Punjab and Kashmir: Synergy of Masses

It was on my recent trip to Punjab that I realised, you can say recollected, that I had heard and seen four generations of mine traveling to the Punjab for succor including me. My grand father had purchased a book ilmi tib wa haq from Lahore somewhere in 1920s that is still in my possession, my father was a regular annual visitor/ worker for most of his life, I worked there for a few years and my son studied for about the same time. I realised that there have been generations of Kashmiris who had done the same and of course vice versa. I felt to write a piece on the subject from the common human perspective.

It is an irony that we often take and sometimes even seek our identity through the victories of a few soldiers/ warriors/commanders who we think are/ were from our clan/ tribe/ ethnicity or geography, while we hate a whole “people” for the victories of “their” soldiers/ warriors etc; during battles lasting from a few hours to a few months/years. In fact much of written history has preserved the characters and events of such battles with marked detail, sometimes pretty exaggerated, compared to the general conditions of prevailing life, the interactions and exchanges among general public/ common masses, the social fabric, peoples’ struggles, customs, morals, festivities, rituals, relationships, valuor in times of natural and other calamities.

A reading of local historical record would reveal how thousands of years of interaction among the people of the Punjab and Kashmir has been generally reduced to a few years of the Lahore State rule over Kashmir and here again one would see most of the historical discussion around a few events and some political/ military figures. And Lahore State rule lasted for just 28 years while the travel, trade, cultural exchange and immigration and permanent settlement of groups across both territories has been a continuous process for thousands of years. Similarly we see a discussion about whether and how Kashmiri Kings Damodara getting killed fighting alongside the Kauravas at Kurukshetra, Abisaras fighting in support of Porus against Alexander in the Punjab Doab, either switching sides or surrendering to the later, and the powerful Dalit king Lalitaditya conquering Punjab, but not much detail is available about the ordinary masses of the times.

Now If we go by the popular mythology, that has been passed to us for generations as history, the major chunk of Kashmiri population originates from a single monolithic social group that has migrated from the banks of Saraswati, a river supposedly flowing through Punjab during ancient times, who settled in the valley and developed a distinct language and culture of its own, the people of the region by and large emerge from a common stock. However, the fact remains that Kashmir had been inhabited long before the Aryan arrival on the subcontinent. It is highly probable that when Aryans arrived they settled simultaneously in the plains of Punjab as well as the mountains and the river banks in the Kashmir Valley and even by this probability the majority has a common (recent) ancestry. While it is a fact that people have used the Silk Route through the northern passes to to travel and trade in and out of Kashmir, from the evidence available it would be safe to assume that the people of Kashmir and Punjab have not only mixed, travelled and often migrated to/ from and settled permanently on both sides without any recorded skirmishes or troubles but always depended on the trade and resources of each other as well.

Kashmir has all along its history been inundated by major or minor floods, followed usually by tremors but always by the calamity of cholera and dysentery resulting in lethal death and destruction. Even thirty/ forty years back we would witness annual flash floods during the moths between May and August that would bring along huge debris of sediments and plants from the mountains and deposit them in the plains of the Valley in and around the main rivers. These floods would also deposit carcasses of dead animals that would in due course decay and infect the whole water system causing cholera and other waterborne diseases. Besides floods famine seems to have been a regular feature that would occur every two to three decades, either due to untimely snowfall or due to the overflow from rivers getting stagnated in large portions of culturable crop yielding land. Except for a few occasions, the rulers and their administrative personnel would generally add to the misery of the masses by robbing and hoarding whatever grain was available with a heavy might. A mere glimpse of the records available conveys that population during some of these periods would perish by one half to two thirds or more. Besides Kashmir has witnessed some of the worst fires and occasionally plagues that would create havoc.

During the famine of 1576 more than half of the population perished. In 1622 it was the plague that wiped a huge chunk and the famine of 1831 destroyed two thirds to three forths of the population. And then we have at least two occasions when similar or greater miseries were inflicted on the general masses by rulers/ invaders Mihirkula and Zulju. It was during such periods of havoc that groups of people would cross the mountains for succor and some would settle permanently in the plains of Punjab, and as documented record would suggest, more so after the annexation of Kashmir by the Mughals who already controlled the Punjab that may not be necessarily true as absence of documentation does not mean that it was not so earlier. During 1640 to 1646 thousands migrated to Lahore and its surroundings to settle permanently. During 1746 almost half of the population died while almost half of the remaining half migrated to the Punjab. Again during the famine of 1831 and 1877 mass numbers migrated. If we go by the census conducted by the British in1901 about 18 percent of Kashmir population was living in Punjab in the twin cities of Lahore and Amritsar and Sialkot/ Rawalpindi. Different sources also suggest that almost one sixth of the total population of Amritsar was Kashmiri at the time of partition that entirely migrated to Pakistan at that time.

