Dogras of Jammu and Kashmir: Their Culture, History, & Traditions

Dogras of Jammu and Kashmir: Their Culture, History, & Traditions


The Dogras are a community of Hindu Rajputs who emigrated into the Jammu region from Rajasthan around the time of Alexander’s invasion. They are said to have moved into the area to help fight against the foreign armies.  They are Suryavanshi, meaning that they view themselves as descendents of the legendary king Ikshvaku, thus being distant relatives to Shri Ram.  As such, the kuldevta (family deity) for most Dogras, and especially for the ruling family, is Shri Ram.  Having emigrated into a small region around the Saroiensar and Mansar lakes, the Dogras held onto their kshatriya lineage ruling 22 small states around the lakes, and continued settling in surrounding areas.

While the Dogras come from a kshatriya lineage, and they worked to maintain their status as martial people, the rise of Dogras to noble status is inextricably linked to the Sikh Empire.  The burgeoning Sikh Confederacy took control of the Jammu and Kashmir valley in 1819 from Afghans.  Birbal Dhar, a Kashmiri noble, had been aghast at the sad state of Kashmir under Afghan tyranny.  To that end, Birbal Dhar saw an opportunity materialize when the erstwhile ruler of the area went abroad.  He invited the Sikhs to take Kashmir, offering to pay for any losses incurred should the Sikh campaign against the Afghans fail.  Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Sikh Empire sent a contingent of 30,000 troops to Kashmir, one section of which was commanded by Raja Gulab Singh.  Having suffered greatly under Afghan rule, the Dogras gladly joined the Sikh armies and rose in the ranks of the misls.  It should be noted that the Dogras had fought alongside Sikh warriors prior to this, one such example being Gulab Singh’s army.

Raja Gulab Singh was given the rule of Jammu in 1820 by Maharaja Ranjit shortly after the Sikh Empire annexed the valley — a reward for their faithful and valiant service in subduing the rebellious Afghani chiefs.  Singh had risen to the rank of misldar (equivalent to a commanding general) in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army, and had helped secure the Sikh capital at Lahore.

Gulab Singh mounted many campaigns to bolster Jammu, all done under the name of the Sikh Empire (as he was still subservient to Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore).  Military expeditions into Ladakh began in 1834.  Though initially defeated, the Ladakhis mustered their forces and attempted counter attacks, which subsequently failed.

In 1841, a Dogra force led by General Zorawar Singh attempted to annex Tibet.  Although they were successful for a short time, they were beaten back both by the Tibetan army and the cold climate.  Of the 5,000 troops that went to Tibet, 700 were taken as prisoners, and 25 returned to Jammu.  The Tibetan army then marched down to Ladakh and occupied it.  In 1842, a Dogra army commanded by Hari Chand won a victory against the Tibetans,, and annexed Leh into the Jammu kingdom again.

The Sikh Empire fell into disarray after Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death, and many squabbles and power plays ensued.  The crumbling of the Sikh Empire was hastened by British excursions into the land, and the Sikh forces suffered many defeats.  In 1846, Gulab Singh went to Lahore to negotiate a treaty between the Sikh Empire and the British.  For his help in restoring peace, the British agreed to recognize Gulab Singh as the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, also owing to the fact that he was independent of both the Sikh and British empires.

During the Dogra rule, many progressive and far-reaching social reforms were instituted. Examples of these include the abolition of Begar (enforced labour), the opening of all temples to Harijans/Dalits way back in 1929, the institution of jabri schools  (religious institutions Muslim girls were made to attend at a time when this was unknown elsewhere in India), and the institution of state-authored regulations that safeguarded land ownership and service employment for permanent residents of the state. 

Jammu Under The Rule Of Maharaja Ranbir Singh

Jammu’s legacy as the city of temples came about largely due to the efforts of Maharaja Ranbir Singh. 

It was during his reign that the renowned Dharmarth Trust was formed. His period also saw the construction of Ranbireshwar temple, a mandir in the middle of the city dedicated to Lord Shiva; the famous Mahamaya Temple which adjoins the Bahu Fort was built by him after the Goddess appeared to him in a dream. The construction of Raghunath Temple, a famous mandir commissioned by Maharaja Gulab Singh located in Jammu city, was also brought to completion by Ranbir Singh. [3]

Under his rule, Maharaja Ranbir Singh also made it a priority to educate and empower the weaker sections of the society, spreading awareness and prohibiting social evils like Sati and infanticide. He was an economic visionary, pioneering innovations like coin currency (called the chilki rupee) and paper currency (called shrikar). He introduced the first printing press within Jammu, and established a Department of Research and Publication under his rule. He was the driving force behind the effort to collect and store Sanskrit manuscripts within the Raghunath Temple Library, creating literary centres at Jammu, Srinagar, Uttar Behni and Purmandal. The Raghunath Mandir Sanskrit Sangrahalaya, one of the largest manuscript libraries in the world, was just one of the many scholarly centers and pathsalas built during his reign. [3]



