“We Struggled and God Helped Us”

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Lawyer Shabir A Salaria is one of rare survivors of 1947 massacres who become J&K advocate general twice and even went to the parliament. At his Wazarat Road residence, Tasavur Mushtaq spent a long evening with him to talk politics, history and law.

Lawyer Shabir Ahmed Salaria

Lawyer Shabir Ahmed Salaria

KL: Mr Salaria, what do we know about your life?
SAS: My story is a common man’s story. We also struggled and in between a massacre took place in which we lost our parents and our house. We struggled and God helped us. I worked as an advocate and (am) still working. Earlier, I was an employee. I also contested elections on National Conference (NC) mandate against Karan Singh and Janak Raj. I was appointed advocate general twice. I served government of India as their standing council in the state. For 40 years, I was publishing an Urdu newspaper Al-Bayaan. It was only six pages but I stopped it a few years ago.

KL: How old were you at the time of massacre?
SAS: I was around 13. I used to live in the same house we are sitting now. I was student of seventh class in Akbar Islamia School which was destroyed. Then we went to Kashmir where I continued my studies, did my BA and became Naib Tehsildaar as I had no money to pursue my LlB. Also with me was Muhammad Shafi Qureshi. I saved money and after 18 months, I left the job. I then went to Aligarh and pursued higher studies.

KL: You belonged to well off family?
SAS: My father was divisional forest officer in Maharaja’s government. ,Unfortunately he achieved martyrdom in that massacre. We had to manage without him. In those days, there was no family pension. It was in the government of Sheikh (Mohammad Abdullah) Sahab that family pension was started.

KL: Would you be able to share something about that sensitive incident?
SAS: That is a long tale. The situation was critical and the administration of Maharaja Bahadur failed completely. With the result, there was attack on borders. Maharaja came to Jammu and there was tribal attack in Kashmir. There was chaos. In Pakistan, Hindus were treated mercilessly and that had reaction here. We also got involved. The majority population here was villagers and illiterates. They could not understand the gravity of situation and the people who understood moved to safer places. On the way they were robbed and attacked. Women were kidnapped. Few stayed and many more left and never returned.

KL: Did not the 1947 administration start work of relief and rehabilitation and stop flight of population?
SAS: They had no control over the situation and I think not even the will to stop it. No doubt people were told that their journey would be facilitated and were assured that they won’t be attacked. Buses started to ferry them and dropped at Suchitgarh. This way, migration took place. And people who went to Kashmir came back via Sialkote and went to the other side. There were thousands of people. And it was thought safe option to send them there.

The people who came from Pakistan administered Kashmir were rehabilitated here. Huge land was left behind by the people who migrated to other side and they occupied it besides locals, as owners had left it there. Later who occupied the land was allotted it under the provisions of Evacuee’s Act.

KL: Does that means our evacuees’ property is squeezed right now as major part of it was occupied and allotted?
SAS: No. In the eyes of law that is still Evacuees property even if it was allotted. That continues to be the property of those who left this place. It is a different matter that they cannot return and even if somebody returns he has to get permission from J&K government that he may be allowed to settle. To get permission is not an easy task. We should take it that people who left this place have ultimately left it forever. The land they left turned to be fallow and was captured by locals and refugees.

KL: How was a journey of 12 year old child to reach Srinagar in those circumstances?
SAS: The situation turned hostile here to live for. There was a threat to life. Somebody told me that Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad had come here and is in guest house. Along with my two younger brothers, I went to meet him to request facilitation of our migration to Pakistan. But when we met him, he asked me if there was any accommodation available in Kashmir. I said yes, we have ancestral house in Srinagar. His response was that it was better to go to Kashmir. He changed our direction. He referred us to emergency officer stationed in Parade Ground with a piece of paper written. ‘Bachun ko Kashmir Bejhe’. Nobody acknowledged his direction and then a Pandit driver took us along and dropped us in Srinagar, where we had house. We lived there then.

KL: You had someone in Srinagar to take care?
SAS: My elder brother was there who had gone to appear in an interview for a lieutenant’s post in Maharaja’s army. We lived together in our Shivpora house. Now he is no more. I studied in Tyndale Biscoe. My education and living there was supported by a Christian memorial college till FSC. Then I came home and did my BA from Amar Singh College. One of my younger brothers became DFO and other one was Executive Engineer. Both have retired.

