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People and Personalities of Baramulla District

The big stories often make the headlines of our historical narratives, but history is not only about the landmark events - it finds shape and character in the myriad events that led up to a flashpoint of change. An attempt to discover and document stories of people, events, and places linked to the freedom struggle of India at the micro level of the district has led to the creation of a Digital District Repository. Stories in this section can be broadly classified under - People & Personalities.

Sardar Chabeel Singh

Martyr Chabeel Singh was the resident of village Patusa, in Chhoora, located in the Baramulla district of Kashmir. On 22 October 1947, the barbarous trans-Indus Pashtun tribal raiders, assisted and abetted by the Pakistani army, entered the Indian territory and let loose a reign of terror in the frontier regions of Jammu and Kashmir. Organizing themselves into lashkars (legions), the marauding raiders rushed in different directions and created havoc in almost all the towns and villages en routing their advance. A large number of non-muslims, including men, women, and children were murdered. Women were abducted and valuables and cash were looted. It was seen that in order to save themselves from the wrath of Kabalis and to keep their honour, many sacrificed their lives by jumping into rivers and wells. However, there are exemplary instances that reflected the valor and courage inhibited by the people, particularly the Sikh community, who laid down their lives to encourage the distressed people against the terror of Pakistan.

The saga of Sardar Chabeel Singh of village Patusa of Baramulla district is worth mentioning. Chabeel Singh, who had joined the State forces during world war IInd with Germany was a brave heart and was well versed in war tactics. As the news of the advance of marauding raiders spread, he was apprehensive of such an attack in their region too.  Soon his apprehensions turned out to be true and as Chabeel Singh saw that the trucks and lorries packed with tribal raiders, guided by local co-religionists, had reached near village Choora, he anticipated the critical situation that was going to arise within no time. Being army personnel with thorough strategic awareness, Chabeel Singh acted pragmatically and confronted the marauding raiders bravely. Without caring for his own life, he made a gallant move and with the help of other community members, he snatched some chests of ammunition from them and made a successful attempt to destroy the whole truck of tribal invaders. In this, he got badly injured and before leaving for his heavenly abode, he persuaded his wife to embrace death in order to safeguard her honour. His wife bravely responded and not only put an end to her life but also to their suckling babe that was born after ten years of their married life. The exemplary courage and devotion to duty reflected in the character of Chabeel Singh is unforgettable and deserves appreciation for it saved a number of people from the catastrophe that could have been inflicted on them by the Pakistani raiders.

Sardar Sohna Singh

Sohna Singh was born in the family of Gopal Singh Raina of village Shalkot. He was also a war soldier who had recently returned to his hometown after participating in the IInd world war against Germany. It was he who informed the villagers about the advance of the marauding raiders in the neighboring areas and warned them about the danger of being attacked by Pakistan but the villagers did not pay any heed to his advice. The very next day, some Pakistani raiders, guided by a number of co-religionists from the neighboring village Brandub started firing and entered the village Shalkot. As soon as the news of the tribal attack reached Shalkot, Sohna Singh organized the Sikh families residing in the village into jathas and reached Tapiana Sahib. In order to protect his community members from the wrath of the barbarous raiders, he along with the jatha moved into the surrounding dense woods where they could stay in a hide. However, the chasing raiders also reached Tapiana Sahib where a fierce battle took place between the raiders and Sikhs which continued for several hours resulting in mass killings of the Sikhs. Taking cognizance of the risk of staying any more at Tapiana Sahib, Sardar Sohna Singh acted ly and along with the Sikh jatha comprising about four hundred Sikhs somehow managed to migrate to a safer area at Gaibwarh where they stayed in the jungle for thirteen days according to the military strategy devised by Sohna Singh. It was here that another Sikh jatha from Muzaffarabad led by Ram Singh and Harnam Singh Mehra also joined them. However, owing to the constantly growing fear of the chasing raiders, the Sikhs could not stay for long even at Gaibwarh. As soon as they got the secret information about the enemy’s plans, they left the place and set their post in the jungle near Khadniar. It was at Khadniar that the Sikh jathas were given shelter and humanitarian aid by the local tarkhans (carpenters) of the area. They felt a sigh of relief only when they received pamphlets dropped by the Indian Air Force planes informing them about the arrival of the Indian army there. Unfortunately, gripped by narrow religious sentiments and in greed for a handful of money, a local co-religionist of the tribals, namely Aziz Najar of Khadniar, who was a carpenter by profession, committed treachery and handed over Sohna Singh to the Pakistani army. The merciless raiders roped Sohna Singh to the pole, nailed his hands, and shot him seven times.  Even the severe physical torture that was met out to Sohna Singh could not stop him from raising the Sikh slogan, ‘Bole So Nihaal, Sat Sri Akaal’ every time, and finally fell martyred. This is just one of the many incidents that go on to prove the strong convictions of the Sikhs of Kashmir. The present and the past history of Kashmiri Sikhs is full of voluntary sacrifices made for the sake of their motherland and for the protection of their community, religion, and honour.