The term Dogra is thought to derive from Durgara, the name of a kingdom mentioned in an eleventh century copper-plate inscription in Chamba. The inscription mentions the Raja of Chamba facing an attack by Kiras aided by the Lord of Durgara (durgāreśwara). In medieval times, the term Durgar is believed to have turned into Dugar, eventually transforming to “Dogra”. Kalhana’s Rajatarangini makes no mention of a kingdom by any of these names, but the kingdoms could have been referred to by their capital cities (such as Vallapura, modern Billawar, or Babbapura, modern Babor).[1]

Language and Script 

Dogras had their own language and script. The original script, popularly known as “Ganmat”, was prevalent throughout the region irrespective of caste or religion, and all Dogras used to correspond and maintain account books in this very script. Dogri is mentioned as one of the languages of India by the famous poet “Amir Khusro” in his “Nur Sepehr”, demonstrating that Dogri was recognized as one of the languages in India even before 1325 AD. [3] 

Fairs And Festival 

Each Dogra festival is unique in style, and is characterized by colour, gaiety, enthusiasm, feasts and rituals. Some of the common Dogra celebrations include Rarhe, Sakolare, Damdeh, Lohri Holi, and Diwali. Around the beginning of each year, on the fifth day of the Hindu month Magh, the feast of ” Basant panchami” is held in honour of the upcoming spring. 

Arshad Purnima, another celebration, is marked by a number of fairs. A prominent fair among these is the Sudh Mahadev Fair in North Chenani, which is an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva. The Jhiri fair at Shamachak is another fair held on Kartik Purnima, during which large numbers of farmers come to pay their homage to Bawa Jitoo, the peasant martyr. It is said that the fair marks the return of people whose ancestors took his blood-stained grains, and involves devotees coming back to his Samadhi and paying respects. 

Among the local fairs, the Bahu Fort fair on the 8th and 9th of Navratri draws large crowds from Jammu and vicinity. There is a temple of Durga in the Fort. In addition, a large number of devotees of the city visit this shrine every Tuesday. Chetra Chaudashi is a sacred day for Hindus when they go take a dip in the ponds or rivers nearby. A dip in the holy river Devak at Purmandal is considered a virtue on this day. [3] 

Folklore Of Dogras

Dogri Folk Songs

Dogri folk songs are marked with variegated hues and shades. Their heroic refrain is equally balanced with a note of human sympathy, and their contents are as much chastened by the noble pride of self-sacrifice for others as they are drenched in the tears of unforeseen woes.

Similarly, the number of Ballads in Dogri is fairly large. Ballads comprises songs about chivalry in Dogri called “Kaarkaan” and “Baraan”, songs of valour and gallantry of heroes. Kaarkaan is held sacred to the memory of certain saints, warriors and martyrs. Kaarkaan may best be described as commemorations of noble-minded persons who command reverence for their blessed and edifying influence on the masses. It is a tale ballet narrated in singing form, sung by a separate class of ballad singers. In Duggar Desh, they are called ‘Jogies”. They narrate popular folk tales in their dance style, performed by three members with the accompaniment of a typical folk instrument called ‘Rabab’. The most famous among these ensembles are the Kaaraaks of Baba Jitoo, Raja Bahu and Baba Kaliveer.[3]

Dogri Geet (Music)

Ceremonial lyrics in Dogri are not mere ritualistic verses. They are sensitive and reflective, echoing back events and personalities with strict faithfulness. They also give analyses of the human reactions surrounding these ceremonies. Out of the many ceremonial songs, those of marriage and childbirth are very popular. “Biyain”, in particular, are songs sung to celebrate the birth of a child, which indirectly suggests the contrast between social norms according to a boy and a girl in Duggar. The birth of a female child casts an ominous gloom over the household, and is equated with bankruptcy and dishonour. “Chorian ” has no such critical strain. They only mark the matrimonial rituals which the bridegroom has to go to through. The affectionate lyrics sung at the marriage of a girl are called Suhag, and they convey the hopes and dreams of the bride’s family and friends for her success as a wife. [3]

Dogri Dances 

Dogras are a virile people full of vitality and gallantry, and their dances therefore showcase vivid expressions of their emotions. These dances are performed on special occasions like the advent of the spring season, the harvest time when the peasants reap the fruit of their labour, or wedding days.  Dogra folk dances are an expression of simplicity, gaiety and gallantry of the brave Dogras.

  1. Chhajja Dance: This folk dance is performed at the Lohri festival. Prior to Lohri festival, young boys prepare colourful and beautiful chhajjas using pieces of bamboo. 
  2. Dhamhachada: This folk dance is performed by women. This popular dance is performed on the occasions of marriage ceremonies of boys. 
  3. Phumnian: This folk-dance is also popular in lower hilly areas of Jammu region. It is performed after the harvest. Before people eat the new grain, this dance is performed and the grains are offered to God with devotion. 
  4. Kudd: Kudd is the dance of the higher regions of Jammu region. Bahderwah, Kishtwar and Ramnagar are known for their Kudd dances. The people of the village where this dance is organized invite their relatives and friends from other places to enjoy this dance.
  5. Raslila: Raslila is a folk representation commemorating  the dance between Lord Krishan and the Gopis. The dancers dance in two rows, with two small sticks in both hands of every dancer.

