Kashmiri Pandits - The Last Journey From Sarda
By RKS Shandilya
Village Sardi, which houses
the holy shrine of Goddess Sharda, is perhaps the most scenic place in 'Kishenganga
(Neelam) Valley'. It lies about 20 kms to the north of Muzaffarabad. Till 1974
the village had no motorised transport link with the outside world. Due to its
strategic importance Maharaja Gulab Singh had constructed a fort here. Dogra
Kings maintained here a permanent military post. In October 1947 the garrison
was headed by Pt. Sham Lal Khushu, the Thanedar.
In 1947 the Kashmiri
Pandit population of Sharda included the shopkeepers, the purohits and
the employees. Swami Nand Lal, a saint of great merit had his kutiya at
Sharda. He would stay here during summers. There were three shops run by
Kashmiri Pandits. Tika Lal and Nand Lal Thusu, the two brothers who belonged to
Lidderwan, had shops at Sharda and Dudniyal. Nath Ram of Seer Jagir and Dina
Nath of Tikr ran another shop. The other shop belonged to Deva Ram and his
brothers, who hailed from Gotheng.
A view of Sardi
Pt. Sat Lal and Pt. Govind
Ram Bhat served as Purohits at the shrine. There were many Pandit employees in
the area, serving mostly in Forest Department. Pt. Shridhar Dhar, Conservator of
Forests and resident of Chotta Bazar, Srinagar had served in the area in
different capacities. A great devotee of Goddess Sarda, he used to perform havan
on every Sarda Ashtmi at Sarda. Most of the employees in the forest department
in Kupwara region had been recruited by him.
Soon after the news about
the 1947 disturbances (tribal raid) reached Dudniyal, Pt. Sona Lal Thusu, son of
Tika Ram, closed the shop. He entrusted his belongings to the care of his
servants and moved to Lidderwan (Kashmir). Pt. Jagadhar Bhat (Patwari)
and Sham Lal Gagru (of Karahama), a forest guard were his companions on this
Kashmiri Pandits in Sarda
came to know about ribal invasion from Sultan Malik, servant of Pt. Dina Nath,
the shopkeeper. Malik had brought a letter from Dina Nath's family at Tikr.
Dr. Gauri Shankar, the
Ayurvedic doctor had already left. His Dawasaz (Pharmacist) Pt. Narayan Joo
Pujari (brother of Purohit Govind Joo) left along with his family members, which
included Govind Ram's wife, children, besides Nand Lal Pujari's mother, Parvati
diyad. Parvati had a local friend called Zeba. One day Parvati sensed the
gravity of the situation from her conversation with Zeba. Apprehension that
invasion could force them to change their faith, Parvati asked her family
members to pack belongings immediately and leave for Gotheng.
Sharda Temple in ruins
at Sardi (PoK)
The purohit family
left Sarda the following day at 4 AM and reached Jumagand in the forest range at
4 PM. The family was carrying ten kgs of
Silver, which they had received as Chadav (offerings). Locals of Jumagand robbed
them of Silver and other valuables. They also ordered them to dismount from the
horses. The family marched to Lidderwan on foot. The horseman (Markban) returned
with horses from Jumagand the next evening and narrated to Kashmiri Pandits at
Sarda what all had happened.
Swami Nand Lal Ji had
refused to leave Sarda till Pandit employees from periphery of Sarda also
returned. The day Pujari family left for Lidderwan, Swami Ji had organised a
mehfil at his Kutiya at around 2 PM. This was attended by Nath Ji Razdan (the shopkeeper) of Gotheng, Dina
Nath Tikr, Shamboo Nath of Zolura, Shamboo Nath Thusu, a Kuth Watcher, Hriday
Nath Kaw, the Forestor, Shridhar Joo of Goshbug, and two Pandit constables from
Malmoh. Pt. Govind Ram Pujari, his brother Prakash Ram and Thanedar Sham Lal
Khushu of Srinagar were also present
in this gathering. Prakash Ram was an employee in the forest department.
