Paradise on Earth, the ancient land of ethereal beauty and salubrious climate- Kashmir has lived through a tumultuous history that is only beginning to find peace and harmony in the 21st century.
History of Kashmir Is Divided Into 4 Periods
Kashmiris divide their history into four periods: the early period of Hindu Kings, when Kashmir was a vibrant seat of knowledge and philosophy famously chronicled in Rajatarangini written by the Kashmiri poet Kalhan; the second period is signified with the advent of Islam known as Salatini Kashmir; the next period is that of the Mughals known as Padshahi-i-Chagatai or Shahan-i-Mughlia, and the final period is of the Pathans known as the Shahan-i-Durrani.
Legend of Kashmir
Kashmir has the unique distinction of being the only region in India which possesses an uninterrupted series of written records of its history. As per legend, an ascetic named Kashyapa reclaimed the land now known as Kashmir from a vast lake which came to be known as Kashyapamar and later Kashmir.
The first half of the millennium Kashmir was an epicenter for Hinduism. Buddhism was introduced to the valley by the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century. From 9th to 12th century. Hindu culture bloomed and blossomed in the valley through a succession of Hindu dynasties until 1346 when it came under Muslim rule, which lead to the Islamization of the valley which lasted nearly five centuries, ending with Kashmir being annexed to the Sikh kingdom of Punjab in 1819 and then to the Dogra kingdom in Jammu in 1846.
The First Muslim Ruler of Kashmir
Shah Mir, of Turkish origins, is regarded as the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir. He was in the courtroom of King Ranachandra working as a chief of affairs. After Kashgar ruler Anandadeva overran Rananchandra’s kingdom, he had Muslim state employees including Shah Mir removed from their positions. Shah Mir subsequently led the revolt which led to Anandadeva’s death in 1326.
In 1339 Shah Mir founded his own dynasty and handed over the kingdom of his two sons Jamshed and Sher Ali. Soon, a struggle for power erupted between the two brothers and Jamshed emerged victorious and adopted the title of Alauddin. He died in 1363 and Sher Ali, his brother, assumed the throne and title of Shahbuddin.
He led campaigns to the south and stood victorious over the Samma Dynasty of Sindh, bringing the ruler of Kangra under his suzerainty. Shahabuddin died in 1386 and was succeeded by the next in line Qutubuddin, who was replaced in 1396 by his son Sikander.
Sikander was a controversial king referred to by the epithet ‘Butshikan’ meaning destroyer of idols. Scores of Hindu temples were destroyed during this reign and many Hindus were forced to convert under the pressure of absolute atrocities. Sikander tried to deracinate Kashmir from its Hindu roots until his death in 1416 and was succeeded by his son Amir Khan. Amir Khan was soon removed by his brother Shadi Khan in 1422 who took the title of Zain-ul-Abidin.
A Secular and Development Period in Kashmir
Zain-ul-Abidin was more benevolent than his predecessors and allowed Hindus and Buddhist to practice their religion and restored some temples as well. He constructed lakes, canals and was an ardent patron of art, literature and poetry. He died in 1472 and was succeeded by Haji Khan who ruled only for a year and was further succeeded by his son Hasan who ruled for a volatile 13 years and left the throne to his minor son Muhammad.
Mughal Empire in Kashmir
After Muhammad, Kashmir faced a time of great uncertainty for the next fifty years, a part of which was ruled by the Chak Dynasty. By the end of this 50-year period, Kashmir came under the Mughal Empire under Akbar, who founded the city of Srinagar. Until this time, Kashmir was an independent entity in itself but with the advent of the Mughals, Kashmir lost its sovereignty in 1586 and became part of the larger Mughal Empire.
Although this annexation wasn’t easy and the Mughal army was defeated twice by the defiant Kashmiris. Akbar gained this territory by deceit, offering the Chak king a hand of friendship after which his Mughal commander Qasim Khan led the annexation treacherously. Kashmir, however, did accept the Mughal rule for a long time and fought invaders through guerilla warfare continuously for many years.
During the rule of Aurangzeb, in the last decade of the 17th century the Mughal Empire began to decline. Due to chao ensued by the falling empire, the founder of the Durrani empire in Afghanistan began consolidating power in Kashmir. Kashmir was raided close to eight times between 1748 to 1767, during the course of which Kashmir was conquered by the Afghani ruler in 1752.
Afghan Rule in Kashmir
The Afghan rule lasted for about 67 years and this period was again marked by ghastly oppression, high taxation and governors at the helm of affairs who were known for their cruelty, brutality, indifference toward the local population, culture and belief system.
The Afghans fought with the Sikhs several times during their rule, the Sikhs under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. By the late 18th and early 19th century, the British East India Company also began to consolidate its power in the Indian subcontinent.
Kashmir witnessed many conflicts and tussle of power among the Afghans, Sikhs and British East India company at this time. The first to be pushed out from the three warring parties were the Afghans. In 1819 Kashmir was brought under the control of Ranjit Singh’s forces, bringing an end to the harsh, oppressive Muslim rule that lasted for more than four centuries in the valley.
The Sikhs were tolerant and respectful towards the now multi religious Kashmir, however some decisions irked the majority Muslim population. The Sikhs ensured that there was adequate representation of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in the administration.
