Chrar-e-Sharief: Target of Continued Intrigue

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The Patron Saint of Kashmir, Hazrat Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali (R.A) was a target of numerous intrigues during his lifetime and this process took different shapes after his death in 1438. I have outlined the links of the chain in my book: Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali, Nund Reshi (a Sahitya Akademi publication).

Misinterpretation and distortion of his thought by censor and suppression of the bulk of his poetry, and prejudiced ‘analyses’ of his talent are the other sinister garbs these intrigues have taken with the passage of time.

Simultaneously, Hazratbal also has remained a target of political intrigue, and it was under the cover of the shrine’s renovation that in April 1942 the sacrilege of the Mo-e-Muqqadas was committed under the worst type of gangsterism guided by the intellectual cream of Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference – events which I have highlighted in my book: Hazratbal, Central Stage of Kashmir Politics (Virgo Publications, New Delhi).

This process of intrigue culminated in the sacrilegious act of displacing the Holy Relic in 1963. Another phase of the intrigue was the October 1993 siege of the shrine.

But the ultimate has been achieved. The Sheikh dynasty has been able to turn this great Muslim centre into the property of the Sheikh clan, and with indirect tactics the Government of India has taken under control the great pulpit of Muslim spirituality.

In India, Mrs Sonia Gandhi could not be tolerated as the life chairperson of the Indira Gandhi Cultural Trust and she had to yield and surrender as soon as this ‘undemocratic’ and ‘unconstitutional’ act was challenged in the Delhi High Court. But on the other hand, it is under the patronage of the occupying forces that Dr.Farooq is allowed to turn this religious property into a jagir of his kith and kin _ no one dares to challenge his position as life chairman of the Muslim Auqaf Trust (MAT), no one dares to challenge the very usurpation, the formation of Muslim Auqaf Trust by Sheikh Abdullah. Under Muhammadan Law, or even under the Trust Acts of India and Jammu and Kashmir, no one can create a charge of trust upon the property of others. Abdullah, his comrades, associates, friends and relatives created the trust under the name and title of MAT in 1972, steamrolling the rights of others, and neither he nor his co-trustees included even a moiety of their own property in the domain of the trust so created. The nature of creating such a charge could have been challenged by the victims, but where, and in what circumstances? Now, even under this trust deed, no trustee can hold the position for more than two terms of two years each. But, like the life chairman, Dr. Farooq, there are life trustees like Mohi-ud-Din Matoo _ a close relation of Dr. Farooq.

For the time being, the process of intrigue against Hazratbal has subsided. The Hazratbal siege had given me a premonition that the venue of the conspiracy would shift to Chrar-e-Sharief. So on June 19, 1994, I conveyed my assessment to the then home minister, S.B.Chavan. The gist of the interview I have put before the nation through my book on Hazratbal. It was within four months that the process of sacrilege of Chrar-e-Sharief commenced. No precautions were taken though Mr. Chavan felt convinced of my analysis, but was annoyed by my assessment of Indian failures in their commitment to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Ultimately, the devastation of Chrar-e-Sharief and the tomb of bliss added an eternally irritating chapter to the history of Indo-Kashmir relationship. My book on this devastation, Military operation in Kashmir (Manas Publications, New Delhi) has under two chapters, “Who And Why” and “The Ruin Speaks” (p230 to 264) pinpointed the agencies directly involved with this `operation devastation’. The concluding para of the first of the two chapters reads: “It is the common desire of India and Pakistan to rob Kashmiris of their cultural identity. Is it that unanimity of ideologies between New Delhi and Islamabad exists?” (p253)

In the chapter “The Ruin Speaks” this book comments: “If they (militants) were immediately (after the destruction of the town) encircled and made to surrender it could have, at best, inflicted a loss of a dozen jawans and officers. But it could never go to 100. They were not angels of death that they could kill hundreds and thousands. Neither is India so weak that the overawing gaze of Mast Gul could massacre them… Could they allow either the Birla Mandir or the shrine of Khwaja Nizam-ud-Din, both in Delhi, to be burnt in a similar situation”. (pages 262-263) 

The chapter argues that even after burning the town, the Indian Army could have saved the shrine and the Khanaqah had it acted either with commitment or adopted the strategy of patience. In the burnt town, the militants would either have died of fatigue, hunger and thirst, or would have slipped through the route which the ‘Indian military’ allowed them to leave by after the burning of the shrine. This ‘Holy Destruction” was expedited with nefarious interests. The tragic episode and its course and climax lead us to one inevitable conclusion – that there was tacit or express agreement to destroy this town.