Maqbool Sherwani

Maqbool Sherwani was born in a Muslim family of Mohammad Abdullah Sherwani, at Baramulla, about 34 miles away from Srinagar. The family-owned a small soap factory. Since his adolescence, Sherwani was actively associated with the political activities of the region. He joined National Conference in 1939 and in due course of time, began to be recognized as a staunch National Conference activist in Baramulla. Reading poems of Faiz, Mazrooh, Jafri, Sahir, Nadim, etc by borrowed books heightened his emotion to a pitch making him a champion of religious tolerance. Secular to the core of his heart, Sherwani made the idea of secularism his political and personal ideology and imparted profound importance to its practice.

Young and enthusiastic Sherwani came into much prominence when Mohammad Ali Jinnah came to Kashmir in May 1944. While addressing the mammoth gathering at Baramulla, where Jinnah tried to propagate his two-nation theory and made appeals in the name of religion, Sherwani dismantled the communal politics of the Muslim League and tried to put a garland of shoes around his neck. He forced him to come down the platform and stopped his speech. As Sherwani was against the principles of communal politics of the Muslim League, he raised the slogan,

“Sher-i- Kasmir ka kya Irshad? (What does the lion of Kashmir want?)
Hindu, Muslim, Sikh Ithaad”. (The unity of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh).

This bold and humiliating action of Maqbool Sherwani made Jinnanh unnerved and he left Kashmir after this momentous event. Thereafter, he never looked back and always cherished ill will against National Conference and its leaders. This episode symbolized sherwani’s brave persona as well as ideological opposition to Jinnah. No one else among Kashmir’s political leaders could dare to stand up against Jinnah. The news of this meeting splashed all over India, and pro-leaguers press and followers felt bitter and expressed violent feelings against Sherwani.

On 26 October 1947, the Pakistani tribals sacked Baramulla, the largest commercial center and the most prosperous town of a valley at that time with a population of nearly 16 thousand people. These tribals rampaged at this strategic entry point and advanced further to capture Srinagar which was only one hour drive from Baramula. The vivacious atrocities perpetrated in the town of Baramulla have been recounted by the survivors of the carnage and western correspondents’ account. For three days, they were engaged in raping and pillaging, the members of Sikh and Hindu communities being the special targets. Their properties were looted, houses were burnt and their women folk were raped.

Meanwhile, in a response to Sheikh Abdullah’s call to the local populace to rise up in the defence of their country, a National militia was formed and Sherwani, who was described by his colleagues as of a happy-go-lucky nature, played a vibrant role in the National militia. Among the 22 National Conference volunteers who joined the resistance forces of the national militia which was framed to go behind the enemy lines, Sherwani was the most vibrant who led a number of detachments of militiamen who toured different areas instilling confidence and unity among the terror-stricken people of Kashmir. He voluntarily offered to go undercover into areas controlled by the tribesmen.  Being an adventurer, he would ride village to village on his motorbike and hold public meetings and campaigns to unify them and collectively take on the raiders, thus, known by the name ‘motorcycling militia man’.