Thanedar functioned as administrator of Sarda and operated from fort. He was in
his mid fifties.
Normally Fort was a
forbidden territory for the public. In the mehfil one of the Pandit employees
requested Thanedar to get Kashmiri Pandits into the fort on some pretext in view
of prevailing security situation. Pt. Sham Lal who was slow in understanding the
gravity of the situation virtually flew into a rage and threatened to arrest
the employee who suggested this. Thanedar accused the employee of spreading
panic. Prakash Ram calmed Sham Lal down, arguing that the particular employee
was a man of little consequence. This had sobering effect on Thanedar.
The horseman (Markban) who
had accompanied Purohit family to Jumagund came to see Swami Nand Lal Ji and
narrated to him how the Purohit family was robbed of silver and divested of
horses. Swami Ji was now desperate to go to Kashmir but expressed his inability
to walk. He asked Pt. Shamboo Nath Thusu and Pt. Shridhar Joo to fetch a horse
for him from Ram Saran Das, a shopkeeper at Surgan-a village 6 kms from Sarda
Surgan is 8 miles from Nurinarsar, the latter separates Sarda. Valley from
Kaghan Valley in Yagistan (Chilas). Ram Saran Dass's family was also with him. Both
Thusu and Shridhar Joo were Kuth watchers. Govt. had issued doublebored rifles
In October 1947 when
locals were talking in whispering tones about the invasion, Thanedar Sham Lal
had secretly despatched two Dogra soldiers to Srinagar to ask for
reinforcements. While the soldiers were still in Handwara they received the
disturbing news about the invasion. One of them returned to Sarda to put
Thanedar on alert. Thanedar had a force of 11 constables—4 Dogra soldiers, six
constables from the majority community in Kashmir valley and Kartar Singh, a Sikh from Hamal, Rafiabad.
The Fort at Sardi.
Shridhar Joo and Shamboo
Nath Thusu left for Surgan, carrying a rifle with them, to fetch horse for
Swamiji. The same night Wali Mohammad, son of Sayid Ahmed Sardar entered the
fort. Wali Mohammad was a forester and belonged to Kharigam, a village 2 kms
from Sarda. The drama began with six constables of the majority community asking
Thanedar to open the ammunition room (Kuhth). They told him that situation was
grim and asked him to open the ammunition room so that they could take out the
ammunition. As Thanedar opened the ammunition room, Ahmed Khan, a constable,
pushed him in and locked the room from outside. Khan hurled choicest abuses on
him. This constable hailed from Srinagar city and had been recruited in police
in 1933. In this confusion four Dogra soldiers managed to escape while Kartar
Singh was taken captive.
Meanwhile, a constable who
manned the outer gate of the fort and was carrying a rifle asked Thanedar to
surrender. Pt. Sham Lal was handcuffed and taken as captive, Maharaja's flag was
burnt and a new 'Pakistan' flag fashioned from the blue turban was hoisted. Wali
Mohammed, the forester, became self-styled administrator of Sarda. The forester
and around 50 locals then went to Swami ji's kutiya, asking Pandits there
to change their faith, Janki Nath Thusu was renamed as Jan Khan.
Shamboo Nath Thusu and
Shridhar Joo left Surgan the next morning after taking horse from Ram Saran. At
Dunarian, 2 kms down from Surgan the duo met Mohammad Hakim, a peon in Forest
Range office at Sarda. He was carrying a message for Shamboo Nath Thusu from
his brother Janki Nath. The message carried information of the happenings of the
previous day-the hoisting of 'Pak' flag and conversion of Kashmiri Pandit and
holding them as captives. It impressed upon Thusu to change his faith and also
suggested new name for him. Mohammad Hakim forced them to hand over the rifle to
Swamiji and other Kashmiri
Pandits were waiting for SN Thusu and Shridhar Joo and had already decided to
leave. Numberdar Mir Zaman, a man with deep secular convictions, had told
Swamiji that the situation was fast deteriorating and had impressed upon him to
leave. Swamiji was held in high esteem by local Muslims of Sarda. Locals advised
him to take Sinjli route and not Dudniyal route which otherwise was easier. They
feared that Dudniyal may already have come under the sway of raiders. Locals
were quite sympathetic.
