The Himalayas have been part of the Indian social and cultural milieu since millennia and as such find constant mention in ancient Indian spiritual texts. In the Mahabharata as well as in the Vishnu, Shiv and Matsya Puranas, there is reference to Bharat as the land lying between the Himalayas to the North and the Ocean in the South.[i] Kashmir’s ancient Hindu civilisation predates the Mahabharata, as seen by reference to Raja Gonanda in Nilmata Purana and the epic Rajtarangini. The Markandeya Puraan, describes Bharat in beautiful prose as “the land that is girdled by the sea on three sides and on the North by the Himalayas, which stretch like the string of a bow”.[ii] The Vishnu Puraan, in a beautiful couplet describes India as the land south of the Himalayas and north of the Ocean, the second line of the couplet stating that all who are born therein are Bharatiyas.
‘Uttaram yat samudrasya, Himadreshchaiv dakshinam,
varsham tad bharatam nama, Bharatee yatra santatihi’
From the Southern shores of India, we have early Tamil poets making mention of the Northern extent of Bharat as the land which is the abode of Siva and the ‘tapovan’ (Sanskrit for austerity and spiritual practices) of saints and seers.[iii]The Himalayas thus have always been central to the Indian ethos, with ancients texts making constant reference to the Kashmir Mandala in terms of its spatial and temporal locus as part of India’s sacred geography. Little wonder then that Kashmir has oft been described not just as India’s northernmost outpost, but as the very fountainhead of Indian culture.
Over two thousand years ago, the Mauryan empire was spread over Kashmir and extended eastward to encompass what is present day Afghanistan. During the reign of Ashoka, a complete system of administration was established in Kashmir. In the 8th century CE, the great Hindu ruler Lalitaditya (724 CE-760 CE) ruled over a vast expanse, stretching from Assam in the East to the Caspian Sea in the Northwest and down to the Cauvery Basin in the South. Reputed to be the most powerful ruler of the Karkota dynasty of Kashmir, his reign witnessed the flourishing of art, culture, learning and architecture, some of which is visible even today in the ruins of the Martand Sun temple. Raja Avantivarman (855 CE-883 CE), ended the Karkota dynasty and founded the Utpala dynasty. A staunch patron of the arts, he revived Sanskrit learning in Kashmir and built many Hindu temples dedicated to both Vishnu and Shiva as well as Buddhist monasteries. In the beginning of the second millennium, the works of the intellectual giant, Acharya Abhinavgupta (950 CE-1016 CE) witnessed the revival of Kashmiri Shaivism. Born to a Kashmiri Brahmin family, he is the author of the Tantra Lok and other seminal treatises on Kashmir Shaivism.
For India, the Himalayas provided both a formidable natural line of defence, and the core of Indian spiritual thought. Kashmir, nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, became a focal point for the spread of Indian culture to Central, East and Southeast Asia. Straddling the communication network between Central Asia, Afghanistan and China, the region gained strategic significance and in the early years of the 19th century, became the foci of the rivalry played out between Czarist Russia and Imperial Britain, which came to be called the Great Game.