Many Kashmiris excelled in Punjab and they include Allama Iqbal, Mantoo, Maulana Sanaulla Amritsari (who wrote Tafsiri Sanayee), Shareef brothers and Salman Taseer etc. However, it wasn’t untill recently that I came to know about Dr. Saifuddin Kitchloo and his role in the Indian National Congress particulary during the pre partitioned Punjab. He held the position of the chief of Punjab Congress and also got elevated to the General Secretary of INC in 1924 and opposed the partition vehemently. It was his arrest along with that of Stayapal in 1919 and later Ghandi that a huge gathering appeared in the Jalyanwala Bagh to protest, that was fired upon resulting in the infamous massacre. Again as fate had it, he couldn’t stop the rioters burning his home in Amritsar that led him away from Punjab to Delhi. Some one needs to look deeply into why he moved away from INC after 1947.

Kashmiris continue to pay annual winter visits to the Indian Punjab, after the partition, for work to earn some cash to overcome the hardships faced back home as Kashmir backhome was/ is not still able to feed its inhabitants from its own resources due to reasons both natural and political. I as a child, like others in my village, used to celebrate their return in springs calling it “return of the Punjabi”. Now the numbers are considerably reduced and only a few families have settled permanently. However, the numbers of Kashmiri students studying in Indian Punjab is on the increase. Like in the past our teachers would aquire a degree from Lahore University. It is the same for other regions of Jammu and Kashmir including those living across the LOC working / studying in West Punjab but here I am restricting myself to ethnic Kashmiris.

On the other side we see Punjabi settlements in different parts of the Valley. Essentially it is the Sikh population that represents the Punjabi population living across the length and breadth of Kashmir. The Sikh population retains Punjabi as its mother tounge while speaking Kashmiri as well. It has retained all the elements of Punjabi culture while picking the local tradition and assimilating in the main body politic of the masses. Sikhs migrated to the valley during the period of the Khalsa rule, that as I said earlier, lasted only a brief period of twenty eight years between 1818 and 1846 but the Sikh-Kashmir connection is as old as the Sikh religion.

It is widely believed that Baba Nanak along with Bhayee Mardhana visited and spent some time at Martanda/ Mattan where unfortunately the Sikh baradhari is struggling to construct a Gurduwara due to some stubborn opposition from the other religious Kashmiri “minority” and the matter is lingering in Courts at Anantnag for decades now. Again it is at the complaint of alleged forcible conversion of the same local minority by Awrangzeb that was prostested by Guru Teg Bahadur leading to his martyrdom. Although not mentioned by the earlier Sikh historians, the official accounts of Sri Harmandir Sahib/ Golden Temple, I have been told, mention that its foundation stone was laid by the Sufi peer Sai Mian Mir at the invitation of Guru Arjan. I wonder if it has some Kashmir connection, as many Kashmiris carry the surname Mir. There is another community settled in District Kupwara and in and around village Yaripora in Kulgam district. It is the Bomba or as we call them b’umye tribe who we suppose have arrived from Muzafferabad but as I personally know the tribe speaks perfect Punjabi and has retained it as its mother tongue.

It was Raja Sher Ahmad Khan who fought for and on behalf of the remnants of the Lahore state against the take over of Kashmir by Ghulab Sing but when the British intervened he was given a jaagir around Yaripora. He died and is burried at Yaripora in the local shrine. His direct descendants live mostly at Yaripora while as his tribe inhabits the nearby villages of Chak-e-Yambratchh and Braz’ul. Again during the Ghulab Singh family rule, many bureaucrats from Punjab joined the civil services and some of them settled permanently in the Valley. This piece would be incomplete without a reference to the spiritual journeys/ travels that people of Kashmir and Punjab have undertaken during all these years. I referred to the visit and stay of Baba Nanak in Kashmir. While Kashmiris were resisting the annexation of Kashmir by Mughals the Kashmiri population had struck a spiritual chord with another of his adversaries who had revolted against his clergy (and in turn imprisoned) and settled in current Indian Punjab town of Sirhind. He is one of the founders, if not the founder, of the Naqashbandhia Sufi order that has enjoyed a lot of influence among large sections of Kashmiris. Kashmiris have been regular visitors to his shrine and most likely visited him in person. He is Ahmad Al Farouqi Al Sirhindi.

To conclude I would say that there has been a lot of synergy among the common people of Punjab and Kashmir through ages. That continues to this day but is almost forgotten, neither written about nor documented. The interaction, exchange and the confluence of the two cultures needs an indepth investigation. The available history books seem to be occupied by the narrative of the battles, the wars, the rulers, the politicians and their courtiers lacking the necessary detail about the masses inhabiting the two adjustant geographies. The two people have come to the rescue of each other in times of distress, calamity sharing a bond of affinity, camaraderie and spirituality all along.

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Ali Malik

Author is an astute Kashmir observer with an interest in and stamina to correct the wrongs of the history.

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