was undecided.

India and Pakistan become realities after Independence but Hari Singh, the Maharaja of Kashmir was undecided with an objective to sign a standstill agreement with both India and Pakistan, meaning he had plans to declare free. The major reason for this dilemma with Hari Singh was due to the fact that he being a Hindu ruler of a largely Muslim majority state, he needed more time to think as to what is the best option for Jammu and Kashmir and he didn’t at the same time, want to jeopardize the minority community in any manner. The newly formed Pakistan was very keen to add Jammu and Kashmir to its territory. The reasons, possibly the Muslim population and even more important the six mighty rivers that flowed through Kashmir into Pakistan forming, the Indus River system, the main source of Pakistan’s water supply.

With no decision from the Maharaja, impatient Pakistan launches operation Gulmarg in 1947, basically it was a series of incursions aimed at annexing Kashmir. There was a serious uprising in Poonch region as well and soon the agitations around turns into a full-fledged genocide of minorities, Hindus and Sikhs in this western part of Jammu district and in Kashmir the voices become even stronger for the release of Sheikh Abdullah. In retaliation, Muslims are targeted in the Jammu province by the majoritarian Hindus and Sikhs living there. The state turns into a burning pot of communal violence.

The newly formed Indian government strongly advises the Maharaja to release Sheikh Abdullah to calm the waters and was released on advice. Pakistan was not expecting this and probably felt that India is taking Kashmir out of their hands. Meanwhile, Pakistan sent some local fighters for Sheikh, who were his friends and were persuading him to join Pakistan. Abdullah again clarified that he and his party has not made up mind and are fighting an independent battle to get rid of Maharaja and then whosoever accepts our conditions of accession, we will join that side.

In another parallel attack, detachments of armed Pakhtoon tribals under Pakistani army invades the Kashmir Valley. It was a surprise attack and Maharaja couldn’t handle this and had to run away from Kashmir. He left Kashmir without any defence and his army was wiped off in the very first attack up to Urri and then it was a walkover for attackers to take the entire valley.

Meanwhile in same time the agitation in Poonch and around was under Pakistan’s command, Pakistani’s took positions there and declared Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and Poonch as Azad Kashmir. This region is known today in India as POK [Pakistan Occupied Kashmir] and Azaad Kashmir in Pakistan.

Going little back in time, also to understand British interference in Kashmir, adds another dimension to the problem. In 1930s when communism had made its appearance in China. The Soviets had jumped into the Chinese Civil War, helping a rebel faction in Xinjiang province [now in China], a province further North of Gilgit. This sent the British into a tizzy as they always had a fear of Russia entering into subcontinent and the route was always through Khyber Pass then to Kashmir Valley.

Gilgit was the last northern outpost of British India So in 1935, the British took Gilgit and adjoining region on leased for a period of sixty years from the Maharaja Hari Singh and appointed an officer under direct British command. For the British, the area [ which later became Pakistan] was a far more strategically important part of the Indian subcontinent where they wanted a base against the Soviet Union as well as its proximity to the gulf for oil. When the formation of two, new nations drew close, the British hoped Gilgit region would end up going with Pakistan.

Just before, In 1945, Ramchandra Kak was appointed Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir by Hari Singh and he had no affinity with Congress. When it became clear that India would be portioned and knowing that Sardar Patel would be Home Minister of India, Kak was in talks with him but never wanted Sheikh Abdullah to be released from jail as he was pro-India. Ramchandra Kak also had good relations with Jinnah, so..

Here, British played an undisclosed politics, merely 15 days before transfer of power in 1947, they revoke the lease and returned Gilgit to the Maharaja. They also believed that, Ramachandra Kak would go with Pakistan in view of his relations and Maharaja would not be able to secure Gilgit.

In a dramatic sequence of events, just before independence Gandhi ji visited Kashmir and had influenced Hari Singh to dismiss Ramchandra Kak and just four days before independence Kak was removed from all his positions and was house arrested. British plans go up in smoke.

In 1947 just after independence, Kashmir was facing attacks from multiple sides. The Maharaja realised that situation is out of hands and entire Jammu and Kashmir will go out of his hands to Pakistan, he turns to India and agrees to accede for military help. In this tense situation, Indian diplomats advised Hari Singh to place him in Jammu for documentation and the instrument of accession was signed on 26th of October 1947, Kashmir along with Jammu and Laddakh finally accedes to India, first Kashmir accord was signed and then immediately Indian army was sent for counter attack Pakistani infiltrators.

Nearly two months after transfer of power to the newly-formed nations and Kashmir acceding to India, adding a new twist to this political page-turner. British plans for Gilgit was ruined when Kashmir decides to accede to India. Major William Brown was in command of Gilgit when it was leased from Maharaja and a few days after the accession Major Brown leads his scouts and some local Muslim troops to overthrow Maharajs’s Governor in Gilgit and without much of reluctance he let Gilgit successfully accede to Pakistan.

So, with Poonch, Muzaffarabad declared Azad Kashmir and Gilgit accedes to Pakistan, Kashmir is irrevocably fractured.