Saint Swami Nand Lal
Swamiji and Pandits began
journey back home at 10 AM the same day. Swamiji had hardly walked 2 miles of the uphil journey
when he gave up and refused to walk any further. Meanwhile, Mir Zaman's
messenger caught up with them and advised them to return to Sarda immediately.
Two locals, armed with axes, had been following them. They had lost the track
and had gone ahead of Pandits. After having learnt about it Mir Zaman got
worried about the safety of Pandits. The deep concern Mir Zaman showed about the
safety of Pandits in those turbulent times is remembered by Pandits to this day.
Mir Zaman, the saviour:
Mir Zaman heaved sigh of
relief when Kashmiri Pandits returned to Sarda. He had already convened a Jirga
(meeting of local elders) in the courtyard of his house. Kashmiri Pandits also
joined them on one side. Mir Zaman admonished his community brethren, asking
them why did they not restrain the two locals who had gone with axes to harm
Swamiji and others. He warned them that it was not easy to kill Pandits. Mir
Zaman concluded his address by saying with concern and authority that Kashmiri
Pandits were his guests and would stay with him.
Mir Zaman had already
arranged a room for Pandits in his house and had spread grass on the floor.
Within two hours all the belongings and the provisions in the three shops owned
by Pandits reached the new 'hideout' of Pandits. Mir Zaman had also arranged a
Chulha in the room. Numberdar was in his early sixties. He asked Pandits to lit
the fire and prepare the food. Mir Zaman emphatically told Pandits that they
should cook food in their own way and added that it was not his religion to
impose things on others. Janki Nath, Nath Ji Razdan, Shamboo Nath Thusu and
Shridhar Joo used to attend to kitchen work by turns, with Shridhar Joo
maintaining overall supervision.
During the month Pandits
stayed in the house of Mir Zaman, the latter took extremely good care of them.
He and his wife would sleep near the door of Pandits' room to keep watch on any
stranger straying into their room. Locals would of and on ask Mir Zaman whether
the Pandits were following the new faith with sincerity. He would put them off
by telling that the Pandits were observing new faith all the time. He would then
come to Pandits and tell them, 'Rascals, why you are not performing your own
pujas?' Mir Zaman kept locals away from visiting Pandits.
One day Swamiji felt like
smoking his own special tobacco he had kept in his kutiya, located 1 mile
away from Mir Zaman's house. A Pandit employee not only got the sack of tobacco
but also ensured that nobody saw him while going to the kutiya in the
On another occasion
Thanedar Sham Lal was brought to Mir Zaman's house to show to Pandits that he
was alive. Kartar Singh's beard and hair had been trimmed. All the non-Muslims
who were in Sarda were forced to change their faith.
Latif Malik and
Barkatullah Khan intervene:
Meanwhile Nand Ram Thusu
of Lidderwan whose two sons-Janki Nath and Shamboo Nath were among the captives
in Sarda contacted his friend Latif Malik, a Zaildar of Changan (Dudniyal)
through a messenger, Nabir Sheikh of Kawari. Nand Ram had asked Latif to help
him to see his sons reach home safely. In the prevailing situation Latif Malik
had little authority as Zaildar. Wali Mohammad was the sole authority that
mattered. Latif, however, assured Nabir Sheikh that he would do his best to help
Pak troops had still not
entered Sarda. Mir Zaman's house was 1˝ miles away from the fort, while the
Sarda shrine was just at a distance of 1 mile. Shops of Kashmiri Pandits were
located in the shrine area. For a month Kashmiri Pandits holed up in Sarda had
remained cut off from the outside world. Lateef Malik contacted Wali Mohammad,
the self-styled administrator and asked him, "What these Pandits would do here?