Dogra Jewellery 

Among Dogra women, jewellery forms an important part of the costume. Now in the modern times, jewellery designs have become quite elaborate and richly decorated with enamel, gems and pearls. Precious and semi-precious stones are set on the metal. Generally, the Dogras wear the following jewellery:

  1. Mangal Sutra: It is the symbol of wedlock, and therefore has great importance as an ornament among Hindu Dogra women.
  2. Tikka: It is worn over the forehead, and may be a triangular or round pendulum which is tied with a black thread that goes back through the centre of the head, secured into hair with a pin clip.
  3. Chumka: These are gold earrings, sometimes called balis, which hang from the ears of women. Each chumka weighs about one tola.
  4. Nathani: It is a large ring of tola which passes through a small hole in the nostril. It is round in shape.
  5. Necklace: It is worn around the neck and is generally made of five tolas of gold
  6. Kada: It consists of four tolas of gold worn in each arm
  7. Ring: These are rings for the fingers, generally studded with pearls, sapphire or any other jewel. 

Dogra Dress

  1. The Chudidar Pyjama: The typical Dogra dress consists of close fitting known as “chudidar pyjama (ghutana)with folds from ankle to calves. It is fastened by a skillfully made cord of cotton threads
  2. Kurta: The Kurta with narrow sleeves serves the purpose of underwear. It is made of hand-spun khadi.
  3. Khilka: It is made of fine, country-made khasa with broad sleeves and broad girth, and is worn over the underwear with a phatovie (jacket) of khadi in between. It is found around the neck with a thread clasp and thread hook. It is also fastened at the front with clasps or hooks.
  4. The Head wear: The traditional Dogri head wear consists of a muslin piece twenty-four yards long and about two inches wide, tightly bound to the head.


Dogra Women Dress

  1. Head Dress: An embroidery piece of cloth of six yards serves as the covering for the head which falls to the ankles.
  2. Salu: It is a covering made of a piece of khadi cloth dyed blood red and embroidered in beautiful design of flowers to be woven by the bride after marriage
  3. Chudidar Suthan: A loose flowing dress of linen or silk with numerous folds which is tied round the waist with a silken or cotton cord. It is worn over the tight fitting suthan. 

Dogra Dishes

Dogra food habits are simple. Although food is largely a matter of taste and nourishment, food habits are influenced also by the climatic and geographical conditions. Dogras living in plains are mostly vegetarian, whereas those living in mountainous regions consume meat. Dogras living in cities and villages, therefore, possess different eating habits. The typical Dogri food consists of the following dishes:

  1. Mithe Chawal: Rice fried in a small quantity of oil or ghee. Water equivalent to three times the weight of rice is added, along with edible yellow food coloring. Sugar is added according to the taste, and then it is allowed to cook at low intensity flame till the rice becomes soft
  2. Kheer or Shree Palov: This dish is a Dogri delicacy. Basmati rice, after washing, is fried in ghee and then boiled in milk in a narrow necked cooking vessel called Degchi. Cinnamon and Choti Elaychi are then added. It is allowed to remain on mild fire until it is properly cooked and is thick in consistency.
  3. Khamira and Pathoru: Wheat flour is kneaded and leavened with Khamir or yeast. It is put aside for some time for fermentation. 
  4. Charolian and Chilli: Both of these are special dishes eaten on rainy days during the monsoon season. Charolian is a preparation from bleached wheat flour or maida.
  5. Ambal: A common dish served during Dogri ceremonies, it is prepared with cut pieces of pumpkin.
  6. Kalari: A milk preparation which is a unique specialty of the Duggar province within the Udhampur district, this dish is relished and demanded worldover by the Jammu diaspora hailing from Duggar  (Wakhlu 1998, 97-98).

The Dogri language has also been included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, and the Dogras, though numerically small, play a notable role in many spheres of public life. Their outstanding and ongoing contributions to the Indian Army, their cultural contributions through traditional dance, music, and pahari painting including the Basohli, Guler and the Kangra miniature styles, are just some of the attributes of Dogri culture that has added rich hues to the cultural mosaic of Jammu and India.


  2. . Pg [3]

Note 1: This article is a collaboration piece withThe American Hindu. SAHF does not endorse all of the views of The American Hindu, and The American Hindu does not endorse all views of SAHF.

Note 2: Most of this information in this piece comes from the volumes of “Culture and Political History of Kashmir” by PNK Bamzai, published in 1994. The many volumes of this book detail the history of ancient Kashmir all the way up till contemporary events, and they also discuss the role of the Dogras in the valley. 


Who Really Wants Azaadi?

