‘It’s not right to ask for taking back Yusuf Chak’s remains’

  • Saqib Malik
  • Publish Date: Apr 21 2016 2:45PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 21 2016 2:46PM
‘It’s not right to ask for taking back Yusuf Chak’s remains’

The resting place of Kashmir’s last sovereign ruler in faraway Bihar lies in disrepair. Its caretaker narrates a tale of public apathy and state neglect

Yasir Rashid Khan is a keeper of Kashmir’s national memory. He is from Bihar. Yasir, like generations of his family before him, is the caretaker of the tomb of Yusuf Shah Chak, the last sovereign ruler of Kashmir deposed and exiled by the Mughals in 1586, in Biswak village of Bihar’s Nalanda district. It’s no easy job, mind you. Yasir has even received death threats for opposing encroachments at the tomb. He has long been campaigning for the restoration of the tomb, seeking help from both the governments of both Bihar and J&K. His appeals have gone unheard so far, but Yasir is not one to give up. Speaking over the phone with Kashmir Ink,Yasir urges the Bihar and J&K governments to work together to preserve the tomb. He is, however, against exhuming Chak’s remains and reburying them to Kashmir, as some people here have demanded. It just isn’t right, he says.

Excerpts from the interview:

 How did you become the caretaker of the Yusuf Shah Chak's grave?

About five years ago, I came to know that workers and machines laying a road in Biswak were destroying parts of the tomb my ancestors had looked after for ages. As a child I would hear my elders say our family was from Kashmiri Chak village, so named after Yusuf Shah Chak, a Kashmiri king who had lived and died there. I would hear stories about his wars, how he was deceitfully deposed, imprisoned and exiled. So, I went to the village and objected to the road construction work being done close to the grave. I met the Circle Officer of Islampur and told him about the harm being done. I soon resigned from my government job to look after the tomb full time. My uncle who is a lawyer helped me become the caretaker through the local Wakf Board.


What’s the present condition of the tomb. Do you get visitors?

 I have approached the local Wakf to collect details of the tomb land that has been occupied; even cows and goats graze there. There are no curious visitors as the tomb is in bad shape. In 1977, Sheikh Abdullah had visited the grave along with the historian M Y Taing. There is even a road here named after Sheikh Abdullah. There are no amenities for visitors near the tomb. There is a 450-year-old mosque near the tomb which has been restored. We organise prayers in the mosque although hardly any Muslims reside around this place.


 Is anything been done to restore and preserve the tomb?

We have been measuring the land around the grave with the administrations help to identify encroachments. I have been getting death threats for opposing the illegal encroachments. Sheikh Abdullah had promised to preserve the tomb and develop the area around it but that never happened. I propose that governments of J&K and Bihar build a non-profit institution or a school in the memory of Yusuf Shah Chak near the tomb. I have personally met Bihar government officials and pleaded them to help restore the tomb and preserve it, but to no avail. Recently though, the Union Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla has directed the Nalanda district administration to restore the tomb. But before they undertake any fortification work, they must be made better aware of the place, especially the six-seven acres of land that surrounds the tomb. See, the grave of another saintly person, Peer Mohammad Gauri, is also located in this compound. And according to historians like M Y Taing, even the grave of Habba Khatoon, Yusuf Shah Chak’s wife, is here.


So, how do you think they should go about the task of retoring and preserving the tomb?

The land around the tomb must be cleared of illegal encroachments. The graves of Yusuf Shah Chak and Habba Khatoon should be identified and restored properly. The surrounding area should be developed and tourist facilities and sign boards put up to attract visitors. This has to be done. If the government does not pay heed, I will go on a hunger strike.

You have written many times to the J&K government for help in restoring Chaks tomb. Have you got any response?

 I have sent messages to Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and the late Mufti Sayeed, but to no avail. I have written 25 letters or so but have never received any response from Kashmir. There wasn›t any response even to my invitation for an annual Urs at the tomb which we have been organising for years now. Separately, the minister Haseeb Drabu had once said he would speak with the Bihar government about the tomb, but never did. I had really hoped he would intervene. It›s unfortunate that most Kashmiris don’t even know much about their great ruler. In contrast, I have written articles about Chak here and received a great response from people in Bihar.


Some sections of the Kashmiris want Chak's mortal remains to be brought back from Bihar. What do you think about that?

 It's not right to dig up a grave and remove the mortals remains from it. That would be a violation of the sanctity of the grave. I just want to tell the people of Kashmir that if you really love your king so much then help restore this heritage and preserve his legacy rather than demand that the sanctity of his grave be violated. We love this king as much the people of Kashmir do.