Nicknaming people, places & things is an old practice among all communities usually to express affection, but in Kashmir certain nicknames in vogue till now, while some others handed-down the memory lane by elders for posterity carry ridicule with them.
To start with, if you think the underlying purport of the nicknames “Nabdhi” , “Ikhwani” or “renegade” or “betrayer” & the like is of recent origin in Kashmir, then, you are unaware about the Kashmir’s recent past . These terms are, of course, recent in their usage but their purport is not new. In the past, Kashmiris used different nicknames for the bands of Kashmiri-militia who crushed “dissent” by using all available means and methods of that time. Since we did not have those days the media, communicative tools & writing facilities of the kind of the present days, those terms, though were on the tip of tongue of every one in Kashmir, could not be documented & recorded immediately. There were other reasons too for it. First, the “dissent” was not, quantitatively & qualitatively, as huge as we have seen post-1989 developments in Kashmir. After 1989 it has been “revolt” (A G Noorani’s article published in Greater Kashmir, dated 4-8-2016). Second, in the absence of media glare of modern times, the “mainstream” politicians who had administrative power used it ruthlessly against the “dissent” & “dissenters”. However, fact remains that it was not too old to be forgotten within few decades only. Thousands of people stood living testimonies to those militia men & the atrocities they inflicted on people who disagreed with Sheikh Abdullah’s decisions & policies.
So, who were they? What were they called? Yes, immediately, after “facilitating” accession of JK with India & “requesting” Nehru sending army to Kashmir, ( Sheikh Abdullah, Blazing Chinar) returning home & taking over as Head of Emergency Administration under Hari Sigh’s rule on 29-10-1947, he formed a militia by the name of “Peace Brigade” or “National Volunteers” or “Kashmir Militia” at Exhibition Grounds with headquarters at Palladium Cinema, Srinagar. There was a noticeable disappointment among population against & rejection of Sheikh Abdullah’s political decisions & policies of that time. The Peace Brigade was installed to crush the voices of “dissent”. In those terrible times, without media facilities, people used to listen to Radio Pakistan to keep themselves abreast with the developments that were taking place in the Indian subcontinent & J&K. The members of the “Peace Brigade” would enter any home, at will, drag its inmates, thrash & abuse them, and they “molested” many women. (Shabnum Qayoom’s Comprehensive History of Kashmir (2014) Volume third, page 189) They would break doors, window panes & damage household items. A reign of terror was let loose through these militia men especially on the people of the down town areas of the city. It was this Peace Brigade who got ex-PM of J&K, Ramchandra Kak tied to ropes, paraded half-naked on the streets of Lal Chowk & spit at by people (Nid e Haq: Memoirs of M M Isaaq (2014) pages 190-192) because he had a different political thought about Kashmir’s future. (Blazing Chinar, (2016) page 291). The Peace Brigade was managed by topmost leaders of NC under the command of Sheikh Abdullah. After talking over “control of things”, the Peace Brigade or National Militia spread out a reign of goondaism and terror in every part of Kashmir. Local police was mute spectators [for obvious reasons]. (Nid e Haq: Memoirs of M Isaaq, (2014) , pages 190-192). A number of leaders of the Muslim Conference including Aga Showkat Ali, Salam Shah Naqashbandi , Qureshi Muhammad Yusuf, Yusuf Buch & many others were exiled & hundreds jailed for “dissent”. Its President Chowdhury Ghulam Abbas & other top leaders were already put behind bars by Hari Singh.
The Peace Brigade came to be nicknamed as “Khuftan Fakirs” (translation: beggars/ vagabonds at night) by the people of Srinagar city because they had been raiding the families,even on suspicion of “dissent” inside, immediately at the time of Night Prayers which in common parlance of Kashmir is called Khuftan or Isha Nimaz. They had been chanting “Hamla-Awar Hooshiar, Hum Kashmiri Hain Taiyaar.” (translation: Beware raiders/kabail, we Kashmiris are ready to fight you back) They marched through the lanes & bylanes of Srinagar with fire-wood-dandas, Hatabs in Kashmiri, common wooden dandas, lathis, knives & axes to keep “aggressors” away from Srinagar & to ensure free movement of Indian army on the bridges & roads of Srinagar. (Blazing Chinar (2016) : Chapter: “Medley of Internal Troubles”).
Maqbool Sherwani, a NC worker from Baramullah, played “decisive role….in saving Srinagar …… thwarted the advance of thousands of raiders (Kabail/tribesmen) from Baramullah, thereby giving valuable time to the Indian Army to land in Srinagar and prevent an ignominious defeat”. (The Times of India, Who Changed the Face of War, dated 14-08-2015) How fanatically he was devoted to Sheikh Abdullah, writes M Y Saraf, can be gauged from the fact while he was nailed by tribesman, he continued to shout Sher-e-Kashmir Zindabad. (Kashmiris For-For-Freedom (2009, 2nd edition), Volume two, page 943).
Similar roles were played by them in Kargil, Ladakh, Handwara, Shalateng & Bandipora. (Nid e Haq: Memories of M M Isaaq, (2014), pages 200-203). All well known leaders of NC were a part of the Peace Brigade, though “unarmed”, in guiding Army to different parts of Kashmir immediately on their arrival at Srinagar airport on 27-10-1947. (Syed Mir Qasim, My Life and Times (1992 South Asia Books Publication) page 96; see also footnotes at page 178 of Nida e Haq).