The Beginning of the Sultanate
The first recorded account of the entry of Islam in Kashmir is the invasion of Sultan Mehmood of Ghazni (971 CE-1030 CE) in the 11th century. He was decisively repulsed. But history was to change a few centuries later, when in the first quarter of the 14th century, the Mongols invaded the land. This invasion was the beginning of the tumultuous events that were to overtake the Kashmir Valley over the next 400 years. After ravaging the land for eight months, the Mongols left before the onset of winter. The ruler at that time was King Suhadeva, who attempted appeasement of the invaders by way of expensive gifts, but these were spurned by the Mongol army which continued its spree of killings, loot and plunder. The King died soon after and his place was taken by his Prime Minister, Ram Chander, who in turn appointed Rinchan, a Buddhist prince from Ladakh, as an administrator. Rinchan soon gained the confidence of the Raja and then treacherously killed him, and anointed himself as the ruler in 1320 CE.[iv] At this point of time, the history of Kashmir took a dramatic turn. Rinchan had married Ram Chander’s daughter and desired to convert to Hinduism, but the head priest of the Brahmin Pandit’s Devaswami denied the newly anointed Raja his request. As a result, Rinchan converted to Islam and adopted the title of Sultan Sadruddin Shah. 10,000 of his subjects converted along with him.[v] Rinchan died three years later in 1323 CE. He founded a quarter in Srinagar called Rinchanpua, on his name and built a mosque, Bud Masjid, on the site of a Buddhist temple. With his death, Kashmir returned to Hindu rule, under Rinchan’s widow, Kota Rani, but this interlude was but a short one. She was defeated by Shahmir, an astute diplomat in her kingdom, who ascended the throne in 1339 CE, with the title of Sultan Shamsuddin. While Rinchan was the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir, the consolidation of the Sultanate started with Shamsuddin, till the 200-year rule of the Sultans was ended by Mughal emperor Akbar in 1586 CE.
Mughal, Sikh and Dogra Rule
The Mughal rule in Kashmir lasted for just over 170 years until 1757 CE. It was marked by the building of pleasure gardens and little else, till Aurangzeb (1658 CE-1707 CE), ascended the throne. His rule saw the return of religious bigotry and intolerance to the Kashmir Valley, with forcible conversions and discriminatory taxation. Mughal influence declined after Aurangzeb’s death, and further weakened after Nadir Shah’s invasion of India in 1738 CE. The death knell to Mughal rule came with their defeat to the Afghan’s in 1753 CE, as a result of which Kashmir came under Afghan rule. The Afghan rule ended 66 years later with their defeat by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1819. This also marked the end of Muslim rule in Kashmir, encompassing a period of just over four hundred years. The Afghan rule was noted for its cruelty, barbarity and avarice, and its demise came as a period of welcome relief to the people of the region.[vi]
Sikh rule over Kashmir was also short-lived and ended with British victory over the Sikhs in the battle of Sobraon in February 1846, called the First Anglo-Sikh War. Two treaties were signed at the end of the war. The first of these, the Treaty of Lahore, was signed on 9 March 1846 with the 7-year old Maharaja Duleep Singh and the British Empire. Under the terms of the Treaty, Punjab ceded Kashmir and its dependencies to the British. The second treaty, the Treaty of Amritsar was signed a week later on 16 March 1846 with Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu. Through this Treaty, Kashmir and its dependencies were handed over to Gulab Singh, and thus Kashmir came under Dogra rule. Under the terms of the Treaty, Maharaja Gulab Singh paid a sum of Rs 75 lakh to the British government for the territories ceded to him. This included the whole of the outer hills between the Ravi and the Indus, the Valley of Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit, Baltistan and the Indus Valley down to Chilas.[vii]
The region of modern-day Jammu, was traditionally ruled by the Dogra Rajputs. For the most part, they maintained their autonomy despite being nominal feudatories to Delhi. At times, they joined the Mughals in their northern conquests, like those of Balkh in 1646-47 CE. With the demise of the Mughal dynasty, Raja Dhruv Deo and later his son, Raja Ranjit Deo rose to greater political prominence, the latter also proceeding to expand his kingdom to include Kishtwar, Chenani, Bhadarwah, Besolhi, Jasrota and parts of Gujrat in Western Punjab. This was however a transitory phase as the rise of Sikh power in the region saw Jammu losing its sovereignty over all of their former territories save for Jammu, which was now reduced to a petty state. But it also saw the rise of the line of Raja Dhruv Deo, in the form of his great-great-grandsons, Gulab Singh, Dhian Singh and Suchet Singh, who joined Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court and rose rapidly through the ranks, setting themselves apart and above the Maharaja’s Sikh courtiers.