Who Really Wants Azaadi?

The slogan Azadi first became prominent in Kashmir when Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani prime minister coined the chant in a 1990 speech, the height of Kashmir’s insurgency where militants ran rampant in the streets urging Pandits to convert, flee or be killed. The slogan was said to articulate freedom from both India and Pakistan, thousands gathering to shout “hum kya chahte?” “Aazadi!” The chant comprised of three phrases in addition to hum kya chahte: chheen ke lenge, azadi (will snatch it, freedom), hai haq hamara, azadi (our right, freedom) and zor se bolo, azadi (shout forcefully, freedom). Over the years, it has become the anthem of the separatist movement in Kashmir and although initially seen to have a secular character, most of the groups chanting and supporting this slogan worked under and are separatist leaders and militants in Kashmir most whose ideology is radical Islamic fundamentalism which they systematically spread among Kashmiri youth.

In a recent interview, a Kashmiri Muslim activist Yana Mir spoke with a Pakistani journalist stating clearly that she is proud to be an Indian citizen and although Kashmir is now Muslim majority there is no reason it can’t be run by a secular government. Yana accuses Pakistan of aiding organizations like JKLF and the Mujahideen to radicalize Kashmiri Muslim youth. One Kashmir stationed police officer even states “Our challenge is not that 1,000 youngsters want to be martyrs; our challenge is to not allow them to be martyrs.” Yana stated that she believed Pakistan deliberately tarnishes India’s image, spreads misinformation and propaganda about Kashmir further fueling tensions between India and Pakistan. She believes current Kashmiri Muslim youth are being devastated and unnecessarily being involved in this conflict. Furthermore, Yana believes that its major propaganda that many push the story that Kashmir did not accede to India willingly and legally. Many Kashmiri Muslims like Yana understand the true meaning of Azadi and the extremists backing the Azadi movement. She explicitly states that she believes it is in the best interest of Kashmir to remain with India. It’s also important to consider that most Kashmiri Muslim ethnic minorities in both Jammu and POK also celebrated the abrogation and don’t support the extreme “Aazadi” separatist leaders’ demand from India.

Gujjar Bakarwals, a Muslim minority group in Jammu celebrated the scrapping of the article and hope it will bring more development to the area. POK activist Amjad Mirza recently celebrated the 1st anniversary of the article, releasing balloons into the sky and cutting a tricolor cake. He believes that the abrogation has “helped the people of POK to be a part of India…women are enjoying equal rights for the first time in Kashmir and 400,000 war refugees from POK living in shanty camps have been recognized as Indian citizens and JK domicile has been granted to them.” Muslim Baloch leaders additionally who are all fighting for freedom from Pakistan celebrated the abrogation and believed the articles were a tool used to enhance terrorism. It is clear that there are Kashmiri Muslims, Muslim minorities in POK, and Jammu who do not support Azadi. More importantly, we need to start recognizing that “the whole idea of Kashmir’s Aazadi is vague as the people who are demanding it are the ones who systematically exterminated the native population of the valley, annihilated their culture, demolished any traced of their existence, and hence altered the demographics of the region.”

It is also to be noted that those who do not seek Azadi are targetted by extremist elements in the region. Recently, Sarpanch Ajay Pandita, one of the last Kashmiri Pandits in the valley was murdered in Anantnag by terrorists from TRF (The Resistance Front), a Pakistan based terrorist group. Another BJP leader and Sarpanch Sajad Jhanday were shot in Kulgam. BJP leader Wasim Bari, his brother, and father were also all murdered by militants in Bandipora after Bari showed solidarity with Kashmiri Hindus by raising a tricolor flag and attending a Hanuman Chalisa prayer. Showing support for India and the return of Kashmiri Hindus have now become dangerous in Kashmir, the original homeland for Kashmiri Pandits.

It is also important to consider that the majority of those who live in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or “Azad Kashmir” are not ethnically or indigenously Kashmiri. The region is almost entirely Muslim and comprises of multiple communities such as the Gujjars, Jats, Sudhans, Awans, Abassis, Rajputs whose culture aligns more with Pashtun and Punjabi culture than Kashmiri.

Another prominent ethnic group, Mirpuris are also not indigenous Kashmiris but fled from persecution in Pakistan to cities in Azad Kashmir during partition. Additionally, Pakistan has been accused of deliberately changing the demographics of Gilgit, Baltistan, and POK. The three areas used to be Shia dominated where these groups spoke their native languages. Pakistan then encouraged Sunnis to settle in the area offering them jobs and homes.