KL: You had ancestral house in Kashmir?
SAS:  I was born in Islamabad in 1934. I am Kashmiri, our language and culture is Kashmiri. . I have studied up to fourth class in Baramulla where my father was posted. We had land and house there. When tribals attacked, that house was set afire. Locals told me that tribals took shelter in that house and Army thought it was their house and set it on fire. We did not reconstruct it.

KL: When did you go to AMU?
SAS: During Mir Qasim’s reign, I appeared in exam of Naib Tehsildar and 19 were selected. We were trained in settlement operations. After 18 months, I was able to save some money. At that time in AMU, there was option of doing MA and LLB together. So I did it in two years.

KL: Where did you start your practice?
SAS:  I started it from Srinagar from 1957 to 1962. Then somebody told me that you do good work, why don’t you go and work in Rajouri as there are only two lawyers. If a party hires both the lawyers, it becomes problem for the other side. I agreed and with the result people got choice. I was so engrossed in work that I had no knowledge of border being so close.

When there was attack in 1965, I asked people about the border and was surprised to know that it is only six kilometers away. The situation was not feasible there; both sides were fighting. We left and reached Jammu. There were aerial attacks and when we were on the way near Akhnoor Bridge, the general of Army was hiding under the bridge and commanding his forces.

The people of Poonch and Rajouri were so intimately associated with me that they came to Jammu and requested me to come back once the situation turns feasible. Compelled, I went again and stayed for another two years till 1967.
I was very famous there. When I contested parliamentary election as an independent candidate, I came number two. My opponents were from Congress and National Conference. Congress won. Though I had no assets, money or machinery to fight elections, but I was close to people.

KL: When did you start your family?    
SAS:  I married in 1960 and went to Rajouri in 1961. My marriage took place in Jammu. There was a session judge Qazi Nizam ud Din whose daughter is my wife. She is a post graduate.

KL: When did you join politics?
SAS: What happened in 1947 had an impact on my thinking. I thought this was a field in which I should take interest. I joined National Conference in Srinagar. In Rajouri, NC had not that much impact. Back in Jammu, I again associated with NC. I am still with them. There should be some party to work with which is why I am with NC and (Dr) Farooq Sahab, though they don’t need me now. They have enough of people and different system prevails now as the time has changed. Anyways my loyalties are with NC.

KL: You are witness to three eras of Abdullah family; Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, Dr Farooq Abdullah and now Omar Abdullah. What change did you notice?
SAS: The era of Sheikh Sahib was revolutionary. He had few very important human related issues. He started his movement when farmers were denied the produce and their land was easily taken away. There was imperialism and forced labor. Sheikh Sahib implemented everything that he had learnt. He restored land to tiller and property was transferred to the people.

After him, there was a changed situation. He had a plan to implement but he died. Also, India did not help him as there were misunderstandings and he was thrown out of power. He lived that life also and spent years in jail. Now his son is there. May God help him do right things.

KL: Is it going fine now?

SAS: (Laughs) This is difficult question. It is going on. Farooq sahib is very concerned about the welfare of people. He is going fine but Sheikh Sahab’s stature is very high. He is a part of history. If these people follow his path, that is good then.

KL:  You mean to say they don’t follow?
SAS: No, no. They are doing it. I mean to say that they should follow him in letter and spirit which would be very good. It is a fact that if there is any other party, they can turn around and heal wound of people. May Allah help them to continue to be on right path.

KL: Both Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Dr Farooq Abdullah talked about autonomy.  What is its state now?
SAS: India does not like autonomy. Whosoever talks about it can’t be in power. Mufti Sahab can also talk about autonomy as NC is talking. But the autonomy Sheikh sahib talked about was according to the Maharaja Bahadur’s instrument of accession which is no way possible to be achieved.

Maharaja has ceded only three subjects and on that basis he acceded. You know, Maharaja also became casualty of same thing. Otherwise what harm he has done? The only thing Maharaja did was that beyond instrument of accession, he was not ready to go in giving rights to India. This was the reason he suffered and when Sheikh Sahab talked about it, he too suffered and now whosoever will talk about it, will suffer.

