Kashmir — what is, and
what might have been
By Paul Stenhouse, MSC,
KASHMIR TODAY is a state divided: between India,
which claims the whole of the former princely state of Jammu
Kashmir and occupies 43% of it; and Pakistan which claims and
occupies 37% of it to the west and the north-west; and China, which
claims and occupies 20% of it to the northeast as part of its
autonomous region of Xinjiang.
Before the Division
In 1947, when the British Raj or rule ended, and
independence was granted to the former British colony, not all
India had been part of British India. More than ninety million
people lived in the more than five-hundred-and-sixty princely
states that were, theoretically, autonomous. Jammu and Kashmir was
one such princely state.
The timetable for the transfer of power wasn't
made public until June 1947. The Indian Independence Act received
Royal Assent on July 18, 1947 and the Indian princes were given
less than a month - until August 14, the eve of independence - to
decide which way they would swing: towards India or towards
Two princely states opted for neither: Jammu and
Kashmir whose Hindu ruler governed a majority Muslim state; and
Hyderabad, whose Muslim ruler governed a majority Hindu state.
Hyderabad was absorbed into India in 1949, but Jammu and
Kashmir was to prove a horse of quite a different
Baramulla, gateway to the beautiful Kashmir
Valley, is on the main road from Muzaffarabad [now capital of
Pakistani-controlled Kashmir] and Rawalpindi [now in Pakistan]. In
British days, the Baramulla road was the only well-made road into
Kashmir, and Rawalpindi was still a garrison town; today it is a
bustling city, and not surprisingly, headquarters of the Pakistani
army. Baramulla was destined to play a crucial role in the bloody
events that were building up to a climax by October 1947.
In 1508 Akbar the Moghul Emperor entered the
valley along this same road from Lahore [now in Pakistan], and
stayed some days in Baramulla which has stunning mountain
It is well-known for its hill stations that
still bear architectural and other traces of a now long-vanished
One of the best known of these hill stations,
Gulmarg, is transformed in winter into a popular ski resort, with
chalets and ski-runs. It was, however, mid-summer when I and three
other representatives of Aid to the Church in Need were
dizzyingly zig-zagged up to it by car from Srinagar the summer
capital of Indian Kashmir, on our way to Baramulla, site of the
first Catholic Mission in Kashmir.
There Gulmarg sat, 2,730 metres high, a little
valley on a ring-shaped mountain range dotted with pines. It was
swathed in a carpet of the white wildflowers from which it took its
name: 'Meadow of Flowers'. There were little islands of lupins and
thistles here and there to add a splash of colour to the cool white
look of the fields. Dozens of mainly excited school-children on
horseback, and trekkers in variegated clothing, stood out against
the background of wildflowers and hills as they rode or traipsed
about the valley.
Echoes of a Colonial Past
Set in the middle of a rolling meadow covered in
white flowers that looked for all the world like banked snow, we
found St Mary's church, formerly Church of England but now,
according to some, belonging to the Church of North India, a
Protestant Union of many churches; and according to others, a
museum. Whatever be the case, it is a solitary, recently restored
relic of a time not all that long ago when families belonging to
the once formidable British Empire gathered for prayer in this
beautiful Himalayan setting.
The Muslim caretaker allowed us to enter and we
uttered a silent prayer in what is now little more than an empty
shell. We were told that it is used only once every year, on
Christmas day, when Protestant worshippers gather for prayer.
Perhaps my French and Polish companions never
heard them, but surely I could detect faint strains of familiar
English voices, and the cries of happy children still echoing in
and around the old stone church.
The Pakistan Factor
Nor is it just the towering peaks of the
Himalayas that surround Gulmarg. The Indian army is present
everywhere in Kashmir; but its presence in Gulmarg was not
obtrusive. Though we learnt that only employees of the chalets and
hotels and their guests are permitted to remain overnight. All
others have to leave.
Surely the British cannot have been surprised
that Pakistan would covet the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir
whose crown jewel was the beautiful and fertile Kashmir Valley
which was much closer to Islamabad than it was to Delhi.
Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, was a
popular holiday destination during the Raj, with its shimmering
Lake Dal, houseboats dotting its foreshores, and well-preserved
Moghul gardens and palaces.