Since then, the intrigue of sacrilege is a continuing process. Adoption of Mr. Qayoom, the local political creeper, by his hitherto hostile adversary, the Sheikh dynasty, seems to be a step in this intrigue. Mr. Qayoom had one political inclination when in 1957 Bakhshi severed him from the nursery of the Education Department and planted him in the state legislature. He stood with this support for a decade, but with his inherent intriguing nature remained indebted to Bakhshi but hobnobbed with Sadiq. He robbed Begum Abdullah of her chuddar and Maulana Masoodi of his blanket. Both these relics were reduced to ashes in his almirah during the 1995 fire in his house. As he saw Sadiq deteriorate in health, he searched and found support in Mir Qasim, and later in Mufti Sa’eed. Helped by two stretcher-bearers, Messrs Bawan and Abdul Ghani Namathali, he moved to Raj Bhavan, where Mr. Krishna Rao found in him a link to execute the intrigue in Chrar-e-Sharief, and ‘persuaded’ the reluctant Sheikh dynasty to include their foe among their friends. As an active agent of the intrigue, his masters in New Delhi told him that his berth in the cabinet would remain assured without the minor bother of going to the polling booths for the farce of an election. Though for both, the ruling dynasty and the ruling party, he was persona non grata, but beggars cannot be choosers.

Appointed nodal officer of the Auqaf immediately after the Sheikh dynasty reusurped the Auqaf properties, Qayoom tried to create a local nucleus to further the intrigue of sacrilege but could not break any ice for two reasons. Firstly, as a known ‘atheist’ he could not lure any group despite all the hypocrisy at his command. Secondly, he could not woo the group of his rival, the loyalist minister of the family and Conferencite, Mr. A.R.Rather. Ultimately he begged for the services of a renegade police officer whom he could easily use for the plan under which Krishna Rao, as per RAW and IB advice, had planted him in the National Conference. Imtiaz, a renegade was posted as SHO Chrar-e-Sharief.

We have known differences with Mr. Jagmohan but I have hailed his contribution to develop Chrar into a modern town. He had earmarked a plot in Alamdar Basti for the construction of a playground for the youth, but as soon as Imtiaz took over, he was advised to convert that into a police station. That sparked off a reaction. Qayoom’s ‘agents’ encouraged it, but Qayoom himself advised Imtiaz to be tough. Consequently, hundreds – all innocents – were arrested, and released after each paid a fixed sum. It is thus that Imtiaz created an aura of terror about himself. The second incident took place when his co-renegade, a descendant of a waiz, invited him to dinner. A mock armed clash was staged in the dead of night around the place where he was enjoying wazawan, and the pretext was adopted to let loose a reign of terror in and around the locality. But the BSF contingent posted there exposed the intrigue.

It needs to be mentioned that since the complete destruction of the town in May 1995, the town has thinned and expanded to an area of 12 kilometers on one side and to an area of seven kilometres on the other. Chrar topography is well-known. It is surrounded by mounds and ditches. All the elevated positions are guarded by the BSF keeping a hawkish vigil on the interiors of the old town surrounding the shrine under construction and the site earmarked for the Khanaqah.

‘Chrar-e-Sharief Thursday’ is a deep rooted theme of our folklore, and so every week an Urs (congregation) is held here. Sundays have also evoked a similar rush. Besides, we have largegatherings of pilgrims on Urs of the Sheikh, Urs of Pakherpora, Shab-e-Qadr, Shab-e-Baraat and on the Eid-e-Milaad-un-Nabi (SAW), Me’raj-un-Nabi (SAW) and Urs of Makhdoom Sahib. Pilgrims who attend Hazratbal on the day of Eid-e-Milaad choose to offer prayers on the following Friday at Chrar. 