KL: Many people say that there was direct involvement of Maharaja in riots of 1947.
SAS: May be. Maharaja was in Srinagar and he came to Jammu. According to people, he was not happy with Muslims. The Muslims in army in Poonch became rebels. Maybe he reacted to that and his approach changed.

But I don’t think so. May be his role is at a larger level. But the army returning from borders was also injured in bad way that had no element of humanity. The role of Maharaja may be known to his courtiers. The only thing is that there was no step to prevent catastrophe, which otherwise was possible. Many things would have been better and massacre would not have taken place. People who came from villages and went in groups were killed. Law and order was not maintained and they were attacked.

Jammu city also suffered.  There were clashes. Captain Naseer ud Din and Colonel Peer Muhammad met Maharaja. They said that Maharaja assured them of safe passage to other side which did not happen.  We also left in Kafila and that was called Kafila No 2.

As we reached, Kafila No 1 had already left (and) we could not manage a seat in that. The vehicles which ferried Kafila No 1 returned soon and it was strange. I asked my mother but she had no answer. Then we came to know that on the way, Kafila was attacked and destroyed. We still carried on with our program without knowing our fate. We were also attacked and destroyed.  Few could survive and I was among them but became handicapped.  It was November 6. We were brought to government medical hospital but the superintendent of hospital who was a Sikh did not allow us to stay for night as he feared for our life.

We were dropped at the same spot in the camp of dead bodies and few injured were also there. After our five day stay there, Sheikh sahab came and he shifted us to Islamia School in Chawni and in phased manner, people were given passage to other side of Kashmir. My house in Jammu was occupied by refugees from Muzaffrabad. I was rendered homeless so I could not live here. I then went to Srinagar.

KL: The happenings of 1947 in Jammu are not well documented.
SAS: I don’t know the reason. I think there was nobody to write or else they have fled the place. The people who had understanding of issues left the place. Newspapers also did not report. The people who stayed here were Gujjars, Bakerwals and Teli’s. They were busy in search of livelihood. What would have they done? Government knew everything.  Sheikh Sahib has eyewitness account and even Bakhshi Sahab knew. They were silent because of (the) reason(s) they were in power and it would have created misunderstanding.  They should have thought it fit that let bygones be bygones.

KL: At that time, local leaders were Chadury Ghulam Abbas and Allah Rakha Sagar?
SAS: Abbas Sahab was in jail in Bhaderwah and from there he was straightway sent to other side. Allah Rakha was already in exile.

KL: People say that they were willing to stay back?
SAS: I don’t know. May be even if they were willing but when the government of that time did not allow them and asked them to leave, they had no option.

KL: To exile  was rule at that time?
SAS:  See, decisions were taken as per the situation. But I have heard Abbas had written a book, Kasihmakash (The Struggle). I have not read it because it is not available. Abbas was mostly in jail and thus cut off from life outside.  When we were taken to military hospital after (the) attack, a girl came to me and said: if somebody asks about my identity, tell them I am your sister. When I enquired the reason, she said she was a relative of Abbas sahab and she cannot divulge it. I did as she told me.

KL: What did you witness in 1965 in Poonch?
SS: In 1965, I was practicing there as a lawyer. Two persons came to me who were foresters and told me to leave as the place was going to be attacked. I was frightened but I did not pay heed to their suggestion. But in reality, there was an attack. With difficulty, I left the place. The program of their attack was misconceived. They did it in Darhal as well. In Rajouri, I felt few guns were distributed as they were distributed in 1947. I thought there was similarity between the two and this scared me.

After 10 days, I came back to Rajouri and continued my practice. I came here (Jammu) in 1966 and since I am here. In between for five years, I was advocate on record. I appeared in All India Work Examination which if qualified is equal to advocate of Supreme Court. While serving there, I got a letter from Sheikh sahab asking me to come back and join as advocate general which I initially resisted. Afterwards, I came back. Before I joined, Kareem sahib was advocate general. Maybe Sheikh Sahab had some problems with him. Otherwise Kareem was very gentle.

Sheikh sahab told me that since I had come back, he would appoint me as a judge of High Court which I denied. I said you need me this time. Rest I don’t want. After two years, Sheikh sahib passed away and I resigned. But Farooq sahab told me to continue. Then Farooq sahib was dislodged and I also was.

