Part II | Kashmir Survived Past Epidemics:

Greater Kashmir

It is an irony that  Abul Ali Ibni Sina, eka  Avicenna ( 980-1037 AD) , Hafiz e Quran, whose encyclopedic works on early medical science & research guided the western world for hundreds of years, whose supremacy as Father of early medical sciences has been acknowledged across the world, and a long list of other early Muslim scientists, researchers & healers of humanity, from 8th to 12th century AD, couldn’t inspire later generations of Muslims for carrying the legacy of scientific knowledge & research of Golden Age of Islam forward in the world. By comparison, Kashmir, a far distant place on the earth, was caught in mass ignorance which was exploited both by the Hindu Rulers & Muslim religious elite as a “class supremacy”, for a long period of time. There existed a common thread between “exploitative Pirs” & Kashmiri Brahmans who too were exploiting their followers with their own huge collection of superstitions about epidemic-non-epidemic diseases & natural disasters, which a staunch Brahman politician, historian & judge like Jia Lal Kilm calls destructive Brahman “class ascendancy”. Even Kalhana has not kept hidden his contempt & ridicule for ignorance & exploitation on the part of ancient Kashmiri Brahman priests, who were called Purohits, who held greater influence at Hindu shrines & pilgrimages, and also on Brahman kings of Kashmir.  In Kashmir, which was truly an abode of early selfless, spartan & spiritual lives of great saints & sages,the term Pir Weer” or “pirism” was later used to create an impression of, or to describe, Kashmir as being a place where inhabitants were non-violent & docile, (which is admittedly true), but with an inbuilt-character of acquiescing in all wrongs. These terms with that object were inducted in the psyche of common Kashmiris & their daily discourse in all walks of life.  How could the terms be coined & used to justifiably sanctify wrongs & exploitations by others including ‘exploitative clergy” against Kashmiri community because they were by nature submissive, non-violent & harmonious, & also, invariably, ignorant, poor & illiterate?

Prof. Chitralekha Zutshi had an access to some 200-300 years old “unpublished” Persian manuscripts of Babujnama [history of injustice], Shahr-i-Ashob [the city of tumult] & Napursa-nama [story of lawlessness] of Mulla Hamidullah Shahabadi (1783-1848 AD) & poetry titled Mulhemaat [boghus] of Mulla Nizamuddin Nizam Furahi (d 1773),  both Kashmiri Pirs of their times, who lived during the period of Afghan & Sikh Rule of Kashmir. On a scrutiny of these rare manuscripts, she writes, that both of them believed in “pirism” in Kashmir,  yet they, in their cited memoirs, have condemned the “pirs” & “intellectuals” of their times, for their complicity with corrupt administration in driving Kashmiris into backwardness & ignorance, degrading “institution of pirism” in Kashmir, corrupting Islamic traditions to what became known as Kashmiri tradition of just shrine-worshipping, by not speaking against injustices of the tyranny of the rulers,  but interested only in accumulating wealth at the expense of Kashmiris who were dying of epidemics & disasters, poverty & hunger, those periods of time.

Some historians too have recorded the superstitions in their books, for example,Khwaja Mohammad Azam Diddamari records that once a fire broke out in his mohalla and it got extinguished by the urination of a mendicant (majzoob). Prof. Sharif Hussain Kasmi, ex-HOD Persian Department of Delhi University, who has translated Persian version of Tarkh e Hassan in Urdu, has in foreword to that 4 volume book discussed the said story under a sub-heading “extreme of superstitions.” (Ref. Waqat e Kashmir or Tarikh e Azmi Urdu, 347, also quoted in Tarikhi Hassan, Urdu, I: 26, Preface)

The Christian proselytization activities of the Kashmir Mission Hospital doctors of 19th century is a well known fact clearly mentioned & admitted by them in their own writings. Yet, no one can deny & ignore the pioneering work done by them for Kashmir’s modern healthcare & educational systems, at a time when Kashmir was far away from the new developments of medical science & education.  Nor can any Muslim lose sight of one of the basic tenets of Islam [the Last Guidance to mankind, the Holy Quran, & the Holy Precepts of the Seal of the Precepts, s a w]  that reject all kinds of myths & superstitions [towahum parsti] knitted around natural & manmade disasters.

Despite their ancestors’ spiritual metamorphosis from Brahmanism to Islam, 14th century onwards, the retention of some of the old Brahminical superstitious beliefs & practices about disasters, diseases, and some natural phenomenon by then Muslims of Kashmir, was redolent of their ancestral Brahman-past, & also natural as human minds are not tabula rasa. It was also attributable to general ignorance & lack of knowledge about core teachings of  Islam that strictly forbid superstitions & place heavy emphasis on reading (iqra) & deed/action (amal ) & investigation (fatabayeno..Al-Quran, 49:6) rather than hearsay.

