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Katiyar claim sets Kashmir Valley aflame
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar where the holy relic is housed

New Delhi, March 14: Kashmir Valley witnessed large-scale protests for the second day today against a claim by a Hindu extremist leader that the hair from the Holy Prophet's beard kept in a Srinagar shrine is in fact that of a Hindu seer..! 

The Valley observed a general strike yesterday against these remarks made in Delhi on 12 March by the ruling BJP member of Parliament, Vinay Katiyar, who is also a senior leader of the VHP. He claimed that the Hazratbal relic, believed to be a strand of Prophet Muhammad’s hair, actually belongs to the Hindu seer Nimanth Baba "who had migrated from Mecca" according to Katiyar!. Katiyar demanded that the Hazratbal shrine be handed to the Hindus!. 

Hazratbal is the most sacred shrine in Kashmir. There was a big popular storm when the relic mysteriously disappeared from there in 1963. Things settled down only when the relic was recovered and restored to its chamber in Hazratbal.

Kashmiris, infuriated over the outrageous claim, obviously made to hurt Muslim sentiments in the thick of the current communal frenzy in the country, protested against the remarks and demanded the immediate arrest of Katiyar. They were chanting slogans like "Down with India; down with BJP". The day was marked by demonstrations, stone pelting and downing of shop shutters. 

The police resorted to baton charge, fired in the air and used tear gas at a number of places. Over a dozen demonstrators, including Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) president, Javed Mir and Ghulam Ahsan Ontoo, Kashmir Human Rights Front chief, were hurt in the police action. Both were leading the demonstration in Srinagar yesterday. 

"We the people of Kashmir may be weak and oppressed but we can't tolerate such unwarranted remarks from a religious fanatic who has made the comments with a definite purpose of driving a wedge between Muslims and Hindus," Javed Mir said.

Kashmir state chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, has demanded the immediate arrest of Katiyar on the issue. Abdullah said that his government was contemplating to introduce a legislation against institutions fanning communalism and creating mistrust among various sections of the society. 

Speaking in the Kashmir state legislative assembly Farooq Abdullah said, "it is a wrong statement by the leader of a party which has already put the nation on fire. If they continue with such issues, Muslims will have no faith in India". 

Parliament members of Farooq Abdullah's National Conference (NC), which is an alliance partner in the NDA government at the centre headed by the BJP, made similar demands in Delhi. At least two cases, one moved by the Kashmir Bar Association, have been registered in Srinagar courts against Katiyar.

NC's four MPs have sought an audience with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister LK Advani to protest against Katiyar’s remarks. Katiyar is a previous head of VHP's youth wing, Bajrang Dal which serves as storm-trooper of the Hindu extremist outfits and has been in the forefront of the Temple agitation.

The whole Kashmir Valley is protesting against the irresponsible statement of Katiyar. Chief Mufti of the J&K, Mufti Muhammad Bashiruddin, said that the remarks aim at creating communal tension in the state. Deploring Katiyar’s comments the Mufti said that he fails to find suitable words to condemn this slanderous remark. 

"Na'udubillah!" (God forbid), said Ghulam Hasan Banday, the chief custodian of the holy relic in Hazratbal. "They must think before they speak…they seem to have turned paranoid and need medical treatment," he added. Muhammad Ishaq Khan, a Kashmiri historian, said they are bent upon distorting facts of history. "Vinay Katiyar should be sent to a lunatic asylum…I mean there is a limit to absurdity and hurting religious feelings of people," said Javed Husain, a Kashmiri poet. 

Ghulam Nabi Kochak, vice chairman of the Muslim Awqaf Trust which looks after Hazratbal and many other Valley shrines and mosques, said that "those who indulge in this "rubbish" day in and day out actually want to create communal frenzy all over and push the country into turmoil." He asked the government to take serious note of the highly objectionable remarks made by the VHP leader or be prepared to face a turbulence similar to what was seen at the time of the country's partition in 1947.

The BJP is trying to play down the remarks. BJP parliamentary party spokesman, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, has tried to disown Katiyar's remarks by saying, ‘We condemn this statement, it is highly objectionable.’ The BJP spokesman added that Katiyar should not have raked up this controversy. 

Katiyar, who belongs to a group which is expert in making such outrageous claims aimed at vitiating communal harmony, told the media that he was just drawing a parallel with Ayodhya to make a point that a matter of faith cannot be challenged! He added that he wished to drive home the point that courts had no right to adjudicate in matters of faith. If they indeed had this right, it could not be made applicable to Hindus only. He, however, reiterated that there was indeed one such story of a Baba. 

Hindu fanatics have made similar claims about thousands of mosques and Muslim monuments including the Taj Mahal and Delhi's magnificent Jama Masjid. These are either temples or Hindu monuments, they claim. A pseudo-historian, called PN Oak. has been churning out dubious "research" which tries to prove that Muslims built nothing in India and whatever "Muslim" monuments are there in the Subcontinent were actually built by Hindus and misappropriated by Muslim rulers who re-named these monuments!

The chief priest of Kashmir, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is also a former chairman of the separatist All Party Hurriyat Conference, termed this claim as "ridiculous." Hazratbal, he said, has a history behind it. "Apparently, the VHP and like-minded groups are out to vandalize anything that is Muslim in character" he alleged.

Hazratbal, the large one-domed mosque in the summer capital of Kashmir has a special place in the hearts of the Kashmiri Muslims. Legend has it that Imam Husain, the grandson of the Prophet (upon whom be peace) was among the keepers of the Prophet's hair kept here. His scion, Syed Abdullah of Mecca who was deported by his government in 1634 AD, migrated to Bijapur in South India. 

The Indian rulers on account of his exalted ancestry gave him a huge estate to settle. However, when Emperor Aurangzeb became the ruler he confiscated the estate evicting Abdullah’s son Syed Hamid who gave the relic to Khwaja Nooruddin. It travelled to Lahore with Nooruddin where the Mughal emperor came to know that he is in possession of the relic. Emperor Aurangzeb ordered the relic to be confiscated and sent to Ajmer where it was kept in the shrine of Muinuddin Chishti. 

It is said that Emperor Aurangzaeb later had a dream in which he was reprimanded for having confiscated the holy relic by force. The emperor returned the relic to Khwaja Maidanish and it was in 1700 AD when the relic finally reached Srinagar. Later Nooruddin Ishberi’s daughter, Inayat Begum, bought the Mughal dignitary Sadiq Khan’s guest house on the bank of Dal Lake in Srinagar and kept the relic in a chamber there where it remains ever since.

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