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Change of an era -1

The Kashmiri Hindus endured the atrocities by foreign invaders for Five hundred long years but did not despond. When the Hindu kingdom was established in neighbouring Punjab, the Kashmiri Pandits, with meticulous astuteness and vigilance, contacted Maharaja Ranjit Singh and emplaced the Hindu kingdom in Kashmir.

Birbal Dhar, was the hero behind this turn of history.

The unstoppable protraction of religious conversion, which had begun since Shahmeer’s rule, went on, with enormous barbarism, till the tenure of the last Afghan Subedar Azim Khan. The abode of Hindu cultural identity had been forcefully eradicated, with the help of Sword and Spear, and turned into Islamic Kashmir. Time and again, the monstrous and callous brutality was enforced on the ab-original Hindus of Kashmir, but in spite of it, the foreign invaders were unable in exterminating the original Kashmiri society. The Kashmiri Hindus endured innumerable and immense pain for a long span of Five centuries and sacrificed boundlessly to safeguard the Hindu values of life.

The last Afghan Subedar Azim Khan understood the need of Kashmiri Pandit for governing the state, while it was facing lawlessness and internecine recusancy.

This is one undeniable but painful truth that each Islamic ruler of Kashmir, utilized the capabilities and intellect of Pandits to administer efficiently but once their political expedience was obtained, they did not leave any stone unturned, in barbarically diminishing their existence along with their religious identity.

Subedar Azim Khan had handed over the responsibility of administration, to three socially prominent personalities, Pandit Birbal Dhar, Pandit Sukhram (Sahajram), and Mirza Pandit. These three Hindu leaders were proficient and skillful administrators but their ascending status and control over the governance did not go well with the fanatic and vengeful group of Muslim Commanders. They denounced Birbal Dhar for misappropriation of the government treasury. He was alleged to have embezzled Crores of rupees and instigated Subedar against him. The religious brotherhood prevailed over the truth. Subedar got carried away by the consistent provocation and without dwelling in proper inquiry, instructed to seize the wealth of Birbal Dhar.

This incitement resulted in a cloud of bale over the entire Kashmiri Hindu community as the Subedar permitted brutality, to extinct Kashmiri Hindus’ existence.

The bewildered Pandits of Kashmir decided to save the Hindu community, come what may, and arranged a confidential meeting with the pious and patriotic intention, to shelter the Kashmiri Hindu community. The venue of the meet was Mirza Pandit’s home. All significant political, social, and religious leaders participated in it.

The agenda underlined was regarding solving the gigantic enigma. They came to a conclusion that complication was not just Kashmir’s problem but it also had national implications and the solution had to be brought from the nationwide perspective to prevent the repetition of such atrocities in the coming years.

Finally, it was resolved with the decision to reach out to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and seek his help. Politically ingenious and acumen, Pandit Birbal Dhar was assigned this responsibility.

Somehow, the Subedar derived faint information about this plan. He called for Mirza Pandit for inquiry but Mirza Pandit, very adroitly, convinced him. By the time,, Birbal Pandit and his son Raja Kaak, dressed in disguise, were on the way towards Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom. They halted at Devsar, a little away from Srinagar.

The local Muslims, helped them cross over the PirPanjal range.

One noteworthy point to note here was the dedicated patriotism illustrated by some of the local Muslim families. Many of them were originally Kashmiri Hindus and natives of the land. As a result of atrocities by Islamic invaders, they were forced to accept religious conversion but their affinity with the soil and connectivity with the Kashmiri eco-system was still animated. Their strong support in the attempt for national emancipation would be remembered in history.

Pandit Birbal and his son’s outwitting the Subedar and his fanatic followers and that too, through the safe passage by some of the Muslim Commanders, did not go down well with the Subedar. He ordered his army to follow them and catch them, alive or dead.

But, now it was too late. Hence, the patriotic Muslim families had to face the wrath. They were caught and killed and their properties were seized. The houses where Birbal Dhar and son Raja Kaak had halted, were burnt to ashes, along with the entire family and the Government subsidies to the town were terminated.