Now, POK is dominated by Urdu and Punjabi speaking Sunni Muslims. Ethnic cleansing of Shias was also systematically carried out in 2012 (and continues to occur in POK and GB), scores of Shias being killed in Kohistan and Chilas. In Chilas, Shia Muslims were examined for Tatbir scars and subsequently executed.  Since GB’s status remains ambiguous, the area doesn’t have protection from India. The estimates of deaths when Shias were targeted during this time are said to be about 400. In Chilas, Shia Muslims were examined for Tatbir scars and subsequently executed. In Kohistan, a bus was stopped where 18 Shia Muslims were murdered by militants from Jundallah, a Pakistani terrorist group. “Shias, Ismailis and moderate Sunnis are under threat in Gilgit Baltistan as ethnic cleansing is systematically being carried out by radical elements in Pakistani society. Due to the vital link to China through the Karakoram Highway, GB is a strategic asset for Pakistan. The demographic change it seeks to do there is with the aim of bringing the region into its iron grip with total disregard to human rights and international law.” (ANI)

To put it simply, “The whole idea of Kashmir’s Azadi is vague as the people who are demanding it are the ones who systematically exterminated the native population of the valley, annihilated their culture, demolished any traces of their existence, and hence altered the demographics of the region.” – Kunal Dhar


Dispatch: An Exclusionary, Majoritarian ‘Azaadi’ Is Not The Solution For Kashmir

Dispatch: An Exclusionary, Majoritarian ‘Azaadi’ Is Not The Solution For Kashmir

Author: Samyukta Singh 

For many people, the solution to the de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan is giving Kashmiris a right to self-determination. In its original use, self-determination was defined as popular sovereignty, where people have the right to choose their government democratically without any coercion. In the same manner, Kashmiris would get to decide and shape their own political, economic and cultural destiny without outside interference. While this answer sounds great on paper, what we should be asking ourselves is whether it is capable of resolving the underlying social and political problems that have been plaguing Kashmir for hundreds of years. 

Historical Perspectives

In 1947, when the British partitioned India into two countries — the Democratic Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, princely states had the option of choosing between joining either of the two. The Hindu ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, found it difficult to deliberate in light of the fact that he was ruling over a Muslim majority state with a rich Hindu legacy [1]. In the same year, Pashtun tribesmen led by a Pakistani officer named Akbar Khan decided to take matters into their own hands and stormed into Kashmir from Pakistan [2]. In the wake of such a violent attack, Singh had to ask for India’s help to thwart this sudden invasion. India only agreed to provide military aid if Kashmir acceded to India. Very soon, Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, which brought Kashmir into India’s fold [3].

Even though the Kashmir situation was legally resolved, Pakistan refused to accept the outcome. Because of the many failed attempts at resolving this issue between India and Pakistan diplomatically, India filed a complaint with the United Nations (UN) on January 1st, 1948 [4]. The UN called for a plebiscite for the people of Jammu and Kashmir  (J&K) to determine which country they wanted to be part of.4 However, a major and first condition for the plebiscite to take place was the removal of illegal Pakistani forces from Kashmir, which Pakistan has not adhered to till date [5].

Because of a strong ethno-national consciousness shared by many Kashmiris of an independent identity, Kashmir was later granted a special status under Article 370 in India’s constitution in 1952. This article permitted Kashmir to have independence in all areas except for communications, defense and foreign affairs, which would be under India’s control.5 This decision was taken by the first Constituent Assembly, which was elected democratically by the people of J&K in 1951. Since an election is considered a demonstration of free will, the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not think a formal plebiscite was needed anymore [6]. While Article 370 was the real need of the hour then, the impact of Kashmir’s special status soon permeated into the daily lives of Kashmiris, who were unable to reap the full economic and social benefits of being part of a secular India.

Whose Self-Determination?

In the 1930s, there was a strong appeal to secularism and democracy in the Valley by a charismatic leader, Sheikh Abdullah. He was a key player in changing the name of the Muslim Conference to the National Conference, which appealed to Muslims and non-Muslims, alike [7]. Sheikh Abdullah wanted independence from both Pakistan and India in order to preserve multiculturalism among his people. He praised Maharaja Hari Singh’s move to accede to India during times of peril. Yet, he hoped the arrangement would be temporary. Under his administration, the opposition to Pakistan’s theocracy was a strong sentiment shared by the people in the region. Despite appreciating the secularism of the Indian constitution, which he identified with more than he did with Pakistan’s Islamic theocracy, the Sheikh’s discontent with India grew due to his obsession with an independent Kashmir. He was soon arrested for his dictatorial tendencies of blocking opposition and limiting free press [8]. He was succeeded by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, who wanted to maintain the accession to India while honoring the agreement of autonomy over spheres other than defense, communications and external affairs. This sentiment was a common attitude in the Valley, much to the chagrin of Pakistan. Even during the 1965 war where Pakistan tried to take Kashmir by force, the Kashmiri people backed India and supported the latter’s victory [9].

Since the 1980s, we have seen a different yet dominant interpretation of self-determination emerge in Kashmir that in many ways goes against ideals of popular sovereignty. Now in Kashmir, self-determination is a process of directly asserting an exclusive, exclusionary extremist and religious Muslim Sunni identity. How did such a consciousness foment in the Valley? Many external factors are to blame such as the influence of both Pakistani insurgencies and a corrupt, political oligarchy that could not be held accountable by India due to Kashmir’s special status, thereby enabling the rise of Islamist fundamentalism. 