The task of the Kashmir Militia that was deployed by Emergency Administrator in every mohalla of Srinagar was to protect Srinagar from going to Pakistan, to suppress “voices against the accession”, (Kashmir life 21-07-2014) & in doing so, it “buttressed Kashmir’s accession to India” (Andrew Whitehead). “It may not go down well with many in Srinagar, but the fact remains that the city, led by the Sher-e-Kashmir and his deputy, Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, arranged transport for Indian troops on their arrival in Kashmir. It also provided guides, harassed, humiliated and crushed dissidents, and dubbed them as “snakes”/Pakistani agents”. (Kashmir Reader, 27-05-2014, Srinagar Wakes).
All these people were operating as a part of Kashmir Militia of Sheikh Abdullah. The Militia had a women-cell also, that was called “Women’s Self-Defence Corpse”, some of whom were well educated including Pandit women as well & some of these volunteer-women were sent to borders with army “to boost their morale” in fighting the “aggressors/ Hamla-Awar”. The Militia included ex-Muslim soldiers & policemen of Dogra administration. Many including women (A Mission in Kashmir (2007) by Krishna Misri (Zadoo) were trained by Indian Army to fight the “aggressor” with guns.
From 1947-1953 Sheikh Abullah as ruler of J&K crushed “dissent” through the militia of Peace Brigade or “Khuftan Fakirs” mainly in Srinagar city. With his dismissal on 09-08-1953 from chair of PM, the Khuftan Fakirs started changing their loyalists from Sher e Kashmir to Khalid e Kashmir, Bakshi GM, his earlier deputy & now new PM of J&K installed by India. It may not be wrong to say that the Frankenstein that was created by Sheikh Abdullah now turned on him & his followers. The staunch loyalists of Bakshi GM in Peace Brigade persecuted, tortured & jailed their onetime comrades who had not shifted their loyalty from Sheikh Abdullah. Many new notorious criminals & anti-social elements were inducted in the Peace Brigade. They molested women. Earlier Molvi G N Hamdani of NC had nicknamed some prominent NC workers as “Gogga” translation: Gogga is a shouter or a vociferous person for their extra-vocal way of speaking within party. As Guggas were favourites of Bakshi GM, they joined his faction after 1953 dismissal of Sheikh & in the period of time that followed, the nickname “Gogga” became synonymous with the followers of Bakshi GM.
The Khuftan Fakirs were deployed at every bridge of Srinagar under the command of a particular well known Gogga. The names & misdeeds of all Goggas are well documented & recorded. The Khuftan Fakirs who assembled in Shahi Masjid Srinagar & paraded through Srinagar at the time of night prayers Khuftan in Kashmiri created a hell in mohallas of Srinagar city by crushing all voices of political “dissent” under the police patronage of Ghulam Qadir Ganderbali, DSP who retired then as DIG during Bakshi regime, & who is remembered till date for his ruthless strong-arm tactics that he used with “dissenters”.
In November 1955, Bakshi regime through Goggas & Peace Brigade mobilized thousands of villagers from length & breath of JK to attend a rally at Pather Masjid Srinagar where two Communist leaders, Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin, from the former USSR, addressed them & “endorsed Indian position on Kashmir”. (Allaister Lamb, A Disputed Legacy, pages 229-230). Pathetically, writes, M M Isaaq that it was a Friday & people were so enthusiastic to listen to the address of the pro-India-communist-leaders, that even Azan was not heard from most of the masjids that were locked on that Friday & that Imams too had gone to attend the rally. (Nid e Haq: Memoirs of M Isaaq, (2014) , pages 365-366; heading : Character of Kashmiri Muslims).
The loyalists of Sheikh Abdullah tasted the fruit of the tree that their leader had himself planted in Kashmir. With toppling Sheikh Abdullah in 1953, , Bakshi GM, as new PM of J&K, used the Kashmiri Militia to crush the followers of Sheikh Abdullah who were “dissenters” there onwards. Many among the members of Khuftan Fakirs were later on “appointed in CID” of J&K. Some journalists of Kashmir while writing about the Gogga-terror of Bakshi GM’s regime have dishonestly maintained “deliberate” silence on the creation of the Peace Brigade by none other than Sheikh Abdullah himself & its atrocities on “dissenters” of Srinagar city. Gogga- suppression was an offshoot of the original militia that was created by Sheikh Abdullah immediately after becoming Emergency Head of J&K 29-10-1947 to crush “dissenters”.
In 1975 when Sheikh Abdullah rejoined mainstream politics & signed accord with Indira Gandhi after burying “plebiscite Front” of 23 years, there was “dissent” in many areas of Srinagar. Since Khuftan Fakirs were mostly disbanded & adjusted in CID, he did not have their services available to crush the “dissenters”. Yet, he used many well known “goons” of Srinagar against them who got nicknames from the victims according to their “low category jobs”.
Discussion clearly reveals that nicknaming the groups, whether armed or unarmed, that crushed “dissent” in Kashmir from time to time till now is not a new phenomenon. Such intolerant political culture in which voices of dissent are put down with force & violence , or intimidation of threats even, was found by Sheikh Abdullah himself & his legacy has been continued till now by the people in power. If ridicule is attached to the nicknames of “Nabdhi” & “Ikhwani”, then, in equal honesty, it should be attached to Khuftan Fakirs or Peace Brigades or militia men of the past as well. Condemning one wrongdoer & lauding another is sheer political hypocrisy. Truly speaking, more damage has been done by those who paved the ways for destruction of Kashmir‘s future political discourse.
[M J Aslam is an Author, Academician, Columnist & Story Writer.]