On 18 January 1977 a team led by the then Secretary Jammu Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages Mohammed Yousuf Taing went to Biswak, Bihar to explore the grave of Sultan Yusuf Shah Chak, the last independent ruler of Kashmir. Taing, a prominent writer and historian himself had proposed to the then Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah to visit Biswak and pay tributes to the late king, which the later had readily accepted. So as a preparatory visit Taing visited Biswak to see the condition of the grave and suggest measures for the conservation of almost 400 year old grave.
The grave is in the Islampur block of district Nalanda. As the name indicates the block had a large number of Muslim inhabitants, but according to reports they were mercilessly slaughtered in 1947 partition. It was difficult for Taing to find any Muslim who could have known the history of the graveyard. Taing went to the villages in search of people who could testify that it is the grave of Chak. Apart from locating the Mutawali Abdul Rashid Khan, people told him that there is one 90 year old man Bankay Bihari Grai, who knows about the grave.
At the site, Bankay Bihari showed them the grave and testified that it is of Pir Yusuf Shah , a Kashmiri king. "Before 1947 when I was young, I remember that people used to come and light a lamp at the grave. An annual urs was held every December and people used to donate money to the shrine," said Bankay Bihari.
While giving details he said that it is the custom of Muslims to bury their wives at the feet of their husbands and pointing towards a nondescript grave said that here is the grave of his queen Habiba Begum.
"When I heard it, I was shocked. My mind raced from Habiba to Habiba Begum. This was beyond expectation," said Taing vividly remembering the details of the visit. "It was a huge discovery. We Kashmiris are used to shorten names. Here Sultan becomes Sulla, Zubaida becomes Zubbe and so on. Habba had also become Habiba Begum."
"To be sure I asked Bankay Bihari. Who was this queen Habiba. He said that after Yusuf Shah came here, he had asked for bringing his wife here too. So Habiba Khatoon was brought from Kashmir, it took her six months to reach here. I have heard when Habiba reached here Yousuf was very happy. Both lived for many years and Habiba had made a will asking that after her death she should be buried at the feet of Yousuf Shah."
At that time Taing in his report, which was submitted to government, wrote, "The eldest man of the village Bankey Bihari Grain, an octogenarian, told us that he had in his childhood, heard from his elders that Habiba Bibi was the queen of Yousuf Shah, who had followed his royal consort in his exile and expired while Yousuf Shah was still living. This was repeated and testified by dozens of village mates, including Dr. Rashid Khan, the Mutawali of the graveyard….It was revealed that the grave was of smaller length than the adjacent graves perhaps because the women inmate could not be of the same stature as men around her. Secondly the stone at the top of the grave, the style and symbols of graves containing females in the ancient graveyards of Kashmir, Mazari Salatin, Mazari Kallan etc. It is known to every student of archeology that in ancient Kashmir, the grave style for males and females were distinct and different. The discovery unknots a mystery about the queen's end and puts her life story in a different perspective."
On 20 January 1977, Sheikh Abdullah along with his family visited the graveyard, and paid his respects. The team had brought pure Kashmiri Chaddar (blanket) which was spread on the grave. A tombstone of Devri Stone brought from Kashmir was installed. A huge crowd, which according to Taing was around 2 lakh had come to witness the event and hear the speech of Sheikh Abdullah.
The graveyard at that time had remnants of small old mosque and was in dilapidated condition. "We did the restoration and few works to give it part of respect which it deserved," said Taing.
Apart from Habba Khatoon, it was later learned that Yaqub Shah Chak the son of Yousuf Shah was also buried nearby. Though some reports suggest he was buried in Kishtwar, but research point to the fact that Akbar had also exiled him to Biswak after capturing him following massive efforts. Yaqub Shah is known as the first guerrilla of Kashmir.
Kashmir was always a thorn in Akbar's grand ambitions. His huge army was defeated twice by Kashmiri army under Yousuf Shah chak, despite being much smaller in size. The cunning Akbar offered an olive branch, and called for negotiations with Yousuf Shah. Dismissing concerns from some advisors, Yousuf Shah Chak went to meet Akbar in Lahore. In a breach of trust, Akbar imprisoned and exiled Yousuf Shah. Thereafter Akbar's army under the command of Qasim Khan, marched on Kashmir whose army was in disarray due to absence of a leader. On 16 October 1586 Kashmir fell to Akbar for the first time.
