Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How bad was the Mughal Rule in Kashmir? Read an Eyewitness Account

Yasar looks into the travelogue of a European traveller and his account is at odds with the revisionist history of Kashmir

(Mr. Yasar Mohammad Baba, 33, was born and raised in Srinagar. He completed his degree in Marine Engineering Communication and is presently an employee of the J&K government. His personal pursuits are reading and writing, and has published a book titled, "My Land My People," in 2007.)

Kashmir of Francois Bernier

Perhaps it has been fortunate for Kashmir to have received numerous foreign travelers, in the past, for they have recorded wonderful impressions of their tours through the valley. Francois Bernier was the French Physician to the Mughal Court, at Delhi since seventeenth century. In his famous work Francois Bernier has praised the beauty of Kashmir, its streams, mountains, its gardens, villages, meadows, fruits and people as a whole.

It may appear of interest to recall now an account of life in the Valley of Kashmir as given in Travels in the Mughal Empire by Francois Bernier, a French doctor who traveled through the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent between 1657 AD and 1668 AD, and recorded his observations and experiences in his famous work. Bernier was a close witness to the bloody war of succession following the illness of Emperor Shah Jahan towards the close of 1650. Later, following the consolidation of the imperial authority in the strong hands of Aurangzeb, Bernier got attached to the personal staff of Danishmand Khan, a well known and influential Persian noble at the court of the Emperor, and later he joined the Royal caravan when it left Delhi on December 6th, 1665 on its long and arduous trek to the Valley of Kashmir.

It may be mentioned here that Bernier's Travels has been praised by eminent scholars and historians as an authentic and objective document dealing with crucial period in the history of India. At the same time, it contains very valuable information about the social conditions in India towards the second half, of the seventeenth century of Christian era. Moreover, it has bearing on the literary development in England, for the English translation of his work provided John Dryden with material for his well known heroic tragedy, entitled Aurenge-zabe, first acted in London in 1675 and printed in 1676.

In Bernier's Travel the first mention of Kashmir is found in the context of the many important administrative appointments made by Aurangzeb after he had established himself firmly on the throne in Delhi. "To Dianed Khan Aurangzeb has entrusted the government of Kashmir, a little kingdom nearly inaccessible, and considered the terrestrial paradise of the Indies. Akbar became possessed of that delightful country by stratagem. It boasts of authentic histories, containing an interesting account of a long succession of ancient Kings; sometimes so powerful as to have reduced to subjection large areas of Hindustan."

Having left the Delhi on December 6th, 1665, the royal caravan-almost a whole city accompanied by a vast armed forces-proceeded by slow stages till it reached Lahore. Here the Emperor and his almost incredible numerous entourages halted for about two months and then started on their onward journey to Kashmir in the first week of March 1666. After giving brief account of the arduous trek of the imperial camp, along the old Mogul route from the plains of the Punjab and then across many hills and streams and right over the Pir Panchal range, the author proposes to give what he calls "an accurate description of the kingdom of Kashmir", from which source important points.

First, we have the rapturous description of the physical feature of the Valley as presented to the eyes of a famished traveler moving from the scorching heat of the Punjab into the balmy early summer scene in the Himalayan region. Since this aspect of the happy valley is by recognizable human calculations an almost eternal factor, it might appear more relevant to pass on to other interesting information contained in Bernier's account of what he observed around him in Srinagar, and in the country side.

First about the city itself says Bernier. "Its on the banks of a fresh-water lake ……without walls and is not less than three quarters of a league in length, and half a leaguer in breadth. It is situated in a plain, distant about two leagues from the mountains and is built on the banks of a fresh-water lake whose circumference is from four to five leagues." He further notes that there are only two wooden bridges across the river within the town; and that the houses, although for the most part of wood, are well built and consist of two or three stories. He goes on to add, "some old building and a great number of ancient Hindu temples, some in ruins, are of stone, but wood is preferred on account of its cheapness and the facility with which it is brought from the mountains by means of so many small rivers. Most of the houses along the banks of the river have little gardens which produce a very pretty effect. Indeed, most houses in the city have also their gardens; and many have a canal on which the owner keeps a pleasure-boat, thus communication with the lake." It is of interest to note that Bernier says that the present almost completely bare hill of Hari Parbat was "crowned with a large quantity of pine trees."

Bernier observes later that "Kashmiris are celebrated for wit and considered much more intelligent and ingenious than the Indians" and that in poetry and the science they are not inferior to the Persians." Bernier appears to have been particularly struck by the industrious skills of Kashmiri craftsmen and notes that the workmanship and beauty of their manufactured articles was remarkable and that these were in use in every part of India.

He then bestows great praise on the shawls then manufactured in Kashmir. He calls these "the staple commodity", which particularly promotes the trade of the country and fills it with wealth. Obviously, the shawl industry of Kashmir appears to have been in very flourishing state in the second half of the seventeenth Century.

Bernier also writes that Kashmiris are a handsome race, "proverbial for their clear complexions and fine forms."

Bernier, during his stay of several months in Kashmir journeyed to various places of interest from the east to the west and from north to the south of the valley. Among the places he specially mentions are Verinag, Achhabal, Sonda-brari (a remote Hindu Place of pilgrimage beyond Kokernag), Mattan, the Martand Temple, the Wular Lake, and Baramulla. He gives a very glowing picture of the colourful and prosperous countryside. To quote: "The whole kingdom wears the appearance of a fertile and highly cultivated garden. Villages and hamlets are frequently seen through the luxuriant foliage. Meadows and vineyards, fields of rice, wheat, hemp, saffron and many sorts of vegetables vary the enchanting scene. The whole ground is enameled with our European flowers and plants and covered with our apple, pear, plum apricot, and walnut trees, all bearing fruit in great abundance."

In short, a very clear picture emerges from Bernier's account of the condition of life then prevailing in Kashmir. It appears that trade; industry and agriculture were in a flourishing state in the sixties of the seventeenth century. The state of law and order appears to have been of a very satisfactory character during those days when the Mogul imperial power was at its zenith. This is indicated by the orderly manner in which the huge royal caravan moved from Delhi to Srinagar without causing any nuisance to the civil population that dwelt across the route of its journey. All daily necessaries of the travelers had to be paid for and no pilferage en-route was permitted. Preservation of wild creatures, found in great abundance all along the journey, was strictly enforced. In the valley itself members of the small Brahmin community lived in conditions of peace even in the remotest village and celebrated their religious festivities in their Shrines without hindrance.

Some historians have observed that the administration of the Mughals was an imposed one and entailed partial suppression of the local population. Nevertheless, in the picture as presented by Francois Bernier, one feels there were quite a number of things to be thankful, for the state of things as diligently and objectively recorded for posterity by that famous traveler.

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