Kashmir — what is, and what might have been


By Paul Stenhouse, MSC, PhD

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 Pakistan.

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 colour.


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 scenery.

It is well-known for its hill stations that still bear architectural and other traces of a now long-vanished British Raj.

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 Pakistan.

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 Pathan advance.

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 killed'.2

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 intervention.

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 India'.4

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 independent.


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 achievement.

— 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 [2009] there is every likelihood that the independent princely state of Kashmir might gradually have evolved into a democracy, while remaining independent of neighbouring states.

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.

  1. Brigadier A.R.Siddiqi, Defence Journal, Karachi, 1985, p.18. quoted Andrew Whitehead, A Mission in Kashmir, Penguin/Viking, 2007, p.61.
  2. Andrew Whitehead, op.cit, p.7..
  3. ibid. pp.134-135.
  4. 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 2010

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