It was, therefore, a heavy rush of pilgrims at Chrar-e-Sharief on 8th of June, 2001. As the Chrar police station usually does, except the muharir all constables, head constables and the SHO were deployed in the town, mainly at the bus stand and around, to assist pilgrims. Besides there is an independent police guard at the shrine complex. The Khanaqah and its adjoining water tank stand on higher ground. Devotees who offer prayers in other local mosques come immediately to the shrine to offer Fateha. Prayers in the other three local mosques had commenced at 2:20. Mirwaiz Ghulam Nabi had delivered the sermon at the Khanaqah. A young man, Muhammad Younus, was in the pulpit to press for the immediate re-construction of the Khanaqah and when he was about to conclude and make way for the Imaam Sahib for the Khutba, a black polythene bag came from the elevated position of the Taalaab, struck the tin-roofed generator shed, and exploded in the midst of pilgrims. Dozens fell in a pool of blood. 

Woman devotees were the pre-determined targets of Friday’s attack in Chrar-e-Sharief, because the grenade was tossed into an area reserved for female pilgrims for the past four decades. Close-by, paying homage to the saint, stood locals who had offered prayers at other mosques of the town and had come to the shrine to offer Fateha. My ex-neighbours were among them. In the commotion following the blast, people, MAT employees and jawans rushed to evacuate the injured but were pulled up short as the surging crowd came under indiscriminate gunfire from several points. Constables of the Chrar-e-Sharief police station, who stood scattered in the congregation, had opened simultaneous fire from their positions. A group of people chasing a suspect – an armed man in plain clothes who was running away – had to let go of him because of the ‘targetted’ firing, but managed to pull off his bullet-proof jacket.

Ten people have so far succumbed to this planned massacre and more than a hundred are injured. The incident has created an overwhelming sense of insecurity about pilgrimages in general and about the pilgrimage to this shrine in particular. 

The common perception about the MOS home and the divisional commissioner was that they played a pacifying role. But the attitude of Mr. Qayoom and the IGP hurt the sensibilities of the residents and convinced all shades of public opinion in the town that the two were not at all disturbed by this tragedy. Instead they conveyed that the incident was but a consequence of the ‘mass supported militancy’. Brow-beating the residents, they almost issued threatening decrees to quell militancy – as if the remote control of the armed uprising lay with the people of Chrar-e-Sharief! 

Death dances in every nook and corner of Jammu and Kashmir, but selecting this venue for the carnage has deep and serious ramifications. Chrar-e-Sharief, as the pivot of Kashmir’s spiritual, religious and cultural activities attracts wide attention. Further, the ‘operation devastation’ of 1995 has brought the town into international focus. 

The reactions of the state governor and the chief minister, and the marked distinction between them, need a logical assessment. Now, certain matter arise for cool deliberation.

The matters are:

I) The Jagmohan plan of constructing a model town was evolved in the mid-eighties. Why, for 15 years, did the police department not feel the need to occupy the plot earmarked for the playground? And why did this happen under the guidance of SHO Imtiyaz in 2001.

II) If the police station is already suitably situated in the main town, what is the need of a second complex within a range of three kilometers? Why should a genuine demand be suppressed by terror? Couldn’t the state get a better, alternative plot, even though there is no need for a second thana? 

III) If the BSF contingent posted at Chrar-e-Sharief has certified that the ‘attack’ on the SHO two months ago was a concocted affair and that there was no militant presence in the town since 1995, what action have the SSP or the IGP taken against Imtiaz.

IV) BSF personnel posted in bunkers at Naful Taing, Radar Station, Waza Bagh and Najam Platue all rule out the presence of any militants at Chrar-e-Sharief on 8th June, 2001. How do the Qayoom-Bhan duo attribute the grenade attack to militants?

V) A story is now being cooked up that the man whose bullet-proof jacket was snatched by the angry crowd was on guard duty with some VIP. Who is that VIP? Or is a VIP being created to claim that he was present among the devotees in the Khanaqah?