Gulab Singh had joined Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army in 1809. His father, Miyan Kishore Singh was given the charge to administer Jammu state by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1817, which had been annexed by him a year earlier. Soon thereafter, Miyan Kishore Singh declared Gulab Singh as his legal heir. As a reward for the outstanding contribution made by Gulab Singh in the defeat of the Pathans in Kashmir in 1819, Maharaja Ranjit Singh crowned Gulab Singh as the Raja of Jammu on 16 June 1822. Even after getting Jammu and its adjoining principalities under his territory, Raja Gulab Singh continued to serve the rulers of Lahore and at the same time, annexed many small principalities to his kingdom. Kishtwar was subdued and its governorship was handed over to Zorawar Singh, a Rajput soldier in the Sikh army. It was Zorawar Singh who annexed Ladakh in 1842 and added it to Dogra rule.[viii]
British interest in the region, during the period of Sikh and Dogra rule had much to do with the great power rivalry that existed at that time between Imperial Britain and Czarist Russia. Britain wanted to keep their resident in Kashmir, to keep a watch over the activities of the Sikh rulers and to see that Russian influence was kept at bay. During Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule and for a decade after his death in June 1839, the British were kept out, but after the defeat of the Sikh’s in the Second Anglo-Saxon War of 1849, Punjab was annexed by the British and the Dogra rulers thereafter succumbed to British pressure. In 1877, the British established the Gilgit Agency, to guard against the advance of Russia. The Agency, comprising of the Gilgit Wazarat; the State of Hunza and Nagar; the Punial Jagir; the Governorships of Yasin, Kuh-Ghizr and Ishkoman, and Chilas, was re-established in 1935 under the control of the British Resident in Jammu and Kashmir. It was given on lease for a period of 60 years commencing from 29 March 1935.[ix]
The period of Dogra rule in Kashmir’s history was an epochal event, for it marked the entry of the British into the area. Taken holistically, it was also a period of reasonable prosperity for the state. Gulab singh was succeeded by his son Ranbir Singh, who in turn was succeeded by Pratap Singh. Here the family line ended as Pratap Singh had no male heir. As a result, his nephew Hari Singh, succeeded him to the throne. Hari Singh was destined to be the last ruler of the state, the Dogra rule having lasted for just over one hundred years.
Maharaja Hari Singh ascended the throne on 23 September 1925. It was a moment in history when the Indian independence movement was gathering steam and differences between the Hindus and Muslims had started coming to the fore. Within the state of J&K, Muslim fanatics started a movement to stoke communal violence in the state.[x]Sheikh Abdullah emerged as the leader of the J&K Muslim Conference which was formed in 1932. The Party was renamed as the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference on 10 June 1939. When India was partitioned and achieved independence on 15 August 1947, most of the princely states had opted to join either India or Pakistan. The state of Jammu and Kashmir had the choice to remain independent under the Maharaja or to join either India or Pakistan. Britain had also terminated its lease of the Gilgit Agency, which reverted back to the state. At this time, the boundaries of the state encompassed the Gilgit Agency, Gilgit and Baltistan in the North, Ladakh in the East, Kashmir and Muzaffarabad in the centre and Jammu, to include Poonch, Rajouri, Mirpur, Udhampur, Bhadarwah and Kathua in the South.
At the time of independence, Maharaja Hari Singh found himself in a precarious position. His state forces lacked the capacity to protect any part of his landlocked kingdom, which lay between India and Pakistan. There were three battalions of the Jammu and Kashmir State Forces, with the Kashmir Brigade. 7 J&K Rifles was at Srinagar, 4 J&K Rifles at Domel with a company at Kohala and another company at Keran and 6 J&K Battalion had been sent up to Gilgit. This battalion had moved to Bunji and had a company at Leh and another company at Skardu. South of the Pir Panjal range, 1 J&K Rifles was at Poonch and was being relieved by 8 J&K Rifles, 9 J&K Rifles was at Rawalkot, 2 J&K rifles at Naushera and 3 J&K Rifles at Mirpur.[xi] Some of these were mixed battalions with both Dogra and Muslim troops. Poor communications and the vast spread of the area meant that each battalion was really fighting an independent battle and could not depend on support from any one. Pakistan thus thought that it would be easy to militarily take over the state and force its accession to Pakistan.