Mirza Pandit, was aware of each movement of Father- Son duo, but this was a secret mission, hence he did not utter a single word about it, while talking to Subedar, he cleverly told him, that if Pandit Birbal Dhar was able to reach Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court then he would certainly come back with his Hindu- Sikh army to Kashmir and if not, he would go to Haridwar and choose to penance on the bank of river Ganges.

These words of Mirza Pandit were incendiary in the already blazing heart of Subedar Azim Khan as he very well knew, in his heart of heart, that Pandit Birbal Dhar would surely succeed in his endeavor. He was well aware of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s dedicated patriotism, his commitment to Hinduism, and his powerful kingdom. He could envision his dominance over Kashmir’s Islamic rule, shattering.

Fuming with rage he instructed to arrest the women of Pandit Birbal Dhar.

Pandit Birbal Dhar knew in his heart, what kind of fate was waiting for his family once he and his son took the plunge, and yet, it was essential for the larger interest of the Kashmiri Hindu community. He and his family were convinced that national interest was supreme and sacrificing for national pride, though heartbreaking, was indispensable.

When Birbal Pandit conveyed his feelings to his wife, she willingly avowed, though with teary eyes. She assured him that she would not hesitate in sacrificing her life but would not let any foreign blood touch her. Birbal Pandit’s wife advised her husband and son Raja Kaak to undergo every strain and trouble, but not alienate from their path of devoir.

What a moment and what a commitment…

This sacrifice of not only Birbal Dhar and his son but also of the women of the family would be carved in history.

Birbal Pandit’s wife knew that she was hugging her son, for the last time but she did not deter from her allegiance. She stood rock solid and applied Vijay Tilak on her husband and son’s forehead when they stepped out for their mission for the welfare of the nation, religion, and Kashmiri Hindu society.

After bidding adieu to her near ones, she and Raja Kaak’s young wife, began their Pooja of Shiv and Trishul, praying for fulfillment of their quest.

Pandit Birbal Dhar handed over the responsibility of safeguarding his family, in hands of his fiducial colleague and friend, Kaadis Khan Gojwaari. Both the women were kept in complete secrecy under extremely severe and accurate security and not a soul was aware of their whereabouts, except a Hindu Pandit Basaaram Kaak. Basaaram Kaak, knew as he was the one, who had dropped both the women at Kaadis khan’s home.

Somehow, Azim Khan acquired this discreetly kept the news that Basaaram Kaak had the information about Pandit Birbal Dhar’s family. Initially, he was lured to Fiefdom, Gold, and a significant post in the administration but this firm and determined person did not succumb to any of this inveiglement and did not divulge any confidential information. He was kept hungry for nine days. His eyes were pulled out. His flesh was scratched out using a hot wire. He was charged with a fine of nine thousand rupees per day for nine days (imagine, nine thousand of two hundred years ago).

Even after such immense suffering, Basaaram Kaak did not open his mouth. On the Tenth day, frustrated Subedar ordered the soldiers to assassinate him and cut open his stomach using a heated spear.

Pandit Basaaraam Kaak martyred himself for the national interest.

Subedar Azim Khan used all his sources in locating the two women of Pandit Birbal’s family. Kaadis khan too took utmost care in safely hiding them but destiny had written martyrdom for these two women, for sake of Kashmir. As generally happens, one of Kaadis khan’s associates leaked about their whereabouts, even after taking utmost precautions. The Subedar killed Kaadis khan and imprisoned the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law.

When the soldiers of Subedar’s army were taking them away, the mother-in-law swallowed a diamond, in her stomach but the daughter-in-law did not have the courage to do so. Both were presented before the Subedar and the Mother, roared out at the Subedar, giving a hateful glance, and stated, “The brutality by heretic and scoundrel rulers would end soon and the Afghan rulers would also be destroyed. My husband and son have reached Ranjit Singh’s kingdom…..”

She could barely finish her words, before breathing her last. She had fulfilled her resolution and did not allow any other male to come close to her but the daughter-in-law, Raja Kaak’s wife was sent away to Kabul with one of the commanders.

This depicts the massive difference between the two cultures.