British Rule in Kashmir
Ranjit Singh died in 1839 and the British came close to their long-cherished dream of annexing Punjab. The infighting within the Sikh empire, paved the way for the East India Company and soon the Company established a cantonment in Sindh and annexed Sindh in a few years, after which Punjab was also annexed in 1849. Kashmir was acquired by the British as per the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846 which made Gulab Singh the first Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir after he and the British reached an understanding. The modern state of Jammu and Kashmir took shape under the Dogra rule.
Gulab Singh was succeeded by Ranbir Singh in 1857 after whom Pratap Singh came to power in 1885. Hari Singh took the throne in 1925. The Dogra rule signified the resurgence of Hinduism in the valley. Key positions in state administration were held by Kashmir Pandits.
Kashmiri Muslims remained engaged in agriculture, art, handicraft which flourished during this time. The Dogra rule came to end shortly after India gained independence. Jammu Kashmir was given the opportunity to either align with Pakistan, India or remain independent like other princely states. Maharaja Hari Singh signed a standstill agreement with Pakistan choosing to remain independent and not align with either of the two newly formed nation states.
Pakistan and Kashmir
Pakistan invaded Kashmir by sending Pashtun tribesmen from Pakistan in October 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh, having no other option, signed the Instrument of Accession with the Indian government in October 1947 by order of which the Indian troops entered Jammu and Kashmir defended it from the violence unleashed by Pakistan. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was appointed as the Emergency Administrator of Jammu and Kashmir by Maharaja Hari Singh.
After this, India took the Kashmir conflict to the UN for resolution, Sheik Mohammad was appointed the Prime Minister of an interim government. The UN Security Council mediated a ceasefire agreement in March 1948. A referendum was also ordered by the UN Security Council, which was to be held after the Pakistani troops withdrew from the State. The referendum was never conducted as the first condition of Pakistan retreating was never met by the country.
Jammu and Kashmir National Conference
Maharaja Hari Singh abdicated as the head of the state and appointed his son Yuvraj Karan Singh, who issued a proclamation for elections of a Constituent Assembly in Kashmir. Elections were thereby held in September 1951 and Jammu & Kashmir National Conference won all seats in the Constituent Assembly.
The Constituent Assembly was convened in October 1951. In 1953 Prime Minister Sheik Abdullah was dismissed by Karan Singh and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was appointed as the Prime Minister in August 1953; Sheik Abdullah was arrested and imprisoned on this day too, after which protests ensued killing close to 70 individuals. In February of 1954, the Constituent Assembly voted to ratify the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Constitution of India was formally adopted by the Constituent Assembly in November 1956 and the Constitution entered into force on January 26th 1957. This was followed by a tumultuous period where Sheik Abdullah was arrested and released from prison several times that fueled the unrest in the valley.
Pakistan Insurgency in Kashmir and the Plight of Kashmiri Pandits
From 1965 to 1966 armed insurgents from Pakistan attacked government installations, government police, troops and launched a military offensive within Kashmir. The Indian forces launched a counter-offensive against Pakistan, while China intervened expressing its dubious support for the Kashmiri people. Another cease-fire was agreed upon and representatives from Pakistan and India signed a Soviet Union mediated Tashkent Declaration in January 1966.
Turmoil continued in paradise on Earth and in December 1989 members of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front launched an insurgency against the Indian government. This also marked the ghastly exodus of the few remaining Kashmiri Pandits, where they were threatened to convert or die and were forced out of the valley almost overnight.
JKFL unleashed absolute terror on the Indian government, troops and locals (Kashmiri Pandits). This also marked the beginning of Pakistan sponsored militancy and terrorism in the valley which continues to this day, although has been quelled to a very large extent.
Local Kashmiri youths were fueled with hatred towards Hindus and India, Pakistan encouraged a made-up struggle for self-determination which took the shape of brutal Islamic militancy. Millions of people lost their lives, homes and property during this time, which included both government troops, officials and local Kashmiris including both Hindus and Muslims.
Temporary Special Status
Kashmir was offered a temporary special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which allowed Kashmir limited autonomy within the larger framework of federal India. Despite this privilege and complete support of successive central governments, Kashmir remained marred by continuous violence involving militants, terrorist organizations and Indian forces.
The fate of Kashmir remained volatile, simmering with deep dissatisfaction and increasing Islamic supremacy until very recently. On 5th August 2019, the Government of India revoked the temporary special status so awarded under the Constitution of India.
Jammu and Kashmir which earlier includes Leh and Ladakh were separated and turned into two separate Union territories- Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The prominent state leaders, responsible for the worsened condition of the state were put under house arrest which led to deep dissatisfaction among the Kashmiri political elite but paved the way for an eerie time of peace in the valley that wasn’t experienced in centuries.
Despite the political and social turmoil that this ethereal land suffered, its enchanting beauty did not discourage people from visiting it. Kashmir remained and continues to be a shining gem in the crown of India. The recent political and administrative restructuring brings a new dawn of peace and tranquility in the valley. Instances of violence have drastically reduced and the people of Kashmir are slowly beginning to relish the rare and refreshing socio-political peace the valley is witnessing.