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India: Where a strand of hair transcends the plight of Lakhs

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The world knows, how the worship of idols and relics (shirk) in Islam is considered as one of the sins which even the all-forgiving Allah fails to forgive. But in 1963 the whole of Kashmir plunged into despair and wrath over the loss of a holy relic, a strand of hair, a facial hair.

It was on the morning 27th of December 1963 when the people of Srinagar woke up they felt the ground slipping under their feet. Something sacred, dearer than their life the strand of holy hair of Prophet Muhammad, went missing from the ‘Hazratbal shrine’. The hair was said to be the strand of the beard that has been trimmed from Muhammad’s face by his favoured barber Salman the Persian in the presence of Abu Bakr, Ali and several others. Later individual hairs were taken away as relics. The news spread like wildfire and in no time thousands of Kashmiris poured into the streets wailing and shouting slogans in plea to the unknown perpetrators of the pilferage so that they find it within themselves to return the holy relic to its abode for the last 250 years. The fury of the people on the streets was illimitable. It was hard for them to have the ‘deedar’ of the hair on normal days, but now that they have lost it they mourned and cried. The thousands of people who surrounded the shrine refused to move a single inch in the bitter cold until the Moi-e-Muqqadas (the Prophet’s hair) was recovered.

The news soon reached Delhi. Telegrams were received by the government and the newspapers, following which even Delhi was in turmoil. Receiving the news, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had yet to recover from the defeat in the war against China, felt that Kashmir was now gone for good. His declining health did not help either, he could do nothing but watch. Jawaharlal Nehru took to the All India Radio to express his grief over the sacrilege and assured the Kashmiris that he will leave no stone unturned in the recovery of the holy relic. And fair enough, Jawaharlal Nehru in this moment of despair turned to his lifeline the most prominent member of the Congress, Lal Bahadur Shastri who was at that time a minister without portfolio. Since Shastriji had to have a team, the then Home Secretary V. Vishwanathan along with a group of competent men were sent to Srinagar. Jawaharlal Nehru even assigned the Director of the Intelligence Bureau B.N. Mullik, when he felt that the situation might get out of hand. All of these high profile portfolio holders were in Kashmir at the same time, why? To find a strand of hair that seemed to have left its centuries abode the ‘Hazratbal shrine’.

With each passing day, the unrest in the valley was rising. Thousands of people refused to go back home, they encircled the shrine, crowded the roads at the peak of the winter. The situation took a turn for worse on 28th December, when while addressing a large gathering of people at Lal Chowk, Bakhshi Abdur Rashid, the General Secretary of the ruling National Conference and relative of the former Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad said something ‘objectional’ which incited the gathering. Moments later, what started off with a peaceful protest turned violent. The angry mob marched towards the two cinema houses, Amresh and Regal, owned by the Bakhshis at the Residency Road, and along with them, some other buildings were torched down.

The angry mob also attacked Police Station in Kothi Bagh and further marched towards the Radio Kashmir building to set it ablaze. In retaliation to the aggressive protest by the mob, the police fired bullets and tear smoke shells at agitators, resulting in the death of two persons and injuries to few. The Government in its defence alleged that the mob attempted to burn alive a Superintendent of Police and the Additional Deputy Commissioner who were trapped in a burning police station. In response to the increasing tension in the valley, a 14-hour curfew was imposed in Srinagar which was extended for equal hours next day. But were the people willing to listen? The answer is that the whole Valley plunged into chaos. 

But this chaos also saw the affection and solidarity extended by the Non-Muslim communities in the valley to their fellow muslims in their time of sorrow. Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists in places joined the protests as a gesture of strengthening the bond between communities across the border of religion. As a result, despite all the financial loss the state had to suffer and a few murder attempts on the police and civilians the number of casualties remained zero.

In the wake of all this, even the international media and press flew to New Delhi and Srinagar to report the unfolding of the situation. Newspapers wrote elaborate reports on the situation and our peaceful neighbour tried to fan the flames amidst the chaos. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto requested an urgent meeting in the Security Council, for what he called as the ‘grave situation’ in Jammu and Kashmir.

As the days passed by a reward of Rs. 1,00,000 and an annual payment of Rs. 500 for life was announced for anyone who could trace or help in tracing the holy relic. And soon the prayers of the people were heard and in the midst of all the mourning and political upheaval, the miraculous recovery of the holy relic was announced on 4th of January 1964. Though the announcement of the recovery of the holy relic sent a wave of joy in the heart of the people of the valley, demands for the authentication of the hair grew among the masses. Initially, the government rejected the demand, but when the masses refused to budge the Government of India yielded. On 3 February 1964, the government allowed a group of prominent religious and political leaders headed by the revered spiritual personality, Syed Meerak Shah Kashani, to view and identify the ‘recovered’ relic. Syed Meerak Shah attested to its genuineness. 

Now that the relic was found, did the matter came to an end? NO! After the recovery of the relic, the demands to ‘hand over the real culprit’ and ‘expose the conspiracy’, started to rise. Many theories have been put forward all these years, but the one most widely accepted is where it is said that a terminally ill lady in the Bakhshi family wanted to have a last ‘deedar’ of the relic. The relic was removed for the same, but when the caretakers could not place the relic on time, they kept their mouth closed in the fear of getting exposed. Later a disciple of Noor Sahib who shared this incident, was present when the caretaker reportedly also revealed that it was not the first time that the sacred relic was secretly removed from the shrine for a special ‘deedar’. 

In a span of that week, though the ground zero of all the chaos witnessed no communal riots, other parts of the country and our neighbour was not so peaceful. What was supposed to be a retaliation of losing a case in the court, turned into the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) under the guise of the holy relic. The 1964 riots which started on the 2nd of January in East Pakistan saw the inhumane mass slaughter and rape of thousands of Hindus which continued over the span of months even after the relic was recovered. Hindus left their homes only to find refuge in courts and civil institutions. Soon even they could not accommodate all of them. People migrated in large numbers and queued up for days in front of the Indian Embassy in Dhaka. As a result of this migration, Khulna, the only Hindu-majority district in East Pakistan became a Muslim-majority district. The refugees from East Pakistan were settled in West Bengal, Odisha and then Madhya Pradesh (Now Chattisgarh).

Now when we sum up the events, what do we have?

A strand of hair was “harmlessly and temporarily removed” from the shrine by a caretaker so that a lady of the prominent Bakhshi family could have a last deedar of the strand. The caretaker failed to place the strand of hair back in the shrine on time and its absence was noticed by the people. The caretaker got scared and then all the drama of theft was orchestrated. People holding high profile portfolios in the “New India” under the “Visionary Prime Minister” rushed to Srinagar. International Media, without the internet, flew from across the globe to report the mourning of the people in Kashmir, but none of them bothered to visit East Pakistan. Thousands of Hindus lost their lives, lakhs of them lost their homes and had to live the life of pity and constant fear, because of this “harmless and temporary removal” of a strand of hair.

And after the chaos came to an end, comes the praising remark of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for B.N. Mullik: “You have saved Kashmir for India”.

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