One of the earliest evidences of Islamization in the Valley begins with the Sheikh’s decision to change the names of 2500 villages to Islamic names, followed by his communal speeches in mosques and campaign of distributing copies of Pakistani writings/pamphlets calling for independence [10]. The titles of some of the pamphlets were ‘The Conspiracy of Converting Kashmir Muslim Majority into a Minority’ and ‘The Tragedy of Kashmir’ [10]. The appearance of such public campaigns may have been intended to shift the public away from the common patriotic sentiments for India. In 1977, the Jamaat-e-Tulba (IJT) was formed in Kashmir to usher in a new wave of conservative Islamism which called on members to establish true faith by abandoning customs that did not align with the Quran and to dissociate with people who had forgotten Allah [11]. The IJT tapped into many Saudi Arabia-based networks and was given membership of the World Organization of Muslim Youth, that went on to finance Islamist terrorist organizations. In 1980, the IJT even organized a conference in Srinagar, that was attended by prominent Saudi Arabian dignitaries such as Imams of mosques from Mecca and Medina [11]Saudi money was funnelled into the region through religious institutions like Madrasas, which indoctrinated young children to fight for Islamism and provided training in Jihad [12].

Some of the first cases of violence caused by this neo-conservative Islamic ideology occurred in 1986, when Kashmiri Hindu Pandits were attacked and Hindu temples were razed and burnt [13]. It was not news to many that the minority indigenous populations in Kashmir, consisting of Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists, were unwelcome in the Valley. It was not news to hear of non-Muslim girls being raped or of non-Muslims being constantly targeted and murdered for following their faith. The Governor of Kashmir, Jagmahon, recalls how many of the atrocities against minorities would take place on Friday nights after Kashmiri Muslims listened to sermons in mosques [12]. The Kashmiri Sunni Muslim leadership neglected many of the atrocities faced by minority groups. Extremist groups were able to exert a huge control on public life by shutting down cinema halls, beauty parlors, and liquor stores. Vulnerable moderate Muslim voices also chose to stay silent to protect their lives. To many of the pro-separatists today, “Azaadi” (i.e., the call to autonomy) is nothing more than a war cry against the infidels (i.e., non-Muslims). Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister of Pakistan, is also known to have supported this cause [14]. Everything finally culminated in the brutal ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley in 1990s, with their cries falling on deaf ears, as they had for the prior thirty years [13].

Another reason Islamist fundamentalism was able to make in-roads into Kashmir was due to the poor economic conditions and rampant unemployment. In 1987, more than 10,000 university graduates were unemployed [15]. It is said that the corrupt oligarchy of Kashmir siphoned federal money received from the Indian government away from real development to enrich themselves [16]. Crossing the border to Pakistan to become a trained insurgent proved to be a more viable economic alternative to the youngsters, who were paid for their services in the name of religion [17]. The deteriorating economic conditions were conveniently blamed on the Indian government as propaganda to hide the corrupt misappropriation of funds happening at the state level. None of the beneficial economic laws passed by the Indian government such as the Right to Education, Wealth Tax Act or Urban Ceiling Tax designed to help the destitute, were even applied in J&K. Other parts of J&K, such as Ladakh and Jammu, were also discriminated against and suffered, as these areas did not obtain sufficient representation in the Kashmir state government, which operated from the capital city of Srinagar.

A sub-nationalist cause of “Azaadi” in Kashmir only means autonomy and victory to one dominant, patriarchal, Sunni group of men, thereby increasing the persecution of minorities, women, and the LGBTQ+. The return of Kashmiri Hindus to the Valley will only be a distant dream in such a world. Article 370 has indirectly given a free hand to anti-nationalist sentiments fueled by rich bureaucrats and created a breeding ground for Islamist fundamentalism to spread like wildfire. It is important to realize how self-determination is employed to play into identity politics and how it is often used to uphold and validate earlier patterns of discrimination. Let’s think of another example where people wanted to exercise the right to self-determination. Remember when Southern states in America called for secession as a solution to preserving their way of life, which included continuing the horrifying practice of slavery?

Geopolitical Tensions

Even if Kashmiris were to believe that being free from the control of India is a better option, would the geopolitics of the region allow for its independence and autonomy? How would a landlocked region like Kashmir without an army defend itself from being grabbed by the neighboring Pakistan and China? It is a well-known fact that Pakistan continues to use Kashmir as a proxy war to attack its arch-nemesis, India, by sending Islamist insurgent groups and empowering stone pelters in the region. Additionally, with the gross human rights violations committed against the people in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), does one think there will be any significant improvement in human conditions if the rest of Kashmir were to be controlled by Pakistan?

