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History of Jammu & Kashmir

Kashmir was named after Sage Kashyap who, in ancient times, saved the land and its people from a fierce demon. Civilisation in the valley is estimated to go as far back as 3,000 BC and archaeological finds in the area indicate habitation by Neolithic man, with stone and bone implements and menhirs found at Burzahom, close to modern Srinagar. According to the historian Kalhan, the first kingdom in the valley coincided with the epic war of the Mahabharata. Later, history documents that the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka founded the city of Srinagar and spread Buddhism in the region. The Greeks knew the valley as Kasperia, while the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang named it Ka Shi-Mi-Lo when he visited it in 631 AD. Close interaction with ancient Greeks is visible in their influence on architecture, sculptures and ancient coins.

A series of invasions from Central Asian tribes fragmented the long period of Hindu rule and finally, Sultan Shams-ud-din captured Kashmir in 1341. He established the Shah-Miri dynasty, which ruled for the next 200 years, spreading Islam in Kashmir. Most of the Muslim rulers of Kashmir were tolerant towards their Hindu subjects, thus cementing a long secular tradition that encouraged arts and crafts, music and literature.

In 1588, Emperor Akbar conquered Kashmir and established Mughal rule in the valley. Under the Mughals, Kashmir achieved great distinction in architecture and the fine arts. Akbar’s successor Jahangir was greatly enamoured by the beauty of the valley and had chinar trees planted along its avenues. He also built several formal Mughal gardens, mostly dedicated to his favourite queen Nur Jahan. After the decline of the Mughals, Ahmad Shah Abdali and his Afghan army captured Kashmir. In the subsequent period, Kashmir came under the rule of the Afghans and Pathans, who looted the valley indiscriminately and subjected its people to great miseries.

Finally, the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh intervened but even the rule of the Sikhs did not ease the misery of the people or prevent chaos. The British defeated the Sikh forces in 1846 and became masters over a large part of north India. It was then that the British appointed the Dogra Rajput king of Jammu, Maharaja Gulab Singh as ruler of the entire region including Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Baltistan and Gilgit.

The Dogra kings integrated their territory and established a modern administrative state, with road links, drainage and irrigation systems. In the present context of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh ascended the throne in 1925 and during his rule, India’s struggle for independence reached its peak and political forces became active in the region. The most important was the National Conference, headed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.

Post Independence, Jammu & Kashmir was posed with the crucial question of accession to the Indian union and Maharaja Hari Singh came up with the offer of a Standstill Agreement with both India and Pakistan while he came to a decision. In the subsequent period, a popular upsurge of protests led to the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah and incursion of Pakistani tribals into Kashmir. In the face of this aggression, the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession in favour of India on October 26th, 1947. After 18 months of bloody conflict in which the local population helped the Indian army in pushing back the invaders, an UN-monitored cease-fire was established and a Line of Control drawn out. Since then the question of the two nations’ right over Kashmir has not been entirely settled. India and Pakistan went to war in 1965, 1971 and in 1999. Besides these full-scale operations, militant organisations have been active in the valley since the 90s and Kashmir continues to be a stumbling block in Indo-Pak relations as Pakistan is the main obstruction in the way of a lasting solution to the Indian problem of Kashmir.

In 1948, Sheikh Abdullah headed the first democratic government of Jammu & Kashmir, a federal state of the Indian Republic albeit with certain exceptional provisions under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Presently ruled by the National Conference headed by Sheikh Abdullah’s son Farooq Abdullah, the government of the state has been incapable of tackling the question of terrorism in a lasting fashion. While the debate continues, the state has bled so deeply that there is mistrust amongst the different communities and the three segments of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have moved apart. Pakistan demands a referendum to decide the fate of the state; militant outfits demand absolute independence while India continues to treat Kashmir as an integral part of the union.

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