KL: Resettlement bill was a major issue that time. What would you shed light on that?
SAS: That came in the time of Farooq sahib. I wrote a letter to him that this bill has been challenged in Supreme Court but the challenge can be easily quashed. There was no need to make it controversial. We had to make them understand that J&K has its own law of residentship and if people who have left this place come back, how we would give them state subjects afresh. There should be a law. This essentially is not for separate nation. All this I wrote to him. I don’t know whether he read it or not but I also sent it to (Pyaray Lal) Handoo sahab (then law minister), but you know Handoo sahib was not fair with Farooq sahib. He was internally processing something so that Farooq is displaced.

Handoo wrote back to me that in this case, advocate General will not appear in Supreme Court. Ultimately they talked nonsense in Supreme Court and the bill was shelved. They talked that it was right as J&K is (a) separate nation. This irritated centre and had direct impact on Dr Farooq Abdullah.

KL: What about the state subject law? It is more diluted. Now you do not distinguish between women marrying in J&K and outside?
SAS: That was done by High Court. Even if women married non state-subject, she will continue to be the state subject.  There was a law of Maharaja that if a state subject married non state subject women, that women will also be a state subject so long as the husband was alive. After the death of her husband,  she would continue to be so if she stays as a widow and does not remarry.

KL: Can judges take a decision questioning wisdom of a society?
SAS: You made it a political question. Those judges had jurisdiction whether the law was good or not.  They have right and power to comment upon the correctness and legal validity of the law. If the judges decide that it is constitutionally valid, what to do?

KL: What is the significance of the legislature then?
SAS: Power of legislature is there but the matter was also part of conspiracy then. It was taken to the Supreme Court so that it shelves the case on account of the bogus replies submitted by the state. It was shelved for years and ultimately it became infructuous.

KL: Do you think as a practicing lawyer who has represented J&K for many years that gradual dilution of state subject law is apparently aimed at changing demography of the state, as certain sections believe?
SAS: It is correct. It can also happen. It can be utilized for that purpose as well. On one side, there is court judgment which also opens door for that. On the other side, there is political thinking of that nature.  This is also a demand of people who are not state subjects and came to state in the disturbances of 1947 and occupied the land there left by the people who got displaced.

The law was enacted by our government that even if non state-subject is in possession of any land which is evacuee land or even state land, that possession shall be regularized in his favour. And even if somebody was the lawful owner of the property, had on account of disturbances beyond his control left the state and returned, his property won’t be restored, even if it is decided that he is entitled to the restoration of that property.  What will be done is if there are displaced persons who have come from Pakistan administered Kashmir in possession of that property, then the government will give that person some compensation, acquire that land or give him alternate land also. That is section 14(a) of evacuees act and the person in possession will not be displaced.’

KL: You have shuttled between various places and now you are a proud resident of Jammu. How fairly has the government used the evacuees’ property for the benefit of the community?
SAS: This property has no ostensible owner. So it is put under the charge of some government servants. As you know, they use it not as their own property but as something which is wind of all. In those allotments, restoration and all those matters, the factor of corruption was known. Many people have also been tried for cases of corruption.  Many custodian departments’ officers have faced corruption and also convicted. But that is still going on.

KL: How you struggled to reclaim your property that was occupied while you were in hospital?
SAS: I fought litigation for this house in which were are sitting.  I fought from 1959 to 1965.  I was practicing at that time in Rajouri and was following my case in Jammu.  I think in 1966 a decree was passed in my favor, and the occupier agreed that I will leave after one year. Then he vacated.  Till then, it remained with him. It is difficult job to reclaim your property.

KL: It would have been equally difficult for other people?
SAS: Most of the people can’t do this. I was advocate and ran here and there, had circle of advocates with me who came to my rescue. That way we got it back. How can you get it back? People sell the property then to the person who is in occupation.  This generally happens.  Who will restore possession to the person who is in minority, shelter-less, moneyless?  So this remains with those who occupied it.  You may contest your cases, get your decree but it is difficult to implement.  That is also what the government felt that if we can’t give it to them, let us give them compensation.  Even compensation is a long process.

KL: People who returned reclaimed their properties?
SAS: In some cases, people were compensated but the possession was not restored.  Restoration is socially impossible because it is an area where you are a minority. Can you survive amongst them by displacing them?  You can only survive by winning over them.  That is why resettlement act was opposed for the reason that these people come here and reclaimed their properties.  And we will have to leave them. Resettlement act became issue in elections.

