Pushed to the sidelines, the history of the erstwhile principality of Poonch has been largely ignored in understanding the Kashmir conflict. While the region has witnessed many demographic upheavals, a local historian has made tremendous contribution to the region sliced by 1947 partition, RS Gull reports.
From legendry writer Krishan Chander to the world famous environmental attorney MC Mehta, Poonch claims many big shots of history had their roots in this mountainous region. But, as the boys grew up, they left for larger markets creating voids still waiting to be filled, especially after 1947 when the region witnessed many demographic upheavals. Khush Dev Maini, however, continued writing on the region even when he was in the government. Post retirement, he stayed put in the town and is literally the sole spokesman of the erstwhile principality.
“It is not a problem that is endemic to the Poonch alone,” Maini says at his up-market residence. “The problem is much worse on the other side (of LoC) where most of the people study and then leave for Saudi Arabia to earn.” Maini has been writing for the region sliced by the partition since 1974 and most of his books are actually consumed by the market on the other side, especially after the Chakan-da-Bagh opened for divided families in 2005.
Maini has 60 TV serials to his credit and around 500 documentaries on the socio-historic legacy of the region. A poet and a prolific writer, he has penned 25 books on various historical aspects of the region so far. “Even before the partition, there was nothing as history of Poonch. Only an outsider Mohammad Din Fouq had come to collect the histories of the clans living in the area,” Maini said. “In 1988, I wrote the first history of the region and it was a classic and basic work and since then there is no looking back.”
With masters in mathematics, Maini was appointed in J&K’s planning department. He wrote the history of Poonch, both in English and Urdu, the history of Rajouri and, more recently in 2006, the histories of the 15 sub-states that made the erstwhile Poonch state. “The history of the tribes was written purposely to contribute to the efforts of India and Pakistan to help the region bridge the gaps that 1947 and the post-partition era conflicts created,” Maini said. “History is history, you may like or dislike it but you can’t change it.”
What is special about Maini’s writings is that he has market on both sides of the divide. Once his book is out, it goes off the market within days. “The region on the other side of the LoC always has an appetite for what I am writing and sometimes it creates a situation that people go to the local library, take the book, claim they lost it and pay the costs and leave,” Maini said. “Sometimes people come with recommendations from very senior political leaders of the PaK to take books from me.” Interestingly, Maini is a one-man show. He writes, edits, prints, publishes and markets his books, single-handedly.
Irshad Mehmood is one of the frontline Kashmir writers in Pakistan. Last time, Miani said, Irshad visited him in Poonch he said his Prime Minister has told him not to return without getting the books from Miani. “I had to arrange and oblige my friend,” he said. When Maini wrote his first book and a copy reached Rawlakot, the main town on the other side of the LoC in Poonch, he got an offer from the PaK administration that they would publish it with a change in certain phrases.
Then, Miani said, I was a literal novice in understanding the issue of Kashmir. “I had written that the tribal people (who attacked Kashmir in 1947) were plunderers and in response the PaK leaders suggested me to understand the terror and suppression of the Dogra armies that actually led to the 1947,” Miani said. “Syed Mehmood Azad wrote me that had there not been the atrocities of 1947 by the Dogra army, PaK might not have existed.”
The major and initial battle against the Dogra regime started in April 1947 from Rawlakot and many months later it impacted Kashmir with the fall of Hari Singh in Srinagar. While history mentions his fleeing from Srinagar in October, mainline histories have rarely mentioned his first mid-night flight from Rawalkote in April 1947 when he mistook the assembly of world war veterans as his enemies.
“This region has always remained a battleground, especially to defend Kashmir from the days of Laltadatiya in 631 AD,” Maini said. “So the region has suffered immensely every time”. His analysis suggests that almost all the ethnic units of the erstwhile state of J&K are intact – Dogras, Buddhists, Kashmiris, Baltis, Gilgitis. “Only the Pahari’s are sliced and it has created a colossal emotional load that I am trying to soothe by my writings.”
Post partition, Poonch remained in turmoil for a long time. Maini said, “While the division sliced the region triggering massive migrations and divisions, the subsequent wars especially in 1965 led to untold miseries in addition to another spell of migrations to the other side.”
“We lived the uncertain era till 1962 because of the UN interventions threw up various options including Poonch being given to Islamabad,” Maini said. “As we started settling the 1965 war broke out. In a way, the region started living normally only after 1972 and till then many decades had gone by and we stayed impoverished and backward.”