On the holy day of Eid-al-Azha, May 10, 1995 Indian Armed forces desecrated and destroyed 14th century Muslim shrine of Sheikh Noorud-Din Wali, a patron saint of Kashmir, in Charar-e-Sharief, a town and a notified area committee in Budgam district, about 30km southwest of the capital Srinagar. In the army operations holed up since mid-January in the town of Charar-e-Sharief, at least 2000 residential houses and 200 shops were razed to the ground.
The destruction of the Charar-e-Sharief mosque and shrine came just hours after the end of Eid, one of Islam’s holiest days. It marked a climax to a two-month-long stand-off between Hizbul Mujahideen militants led by Mast Gul, who had taken shelter in Charar-e-Sharief, and Indian forces, who surrounded the town on March 7 1995.
On March 8th 1995, around 5,000 heavily armed Indian soldiers backed up by light armour and artillery cordoned off the holy city of Charar-e-Sharief, housing one of the most important Muslim shrines in the valley. Indian forces said they had sealed all exits from the heavily wooded area of Charar-e-Sharief and neighbouring villages. Intelligence officials said the militants were guarding the main entrance to the shrine and frisking visitors, but added that they had not occupied the tomb. Most of the town’s 25,000 residents had fled to nearby villages, fearing that they would be caught in a battle. Indian security sources said the 600-year-old wooden shrine, was destroyed when two explosions ignited fires about 2 a.m on May 10. Fires that began two days earlier during fighting between Indian troops and militants had already destroyed half the buildings – about 1,000 houses and 200 shops, according to senior government officials.
A spokesman for the Kashmiri militant groups said the complex was set ablaze when Indian troops launched a rocket and mortar attack on the shrine while attempting to storm it and dislodge the militants from the town.
When the news of this gruesome incident spread in the valley, people came out of their homes in thousands marching towards the city of Charar-e-Sharief. Indian security forces opened fire on the protesters at a number of places in the valley. One of the processions led by Shabir Ahmad Shah was fired upon at Kralpora locality in Srinagar. The authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in the entire valley.
Despite the curfew order, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in the state capital Srinagar with anti-Indian banners. “Down with the Indian army,” one banner said. Another procession of at least 5,000 people began a march from Srinagar to Charar-e-Sharief in protest against the mosque’s destruction and the violence. Three people reportedly were killed in clashes between citizens and security forces in the valley. A 17-year old boy and five people were seriously injured when the troops opened fire on protesters in Srinagar. Angry crowds burned down over 120 government buildings and a number of Hindu temples throughout the valley in retaliation. The unrest rapidly spread to Doda, Kishtwar, Poonch and Kargil districts of the state.
Enraged crowds formed a barricade as a column of local and foreign journalists was driven by the army to see the ruins of Charar-e-Sharief. “It was the army that burned down the shrine. They have left us homeless,” they shouted. People around the gutted town said the bodies of civilian victims still lay in the ruins, but the army denied this.
The destruction inflicted on the last resting place of Sheikh Noor-ud-din, in the rolling foothills of the Himalayas, is clear for all to see. About two-thirds of the town had been razed, up to 3,000 homes, according to local people. Over 30,000 people had become homeless and lost all their possessions.
The bodies of five militants were shown to journalists while Mast Gul and other militants managed to escape. Some (Unknown Count) army troops were also killed. Among those killed in an encounter was a top Kashmiri militant, Zafar Kawa, of the Hizbul Mujaheedin militant outfit, one among the dozens fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir.
Outside the courtyard, crowds had gathered to ensure the press heard their side of the story. “India is lying, it is the army that burnt our houses, mosque and shrine,” said Mohamad Muzafad, a 45-year-old teacher, his voice cracking with emotions “They used helicopters, so many helicopters and they hurled bombs on the shrine and town. My house was also razed.”
“They dropped gunpowder from helicopters on to the town and they fired mortars at the shrine,” added Mohammad Ashraf, who said he was also a teacher. The crowds became more agitated as the journalists began to leave, and several cars were surrounded by hundreds of people who demanded they be heard.
“The bodies are still there, why won’t let us go and take the bodies,” a group of women shouted through the windows.
Village residents, shocked by the killing and devastation, mourned the losses but were kept away from journalists visiting the area.
“Nothing is left for me,” one woman said. “Why don’t they just shoot me now, I have nothing left.” Police quickly forced the woman out of earshot.
The Indian government promptly announced some money in federal assistance to rebuild Charar-e-Sharief, but the residents of Charar-e-Sharief outright rejected any Indian assistance in rebuilding the town or the shrine. ” We want freedom” “We want India out of Kashmir” “We will rebuild the shrine with our blood” were the slogans which echoed from a crowd of thousands who had gathered outside the gutted town.
The Kashmiri community in Britain was outraged and incensed at this latest act of Indian barbarity against the people of Kashmir. Dr Siraj Shah, Director of Kashmir Watch, a London based human rights group said “India has destroyed one of the greatest edifices of Kashmir’s history and inflicted the deepest wounds on our minds and hearts”.
“India has repeatedly demonstrated its total disregard for the Muslim places of worship and contempt for all civilised norms”. “Five years of brutal suppression of the independence movement and rampant human rights abuses in Kashmir, make India one of the worst violators of human rights in the present century”, he said.
Elsewhere in India, the country’s minority Muslim population expressed grief and shock at the latest violence in Kashmir.
A top Muslim cleric in New Delhi charged the Indian military with murder and sacrilege, during his speech to more than 25,000 Muslims attending Friday prayers. “This a shocking and embarrassing act of brutal aggression,” Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari told UPI. “We can only hold Indian forces responsible for this irresponsible act. ”
Alamdar-e-Kashmir, Sheikh Nooruddin Vali Noorani at Chrar-e-Sharif
The razing down of the shrine of the greatest patron saint of Kashmir has added the blackest mark on the history of the recent revolution in Kashmir. It is appropriate to dwell on the life and words of this Sufi poet and saint.
It is somewhat difficult to trace the exact period when Sheikh Nooruddin Vali (RUH) lived, but the majority of historians agree that he was born in the year 1377 AD, corresponding to 779 Hijri and that he passed away at the age of 63 years in the year of 1440 or 842 Hijri. His was the period when Kashmir was ruled by the Sultans Qutub-ud-Din, Sultan Sikandar, Sultan Ali Shah and Sultan Zain-Al-Abidin.
The shrine of Sheikh-ul-Alam, the structure itself, its attached Khanqahas, inns for the pilgrims and other physical features, the vendors of various prayer merchandise, food stalls etc. and the aura of ardent spiritualism, all combined to make it a place of pilgrimage for Kashmiris of all communities. The shrine contained 600 years old handmade persian and Kashmir carpets, ancient objects and scrolls, some antique copies of the holy Quran, extremely precious , cut glass chandliers etc., all which were reduced to smoke and ashes.
Sheikh-ul-Alam loved Kashmir and its people very intensely and was a great revolutionary himself.
Rebuilding of Chrar-e- Sharief
The mausoleum of the Sufi saint of Kashmir was completed in October, 2000. The ceiling of the shrine has been constructed in the traditional Khatamband design. The Khatamband work was assigned to Kashmiri professionals. The traditional Kashmiri architecture of a ziarat (shrine) with a pagoda-shaped top has been retained in the new structure, which has been constructed with brick and cement, unlike the previous wooden structure which was prone to fire.