VI) It is clear that whoever carried out the attack did so to frustrate the peace initiatives of Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Some militants are also in the open opposing the move, but does the circumstantial evidence point to anti-peace militants or to the hawks within the government. 

The links in the circumstantial evidence are succinctly summed-up as follows:

a) As already stated, the situation rules out the presence of militants at Chrar-e-Sharief. It is supported by the unambiguous assertion of the BSF contingent deputed in the town and my personal information. I, as a resident of the town and as writer and chronicler, am a keen observer of the day-to-day developments in Chrar.

b) Militants, right form the outset, have fixed targets like government installations, army pickets, BSF bunkers, police posts or renegade concentration points. Here, unmistakably, the target was the shrine and women pilgrims.

c) The statements issued by the two constitutional authorities, i.e., the governor and the chief minister, have a significant difference. Whereas Mr. Saxena has condemned this brutal act without blaming any agency, the CM, on the other hand has specifically raised his finger towards militants. Conversely, it provides an inference that the act was done to blame a specific agency. It, therefore, provides material that Farooq Abdullah wanted a situation to arise where he could blame militants for having sabotaged the peace process initiated by his own patron, Mr. Vajpayee. Had he had no such intentions, he would have collected and cross-checked all relevant information from various agencies before accusing any specific quarter.

d) From October 26, 1947, Kashmir has a history of the state itself committing, or getting committed, acts of subversion to facilitate the rule of a certain ruler. Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad survived as PM of Kashmir from 1953 to 1963 on this device and maneuvering. In July 1957, I was implicated in a bomb case; the bomb had been planted at Chraripora, Budgam, by the special staff of the Kothi Bagh police station. Dozens of such fake cases were tied together to become the material for the conspiracy case against Farooq Abdullah’s father. Now, Farooq Sahib walks the same beaten track, and to extend the lease of his rule he has naturally to align himself with hawks who are keen to sabotage the peace process.

e) The treatment, which, on the evening of 8th June, 2001, Mr. Qayoom and Dr. Ashok Bhan gave to the injured sentiment of Chrar residents sufficiently exposes their designs. They could have pacified the agitated crowd like the minister of state for home, Mr. Lone, did. But instead, they rebuked the people and threatened that such things shall go on till they oppose militancy. This, despite knowing that Chrar people have no control, direct or indirect, upon the armed struggle in Kashmir.

f) The terror let loose upon protesting demonstrators of Chrar-e-Sharief and the arrests made at the behest of the culprit SHO (though now kept as a guest in the police lines) clearly show that the hands of the government are not clean.

g) The demand to appoint a high level commission to probe in the happenings is not at all unreasonable. They venue of this dastardly brutal act occupies a very high place Kashmiri sensibilities. Only on June 3, migrant scholars, eminent Kashmiri Pandits had assembled at the College of Education in Srinagar to pay glowing tributes to the saint buried at Chrar-e-Sharief. The grenade was hurled at his shrine and it could have hit the sacred grave also. The far reaching consequences of the attack demand a probe by at least a High Court Judge. On the other hand, it is the divisional commissioner who has appointed the district magistrate of Budgam to conduct a probe. What authority the divisional commissioner has over the district magistrate is not clear. Divisional commissioner is no office defined in the criminal procedure code. By virtue of the code, the DM is under the sessions judge, who in turn comes under the Hon’ble High Court. On the other hand, the divisional commissioner is an authority under the Land Revenue Act. Hence this announcement of a probe is only an eye-wash which again strengthens the contention of Chrar residents that the mischief was done by the government and the government wants to cover it up.

h) Deputy commissioner Budgam is an officer under the immediate control of revenue minister, Mr. Qayoom, and in no case can he escape the influence of his boss. He might try to be fair, but can the situation allow him to be so?

In the end we are convinced that the hawks are much too active to frustrate the forthcoming summit, and in their deeds some facts are transparently evident which hold a lesson for South Block to assess the current Kashmir situation, examine the vested interests and watch their activities carefully.

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