After the death of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, the Mughal empire disintegrated and Ahmad Shah Durrani came to power in Kashmir in 1752, establishing Afghan rule. From 1752 to 1819 AD, Kashmir Pandits suffered one of the darkest periods in their history under the Afghan empire. PNK Bamzai, a Kashmiri Pandit Scholar states that Afghan rule “reduced the Valley to the lowest depths of penury, degradation and slavery.” Kashmiri nobles had actually invited Durrani as a new emperor believing he would provide stable leadership and assumed that the Afghans would be humane and civil like the Mughal emperors of India, however “little did they imagine that all the beauty and nobility, for which Kashmir and its people were famous, would be wiped off under their rule.”
Pathan governors specifically were known for their cruelty in the valley. One chief, Abdullah Aquasi in particular, demanded all wealthy Kashmiris in the valley to part with their riches or face death. Many merchants committed suicide, properties and homes were completely wiped, and those who were noncompliant were swiftly murdered. During Afghan rule, there was a custom among the Pandits to send along with the groom, another boy, called ‘Pot Maharaza’ who would also be dressed like the groom. In case something happened to the bridegroom, the ‘Pot Maharaza’ would immediately take his place. It is widely believed that the custom was introduced under stress because during Afghan rule, it was not uncommon for the groom to be seized as he went to wed his bride.
Pathan rulers targeted Pandits, Shias and Bambas (minority Kashmiri Muslim ethnic group-currently reside in POK) during these times. It was common practice to tie up pandits in grass sacks or leather bags and drown them in Dal lake. Afghans would also fill a pitcher of dung and place it on a Pandit’s head and stone the pitcher till it broke covering the Pandit in filth. If a Durrani Muslim saw a pandit during these times, it’s said he would sometimes jump on the Pandit’s back to “take a ride.” One Afghan governor, Ata Muhammad Khan was so notorious for his lust for beautiful Kashmiri Pandit women that Kashmiri Pandit parents fearing for their daughters, shaved their heads and mutilated them, cutting off their noses to avoid rape. Those who dared to resist were quickly dealt with, one Muslim nobleman scorched with red hot iron bars and another forced to watch his son tortured until he himself committed suicide. Shias were not allowed to practice their religion during this time, one victim Hafiz Abdullah beheaded after being accused of propagating Shi’ism in Kashmir disguised as a Sunni.
Under Durrani rule, Pandits and Shias faced relentless persecution by Afghans that can not possibly be presented in one post. To this day, an area on the bank of the Dal Lake is still called Bata Mazar (The Graveyard of Pandits). We must remember the minorities of Kashmir who, given no other option, were driven out of their homes and exiled.