KL: How is Jammu changing now, a new Jammu coming up from Sidhra to Bathindi?
SAS:  Those are areas where people are trying to settle because there is harsh winter in many parts of Jammu province. They come here for education.  And then you know disturbances in Kashmir.  All these communities are brought about by the militancy.  Otherwise this would not have happened.  People want some shelter. There is a ceasefire which can be broken any time. People want to get education, want to settle somewhere in life, want to save their girls, mothers. They don’t want to go through this ordeal.

KL: As MP, what were the biggest challenges?
SAS:  I thought to project the sufferings of Kashmiris.  I did try. I have some of my contribution in parliament.  This is a book in which there are questions I have asked in parliament.

KL: Have you written something beyond this as well?
SAS:  I have written poetries but that is in press. I started to write in 1962-63. There are old poems in that as well.

KL: Your poetry is romanticism or narcissism?
SAS:  No. The poetry is about many things.  About condition of people here, about the future which mankind is facing, about religion also.  It is a mixed bag.

KL: How do you see another lawyer from Jammu, Muhammad Aslam Goni, who is very close to Dr Farooq Abdullah?
SAS:  Goni sahib is not so much of a lawyer but he is more devoted to other things like politics and playground.  He has other activities also.  He is not a regular in courts.  A lawyer has to be regular because he owes it to the person who has entrusted his case to him.  He has to be in touch with the client.

KL: His doings in playground is in newspapers. Do you go through that?
SAS:  I sometimes hear it in court. When I have to wait for my turn, his lawyers is discussing the case. I don’t take interest in all this. I don’t know what is happening.

KL: Does things like this impact the stature of once your godfather, Dr Farooq Abdullah?
SAS:  I think it should not happen like this but it can possibly happen.  These things are taken very seriously by the general public. Earlier these misunderstandings are removed, the better.  Farooq sahab has a career and responsibility in J&K to accomplish and he is successor of Sheikh sahab.  We want that he built a clean image for the people to follow. That is our submission. We can’t get another Farooq Abdullah in place of this gentleman.

KL: Do you think his image needs a dry clean?
SAS:  All images everywhere are like that. Anyways, in political life, mud slinging is there.  This does take place in political life and he knows that this does happen.  Therefore he takes it in his own stride.  He is not generally worried about these things.  That is why he survives.  These things do happen in society.  But Farooq sahab is otherwise a very good hearted person.  He wants good for the people.  He has, after all, an impact, stature and history.  It will be a loss to lose him.  He is a minister in India but I think people of Kashmir need his service more than that. But he knows better in the circumstances in which he is placed. I think he is a wise man.

KL: Should the father and son exchange places?
SAS:  It is for them to decide.  Omar has also now experience of three to four years.  Also, at the centre, he had experience.  We hope he will do well, provided he is properly advised. I think Omar can also do well.  After all, it is this gentleman who has to work.  We can only pray.

KL: Do you think an experience of three to four years is enough to run India’s most sensitive state?
SAS:  No, the state is not being run by him alone.  He has advisors. He can properly run the state provided he is well advised.  He is trying to do his best.  Mistakes do take place but I think there was some mistake or some decision which led to the episodes in Kashmir where we unfortunately lost over a 100 innocent boys in 2010.  That is very sorry thing which took place.  But for that, he had a good stature and place. I hope this is not repeated.  After all, in a tug of war for power, there are people who want to deride each other and lessen their image in the public. In any case, I hope they should be able to do it and Farooq sahib should give more time to J&K.

KL: How often you and Dr Farooq Abdullah meet?
SAS:  Unless I am called. Not otherwise. Uninvited, I don’t go. What is the fun?

KL: Did you felt scared in 2010 when economic blockade was enforced on the rest of the state?
SAS:  That did not affect us because we were in Jammu.  So we never thought that we will be without necessities of life. Till Jammu, they were bound to get it because up to this place, they did not want to stop. It was foolish. They should not have done this.  I think Israel does this. J&K is a complicated state. Anything can happen anytime.

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3 Comments

  1. It was worth reading. After a long time and i presume for me it was first time to read an eye witness account.
    Good job done Kashmir Life and well done Tasavur

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