Cutting across political and religious barriers, Sherwani had a close friendship with many Swayam Sewaks working actively in the town of Baramulla. He considered himself part of the Kashmiri Hindu fraternity and even came to the rescue of the Kashmiri Pandit families of the neighboring area of Sopore.  Denouncing their merciless killings and subsequent migration out of fear, Sherwani lashed out at local leaders for stopping the pundits from leaving the town and protecting them. He personally met the suffering Kashmiri Pandit families and even stayed in the town till the morning of 29 October 1947 to save their honour and dignity. His role in saving the Kashmiri Pandits of Sopore during the Pakistani tribal invasion in October 1947 will be written in the golden letters.

Vigilant enough to defend Kashmir’s security and integrity, Sherwani along with other volunteers worked as guides at vital installations to keep track of the mercenaries. While going back to Srinagar, he cautioned the Sikh jatha of the Hamal region that was migrating to Srinagar, not to take the Sangrama-Srinagar national highway because of the potential threat of Pakistani raiders on that road. They disregarded his advice and consequently, over 300 Sikhs were abducted and killed in a massacre at Choora Bulgam. 

Sherwani was so mad with the love of the land that he had become unmindful of his own safety. To frustrate the raiders’ advance towards Srinagar, he convincingly misinformed the infiltrators, diverted them, and made them wander aimlessly in the Sumbal area on the wrong routes. His display of presence of mind exhausted their precious time till the troops of the Sikh Regiment of the Indian army could reach Srinagar for its defense, thus, dismantling the plan by Pakistani strategists to capture and control the Srinagar airport and cutting it off from the rest of India.

However, after realizing that they were being misguided, the dreaded raiders chased Sherwani, who was in sumbal, 35 km away from Baramulla.  To punish him for making an intentional delay, raiders dragged him back to Baramulla. To teach him a lesson for misguiding them and to create horrors in the minds of the people, he was crucified in the central square of Baramula. Even when the blood was oozing out of the wounds on his body, the tribals wrote kafir on his shirt with his own blood. Sherwani preferred death to the betrayal of his country. The raiders offered to set him free if he would shout the slogans “Down with Sheikh Abdullah”. Instead, Maqbool Sherwani spat at the face of the raiders and shouted the popular slogan “Hindu-Muslim-Sikh Itihad, Azad Hindustan Zindabad”. This provoked the raiders, who in a fit of anger, shot bullets that pierced through his heart.  Later, even after his death, the inhuman raiders shot fourteen bullets into his dead body. The circumstances around his death and his steadfastness in not bowing strongly and clearly before the Pakistani invaders even when subjected to worse torture make him a superhero of 1947 tribal raids. The courage with which he sought to impede Lashkar's advance and approach his own death is really commendable but at the same time, an incident, heart-piercing. The intensity of his loyalty and commitment towards his motherland made him so familiar in the popular circles that he attained the title, “Mujahid Sherwani” and Lion of Baramulla.

With time, his crucifixion passed into popular lore, and gradually became a legend in the valley for his unflinching loyalty to his nation. In the later years, his act of heroism provided inspiration to a number of Kashmiris- young and old. He is dead but his spirit lives in the hearts of millions of nationalists. His martyrdom was glorious for anybody- Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Christian!

Cambridge to Khilafat – a frontline freedom activist

Saifuddin Kitchlew was an Indian independence activist, barrister, politician and later a leader of the peace movement. A member of Indian National Congress, he first became Punjab Provincial Congress Committee (Punjab PCC) head and later the General Secretary of the AICC in 1924.

On finishing his studies at Cambridge, he started a legal practice in Amritsar, hecame in contact with Gandhi. He took part in the Satyagraha (Non-cooperation) movement and soon left his practice to join the Indian independence movement, as well as the All India Khilafat Committee.

Kitchlew was first exposed to Indian nationalism after public outcry over the Rowlatt Acts. Kitchlew was arrested with Gandhi and Dr. Satyapal for leading protests in Punjab against the legislation. To protest the arrest of the trio, a public meeting had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh, when General Reginald Dyer and his troops fired upon the unarmed, civilian crowd. Hundreds were killed, and hundreds more injured. This act was the worst case of civilian massacre since the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and riots broke out throughout the Punjab.

Kitchlew supported a united Indian nationalism against British colonial rule and opposed the partition of India, holding that a divided India would weaken Muslims, both economically and politically.

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Last Modified : 8/17/2023

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