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The heroic Sikh route to Kashmir

Guru Tegh Bahadur's martyrdom day, which was observed on December 4, should, inter alia, invite the nation's attention to the deep connecti...

Written by Jagmohan |
December 18, 1997

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom day, which was observed on December 4, should, inter alia, invite the nation’s attention to the deep connection that exists between Kashmir and Sikh faith and history.

Few in the country realise that Kashmir’s relationship with the rest of India did not begin in October, 1947. It is a centuries old relationship that is not only territorial but also one of mind and soul. Fewer still realise that, besides being a great nursery of Indian culture and civilisation, Kashmir had been a part of the empires of Ashoka, Kanishka, Harsha Vardhan, the Mughals and Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom was intimately connected with developments in Kashmir. There was hardly any other event which caused as great a revolutionary impact on the Sikh faith as this one.

The great fighting force, the Khalsa, which Guru Gobind Singh created and which lives and prospers as a brave and dynamic community, was a direct fallout of the barbarous and brutal torture to which a saintly soul like Guru Tegh Bahadur was subjected merely because he defended the right of Kashmiri Pandits to live in peace in accordance with the tenets of their religion.

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s response to the Kashmiri Pandits not only produced a revolutionary impact on the Sikh religion and outlook but also strengthened the social and cultural forces which facilitated national integration. And the Kashmiri Pandits to date feel one with the Sikhs.

Another great figure of Sikh history is Banda Singh Bahadur, whom Guru Gobind Singh bequeathed the task of carrying on the valiant fight against the injustices and atrocities of the Mughals. He resorted to guerrilla warfare and wrote many new chapters in the saga of Sikh rise to power.When arrested, he was put in a cage and tortured savagely before being put to death. Banda Bahadur, who has become immortal in Sikh folklore, came from what is now known as the state of Jammu and Kashmir. He was born near Rajouri. During his guerrilla fight, too, he took refuge in Jammu’s hills where his “Dera”, known as Dera Banda Bahadur, still exists.

The return of Kohinoor to India from Afghanistan also took place through Kashmir. Wafa Begum, wife of the Afghan Amir, Shah Shuja, sought the help of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in saving the life of her husband who was deposed by his half-brother, Shah Mohammad, and fled to Kashmir. The Begum feared that her husband would be killed by Shah Mohammad’s agents. Maharaja Ranjit Singh demanded the Kohinoor from Wafa Begum as the price for help to which she agreed.

Partly to rescue Shah Shuja and partly to include Kashmir in his expanding kingdom, Ranjit Singh sent a powerful force under the command of Mokham Chand. The campaign failed to establish Sikh rule in Kashmir due to the adoption of a wrong route, but it succeeded in finding Shah Shuja and bringing him safely to Lahore. At that time, Wafa Begum and Shah Shuja went back on their promise and coined excuses for not parting with the Kohinoor. But they could not withstand the rough and ready measures employed by Ranjit Singh and ultimately handed over the fabulous jewel to the Maharaja.

Jabbar Khan, the last Afghan Governor, relentlessly persecuted Hindus. Unable to view Kashmiris being tormented and tortured, Birbal Dhar, a Pandit, approached Maharaja Ranjit Singh for help. The Sikh forces, under the able command of Misser Dewan Chand, defeated Jabbar Khan at Shopian on July 15, 1819, and triumphantly marched into the capital the next day.

Sikh rule in Kashmir lasted 27 years (1819-1846) and saw 10 Governors. By 1834, Ladakh, including Zanskar and Baltistan, had become a part of Ranjit Singh’s kingdom on account of six amazing military campaigns undertaken by Zorawar Singh, a general in the army of Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu. It is practically unknown to the people that with regard to our border dispute with China in the North-West, the validity of India’s stand rests primarily on these campaigns.

It is important to know such facts regarding Kashmir’s deep and intimate relationship with the rest of India. For, as Cicero put it, “not to know what took place before you were born, is to remain for ever a child.”

The writer is a former governor of J&K

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