Map of Jammu and Kashmir after Accession to India
Map of Jammu and Kashmir after Accession to India

In this scenario, Pakistan’s proxy war with British understanding gains ground resulting unrest and violence in Kashmir. The British were helping Pakistan for Kashmir because they thought, Pakistan would be better strategic ally than India in the emerging cold war situation with Soviet Russia.

When instrument of accession was signed in October 1947, Hari Singh allowed to set up an interim Government and releases Sheikh Abdullah and gave him the responsibilities of Prime Ministership with Maharaja Hari Singh himself as Head of State, this was in agreement with Indian government lead by Nehru and Patel. Independent India was still to adopt a constitution and neither J&K had any, so as per the terms of accession Hari Singh kept all matters and functions, law and order with him and an immunity towards acquisition of any land by Indian Government.

In relation to the administration in the J&K state, it was agreed and to be exercised by the ruler of this state and nothing shall be deemed to commit in any way to accept any future constitution of India or to fetter ruler discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future constitution.

The fighting with Pakistani troops and their fighters was still going on ground with Indian army taking back some areas, India went to the UN security Council in 1948, the UN Security Council asks, Pakistan to remove all state and non-state actors from Jammu and Kashmir and India is asked to reduce its forces to minimum, only to maintain Law and Order and to install an interim government with all genuine stakeholders, then UN will appoint an administrator to seek and understand the wishes of the people, a plebiscite. Neither party agrees to it and the fate of the state of Jammu and Kashmir was sealed with the state fractured into Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Pakistani state of Gilgit.

Even after UN intervention, an interim government lead by Prime Minister Abdullah was formed, Kashmir was at war with Pakistan on ground and Indian army was pushing Pakistan back where they took back Drass and Kargil and secured Leh highway, the only road connecting Laddakh. Nehru knew that Abdullah’s influence was limited to Kashmiri speaking population up to Drass-Kargil on one side and upto Poonch on the other, on further sides in valley neither Abdullah nor any other leader was on Indian side having any influence. Nehru was not sure, even if the army took Gilgit/POK back, they would stay under their control, also as a new country this war was taking a big toll on the finances where they had task for a big nation to build. So the stalemate in war arrived.

If one read historians from Pakistan now, they accuse Jawaharlal Nehru, who was a Kashmiri Hindu, connived with Mountbatten to pressurize Maharaja and captured Kashmir by force, in-spite the population wanted to join Pakistan and on the other hand same Nehru is been implicated by some Indian historians, to have left half of Kashmir to be captured by Pakistan. Today it’s too judgemental on either side to foresee under the circumstances then, the upcoming future of Kashmir.

In between 1949 and 1954, some dramatic events unfolded. 1953, Maharaja Hari Singh appointed his son Prince Karan Singh as regent of J&K and Hari Singh stepped down. Hari Singh was no match in front of combined political force on Indian government. In a way he was forced to leave Kashmir. Karan Singh being a regent became Head of State and a new chapter in political history of J&K started. Subsequently, in absence of any solution the state went for their first election in 1951 and a constituent assembly was formed where Abdullah remains as Prime Minister, assembly abolishes the role of the regent Karan Singh and appointed him as Governor, the Constitutional Head of State (Sadar’e Riyasat). The last traces of monarchy in J&K were wiped off within 4 years of independence.

Karan Singh in year 1953 dismissed Abdullah from the post of Prime Minister, stating he having lost the confidence of his ministers and Abdullah’s deputy and leader of a dissident faction of National Conference, Bakshi Gulam Mohammed was appointed as Prime Minister. Abdullah was slapped with the charge of conspiracy against state and was arrested, jailed accusing him of conspiring with Pakistan to change sides and Kashmir being annexed by Pakistan by means of violence. He was imprisoned for next 10 odd years. Karan Singh had full confidence of Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. Abdullah was later released in 1964 as a diplomatic decision and the charges were dropped by Government of India.

Seven years after independence and four years after Indian constitution came into effect, in year 1954, based on the agreements of Instrument of Accession, Article 370 was introduced into Indian constitution giving complete autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir except defence, foreign policy, financial policies and central infrastructure development projects etc.

The provisions in India constitution of 1950, Maharaja of J&K was head of State with a council of ministers headed by a Prime Minister, which after introduction of article 370 in 1954, was changed to President of India being head of state and Maharaja or its Regent as Governor with a legislative assembly headed by Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

There was one more article 35A introduced in same year stating that, the state of J&K will have the special privileges and any non-residents shall not be allowed to; purchase land and immovable property, vote and contest elections, government employment and availing any other state benefits.

It was also made as provision that all other constitutional Acts shall apply on the state and subsequently when J&K had its own constitution in 1957, all mentioned provisions since 1950 was taken in account.

A further dent came in year 1962 war with China, where they wanted to include Laddakh and adjacent areas in their Xinjiang province. Indo-China war was result of failed diplomacy and J&K lost some areas in Laddakh to China, now known as Aksai Chin. Pakistan helped China in this war and also gifted them some parts of their Gilgit region.

Map of Jammu and Kashmir after Indo China War
Map of Jammu and Kashmir after Indo China War

From here on the state of Jammu and Kashmir is driven by internal politics of India and Pakistan continuously pushing it to gain grounds. In both the countries, its used as a tool for political gains with almost disowning the local cause, so I leave it here…

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