The very name Pakistan - a partial acronym
devised in 1933 by a Muslim Indian student in Cambridge —
took its `K' from Kashmir. PAKISTAN is made up of the initial
letters of the names of four provinces: Punjab,
Afghania [the North West Frontier Province), and
Kashmir. The 'S' of the suffix `-stan' meaning 'home' or
`region,' denotes the province of Sindh. The province of
East Bengal seems to have been omitted from the name for
reasons of euphony and this may have been prognostic, because in
1971 it was to secede from Pakistan and became the independent
state of Bangladesh.
Jihad and Booty
The tranquillity of Srinagar's lake and gardens,
the beauty of Baramulla and the rolling hills of flowery Gulmarg
were about to be set at nought in October 1947 by events unfolding
in the nearby North West Frontier Province next to Afghanistan
which was, since August 15, 1947, part of the new state of
While the Maharaja of Jammu and Srinagar was
procrastinating about the status of his princedom, Muslim Pathan
tribal fighters were about to fire the first shots in a bloody and
incalculably expensive war with India over Kashmir that continues
to this day. At the urging of, among others, the Pir [Sufi Master]
of Manki Sharif, Amin ul Hasanat [1923-1960], tribesmen of the
Mahsud, Waziri, Afridi and other clans were preparing to wage Jihad
against the Hindu Maharaja and his state. They were not going to be
paid for fighting; they had been promised booty, and had agreed
with their leader, Khurshid Anwar of the Muslim League, that they
would loot non-Muslims.1
Pakistan may not have planned the raid, but
supported it when the Pathans took up the Jihadi challenge. Between
October 22 and 27, many thousands of Pathan mujahidun
— some estimates go as high as 10,000 — murdered,
raped, burnt and looted their way down the road from Muzaffarabad
to Baramulla in the name of Allah and the newly emerged Muslim
state of Pakistan.
The local soldiery were no match for the
frenzied rabble. The Hindu Maharaja fled with whatever jewels and
other possessions he could carry, to his relatively safer winter
capital of Jammu.
October 27, 1947: St Joseph's Hospital
In the meantime Baramulla, the site of the first
Catholic school, convent and hospital in Kashmir, did what it could
to care for the large numbers of terrified refugees fleeing the
Muslims fared little better than Hindus and
Sikhs. As one of the mujahidun said many years later 'We
shot whoever we saw in Baramulla. We did not know how many we
Among those killed within the first few minutes
of the Catholic compound's being overun by the tribesmen rampaging
from the hills above it, were Mrs Devi Kapoor, a Hindu woman
patient in the hospital; Mrs Dykes, an Englishwoman preparing to
leave the hospital that day with her new-born baby [a boy, who
survived]; her husband, Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Dykes, acting
commandant of the regimental centre of the Sikh Regiment that was
eventually sent from Delhi to repel the invaders; Mother
Teresalina, a twenty-nine year-old Spanish nun who had been in
Baramulla only a few weeks; the Mother Superior of the Convent,
Mother Aldertrude; Philomena, a nurse from south India who was a
Tertiary of the Order; and Jose Barretto, husband of the doctor.
All were shot, save Mrs Devi Kapoor who was stabbed to death.
The tribesmen had lined up the doctor and nine
of the sisters and four young nurses and after taking their
watches, glasses and anything of value from them were about to
shoot them when a command rang out in their own language: 'Stop!
Stop! Don't kill them'.
The newcomer was a former Pathan British Army
Officer about to be seconded to the Pakistan army. When he had
heard that there was a convent and hospital nearby he grabbed a
motorbike and hurried to the compound fearful that the tribesmen
would kill the sisters or their patients. Major Saurab Hyat Khan
had been educated by the Presentation Sisters in Peshawar and
explained that he was `not likely to forget their kindness'.
