14th Century shrine destroyed


2,200 houses and shops razed to the ground

30,000 people made homeless

Reuters, United Press International, Kashmir Press Agency, AP and DPA

The Charar-e-Sharief Shrine as it was before the incident

On the holy day of Eid-al-Azha, May 10, 1995 Indian Armed forces desecrated and destroyed 14th century Muslim shrine of Sheikh Noorud-Din Wali, a patron saint of Kashmir in the city of Charar-e-Sharief, about 30km southwest of the capital Srinagar. In the army operations to flush out Kashmiri militants holed up since mid-January in the town of Charar-e-Sharief, at least 2000 residential houses and 200 shops were razed to the ground.

The destruction of the Charar-e-Sharief mosque and shrine came just hours after the end of Eid, one of Islam's holiest days. It marked a climax to a two-month-long stand-off between militants, who had taken shelter in Charar-e-Sharief while the mountain hideouts were under winter snows, and government security forces, who surrounded the town on March 7 1995.

On March 8th 1996, around 5,000 heavily armed Indian soldiers backed up by light armour and artillery cordoned off the holy city of Charar-e-Sharief, housing one of the most important Muslim shrines in the valley. Security forces said they had sealed all exits from the heavily wooded area of Charar-e-Sharief and neighbouring villages. Intelligence officials said the militants were guarding the main entrance to the shrine and frisking visitors, but added that they had not occupied the tomb. Most of the town's 25,000 residents had fled to nearby villages, fearing that they would be caught in a battle. Indian security sources said the 600-year-old wooden shrine, was destroyed when two explosions ignited fires about 2 a.m on May 10. Fires that began two days earlier during fighting between Indian troops and militants had already destroyed half the buildings - about 1,000 houses and 200 shops, according to senior government officials.

In telephone calls to local reporters, a spokesman for the Kashmiri militant groups said the complex was set ablaze when Indian troops launched a rocket and mortar attack on the shrine while attempting to storm it and dislodge the militants from the town.

When the news of this gruesome incident spread in the valley, people came out of their homes in thousands marching towards the city of Charar-e-Sharief. Indian security forces opened fire on the protesters at a number of places in the valley. One of the processions led by Shabir Ahmad Shah was fired upon at Kralpora locality in Srinagar. The authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in the entire valley.

Despite the curfew order, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in the state capital Srinagar with anti-Indian banners. "Down with the Indian army," one banner said. Another procession of at least 5,000 people began a march from Srinagar to Charar-e-Sharief in protest against the mosque's destruction and the violence. Three people reportedly were killed in clashes between citizens and security forces in the valley. A 17-year old boy and five people were seriously injured when the troops opened fire on protesters in Srinagar. Angry crowds burned down over 120 government buildings and a number of Hindu temples throughout the valley in retaliation. The unrest rapidly spread to Doda, Kishtwar, Poonch and Kargil districts of the state.

Enraged crowds formed a barricade as a column of local and foreign journalists was driven by the army to see the ruins of Charar-e-Sharief. "It was the army that burned down the shrine. They have left us homeless," they shouted. People around the gutted town said the bodies of civilian victims still lay in the ruins, but the army denied this.

The destruction inflicted on the last resting place of Sheikh Noor-ud-din, in the rolling foothills of the Himalayas, is clear for all to see. About two-thirds of the town has been razed, up to 3,000 homes, according to local people. Well over 30,000 people hive become homeless and lost all their possessions.

The bodies of five militants were shown to journalists, but the army said the death toll for guerrillas in the fighting had climbed to 23 over the past several days. An Indian soldier grabbed the hair of one of the bodies and lifted up the head for photographers, to display a face half blown away and dripping with blood. At least two army troops have also been killed. Among those killed earlier in an encounter was a top Kashmiri militant, Zafar Kawa, of the Hizbul Mujaheedin militant outfit, one among the dozens fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir.

Outside the courtyard, crowds had gathered to ensure the press heard their side of the story. "India is lying, it is the army that burned our houses, mosque and shrine," said Mohamad Muzafad, a 45-year-old teacher, his voice cracking with emotions "They used helicopters, so many helicopters and they hurled bombs on the shrine and town. My two houses were burned."

"They dropped gunpowder from helicopters on to the town and they fired mortars at the shrine," added Mohammad Ashraf, who said he was also a teacher. The crowds became more agitated as the journalists began to leave, and several cars were surrounded by hundreds of people who demanded they be heard.

"The bodies are still there, why wont they let us go and take the bodies," a group of women shouted through the windows of one car.

Village residents, shocked by the killing and devastation, mourned the losses but were kept away from journalists visiting the area on a government-held tour. "Nothing is left for me," one woman said. "Why don't they just shoot me now, I have nothing left." Police quickly forced the woman out of earshot.

The Indian government promptly announced $4.83 million in federal assistance to rebuild Charar-e-Sharief, but the residents of Charar-e-Sharief outright rejected any Indian assistance in rebuilding the town or the shrine. " We want freedom" "We want India out of Kashmir" "We will rebuild the shrine with our blood" were the slogans which echoed from a crowd of thousands who had gathered outside the gutted town.

The Kashmiri community in Britain was outraged and incensed at this latest act of Indian barbarity against the people of Kashmir. Dr Siraj Shah, Director of Kashmir Watch, a London based human rights group said" India has destroyed one of the greatest edifices of Kashmirs history and inflicted the deepest wounds on our minds and hearts".

