Fire that Charred and Changed Chrar

Qadri Inzamam

On a bright Spring Day in the Shrine of Nund Reshi (R.A) at Chrar, a devotee of the Saint becomes my time-traveler and takes me two decades back.

Year 1995

The snow has melted but the air is still cold. It is the period when the winter has almost set and spring is about to advent. Kashmir’s political situation is also craving for a spring. The armed uprising in valley is still young and blooming for which thousands of men have died.

Despite the tumultuous period of Kashmir, this town remains abuzz with thousands of people visiting the shrine and shopping in the congested old markets here. Right in front of the shrine, an old congested locality of people, deeply associated with shrine is located. These are called Babas – the very influential and learned men among this old town. The houses are all wooden and built in traditional Kashmiri architect. Devotees who come from far off places to pay obeisance at the shrine stay at the houses of these Babas where they are well served as guests of God. The market remains abuzz most of the time and the 700 year old shrine, full of devotees.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

In almost every nook and corner of the valley, young men, who were till yesterday ordinary shopkeepers and farmers and students, are now gun-wielding liberators of Kashmir. The indigenous heroes of Kashmir who do not fake anything like those in Bollywood in the plains. But there are many other armed men, who have come from far off lands, across the LoC, to liberate the Kashmiris from the clutches of India. These foreigners are deemed guests and respected duly.

In Chrar township, people are hoping for Azadi, like every other part of valley does. Some 8 Kms from the main town, a military garrison on erstwhile military radar, poses a great fear among the locals of Chrar. The military garrison that is located in the midst of apple orchards stands as a sign of Indian occupation from which the people want to be freed.

They are heard. Some 50 armed men of Hizbul Mujahideen, all belonging to the places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, headed by a vibrant man called Mast Gul, alias Haroon Khan, reach Chrar and stay there.

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Photo: Getty Images

For about two months, these 50 armed men stay there. They are treated as guests, admired by young. For someone, who has never been to Chrar before, this town may seem like a microcosm of Pakistan. They even started calling it Chota Pakistan (Miniature of Pakistan). The people here say they feel liberated. These armed men very much control this town.

Some weeks after their advent in this town, few army vehicles go to the Yousmarg to deliver supplies to the army camps there. It is a routine affair. But this spring day, they are ambushed by the militants on their way back. This infuriates them. The aura of Chota Pakistan is about to change. The Indian army lays siege around the Chrar town. Around 12 thousand Indian armed men cordon off the whole town to kill 50 armed men of HM.

With the siege, starts the chaos in the town. People fear for their lives. They do not want to be killed in a cross fire. They do not want to be part of collateral damage. First the locals flee their homes one by one and when the situation starts to exacerbate, they leave in hoards, running for their lives, leaving behind all they and their ancestors had ever built. They leave behind the 14th Century Shrine.They leave behind their beloved saint.

The standoff lasts for about two months when in May, the Indian army moves in and a gun-battle ensues between the two sides. The fierce gun battle lasts for days. The Indian army believes that hundreds of armed men are trapped inside the town but they are mere deluded.

It is 10th May. A mysterious fire erupts in the Baba Mohalla which spreads quickly and engulfs the 700 year old Mosque, called Khanqah-e- Faizipanah. Soon the fire reaches the shrine and burns its centuries’ old architecture and some holy relics. The enigma of this fire does not remain secret for much long. Eyewitnesses start to recall the scenes immediately. They say some planes sprinkled gunpowder over the whole Chrar town and then fired which put the whole area in flames within moments. There are numerous eyewitnesses to reinforce the claim. But whatever the reasons of the fire were, it razes the centuries’ old history and tradition of Chrar that may be never built again.

The gun-battle ends. People rush back only to find their homes razed to ground. One does not recognize where one’s home stood few days ago. People rush to the shrine. That is just a heap of burnt wood and rubble now. The dead bodies of militants and some civilians are recovered from the rubble. Some of militants have managed to escape the cordon. Their leader, Mast Gul, has mysteriously broken the siege and escaped, only to resurface in Pakistan sometime later. He is celebrated as a hero – in both parts of Kashmir. But Chrar has lost everything it had.

My time traveler breaks down. He takes a deep breath and says, “I can’t talk further” thus ending a journey.

Two decades have passed and the things here are in very contrast to the past. The life has become dull here. That aura of the old Chrar which, my time traveler says was full of divinity and joy, is lost. Mast Gul, the man who may never be forgotten in the history of Chrar was disowned by Hizbul Mujahideen and is now commander of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Peshawar– the most despised militant group who were responsible for the massacre of the 143 school children in Pakistan, December 2014 and many others before and after that.

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