The truth behind “Khokh”

M J Aslam


Kashmiri Dictionary defines the word “Khokh” as “an effigy used to scare away birds from fields of the crop”. Its English equivalent is “scarecrow” which is used by peasants during harvest season in their farmlands to keep away the pesky birds from damaging the crop.

That said, we know that this word was used by Kashmiri parents, usually mothers, till very recent past, though it may be in use in some parts of Kashmir till date, to calm down crying babies by saying in Kashmiri ” Khokh, Khoka….Khoka Chui..”[Calm down baby, Khokh is coming] Sometimes the parent would whisper such words in the ear of the crying toddler which meant to instill a fear in the baby that some scary person or object was there around or about to come to harm him unless he stopped crying. Behind it was definitely a certain politico-historical background. Its application & use, as such, among common Kashmiris evinces its association with something or someone, the very mention of which planted scare about it in the minds of the Kashmiri children from the early days of their growth & which, ultimately, made that something or someone very dreadful and hateful in the minds & discourse of the common Kashmiris, down to the generations, even if they had never seen such dreadful & hateful thing or person/s with their own eyes.

Looking at the background of the usage of the word “Khokh” as something or someone causing fear, we find that the word had a “figurative” meaning & application among the Kashmiris. What was that scary figure?  Actually, there were two valiant tribes of Muslim warriors, named, Khokhas and Bombas, who lived along Jhelum Valley River on the other side of LOC called “Azad Kashmir”. Those tribes had been putting fierce resistance to Gulab Singh’s ruthless rule even before he had bought Kashmir valley vide notorious Treaty of Amritsar of March 1946 from the British. These brave tribesmen were a constant source of rejection & worry for Gulab Singh’s autocratic rule.

Godfrey Thomas Vigne, a highly acknowledged writer & traveler of Kashmir, as early as 1844, has been an eye-witness to the horrible cruelty of Gulab Singh against captives of Poonch Revolt against him. He describes Gulab Singh’s savagery in these words:

“….Some of his prisoners were flayed alive under his own eye. The executioner hesitated…….He then ordered one of two of the skins to be stuffed with straw; the hands were stiffened & tied in an attitude of supplication, the corpse was then placed erect, and the head which had been severed from the body was reversed as it rested on the neck. ……Gulab Singh called attention of his son to it , and told him to take a lesson in the art of governing. The heads of two of the prisoners I saw grinning from iron cages over the path…..affording a wholesome lesson to all travelers….” (Travels in Kashmir, (1844) volume 1, page 243; see also Travels in the Himalayan provinces (1837 London), Vol 2, p 132, by Sir William Moorcroft for earlier Sikh Rulers’ atrocities against Kashmiri Muslims).

Dogra rulers “immediately [after Treaty of Amritsar] set out upon a policy of unlimited cruelty that seemed to vent upon the hapless Kashmiris [Muslim] all the pent-up hatred of the Hindus for the five centuries of Muslim rule. The willing instruments of this policy became the Kashmiri Pandits, who shared with the Maharaja his contempt for his Muslim subjects”. (Josef Korbel’s Danger in Kashmir (1954) page 13). But Kashmiri-Muslims, unfortunately, failed to convert the Dogra rulers’ actual, not fanciful, injustices into legends, tales & folklore which among the communities of the world, since ancient times, have served the purpose of the oppressed people in a better & easier manner than other modes of communication in the past to pass on the “memories of oppression” successively to the future generations.

Contrary to historically recorded injustices & atrocities of Dogra rulers, against which Muslims of JK through Sheikh Abdullah & others had raised “revolt” in first half of 20th century, some Dogra & Kashmiri-Pandit writers have been showering all kinds of praise on the Dogra rulers for their arm fist & unjust governance. And, in the same breath, these writers have been demonizing those who rose in arms or without arms in a non-violent manner against the despotic rulers. While lauding the role of Dogra rulers of Kashmir, a Kashmiri-Pandit has penned down in harshest language that “Gulab Singh crushed gangs of organised plunderers & murderers in the valley and also broke the power of Bombas and Khokhas ….”. Another Kashmiri-Pandit has described the forces of resistance as “invading barbaric tribes “. These “writers” are, however, totally silent on the injustices of the Kashmiri’s despotic rulers meted out to  their Muslim subjects.

From these two small quoted passages of Kashmiri-Pandits, it could be reasonably inferred that a fear must have been created from those days of Gulab Singh’s rule among the common naïve, impoverished & illiterate Kashmiri-Muslims about the word “khokha” as a symbol of evil or demon. In psychology, it is called “demonisation” of a character which has been done in the history of mankind to pave a way for “new social order” where those who narrate it in the shape of legends, folklore & tales want to give “historical specificity” to the event/s to which such legends, etc, relate. But it seems that Kashmiri Muslims & their leaders in the past had no such “new social order” in vision, so the “status qua” continued in new shape post-1947 till now.

There are examples in history till now when legends, etc, were spread to demonize some character or group or ruler even for achieving some socio-political ends where conditions existed for that. Kashmiri-Pandits have artfully succeeded in their craft-tactics of winning the war of nerves against Kashmiri-Muslims by inventing stories against what they (Pandits) hated & wanted to be at bay insofar as to help Dogra rulers rule without “opposition” or “resistance”. A glaring example of this political-craft is the hate & fear that was created against Qabaeel/ tribesmen, under a pre-planning by NC followers & Pandits, among overwhelming Kashmiri-Muslims who had not even seen them. Kashmiri-Pandits were more aware of how history is created than their Muslim countrymen. If it were not so, then, Muslims too should have been having counter-narratives of Khokha -type against most “horrible tyranny” of Dogra rulers against Muslim subjects. Kashmiri Muslims had all material & justification to tell actual tales of their rulers’ oppression & cruelty in the same way to demonise them. But they lacked knowledge of history how stories of past sufferings are preserved for & transferred to posterity. Clearly, they didn’t have any “new social-political order” before them to follow as they seem to have remained content with their lot. Instead, they since 80 years have been guided by the mainstream leaders on a mutually damaging propaganda that damaged them mutually & no new social-political order was established in Kashmir.

The essay first appeared here

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