Although I come from Kashmir, and have lived in the state for the first twenty years of my life, I have never been to Kishtwar. It was a region too remote from Srinagar or Jammu with no proper roads connecting it to the main cities. As we would travel from Srinagar to Jammu or back, we could see some milestones identifying the turnoffs for Doda, Bhadrawah and Kishtwar. These milestones were the only physical signs of the existence of the region. Remote regions breed myths and Kishtwar was no exception. There was this myth of the dayan (commonly understood as a witch or ogress) who was supposed to be the inhabitant of Kishtwar and who would prey upon the young and handsome men who had the misfortune of being marked by her. A distant relative of mine, working for the state government, was transferred to Kishtwar, where apparently he became the victim of a dayan. He started to waste away and soon was a mere skeleton. His family brought him back to Srinagar where the doctors were unable to diagnose his ailment. I have heard that a crow used to come every day and sit on the window sill of his room. Eventually he died in great pain and agony. The family believed that the Kishtwari dayan had consumed parts of him when he was in Kishtwar and later when he was shifted to Srinagar; the dayan followed him in the form of a crow to complete the job. There is also the story of Maharaja Pratap Singh, the Dogra ruler of Kashmir, who had a dayan brought from Kishtwar to his Durbar, where he ordered her to demonstrate her powers. She asked him to keep an apple on a table in the middle of the hall. Apparently, after a few moments when the apple was picked up it was found to have been consumed from within leaving the peel intact. I don’t know what the king did to this woman as there is no record of the event, except in the oral folklore of Kashmir. It seems obvious to me that most of the supposed victims of the dayan were either suffering from tubercular consumption or from a cancer that had not been fully understood by medical science at that time and place. But why the creatures were linked only to Kishtwar is not clear? Perhaps some Kishtwaris can throw some light on this mystery.
In the history of Kashmir, there was a Queen named Didda, the daughter of the Lohar sardar Simharaj, who married Khemgupta, the Emperor of Kashmir. Kalhan’s description of Didda in the “Rajtarangini” is rather mixed. After the death of her husband in 958 AD, Didda ruled as the Regent of her son and grandson until 980 AD and thereafter as the Empress of Kashmir until her death in 1003 AD. During these 45 years of her rule she saw her sons and grandsons die and there are some doubts as to whether these were natural deaths. She entered into a number of liaisons with courtiers and warriors and in her insecurity had many of her confidants put to death. I am not sure if later legends morphed Didda into the mythical dayan of Kishtwar.
What history has recorded is that the last Hindu King of Kashmir, before the advent of Islamic rule, was Sehdev, who ascended the throne in 1301 AD. Twenty years after his accession; Kashmir was attacked by a Tartar adventurer, Dulchu Khan, with an army of 70000 soldiers. Sehdev fled to Kishtwar, his father-in-laws kingdom, and left his subjects to the mercy of the invader. Dulchu Khan ransacked and burnt Kashmir, ordered genocide, and took more than 50000 Brahmins as slaves. However, it seems that while crossing the Devsar pass his entire caravan of soldiers and slaves was killed by avalanches. Sehdev abdicated his throne, and Ramachandra, his Chief of the Army, proclaimed himself as king. Rinchin, a Ladakhi refugee whom Sehdev had given shelter and a position of prominence rose in revolt against Ramachandra and tricked him into a truce, during which he was assassinated. In order to placate the restless population, Rinchin married Ramachandra’s daughter Kotarani, and tried to convert to the Hindu faith from his Buddhist religion. However, the Brahmins of Kashmir refused to accept his conversion and instead derided him saying that one cannot become a Hindu; one has to be born one. Rinchin’s anger at this rejection found him listening sympathetically to the preaching of Bulbul Shah, a mendicant from Persia, who was then spreading the message of Islam. Rinchin adopted Islam as his faith; and as Malik Sadruddin became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir.
Kishtwar, however, continued to be an independent kingdom, ruled by Rajputs, and it was only after the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s armies subdued Kishtwar in 1620 AD that Islam began to grow roots in this soil, through the preaching and precepts of Sufi saints and faquirs. However, the Pakistan-inspired insurgency form 1989 has resulted in the replacement of the indigenous Sufi culture of Kashmiri Islam by the imported harsh version of the Wahabi culture. The strain on the fabric of the centuries old culture of harmonious co-existence has crossed the breaking point and today Kashmir has become a tinderbox ready to explode at the slightest provocation. The almost 100 percent emigration of the Pandits and other minorities from the valley was achieved through coercion, open intimidation, and targeted murder. It may be right to put the blame for most of the atrocities on the Pakistani terrorists and the ISI, but the role of the majority of the local Kashmiri Muslims in supporting the perpetrators actively and passively cannot be wished away. Narendra Sehgal, in his “Converted Kashmir; Memorial of Mistakes” writes:
“After having ruined the heavenly land of Kashmir, Pakistan trained militants have marched successfully towards Doda district of Jammu region. As a result of population proportion and the directionless policy of Government of India, this region too has been engulfed by the fire of separatism. Killings of the Hindus, their migration, attack on police posts and direct encounters with the Army are taking firm roots in the area. Doda after Kashmir and then Jammu, it is part of a definite anti-national conspiracy hatched by Pakistan. All these anti-national activities, sabotage and subversion, take place in broad day light.”