It was Pakistan now.Let them go".
Another person who came to Sarda to intervene for their release was Barkatullah
Khan of Kawari.
Through the intervention
of Barkatullah Khan and Latif Malik, Kashmiri Pandits were set free. Mir Zaman
asked Barkatullah Khan to take care of Pandits for their onward journey to
Lidderwan. The Pandits left at 11 AM, carrying maize bread and Kishmish-Zirish along with them and reached
Dudniyal at 7 PM. It was dark by now.
The shops of Thusu family
were locked. The godowns of Jodhamal Kutiyal were located in the same building
on the second storey. Pt. Sona Lal Thusu and Amar Nath who also worked with
Jodhamal had already returned to Lidderwan. Amarnath also functioned as guard of
the bridge at Dudniyal.
At Barkatullah's advice Pandits decided to spend the night at the house of
Sharif Dar, a forest guard. The latter's father, Satar Dar had business
partnership in water-mill with Sona Lal Thusu. Sharif's family was still
hospitable and courteous. They helped Pandits to relieve their fatigue by
bringing maize bread and a samovar of salt tea. Janki Nath suggested to Sharif,
"This sadhu (Swami Ji) has not taken salt for ten years. I will prepare
tea for him separately". Janki Nath prepared kahwa for him. Swamiji took
kahwa and the maize bread they had carried from Sarda.
Thusu Shops Burnt:
It was 11 PM. Pandits were
still gossiping on the road when they heard the sound of a bullet shot. Shops of
Thusus had been put to arson, the godowns of Jodhamal Kutiyal also perished in
the fire. However, the two three-storeyed houses owned by Thusus located some
distance away remained safe. Rai Bahadur Ishar Dass's godowns, a school and a
sarai were housed in these houses. The ladies of Dar household cried
bitterly that the 'shops of our Pandits have been burnt'. Pandits told them that
they had built these shops and hoped that they would rebuild these.
At the morning breakfast
at Dar's house Pandits were joined by many locals. Pandits asked the locals why
did they put their shops to arson even after they had converted. The locals
claimed that the accused had been identified and claimed that he would be taught
a good lesson.
Soon Pandits reached
Potkhai (Marhama) gully. From here there was a steep climb of 1˝ kms over one
foot deep snow. Swamiji gave up and could not walk any further. Janki Nath
warmed him up with hot kahwa. Nathji and Shamboo Nath Thusu carried
Swamiji on shoulders upto Marhama gully top. From here they could see Kashmir—their home. Swamiji was thrilled and puffed his special tobacco. In
downhill journey towards Lidderwan he moved like a tiger taking 5-7 steps
While passing through
Zirhama Pandits were a little apprehensive. Soon after the raid a Sikh youth had
been killed here while his younger brother had been saved by Karim Sheikh of
Kawari. Karim had given him shelter in his house. When situation improved he
brought him to Kupwara Thana. The two Sikh brothers were running a shop in Sarda
and used to sell army shoes and clothes. While fleeing Sarda a mob had attacked
them at Zirhama, one km from Lidderwan. When Pandits reached Zirhama, the mob
had moved towards Lidderwan.
Thanedar Sham Lal reached
Srinagar a few months later. He and constable Kartar Singh were shifted from
Fort to a Kotha (a Kacha Hut) and were put under house-arrest. Kartar was taken
daily to the Kishenganga river by 'soldiers'. They would terrorise him by asking
their colleagues to open fire at him. One day Thanedar and Kartar decided to
escape. The door of Kotha made lot of noise on being opened. The duo put some
dust and dirty water around it to ensure that it did not make any noise. They
ran away during the night. Their gum ammunition shoes helped them cover 26 miles
over snow to reach Kupwara.
At Srinagar Sham Lal had
another surprise in store for him. He was put under suspension and remained
without pay for many months. Thanedar was shocked to see a constable attending
his duties at Hari Parbhat Fort. This constable was among those who had stormed
the Fort at Sarda and hoisted Pakistani flag.