Dr. William Jackson Elmslie, who founded the first dispensary in Kashmir on 9th May, 1865, visited Kashmir six times during summers of 1865 till 1872 as the monarchy had banned his entry during winters in the valley. He was back with his medical missionary work in Srinagar on 14th May 1868 & on 18th May. While he was at Islamabad (Anantnag) examining the patients, he was told by the locals that “Nasir Shah, leading Mussulman judge [Qazi] of the city”,  had “prohibited the people from attending the Medical Mission Dispensary. If a woman go[es], she is to be divorced from her husband; if a man go[es], he is to be divorced from his wife. He….is spreading reports that the Doctor Sahib makes his medicines of swine’s flesh and blood. Before a marriage is celebrated the officiating priest reads a proclamation that if either man or woman go to the Doctor Sahib, there will be a divorce”, records he.  An anonymous traveler who was in Kashmir in August, 1872 & witness to the floods & cholera of that year writes on 14th August of that year in his travelogue that the Jhelum had overflown its banks. The houses were inundated. There was cholera. But the superstitions implanted in the minds of the locals had this to tell that traveler: “cholera comes only with famine, but there is no famine at present here, and still the deaths from cholera number sixty daily; filth & green fruit [vegetation] must help it greatly in its ravages.”

In the spring of 1907, there was a sharp epidemic of cholera in many areas of Kupwara & Lolab. It had severely disseminated as a direct result of superstitious practices. “On one occasion, for instance”, writes Dr. Ernest F Neve, “ the Mohammedan priests of a famous shrine made a proclamation that to avert the pestilence, the tank in the courtyard of the sacred edifice should be at once filled with water brought by the worshippers. The people came in hundreds, each bearing a water-pot which was duly emptied into the tank, some of the water of which was then drunk as a preservative from cholera. Unfortunately the water was infected, and the disastrous outburst of cholera which followed was acknowledged even by the Mohammedans to be obviously due to the work of the previous day……”

Kashmiris forget things so easily. They soon “forget the horrors of cholera” & “ridicule drainage and streets as wild ideas of another world” & “object to any innovations” and “when sanitary reforms are suggested the city howls with indignation.”  (Lawrence, 281) They had initially objected to the vaccination in Kashmir. My Word! writes, Dr. Ernest F Neve passionately in his memoirs, thus: “I often wish the opponents of vaccination could be present in our consulting room to see the melancholy procession, day by day, of those who have lost their sight from smallpox. For this disease is the most frequent cause of total incurable blindness”.

Kashmir Medical Mission:

“Superstition has a logic of its own. So far as we were concerned it was a time for deeds rather than for words, for sympathy than for sermons,” wrote Dr. Arthur Neve.  Yes, credit goes to the Church Missionary Society of England for having laid the foundation of  the modern medical healthcare system in Kashmir in second half of the 19th century. Due to the relentless efforts & selfless service of missionary doctors & nurses of Church Missionary Society of England, under the banner of Kashmir Medical Mission, a humanitarian healthcare programme was started & spread throughout the valley.  Under the paramountcy of British power, the influence & pressure exercised by the British Rulers of India, through their British Resident in Kashmir, the missionary doctorswere “grudgingly” allowed by the Maharaja of Kashmir to carry on with their healthcare service & medical research in Kashmir but in a checkered manner.   Kashmir Medical Mission embarked upon activities of helping the suffering, diseased & poor people of Kashmir with their medical skills, services & medicine of advanced European countries. Apart from the usual missionary objectives & activities, which was concomitant part of Church Missionary Society of England that time anywhere in the world, the great humanitarian work done by it though its Kashmir Medical Mission is a debt that has to be acknowledged with all sincerity?  At the time of their earliest entry in the valley, the missionary doctors faced tremendous opposition & hostility against their healthcare activities, even at the hands of, not only native Kashmiris, their pirs & mullahs, but by the monarchy too. The detailed accounts of State opposition & hostility in the beginning against the Kashmir Mission Hospital are recorded in the memoirs of all missionary doctors.

Before the arrival of missionary doctors, there were absolutely no hospitals, no skilled medical relief, in the valley. Before Church Missionary Society of England introduced its Medical Mission in Kashmir, the common masses of Kashmir relied on highly skilled Unani doctors, Hakims, who used Greek system of medicine. They dated back to the time of Mughal Emperor Akbar ( 1556-1605 AD) who introduced Hakim & Hikmat in Kashmir. ( Kashmir Life dated 20-07-2015) The Unani system of medicine that relied greatly on herbs in treatment of diseases of the people existed apart from the pirs’ system of treating ill-people by amulets & talismans  that drove out jins & evil spirits from the body of the patient as the pirs believed jins caused the diseases. ( Lawrence : 233)  It may be mentioned here that the patron saint & founder of Islam in Kashmir , Hazrat Syed Ali or Shah Hamadan [1314–1384], had got “ two & a half kirwah of Juneos, or sacred strings, worn by the Brahmins, delivered up by the Hindoo proselytes” before him. (Godfrey Thomas Vigne, also cited by Ramchandra Kak )…

To be Conclued