The idea of remaining an independent kingdom had appeal for the Maharaja, but he lacked the force to protect his kingdom from external threats. The remaining options were to accede, either to India or to Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh’s dilemma was increased by the fact that the Muslims in his state constituted the larger majority, but the Hindu population was substantial too. Stalling for time, the Maharaja entered into a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan on 12 August 1947. India however declined his offer.
To the Pakistani political leadership of that time, led by Mr Jinnah, who had been appointed as the Governor General of Pakistan and his Prime Minister, Mr Liaquat Ali Khan, there was little doubt that Kashmir would be taken over by force, if the Maharaja did not accede to Pakistan. This plan was given the code name “Operation Gulmarg” and planning commenced in August 1947.
Maj Gen Akbar Khan, a serving officer of the Pakistan army, was given the command of Operation Gulmarg, and he revealed all the details of this operation in 1975, in his book, “Raiders in Kashmir”. To achieve their objective, the Pakistan military raised 20 lashkars of about 1000 men each from their Pashtun population in the tribal belt. Pakistani military officers and men were embedded into the lashkars. They were given weapons, equipment and logistic support by the Pakistan army which also provided the force its leadership component down to company level. In his book, Khan confirms that the political leadership of Pakistan was fully in sync with these operations. It was thus a politico-military operation carried out by the state of Pakistan.
The invasion of J&K by Pakistan military, along with the raiders, began on 22 October. The route chosen to reach Srinagar was via Domel, Mahulla and thence to Baramulla. Over 7000 Pashtun armed tribesmen, led by officers from the Pakistan military, began the invasion, crossing over the state boundary. In a shameful incident, on the night of 21/22 October, the Muslim companies of the 4th Jammu and Kashmir Infantry, betrayed their oath to their ruler and the state and in an act of treachery, driven by religious fanaticism, killed their commanding officer, Col Narain Singh. They also killed their Dogra colleagues and then deserted, crossing over to the ranks of the tribals. Muzaffarabad and Domel was ransacked, the people butchered, raped and looted. Two days later, in Pulandri, they announced the formation of a provisional ‘Azad Kashmir’ government,[xii] before continuing their advance to Srinagar.
Under these conditions, the Maharaja requested India’s help, but was told that this could not be given unless he acceded to India. This was agreed to by the Maharaja and the Instrument of Accession was signed on 26 October 1947. The Indian Army was flown in to Srinagar on 27 October and they managed to halt the raiders on the outskirts of the city. Thereafter, the raiders were pushed back till a ceasefire was declared on 31 December 1948. With this, Pakistan remained in possession of about one-third of the state of J&K, to include the areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and Mirpur-Muzaffarabad. This line has seen minor modifications post the 1971 war with Pakistan, where it came to be known as the Line of Control. Post the 1971 Indo-Pak War, Turtuk, lying in the Nubra Valley and on the banks of the Shyok River was liberated by Indian forces and now forms one of the northernmost villages in the Leh District of Ladakh.
The inclusion of Article 370 into the Constitution of India had not been demanded by the people of J&K, nor was it demanded by Maharaja Hari Singh when he acceded to India. The Article giving special status to the state was a temporary measure, and so was included in PART XXI of the Constitution, which pertained to Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions. The insertion of Article 35A in 1954, which was the more insidious development, gave the state of J&K the power to determine who was a state subject and such determination could not be challenged by the Indian State. This Article was inserted without the mandatory approval of the Indian Parliament. Both Article 370 and 35 A can be said to have hindered the emotional integration of J&K with the rest of the Indian Union.