Now, let’s look at China. How would a country with almost no ethnic or religious connection to Kashmir respect the identity of a Kashmiri? Historically, China has not shied away from using power grabs such as in the case of Tibet and Hong Kong to increase its political territory. In 1962, China decided to lay claim on the easternmost part of India’s Ladakh, which it renamed Aksai Chin. According to Prof. Subhask Kak, the Aksai Chin region and the rest of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is historically part of the Indian civilization, as the region used Sanskrit and Prakrit languages. The real name of the region is ‘Gosthana’ (place of cows), which it is still referred to by Tibetians and Ladakhis [18]. Buddhist Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal once said, “Since 1962, China has cheated India not once or twice but a hundred times. In the 1962 war, they took 37,244 sq km from us of what we know today as Aksai China. I feel strange even to hear the term Aksai Chin. It is not Aksai Chin, it is China-occupied Indian territory.” [19]. Clearly, the rest of J&K territory would only be an icing on China’s cake if India or Pakistan were to let go of it.

Self-determination sounds like a rosy, idealistic goal for Kashmiris. Yet, it only takes the region and its people many steps backward and away from peaceful co-existence across all boundaries of religion, class, etc. It doesn’t solve many of their existing problems and only exacerbates them. Appeals have often been made for setting up a demilitarized and free-trade economic zone in J&K, which is hailed as the best solution to the ongoing dispute. However, large-scale, strategic changes would take years to implement and are highly infeasible in a region that is conflict-ridden and has deep-seated historical and emotional ties to different groups. Therefore, the repeal of Article 370 and Kashmir’s full incorporation into the rest of India provides the easiest first step in the right direction that is best for the quality of life of the Kashmiri populace, yet it is contingent on everyone’s cooperation.


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3 –

4 –

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7 –

8 –

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10 – Pandita, K.N., Kashmir Question, Kashmir Herald, Volume 2, No. 9 – February 2003, Featured Articles 

11 –

12 – Jagmohan, My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir, Allied Publishers, New Delhi 1992, p.180


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15 Examining Political Violence: Studies of Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Internal War, p. 266

16 –

17 –

18 –

19 –

Note: SAHF does not necessarily endorse all views of the author, and the author does not necessarily endorse all views of SAHF. 

Vanchinathan: The Tamil Revolutionary

Vanchinathan: The Tamil Revolutionary

Violent revolutionary incidents, although not widely talked about in South India or South Asia during the British rule, often occurred and provided revolutionary support for the liberation of South Asians. One such incident was the political assasination of Robert William d’Escourt Ashe I.C.S, who was the acting Collector and District Magistrate of the Tirunelveli District during the British Colonial rule, by Vanchinathan Iyer. Fondly called “Vanchi” by his coterie, Vanchinathan was a Tamil Indian revolutionary who fought for India’s independence from the colonial rule.

Born in 1886, Vanchi hailed from Sengottai, a small town in Tamil Nadu, a South Indian state. Vanchinathan completed his education there and later on took up a government job. He got acquainted with V.O. Chidambaram Pillai (VOC) and the duo were with the same mindset to fight against the colonial rule.

In 1906, VOC launched India’s first shipping enterprise and named it Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company in order to challenge the colonial rule that imposed strict rules to suppress the domestic shipping and forwarding industry in the region. Unable to bear the low wages paid to the laborers by a management firm A&F Harvey, which was wittingly backed up by Ashe, a non-cooperation movement was organized by VOC and as a result, VOC was arrested for creating an agitation. He was further slapped with a strenuous punishment of forty years imprisonment and jailed in Palayamkottai.

Without an iota of doubt, it was likely this whole arrest drama was orchestrated by Ashe. Further, not only did Ashe destabilize the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company but issued a shoot-at-sight order on the anti-colonial protestors if there were any protests against VOC’s arrest. While imprisoned, VOC was beaten black and blue and experienced torture for his anti-colonial activities.

The arrest of VOC created fury among freedom fighters since VOC wanted to help Indian labourers and drive the British out, and this prompted Vanchi to take action. By holding secret meetings among his peers within Tamil Nadu, Vanchi promised to take out Ashe. The assassination was not only planned by Vanchi himself; it also involved Nilakanta Brahmachari and Shankara Krishna Iyer (Vanchi’s brother-in-law). Together, these three formed the “Bharatha Matha Sangam” to suppress the powerful British colonizers.

Ashe was appointed as the Collector of Tirunelveli and played a significant part in closing the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, which was an anti-colonial enterprise that economically uplifted Indians. He was also an essential figure in trying to crown King George V, which further enraged anti-colonial activists, including Vanchi.

This rage led to the assassination of Ashe on June 17, 1911. On this day, Robert Ashe and his whole family boarded the 9:30 AM Maniyachi Mail at Tirunelveli Junction where they were on their way to Kodaikanal. Approximately at 10:40 AM, the train stopped at Maniyachi, and Vanchi boarded the train. He later shot Ashe point blank on the forehead. Moments later, Vanchi rushed into a bathroom in the train station and committed suicide, leaving the following letter that explained his motive to kill Ashe:

I dedicate my life as a small contribution to my motherland. I am alone responsible for this. The mlecchas [foreigners] of England having captured our country, tread over the Sanatana Dharma of the Hindus and destroy them. Every Indian is trying to drive out the English and get swarajyam and restore sanatana dharma. Our Raman, Sivaji, Krishnan, Guru Govindan, Arjuna ruled our land protecting all dharmas, but in this land, they are making arrangements to crown George V, a mleccha (barbarian), and one who eats the flesh of cows.