"India has repeatedly demonstrated its total disregard for the Muslim places of worship and contempt for all civilised norms". "Five years of brutal suppression of the independence movement and rampant human rights abuses in Kashmir, make India one of the worst violators of human rights in the present century", he said.

Elsewhere in India, the country's minority Muslim population expressed grief and shock at the latest violence in Kashmir.

A top Muslim cleric in New Delhi charged the Indian military with murder and sacrilege, during his speech to more than 25,000 Muslims attending Friday prayers. "This a shocking and embarrassing act of brutal aggression," Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari told UPI. "We can only hold Indian forces responsible for this irresponsible act. "

Kashmir Council for Human Rights/Kashmir Watch

Alamdar Kashmir, Sheikh Nooruddin Vali Noorani

at Chrar-e-Sharif

The razing down of the shrine of the greatest patron saint of Kashmir has added the blackest mark on the history of the recent revolution in Kashmir. It is appropriate to dwell on the life and worls of this soofi poet and saint.

It is somewhat diificult to trace the exact period when Sheikh Nooruddin Vali (RUH) lived, but the majority of historians agree that he was born in the year 1377 AD, corresponding to 779 Hijri and that he passed away at the age of 63 years in the year of 1440 or 842 Hijri. His was the period when Kashmir was ruled by the Sultans Qutub-ud-Din, Sultan Sikandar, Sultan Ali Shah and Sultan Zain-Al-Abidin.

Nund Rishi, as the saint was popurlarly called by the Muslims as well as the Hindus, was 12 years of age when Sultan Qutub-ud-Din died. During the reign of Qutub-ud-Din, Islam had not spread much in Kashmir and also, there was no government machinery as such, working for its spread.

The biggest event that occured in the Sheikh's childhood was the coming of an another great saint, Amir Kabir, Mir Syed Hamadani, to Kashmir. Shah Hamadan, as he was popularly called, came to Kashmir, for the first time in September 1372 AD, the second time in 1379 AD and the third time in the year 1383 AD.

During his lifetime, he witnessed a gradual cultural and religious transformation of the people, from Hinduism to Islam. Various historical events helped to shape his sensitive mind in such a manner that he produced some very valuable works of philosophy, in his own manner of verses and poetry.

Allah (SUT) has sent prophets and messengers for the guidance of mankind from time to time. It may be that, in addition to the prophets, He has also sent down men or women in the past who, were bestowed with divinity, though they did not bring with them divine message as such. Even during the time of our holy Prophet (PBUH), his companions of Sahaba, also vcry close to Allah Tala (SUT), thougyh, they were not blessed with any divine message. Alamdar Kashmir was also sent down to Kashmir at a time, when the people needed his messages of univerasal brotherhood, transitory nature of his world and the real life that we all have to live in the hereafter.

During his time, since Islam was still spreading in Kashmir, a multitude of self-styled mullahs had cropped up from the converted Brahmin moneylenders who used their newly acquired status in the Islamic state, to exploit the common people. Sheikh0ul-Alam was deeply affected by such events and this is apprent in a majority of his verses/

He has addressed these fakes and mullahs in verses such as:

Ath Gind Panus Mo Dim Rando

Ami Seet Wond Mal Wothi No

Ami Tasbih ta Asah Ta Jando

Ami Fandeh Su Athi Yee No

(Do not play any tricks with Allah by using Tasbih and Asa. You will not be able to wash the sins off your body even if you used a carpenter's planer).

At another place, he told them:

Kawo Choo Gumaneh Aes Chi Khas

Tateh No Mokleo Saseh Manz Akh

(Why do you think you are special before Allah. You must know that there may be only one among a thousand who will find any favour with Allah (SUT).

Sheikh-ul-Alam had a very deep insight into the futire and there are plenty of his verses which point to the future events that have proved correct. Nearly six hundred years ago, he wrote:

Bronth Kali Asan Tithee Keran

Tung Tsunth Papan Tseran Seeth

Maje Koreh Ath Was Kerith Neram

Doh Deen Baran Gearan Seeth

(A time will come in the future, when Apples and Pears wil ripen at the same time as apricots and mothers and daughters will move out , hand in hand, and will spend their days with strangers).

In an another verse, again telling the mullahs how exalted and sacred the holy Quran is (which they used to help their nefarious exploitation of the masses), he wrote:

Quran Paran Kono Moodukh

Quran Paran Goi No Soor

Quran Paran Zindeh Kot Roodukh

Quran Paran Dodh Mansoor

Quran Paran Be Gam Roodukh

Tamath Phoroi Akith Tsoor

(How are you still living after treating the holy Quran so lightly and reciting it without your heart in it? You may benefit in your worldly gains for a while, but, be ready now for the wrath of Allah).

The shrine of Sheikh-ul-Alam, the structure itself, its attached Khanqahas, inns for the pilgrims and other physical features, the vendors of various prayer merchandise, food stalls etc. and the aura of ardent spiritualism, all combined to make it a place of pilgrimage for Kashmiris of all communities. The shrine contained 600 years old handmade persian and Kashmir carpets, ancient objects and scrolls, some antique copies of the holy Quran, extremely precious , cvut glass chandliers etc., all which were reduced to smoke and ashes.

Sheikh-ul-Alam loved Kashmir and its people very intensely and was a great revolutionary himself.

This site is maintained by Gharib Hanif (hanif@gharib.demon.co.uk). Comments and suggestions always welcome.