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Forgotten in a field far away: Grave of an exiled Kashmiri king lies in ruins in Bihar

Faded memories: The graves of Yusuf Shah Chak, his wife Habba Khatoon and family members .   | Photo Credit: Ranjeet Kumar

The burial ground of Yusuf Shah Chak, who ruled Kashmir from 1579 to 1586 and was one of the last native rulers of independent Kashmir, is under threat from landgrabbers. The mutawalli (caretaker) of the cemetery in Biswak village in Bihar’s Nalanda district where Yusuf Shah is buried, has written over 200 letters to the government, seeking protection for the monument. But the encroachment has continued, with villagers building homes on the graveyard land.

Yusuf Shah, who succeeded his father Ali Shah, was imprisoned by the Mughal emperor Akbar and later exiled to Bihar. He was given land in the Islampur block of Nalanda district and permitted to maintain a cavalry of 500 soldiers. The place where the Kashmiri king settled was known as Kashmir Chak. He died in 1592 in Odisha and his body was brought back to Bihar to be buried in Biswak, adjacent to Kashmir Chak.

“Despite his cowardice, Yusuf Shah’s imprisonment and betrayal by Akbar has become a metaphor for the relationship between Delhi and Srinagar… After Yusuf Shah Chak, Kashmir was never free,” journalist Basharat Peer observed in his book Curfewed Night, while recalling details of his visit to the “featureless” Yusuf Shah Chak cemetery.

Spread over nearly five acres in a corner of Biswak, the cemetery is clearly under siege. A local boy, Mohammad Meraj, takes us along narrow by-lanes to the graveyard. The ground dips and flattens out into the cemetery surrounded by fields of bright yellow mustard in bloom.

Not protected

A discoloured boundary wall encircles around 10 unattended graves of Yusuf Shah Chak, his wife Habba Khatoon, and other family members. The wall was erected in 2016 by the mutawalli Khalid S. Chak, and rebuilt by his son Yasir Khan Chak, who claims to be a descendent of the royal family. Inside, the graves are covered with torn, faded green chadars as goats, buffaloes and dogs bask in the winter sun.

The rest of the graveyard is unprotected. On this open land, village boys play cricket and locals from Biswak have built homes. While some are concrete houses, others have thatched roofs. The villagers who have encroached were reluctant to come on record, but claim they have done nothing illegal.

“A primary health centre and a public road have been constructed on the cemetery land. We want the government to protect the area and remove these encroachments,” says Yasir Khan Chak. “This cemetery is not about religion. It is a historical place and we should preserve its history. I’ve written more than 200 letters to the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister, District Magistrates, and other officials of the State, the Centre and even the Jammu & Kashmir government, asking them to intervene, but no one has responded so far,” he says.

Mr. Yasir Khan Chak says that the eight bigha land of the graveyard was even registered with the Bihar Rajya Sunni Wakf Board in 1963 but the “encroachment continued”.

‘Symbol of ties’

Syed Manzar Iqbal, who looks after the mosque and other cemeteries of the Chak dynasty in the neighbouring Kashmir Chak village, says, “This place also symbolises the relationship between the people of Kashmir and Bihar. It should be recognised as a national heritage.”

Every year, on December 28, people assemble in large numbers at the grave of Yusuf Shah Chak to celebrate Urs and honour him on his death anniversary.

Interestingly, in the year 2016-17, the State government spent ₹47 lakh to strengthen a crumbling mud fort of King Man Singh, located a stone’s throw from the Yusuf Shah Chak cemetery.

The security guard, Bal Shankar Chaudhury, reluctantly opens the massive iron gate to let us inside. “I joined here last November, but this is the first time that I am opening the lock and going inside. There is nothing but jungle-jhaar (overgrown shrubs) here,” he says. “No one comes here.”

When asked about the encroachments, Bihar’s Tourism Minister Pramod Kumar said, “Where it is located? I’m not aware of any such place. You may get some information on this from the Art and Culture department.”

But the State’s Art and Culture Minister Krishna Kumar Rishi was equally clueless. “You mean the King of Kashmir was buried here in Bihar? In a village of Nalanda district? No, I’m not aware of it. But since you’ve brought this to my notice, I’ll get the details and do the needful,” he said.

Last year, the ruling Janata Dal (United)’s Ram Vachan Rai had raised the issue of encroachments on the Yusuf Shah Chak graveyard in the Legislative Council through a call attention motion. “This is very unfortunate…I’ll again write a letter to the government,” he said.

There have also been some interesting visitors to the Yusuf Shah Chak tomb. In 1977, the then J&K chief minister Sheikh Abdullah, along with the writer and historian M.Y. Taing, had visited this grave. He had also assured support for development and preservation of the place.

Following his visit, one of the roads connecting the cemetery to Biswak village 2.5 km away was named Sheikh Abdullah Road. But little else has changed on the ground. The J&K government in 2015 was said to be considering a move to reclaim the mortal remains of the king, but nothing has moved at the government level, and land-grabbers continue to have a field day.

“If the government does not take care of this encroachment,” Yasir Khan Chak says, “the day is not far off when all the graveyard land will have turned into a hamlet.”

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 12:53:37 AM |

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