My earlier plan had been to avoid the tale of Kashmir pre 1900s. I believed, and still do, that the Kashmir of 1947 was different from the Kashmir proceeding a few centuries. The Kashmir under the Mughal kings had never regarded religion as a cornerstone of empire-building. Except for some years/rulers in between, religion never acted as a precedent for the socio-cultural norms of the region. All of this changed in 1947 (and indeed some decades preceding it) when religion was forced into the spotlight. The division plan and the subsequent protocols demanded an either-or decision, one that did indeed settle in line with the question of one’s religion. These two eras hence portray a different Kashmir, one that falls short in each other’s context. That said, the comments on the earlier parts of this essay have demanded that this history should be touched upon. For some, the answer lies there. This column will walk down history with them; for them.

The Muslim invasions, or atleast such attempts, took place long time before the Mughal kings trodded the beautiful roads of Kashmir. The first Muslim invasion ever recorded, tells of the Muslim army’s inability to conquer the Himalayas as early as the 8th century. Five centuries later, a palace coup took place, one that brought success to the Islamic invaders. Rinchana, a Buddhist chief from neighboring Ladakh locality, carried out a coup within the ruling infrastructure of Kashmir. The chief had sought refuge in Kashmir and had embraced Islam under the guidance of a Sufi named Bulbul Shah. The Turkish mercenaries who made up the elite guard of the to-be-deposed leader, instantly switched their allegiance to the co-religionist. Given that they swore only to obey only Rinchana and not his descendents, the leader of the mercenaries, Shah Mir, took over after his death. This chapter of Islamic rule lasted 700 years.

This dynasty went into decline after the death of Zain-ul-Abideen in the late 15th century. A considerate leader, he forbade forced conversions to Islam and subsidized the Hindus to rebuild temples that had been destroyed buy his predecessors. The different religious groups learnt to respect each other’s religions and started living peacefully with each other. It was during Zain-ul-Abideen’s time that locals were sent to Iran and Central Asia, hence laying the foundation of the shawl making the Kashmir of today is famous for.

Zain-ul-Abideen’s death was succeeded by unfit rulers and wars of successions. The nobility of the time too was divided and the opportunist amongst them paved way for the eventual Mughal invasion of Kashmir in the late 16th century.

Kashmir under the Mughal rule was mostly uneventful. Akbar, after banishing both Yusuf Shah and Habba Khatun from the throne, focused more onto the southern side of his conquered lands. Jehangir, his son, spent countless weeks in Kashmir, escaping from his duties of administration to indulge in the beauty of what he termed ‘a page that the painter of destiny had drawn with the pencil of creation’ or, indeed more famously, in the form of the repetition of a well known Persian couplet: If on earth there be a paradise of bliss, it is this, it is this, it is this.

By 18th Century, the Mughal empire’s decline was evident. The Kashmiri noblemen, frustrated with the chaos, invited the Afghan ruler, Ahmed Shah Durrani, to liberate their state. Durrani obliged in 1752. His 50 year rule saw, for the first time, a constant sectarian clash between the Sunni and the Shia segments of Kashmir. He imposed appalling restrictions on the Shia populace and even prosecuted them with an almost fanatical vigor. The Kashmiri noblemen ofcourse did not expect this and hence took the Afghan rule’s conclusion wholeheartedly.

In 1819, the soldiers of Ranjit Singh, a charismatic Sikh leader who had already gained much headway in northern India, took Srinagar, facing little or no opposition. Ranjit Singh’s rule was far from the relief the multicultural Kashmiri population had been hoping for. He made vengeance against the previous rulers his mantra for governing their co-religionists. “The principal mosque in Srinagar was closed, others were made the property of the state and cow-slaughtering was prohibited’. Moreover Ranjit Singh imposed heavy taxes, the brunt of which fell onto the poor (they however enjoyed cushion from taxation in the preceding Mughal rule). There was a considerate emigration of locals to other big cities of India. Kashmir was no longer the heaven that it had always been to them.

The Sikh rule did not last long. The Anglo-Sikh war of 1846 saw the win of East India Company and the acquisition of Kashmir as part of the treaty of Amritsar. The Company soon sold it to the Dogra ruler of neighboring Jammu for 75 lakh rupees. After the 1857 uprising Kashmir came under the rule of the British crown with autonomy only in the manner of titles.

It is this Kashmir, or atleast this era of Kashmir that follows this period, which saw the intellectual evolution that led to the final showdown of the partition of 1947. Movements spearheaded by locals during the last 50 years and the politics practiced in this era lay the foundation to the very troublesome accession by Hari Singh under the Indian Independence Act of 1947. More on that, later.