He was too late to save those already dead or
dying; but the rest of the sizeable religious community and group
of refugees whom they were sheltering owed their lives to his
Hyat Khan's concern for the well-being for the
foreigners and non-Muslims was in contrast to the advice given by
the Pir of Manki Sharif whose fiery sermons had helped ignite the
conflagration. When the Sufi Master visited the tribal fighters in
Baramulla he censured them for looting, and reportedly said that
the raiders 'should ... confine themselves to killing the Kaffirs
[non-believers] or converting them to Islam'.3
As well as the seriously injured and the dying,
dozens of Hindus, Sikhs, Catholics and other Christians from
Baramulla were all crowded with the priests and nuns into the baby
ward of the hospital and remained there for days until Baramulla
was relieved by the Indian Army. Colonel Dykes and Mother
Teresalina died within twenty-four hours - all medication and
surgical instruments had been looted along with anything of value
that could be carried - and the survivors were protected by Pathan
fighters under the command of Hyat Khan.
Learn from the Past
Despite the trauma of those October days in
1947, St Joseph's school, regarded today as the premier school not
only of Baramulla but also of the whole of north Kashmir, the
Franciscan Missionaries of Mary convent and St Joseph's Hospital
continue to function as a tribute to the faith and courage of the
missionaries, and of the Catholic diocese of Jammu Srinagar.
Visitors can see the graves of those who died,
visit the places where they were killed and reflect on the way
politics and religion, tribal loyalties and barbarism can be
exploited in the name of God and the State.
Andrew Whitehead, in A Mission in Kashmir, his
well-balanced analysis of the complex events that preceded and
followed the invasion by the tribesmen in October, notes that 'The
day the Baramulla convent and hospital was sacked - October 27,
1947 - was also the day that Lord Mountbatten ... accepted Maharaja
Hari Singh's accession of his princely state to
The invasion of October 1947 in Kashmir was
ill-conceived, ill-timed and counter-productive.
Had the bloody incursions not occurred, had
Muzaffarabad, Baramulla and Srinagar not been attacked brutally by
the undisciplined Pathan tribal forces, then the Maharaja may
almost certainly have gone ahead with his plans to keep Kashmir
WE HONOUR great athletes, but athletic
achievement is not great — at least not absolutely. A great
athlete is not necessarily a great man. Neither is an intelligent
and well educated man necessarily great and worthy of honour. Moral
excellence is greater and more worthy of honour than is athletic
and even academic excellence. But magnanimity is about the pursuit
of great honours, and persons are honoured principally on account
of their virtue. Magnanimity is thus not so much the pursuit of
olympic gold, or musical stardom, or financial success, much less
fame and international repute, as it is the pursuit of great moral
— Douglas McManaman, 'Teenage Magnanimity and the Beautiful'. Douglas is
past president of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.
Had the Kashmiris not welcomed the Pathans as
liberators [which they were not; they were acting as proxies of the
Pakistanis] then today the dream of a Kashmir independent of both
Pakistan and India might be a reality.
Had Muslim Kashmiris not resented their Hindu
Maharaja so deeply, by now  there is every likelihood that
the independent princely state of Kashmir might gradually have
evolved into a democracy, while remaining independent of
The Catholic Church has been obliged to tread a
fine line over the centuries in Muslim regions because of the dire
consequences for converts from Islam. Her presence has been
`exemplary' - by example, and indirect: striving to be the 'leaven
in the dough' and the 'light on the lamp-stand.' She continues to
nurture the hope that her presence as educator and healer will
inspire more Saurab Hyat Khans to intervene to counter fanaticism
and violence. And that employing peaceful means to achieve
political goals may yet again be seen as an option. In that way all
the suffering and violence that has plagued Kashmir since 1947 will
not have been in vain.
- Brigadier A.R.Siddiqi, Defence Journal, Karachi, 1985,
p.18. quoted Andrew Whitehead, A Mission in Kashmir,
Penguin/Viking, 2007, p.61.
- Andrew Whitehead, op.cit, p.7..
- ibid. pp.134-135.
- ibid. p.8
For background to present-day Kashmir readers
would do well to consult Andrew Whitehead's fine A Mission in
Kashmir. For the Pathan attack on St Joseph's Hospital, see
also I will be the first: The Story oplother Maiy
Teresalina, privately published by the Franciscan Missionaries
of Mary, 1957, available from 'Prabhalaya' W 89, Greater Kailash
II, New Delhi 110 048 India.
From "Annals Australasia" March
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