The Radicalisation of J&K
The problem of radicalisation which seeped into the state had its origins in the growth, since the mid-1960s, of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Indoctrinated cadres from the Jamaat were soon absorbed in government institutions, particularly in government schools. It was the Jamaat which radicalised the Muslims in J&K, especially in the Valley. The Government banned the Jamaat-e-Islami and its educational wing Falah-e-Aam Trust in 1992 for indulging in anti-social activities, but inexplicably, absorbed all the teachers in government schools![xiii] Terrorism and radicalisation thus grew hand in hand in J&K, with Pakistan lending full support to terrorist groups. To view the conflict in Kashmir as a fight for ‘Azadi,’ is hence a misnomer. It was always a fight for Nizam-e-Mustafa—rule by Shariat and not by democratic norms. Also, developments with the state always had a Kashmir-centric agenda, despite the Kashmir division having only 55 percent of the population,[xiv] and just one-sixth of the land area of the state.[xv] The voices from Jammu and Ladakh remained smothered. Even within Kashmir Division, it was but a small coterie of people, comprising a fraction of the population, that held complete sway over the state. These were, what Bashir Assad refers to in his book, “K File” as the Mullah clan—the people who had come to the Valley about 600 years earlier to preach Islam. They are the present day Geelanis, Muftis, Shah, Handanis, Naqshbandis, Andrabis, Bukharis etc, and they achieved a stranglehold over the state, dominating the original inhabitants, as well as the states political and bureaucratic landscape.[xvi] The power of this group has now been eroded.
The abrogation of Special Status to the state of J&K and its bifurcation into the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (with a legislature) and the Union Territory of Ladakh (without a legislature) brings fresh hope of normalcy settling into the region. The perfidious designs of Pakistan and their supporters within India are finally being addressed, which should bring peace to the region. For the moment, the efforts of the government of India must remain on seeing the total return to normalcy in the two new Union Territories. The events over the last one year have shown great promise towards that end.
(Maj. Gen. Dhruv C. Katoch is Editor, India Foundation Journal and Director, India Foundation)
[i] K.S.Valdiya, Geography, People’s and Geodynamics of India in Puranas and Epics, A Geologists Interpretation, New Delhi, Aryan Books, 2012, p 33
[ii] Binod S Das, “The Himalayan Frontier from the Sanskrit Sources” in N.R.Ray, Editor, Himalayan Frontier in Historical Perspective, Calcutta, Institute of Historical Studies, 1986, p2.
[iii] K.Sadeswin, “The Himalayas in early Tamil Literature” in N.R.Ray, Editor, Himalaya Frontier in Historical Perspective, Institute of Historical Studies, Calcutta, 1986, p8.
[iv] EA Paemu, A History of Muslim Rule in Kashmir, 1320-1819, Chapter 3, available at https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.118667/2015.118667.A-History-Of-Muslim-Rule-In-Kashmir_djvu.txt
[v] Mohammad Ashraf, Shah-i-Hamadan, the “Apostle of Kashmir”, Kashmir First, available at http://www.kashmirfirst.com/articles/history/070520_shah-i-hamadan.htm, accessed on 2 December 2019.
[vi] Arjan Nath Chaku & Inder K Chaku, The Kashmir Story through the ages, Vitasta Publishing, New Delhi, p 3.
[vii] Suresh Chander, Kashmir a Misnomer – In the light of Amritsar Treaty, Daily Excelsior, 22/12/2019, available at https://www.dailyexcelsior.com/kashmir-a-misnomer-in-the-light-of-amritsar-treaty/.
[viii] Note 6, p 21-26
[ix] Note 6, p 27-28
[x] Note 6, p 49.
[xi] Rohit Singh, Operations in Jammu and Kashmir, 1947-48, Scholar Warrior, Autumn 2012, available at https://archive.claws.in/images/journals_doc/SW%20i-10.10.2012.150-178.pdf
[xii] Verghese Koithara, Crafting Peace in Kashmir through a Realist Lens, Sage, New Delhi, p 38
[xiii] Bashir Assad, K File: The Conspiracy of Silence, Vitasta, New Delhi, p 36-39.
[xiv] Census of India, 2011.
[xv] This does not include territories illegally occupied by China and Pakistan.
[xvi] Bashir Assad, P 2-18