Across Razdan Pass People with a difference

Col Satish Singh Lalotra
” I have just three things to teach.. simplicity, patience and compassion….. Issac Newton.
Very often it has been observed in life that solutions to the most vexed problems are found in the simplification of the same . Human beings by nature have been gifted with the most advanced of intellects on this planet, which often is in a seesaw of battles with various issues involving the morality factor. Morality, that intangible factor which is the sum total of various actions which are ingrained into the psyche of a child by his parents as to the righteousness of any action undertaken by him/her. In a similar vein the conscious keeper/s of a community are certain factors often framed by circumstances which are sometimes beyond the command and control of that particular community. In case of our own country, the northern most part i.e Jammu and Kashmir too has various communities which seldom exposed to the outside world have been conditioned to behave as per certain extraneous factors not entirely in their control.
A predominantly Muslim dominated area, the region of Jammu and Kashmir mesmerizes the world to no end. Though ravaged by the time and tide of events from times of yore, it still retains its nascent purity in matters of human interactions unadulterated as mentioned above. A similar seesaw battle as stated earlier is being waged by the Muslims across the famous 11,672 feet Razdan pass in northern Kashmir valley who have to constantly juggle between factors ranging from geographical obscurity to , identity crisis foisted upon them by the travails of Geostrategic compulsions to drudgery of daily existence to Darveshes of Shia Muslims impinging upon their majority faith. As everyone is aware since 1989, the narrative in the UT of J&K has undergone a drastic change which has wrought unprecedented spate of events contrary to the nature of peace loving Kashmiri people. The majority of people of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir fall under the ambit of Sunni sect of Islam religion and speak the Kashmiri language .
The Muslims of Kashmir valley per se stretching from Qazigund the gateway, to the high mountain passes of Zozila and Razdan are homogenous in thinking, acting and their interactions guided by the centuries old customs and traditions ingrained in their psyche . But here ends the difference in the demographic profile of Muslims of Kashmir valley since across these passes lie an entirely different set of Muslim population. In essence the demographics of Muslims in Kashmir have been affected more by geographic constraints than by anything else. Though self from Jammu & Kashmir I was not all that aware of the subtle and nuanced differences of Kashmir Muslims that are a reality of vale of Kashmir until I crossed the 11,672 feet high Razdan pass also known as Tragbal pass which remains closed for about 6 months in a year because of heavy snowfall during its winter period opening new vistas of sightseeing into the famed but standalone Gurez valley. While in army, posted to Gurez valley in 2003 it was a pleasant surprise for me when I first had an interaction with Gurezi population who had the singular credit from 1947 onwards of helping the IA in all its endeavours being their sole saviours in time of distress. Unlike the valley Muslims who are strict sunni by following and nurture a lot of angst and prejudice against any Indian dispensation, Gurez valley has a smattering of shia population too who are a perfect antithesis of their valley counterparts in all respects.
The reason for such a huge dichotomy in the overall outlook of these Muslims has myriad reasons to it which are covered subsequently in this write-up. Gurez valley part of which lie straddled on the other side of the LoC in PoK has been traditionally associated with the world famous Silk route which was a razzmatazz of colours, smells, races, religions and businesses as well and considered the nerve center of civilisations of yore. Gurez is divided into three regions with the area from Toabat to Sharda peeth administered by the Pakistan administration as Neelum district ,area between Kamri, and Minimarg again by Pakistan as Astore district, Gilgit Baltistan and that from Gurez tehsil and its part of of the india administered as Bandipur district. With my unit deployed close to the route leading to the Burzil pass as also to Achoora village near Dawar, the HQs of Gurez tehsil, I was an occasional witness to the humdrum and business of life flowing along the Kishan Ganga river in its full finery.
Having spent the greater part of the year 2003 and most of first seven months of 2004 logging up and down the river Kishan Ganga as part of army retinue during some important visit or exigencies of situation imposed by an emerging situation calling for an immediate military intervention, I was struck by the genteel and reserved demeanour about the Gurezi Muslim’s general disposition towards others as well as the Indian army while coming crossing in my way on sundry tasks. Going through the general topography of the area ,habits and habitats of these Dard people, I zeroed on to three discerning factors which I suppose are the lynch pins in identifying them as to their true colours. These three factors are viz, Geographical isolation or distance from main Kashmir valley, Various Sufi Darveshes arrival in this Dard area and their combined effect on the general populace from times of yore and lastly the everlasting memory of joint effect of treachery and torture unleashed by the tribal lashkars and Pakistan army in the wake of 1947 tribal raid making them a darling of the Indian army in return.