At present the Muslims in this area constitute about 55% of the population, but the influence they wield through a non-secular government in the state is highly disproportionate to their numbers. The strategy that was so successfully implemented in the valley to drive the Pandits out is now seeing a repetition in the Districts of Doda and Kishtwar, and depending upon its success, will be introduced in Jammu. The intentions of the insurgents are not hidden. They are openly displayed by them with slogans written on the walls that read: “Kashmir Hindu say khali hai – ab Doda ki bari hai – “Azadi” – Al- Jehad, JKLF ka kya paigam? Jammu Kashmir banega Dar-ul-Islam.”
The latest riots in Kishtwar that started on the Friday after the Eid prayers are a manifestation of the same sinister plan to drive the Hindus and other minorities out of their homes in the areas south of the Pir Panjal range and to push Kashmiri Muslims into the vacant spaces left behind by the fleeing populations. This is a classic Chinese maneuver, using the ethnic majority Han Chinese to change the demography of Tibet and Xinjiang.
The Government of India, like King Sehdev, having abdicated its responsibility has abandoned the Hindus of Kashmir and their fate is now being decided by a partisan state administration that openly espouses the cause of the separatists. The State’s Home Minister, Sajjad Ahmed Kichloo, who hails from Kishtwar, is reported to have slapped a senior Government employee at the Tourist Reception Centre in Kishtwar on 19th August, just before the CM Omar Abdullah’s visit to the region. Not only did he slap him three times, but he also had his security personnel to thrash the poor unfortunate in full view of the police officers present. The employee is the Chief Executive Officer of Kishtwar and his crime was that he was not present at the Tourist Reception Centre when this probable descendent of Dulchu Khan appeared on the scene. This incident epitomizes the behavior and attitude of Omar Abdullah and his ministers.
The blackout imposed by the central and state governments on news from the disturbed areas, only adds fuel to the rumour-mills and makes an incendiary situation explosive. The stopping of Arun Jaitley at the Jammu airport is a clear indication that the government has something to hide. The news channels have reported that there were two deaths in the rioting on Friday, while reports from Jammu indicate that more than 50 Hindus have been killed and hundreds injured. The papers have reported that the Hindus have said that they were contemplating migration since the government was unable and unwilling to protect them. This is exactly what the separatists want!
The replication of the Kashmir valley strategy seems to be bearing fruit in Doda and Kishtwar, while our Prime Minister and his supporters in the press continue to believe that there is no alternative but to keep conducting a friendly dialogue with Pakistan. These pathetic pacifists have no compunctions when our jawans are butchered at the LOC by a hatred-indoctrinated soldier from Pakistan, and their keyboards start fluttering rapidly in defence of a failed PM who lost his sharm years ago in Egypt. The Bihar minister who said that soldiers join the armed forces only to die, will be pleased to learn that the PM’s former media advisor, Harish Khare reiterates in his column in The Hindu on 14th August 2013 that “there is nothing unusual about soldiers dying in the combat zone.” He wonders why “the nightly, outrage industry has gone into overdrive demanding an apology” from the minister “for pointing out that soldiers do die on the border.” Mr. Khare has forgotten that a jawan in the armed forces is also an employee earning a livelihood to look after his family, although he is prepared to sacrifice his life in the defence of his country. His job is to fight the enemy in the event of war, and not to be shot from behind by a coward who hates him for having a different faith. But Mr. Khare and the minister from Bihar do not have to worry about the enemy at the borders. They have not been handed out sub-standard bullet-proof vests to wear by the corrupt MOD administrators in charge of such purchases. They can safely sit in their air-conditioned homes and offices and pontificate. The greater tragedy is that there are enough media channels that subscribe to their views and find space for them.
Kishtwar’s mythical dayan seems to have found new life and is frantically making up for the lost opportunities after that alleged demonstration of her powers before Maharaja Pratap Singh. With renewed intensity she is eating the core of Kashmir while the new Maharajas in Delhi and Srinagar continue to see only the unblemished peel. I have heard from my elders that Maharaja Pratap Singh was an enlightened ruler and he must have somehow managed to put the dayan into the bottle and tightly corked it shut. But there seems to be a new Didda come to life who, in order to perpetuate her rule, has uncorked the bottle and let loose this enchanting ogress upon the hapless Hindus of Kashmir.
Read More By Vijaya Dar