Three thousand Madrasis [South Indians] have taken a vow to kill George V as soon as he lands in our country. In order to make others know our intention, I, who am the least in the company, have done this deed this day. This is what everyone in Hindustan should consider it as his duty.

I will kill Ashe, whose arrival here is to celebrate the crowning of cow-eater King George V in this glorious land which was once ruled by great samrats. This I do to make them understand the fate of those who cherish the thought of enslaving this sacred land.

I, as the least of them, wish to warn George by killing Ashe.

Vande Mataram. Vande Mataram. Vande Mataram

—  Vanchinathan

The plot to assassinate Robert Ashe was done with the help of Varahaneri Venkatesa Subramaniam Aiyar. Aiyar, a law graduate, was also involved in activities to fight against the British rule in India. From escaping to Paris and returning to Pondicherry in disguise, Aiyar was fighting against the British Rule for India to gain independence. Vanchi and Aiyar worked closely to kill Ashe. The murder of Ashe was a warning to the British who planned to crown and celebrate George V.

The aftermath investigation consisted of finding letters at Vanchi’s house where it was revealed that 14 other men were also behind the killing of Ashe. The Ashe Murder trial went on for nearly five months from September 1911 to January 1912. Two English Judges, Justice Sir. Arnold White and Justice Ayling, delivered a joint judgment on the case while Justice Sankaran Nair delivered his own judgement. Justice Nair delivered an eye-catching statement where he translated a famous patriotic song into English; “Endru thaniyum intha suthanthira dhaagam…” – ‘ “When will this thirst for liberty and freedom be quenched.” Dead at 25, Vanchi Iyer came to be hailed as a martyr, and he was one of the first freedom fighter in South India to assassinate a British figure. Maniyachi Railway Junction was named after him to honor his life.


Image Credit: Parivel  / Note: The artist is not in anyway affiliated with SAHF or this article. 

Gaslighting Of Kashmiri Hindus: The Jagmohan Theory

Gaslighting Of Kashmiri Hindus: The Jagmohan Theory


Who was Jagmohan & How Is He Tied To Kashmiris Hindus?

Jagmohan Malhotra was the former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir twice between 1984 and 1990. The day Jagmohan was appointed Governor the second time was the same day Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus) mark as the start of their forced exodus and ethnic cleansing, January 19 1990. His tenure as the Governor is a point of contention depending on who you ask.

Gaslighting of Kashmiri Hindus Through The Jagmohan Theory

It is claimed by those that seek to gaslight the experiences of Kashmiri Pandits that Jagmohan was appointed purposefully both times by the central government to replace the elected, popular Chief Minister in the state as unrest and violence instigated by the separatist movement was on the rise. His tenure, by some, has been painted to be full of crackdown operations, curfews, and massacres. Many claim he orchestrated and facilitated the “migration” of Kashmiri Pandits out of the valley by providing trucks and logistical assistance to expedite their departure to Jammu in an effort to create a vacuum in Kashmir of just Muslims. This claim, or rather conspiracy theory, is often used to deny the true events that occurred in Kashmir and to minimize the pain and trauma experienced by Kashmiri Hindus at the hand of Islamist extremists and their own neighbors.

Why Did Kashmiri Pandits Actually Flee in the 1990s?

Those Kashmiri Pandits who were lucky to survive the violent, targeted onslaught of the events that ensued in the 1990s will tell you the truth. They did not flee their ancestral homes because a truck provided by Governor Jagmohan was waiting outside their doorstep. They did not need government assistance to depart the valley as they were generally known to be an educated and financially stable community. The irrefutable truth is that Kashmiri Pandits were driven from their homes after a campaign of intimidation, harassment, Hinduphobia, and bigotry was launched against them by a separatist movement that had no interest in co-existing with them.

To Kashmiri Pandits, no matter what is said about other actions Jagmohan had taken during his time in office, they vehemently deny Jagmohan played a factor in their ethnic cleansing. Because ultimately, they remember the faces of the terrorists that came in the middle of the night to taunt and kill them. They remember the slogans chanted in the processions that marched by their homes, including one deeply disturbing one that demanded they either convert to Islam, leave the Kashmir Valley, or get murdered. They remember what led their families to leave all they knew behind. No one should rewrite the stories of trauma victims, only they hold the truth.


Put simply, the Jagmohan Theory is completely nonsensical. It denies the lived experiences of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits and is used by majoritarians from Kashmir to whitewash and gaslight the experiences and suffering of Kashmiri Pandits.

Picture Credit: [AP Photo/Manish Swarup] [Daylife] 

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