Conflict

From paddy fields to political haven: Hyderpora’s defiant evolution

What used to be a simple agrarian community had to fast shed its image amid tumultuous political events in Kashmir. And today, as a signpost of defiance, Hyderpora has become more than an address of new Srinagar.  

At a stone’s throw from Hurriyat patriarch Syed Ali Geelani’s Hyderpora address, pro-freedom slogans are booming in the marketplace. At the heart of the rage is the charged crowd of youngsters—wearing masks, balaclavas and bandanas—sloganeering against Indian rule. Behind the fresh fury are the recent civilian killings in south Kashmir.

Since the 2016 uprising, post-Friday prayer protest from the lawn of Jamia Masjid Hyderpora has become a routine, drawing a drove of spectators around.

Among these spectators is a man who was at the forefront when Kashmir started its initial resistance against Indian rule in the name of the Plebiscite Front.

That was 5 decades ago; and today, Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh is one of those few surviving men who’s witness to the changes and transitions in the landscape and politics of this uptown area of Srinagar.

Watching the protest scenes from his hardware shop opposite to Jamia Masjid along with few other middle-aged men, Sheikh talks about Hyderpora’s long history, patting on the shoulder of a man to get his attention.

“Have you ever heard that this chowk was burnt by armed forces to flush out tribesmen during tribal raid in the later part of 1947,” he sets the tone of the talk.

Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh

Speaking of the political shifts in the area in accordance with the entire valley, Sheikh stresses that the terrain has also changed drastically. The construction of the New Airport Road and the Highway attracted the upper class families from different parts of the valley to the area, otherwise surrounded by open paddy fields and green woods with few native households on either sides of the main road.

“Hosting migration almost from every corner of Kashmir,” the octogenarian trader says, “Hyderpora’s landscape has changed drastically.”

On the other side of the road, protests end up peacefully after almost half an hour, and so has the argument between Sheikh and company.

“No doubt the natives of this Hyderpora were mostly pro-Abdullah with few Bakshi supporters as well. But at the same time, we cannot neglect the fact that how few young men were later attracted by the likes of Saad-u-din Tarbali,” he continues, stressing that Jama’at-e-Islami hardly had any footprints in Hyderpora before 1985.

But after 1987 MUF elections were rigged, he says, the area didn’t step back to the change, “as among the first insurgents of 90s belonged to this very place.”

Amid the thawed tempers in the marketplace, an old man Jallaldun Bhat aka Jali Kak walks as one of the last men from Jamia Masjid lawn. He seems miffed.

“This is the price we’re paying for selling our gold to those who’re enjoying a much better life and that too in neighborhoods that belonged to us at some point of time,” Kak says, sarcastically.

The situation of the road is pathetic, as it has been left incomplete after drainage construction. The point Kak is trying to make is that all the colonies surrounding Hyderpora have a drainage system and proper road construction.

Living at a 3-minute walk from Jamia Masjid, Kak has been visiting the mosque five times for all his life and calls himself the most blessed to see the shrine of Syed Hyder Simnaani [RA] after every prayer.

Shrine of Syed Hyder Simnaani

“We’ve heard from our elders that Syed Hyder Simnaani was among the seven hundred companions of Mir Syed Ali Hamdani who had come to spread the message of Islam in this Brahaman valley,” says Kak, pointing his right hand towards the shrine of the sufi saint.

In his late 80s, Kak speaks of his childhood when this green area had a few households on the either sides of the road and a stream that had started flowing on the direction of the saint Simnaani.

“When Syed Seab along with his disciple had reached this place, it was an open green field, with no household but a nomad and his flock. Having refused to leave the place, the nomad had no other choice but to leave after bees out of nowhere stormed his flock,” Kak continues.

Then on the saint’s invitation, he says, the Dar families living almost 3 km from the place came to live here on a condition that arrangement of water will be made for them. “Using his stick, Syed Saeb directed the water from the river away from the area and the stream started flowing through this area.”

While moving his hands on his snow white beard, Kak says, this is how life started in this place which soon was to be known by the name of Hyderpora with Syed Hyder Simnaani resting in its heart.

The water stream that was the main source of water in the area for decades has faded with time. Now, it only exists in memories of few people like Kak.

“The life here was simple and full of poverty,” says Abdul Rehman Bhat, a local resident, in his mid 80s. “But almost everyone had some land for paddy and vegetables. Every household had a cow, flock of sheep and variety of hens and ducks.”

Post-1975, Hyderpora started changing, when locals working as kraal (potter), thanthur (coppersmith), neavid (barber), khaar (ironsmith) started giving up their family professions, Rehman says. “The reason was the political scenario, pumping in money and introducing a new lifestyle.”

As the area had a strong base for National Conference, Rehman was among the first locals to change that by hosting the cleric Mohammad Yousuf Shah for ijtimas along with few other young men. Later, Shah became Salahudin, and headed pro-Pakistan militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen.

“Despite having a different political inclination, the people of this area always kept their brotherhood alive and gave space to many ideologues,” Rehman says. “It was one of the reasons Hyderpora became a safe ground for so many people from different backgrounds amid the bloodcurdling campaign of nineties.” Even during the Ikhwan period, he says, this area remained peaceful.

But the massive migration overnight turned open paddy fields of Hyderpora into posh colonies. Many new structures came to be known as political sanctuaries—sheltering the beleaguered resistance supporters and leaders.

Nearby Jamia Masjid Hyderpora is the house of Abdul Gaffar Bhat, famously known as Hanif Hyder during his days as commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. In a room with almost a dozen shelves filled with books, Bhat is sitting in a corner holding pen and paper on his writing table.

Hyderpora crossing

“People here have never been pro-NC or pro-Congress or pro-Jama’at,” Bhat says, continuing his writing with a pause. “They were always pro-anything they believed could end the oppression and occupation.”

Bhat believes that people were not supporting Abdullah but the mission of the Plebiscite Front and when there was a backlash, Bakshi was there to rescue. “Bakshi’s term helped people to overcome the extreme hardship, but does accepting those relaxations made people pro-Bakshi?” he asks, explaining how youth later found Jama’at-e-Islami a reasonable one to support, for getting rid of “occupation”.

“Now the question is, did Jama’at prove to be a right choice?” he says. “History has its answers, as soon people were holding guns to take occupation head-on.”

But when state backlash against Jama’at workers started, Nazir Ahmad Dar, the local Jamat-e-Islami head, saw a new entrant in Hyderpora, whose presence and politics was to change the place—making it a new signpost of resistance—in years to come. He was Syed Ali Geelani.

“Living in a room on rent here, Geelani Sab in no time started Jama’at activities in the area along with few locals specially late Ghulam Qadir Sofi,” Dar says. “With little support, the regular Ijtimaas were held consistently in different households. Introduction of a new face and household was equally becoming a game changer in the politics of the area.”

Dar argues that Hurriyat’s ground gaining dominance in the area wasn’t a surprise. “Since Geelani was well introduced through his Jama’at activities here, therefore he and his tribe didn’t need a reintroduction.”

Back at main Hyderpora square, Sheikh is rushing to close the shutters of his shop, as stones have suddenly started falling from everywhere. Armed men have arrived in the area and are chasing boys, disappearing in the alleys, chanting, ‘Cheen kay laengay…’

 

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