According to historians, on the night of November 19, 1586, Yaqub Shah Chak, is said to have mounted the first guerrilla attack on Mughal army, in which dozens of Mughal army men were chopped to death, entire treasury looted and magnificent palace of Yusuf Shah, wherefrom Mughals ruled Kashmir, was burnt.
"Yaqub Shah started the guerrilla warfare to regain independence. He staged number of attacks on Mughal army, but ultimately he was captured and exiled like his father," said tasing.
A village by the name of Kashmiri Chak came into existence in Biswak, which is still there.
In contemporary history, the emergence of narrative on Yusuf Shah Chak in Kashmir can be traced to Sahibzada Hassan Shah, one of the brilliant officers who became Director Archives. It was he who in 1950s brought a copy of history book Baharistani Shahi, from London that became the basis of the entire quest. In the book it was written that the last king of Kashmir Yusuf Shah Chak died in Orissa in 1592 and later his body was brought back to Biswak where he was buried on 28 December 1592.
Sahibzada sent a team comprising Research Assistants Mohammed Amin Ibn e Mahjoor, and Mohammed Amin Rafiqi, the departmental photographer. They went to Bihar in search of the graves. They came back with testimonies, photographic evidence and prepared a full report. The report started a new debate and number of articles and news stories were published. Renowned writer, late Professor Hajini wrote at that time in his book Lukke Ras, "When I became secretary of the academy, the thing was troubling me inside. Yusuf Shah Chak is the symbol of our independence. With him we lost everything and even today we haven't reclaimed anything. There is just change of turbans. Winston Smith, a historian of Cambridge History of India also feels the pain at the incident. He says that whatever Akbar did with Yousuf Shah Chak is termed as a black spot in the almost clean rule of Akbar."
Habba Khatoon regained limelight later. However, in Kashmir, Mahjoor had once identified a grave in Athwajan as that Habba Khatoon, but it was not backed by any evidence. Ironically Mahjoor became a victim of his own claim, as his body was exhumed from his grave in Mitrigam Pulwama and buried next to the presumed grave of Habba Khatoon in Athwajan on the instructions of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed in 1952. The entire graveyard including his mausoleum, a smaller version of Mohammed Ali Jinnah's Mausoleum, has been gathering dust on the road near stone quarries in Athwajan. Bakshi had renamed the graveyard as Mazar-e-Sho'ra (graveyard of poets).
Recently a report in Hindu suggested that the graveyard in Biswak is threatened by encroachments. The graveyard has ten graves of Yousuf Shah, Habba Khatoon and other family members. The graveyard is open to grazing goats and buffaloes, and stray dogs. The houses have been built on the encroached land and so is a primary health centre and a public road.
Of late Yousuf Shah's story has become a metaphor for whatever wrong is happening in Kashmir. Author Basharat Peer in his book Curfewed Night writes, "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."
People see 1586 as turning point in Kashmir's history and there have been demands of bringing back mortal remains of Yousuf Shah Chak to Kashmir. "If French could get back mortal remains of Napoleon Bonaparte or Afghans could get the body of Jamal u Din Afghani back from Istanbul, why can't Kashmir," said Taing.
In 2015 former finance minister who also headed culture department had indicated that he is working on a proposal to approach the Bihar government for bringing back the remains of Yousuf Shah. After that there was no follow through.
In 2013, the High Court Bar Association too had demanded the return of Chak's remains, together with those of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru.
In an earlier interview with Greater Kashmir, the local caretake of the graves, Yasir Rashid Khan admitted that neither the graveyard is being taken care of nor there was any concrete proposal for taking mortal remains back to Kashmir. He said that he even received death threats for opposing encroachments, but he is determined in his work and has written 200 letters to leaders in Bihar and J&K. He said that he had been taking care of graveyard like his ancestors.
The recent media report quoted Yasir Khan Chak who claimed to be descendant of Chak dynasty. But Taing says there was no descendant of Chak dynasty when they went to Biswak. "We searched everywhere at that time. People could have told us and we could have located any descendant but there was none. We found just one caretaker unrelated to Chak family," said Taing.
The one thing that has remained constant at the graveyard is the annual urs when people gather and pray at the place in December.
As of now there is nothing in sight as to what will happen next to the historical graveyard, whose inhabitants once shaped the geography, politics and literary scene of Kashmir forever. Yousuf Shah himself was a great lover of art and culture.