As far as the physical distance from the valley and places of reckoning contributing to Gurez’s so called backwardness or staid attitude in its people is concerned it has to be understood that this place was the official ‘Shikargah” or hunting ground of the Dogra kings from the very beginning. With river Kishan Ganga full of world class trout fish and a delicacy for the royal tables of Dogra kings , the general ambience prevalent in that remote corner of Kashmir was of a placid environment amongst its people ready to serve its master as and when they came for their brief sojourn. This very facet was given a further fillip when even after independence our first PM Nehru and his daughter Indira preferred this valley for its salubrious climes and invigorating atmosphere. Even Ex US President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife were a regular on their visits over here. Notwithstanding the fact that Gurez valley straddled the famous Silk route for centuries and had vestiges of Buddhism hidden in its deepest of recesses at places like Kanzalwan and Dawar, it was hyphenated in its thinking and development enforced sadly as a result of official apathy or indifference but definitely by the magnitude of the physical distances further magnified by its various mountain passes like, Razdan etc. More over with the overland passage closed for about 6 months in a year due to closing of Razdan pass owing to heavy snowfall, the siege mentality so enforced by the physical vicissitudes cast a vice like grip on its people’s thinking caps which unfortunately has not gone away even this day and time. The above developments have left the average Gurezi people resigned to their fate with a fatalistic attitude to life.
The other factor weighing heavily on the psyche of the Gurezi people and making them “Muslims with a difference” is the age old benevolent effect of sufi saints/Derveshes which were brought to this land by Sayyid Ali Hamdani an Iranian sufi muslim saint of the Kubrawiya order and is reputed to have visited the place in 774AH/1372 AD . It is said that he brought along with him about 700 followers and lots of crafts and industries from Iran to Kashmir. Of these 700 followers of him, 7 settled in Gurez valley known as “Sadaats” and included Baba Abdur Razaq Shah and Baba Derveish whose shrines are located next to hamlet of Fakirpora . The other faquirs whose shrines are located near near Chorwan, Bagtore, Dangital Tulail across the Kishan Ganga river are quite prominent. The Sufis as is well known the world over are given to non-violence cult of living and have a profound effect on all those who come in contact with them. Moreover the entire valley of Tulail was once inhabited by the Buddhists which I suppose has lot to do with the peaceful demean our thus exhibited by the Gurezi people at large. In addition to the above the vestiges of Buddhist caves, sculptures, paintings etc discovered at Kanzalwan, the entry point of Gurez further reinforces the view that the whole of Kishan Ganga river valley was a very fertile ground for inculcation of an idea of peaceful coexistence as compared to other areas of Kashmir valley as such.
The narrative of Gurez Muslims being different from their Kashmir counterparts is yet to be over without the final factor coming into play to make them whatever they seem to be to the world at large. The factor of combined effect, of deceit, treachery and torture by the tribal lashkars in 1947 perpetrated from the winters of 1947 till the June of 1948 when finally the yoke of oppression and dehumanizing treatment was lifted by the arrival of Indian army . Gurez probably was the only area of northern Kashmir which slipped into Pakistani control for more than 6 months in a row and witness to mass acts of torture and punishments meted out by the tribal lashkars . In a well-coordinated military operation called as “Operation Eraze” Indian army drove out the invading tribal lashkars who had captured much of Gurez valley after the fall of Muzaffrabad .
The tribals had captured Kanzalwan and were waiting for the snow to abate so as to re-enter Kashmir valley via the Tragbal pass. But then with some bold tactical moves the tribal lashkars were evicted from Gurez area once for all but not before leaving scars of brutality which still linger on in the minds of the older generation of Muslims of that area. The stories of mass tortures have been passed on as a legacy in the form of word of mouth to the future generations by the elders , which have naturally coloured the world view of the modern day Muslims across the Razdan pass. Self in the capacity of staying there way back in 2003/04 and undergoing a wide area interaction with the older generation of people of more than 80 years particularly in areas like Badaub, Hasangam, Malangam and Neeru of Tulail valley left me with no doubt that ultimately it is the religion of humanity which knows no bounds that holds together the fine relation of human beings . Wish other pockets of Kashmir valley too draw a lesson from their Gurezi brethren and cast away the decades old mindset of acrimony and friction with the Indian dispensations . No wonder the vicissitudes of life and times have ingrained the true values of simplicity, patience and compassion in the hearts and minds of this area as propounded by Sir Issac Newton .