History has noted that almost one hundred fifty years prior to this occurrence, the Maratha army of Chatrapati Shivaji defeated the Muslim Subedar, at Kalyan (near Pune). The Maratha soldiers acquired the arms and ammunition and his fort. The soldiers also brought along his young wife and presented her in front of Shivaji Maharaj. Chatrapati rebuked them and instructed them never to ever repeat this mistake in the future. He addressed Subedar’s wife as ‘Mother’ and sent her back to Subedar loaded with gifts of Gold.

Pandit Birbal Dhar and his son Raja Kaak were continuing their journey, crossing over every hurdle. Witnessing their courage and commitment towards accomplishing a much-needed goal, many Kashmiri Hindu Pandits and a few nationalist Muslim Commanders, Mallick of Kulgam, Zulfiqar, and Kamgar, who were the warden of the Devsar Pass also joined and followed them. The group managed to reach Maharaja Gulabsinh’s court in Jammu. Maharaja Gulab Singh gave them a letter addressed to Raja Dhyansinh, Prime Minister of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and organized their journey to Lahore.

Once in Lahore, Raja Dhyansinh arranged their audience with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Pandit Birbal Dhar poured out their entire saga of sufferings and atrocities incurred on them.

Maharaja gave them attentive hearing and was pained to hear about their misery. He believed this was not just an attack on a community but it was a national ambush. He was a dedicated Sikh, hence the saga of Guru Tegbahadur’s heroic sacrifice, and the young children of Guru Gobind Singh being sealed behind a wall haunted his soul.

He immediately ordered his army to charge up. Maharaja asked Pandit Birbal to stay with the army and provide them with information about different geographical terrain. Pandit readily agreed and left his son as indemnity, in Lahore court.

As soon as Subedar Azim Khan received the news about the Sikh army stepping out to attack Kashmir, he was thunderstruck. He was certain that he would have to give an account of his sins. He was so terrorized that he decided to immediately send all of his Gold and Precious Jewels, money along with his entire harem, under the security of Pandit Sahajram to Kabul. In a few days, he himself decided to flee and handed over the kingdom to his brother, Jabbar Khan.

While dislodging from Kashmir, Azim Khan did not leave Kashmiri Pandit, in peace. He forced Pandit Suraj Tikko, to accompany him, with the intention of grabbing his wealth. When he was unable to find anything from him, he assassinated him near Baramulla.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent five of his valorous commander led by Maharaja’s heir, Kharrak Singh along with thirty thousand’s army, to assist Pandit Birbal. The king of Jammu – Gulab Singh, Hari Singh Nalwa, Jwaala Sinh, Hukam Sinh, and Shyam Sinh fought courageously and defeated Jabbar Khan’s army. The Pathans were routed by the second day at Shopian, on June 15th, 1819, and Sixty Seven years of Afghan rule finally came to end.

Jabbar Khan too fled to Kabul.

On 20th June 1819, pandit Birbal entered Srinagar along with victor Sikh army and the sun of melioration rose above Kashmir sky.

It also drew the curtain on five centuries of Islamic rule.

Pandit Birbal Dhar’s exceptional accomplishment has been noted by Muhammad – Din – Faque – ” Pandit Birbal Dhar was a person with splendent persona. Any sacrifice, incurred with the propensity, was worthwhile. His dedication did not deter, even after being subjected to innumerable frightening persecutions, like the suicide of his loyal wife, abducting of his daughter-in-law and her forceful religious conversion, and heinous murders of family and friends. He kept progressing on his determined path to throw out the Afghans from their motherland. But, he did not forget his responsibility toward patriotic Muslims. Sikhs wanted to loot the state but he stood strong against it. When Phool Sinh wanted to demolish the pious mosque of Humdaan, he objected saying, ” The history would not pardon You. This one, significant deed of Birbal Dhar, history penned his name with Golden ink. He has been a noteworthy symbol of Pandit’s hereditary virtue of combating against the windfall of time.”

Sources of Information :

हमारी भूलोका स्मारक : धर्मांतरित कश्मीर

नरेन्द्र सहगल

कश्मीर : दहकते अंगारे

जगमोहन जी

जम्मू कश्मीर की अनकही कहानियां

कुलदीप चंद अग्निहोत्री

Kashmir : Behind The Vale

M J Akbar


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