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MOCKING THE FRONTIER: 

THE BABA'S DARGAH AT CHAMALIYAL
 

by

Yoginder Sikand



The rickety bus from Jammu to Ramgarh, a distance of some forty kilometres, took more than two hours to reach its destination, stopping after every twenty minutes to pick up large crowds of people heading for the Sufi shrine of the Baba at Chamaliyal. It was Thursday, a day particularly important for the Sufis, and the usual Thursday festivities were being held at the shrine, located right on the Line of Actual Control that separates Pakistani- and Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Lunch at Ramgarh was simple fare--thick, hot daal and crispy rotis, washed down with a glass of sweet, frothy lassi. There had been news of heavy firing the night before between the Indian Border security Force and the Pakistan Rangers in the Samba sector, where Chamaliyal lies. Luckily, Chamaliyal had been spared the fury of the gun-shots, though it was said that some neighbouring villages on both sides of the Line of Control had been hit.

No vans or buses were plying to the border villages for fear of coming within the range of the continuing shelling. My hopes of visiting the Baba's dargah, about which I had heard so much, seemed dim, when an amiable Sikh drew up to me, leading his horse-drawn tonga. He offered to take me to the dargah for a surprisingly nominal fare. I readily agreed, and hopping into the tonga, we set off for Chamaliyal, some five kilometres away.

As the tonga wobbled along, we passed by lush green fields. Sikh families were busy harvesting their crops. Herds of buffaloes lazed around in little muddy pools, soaking in the winter sun. A family of Muslim cattle-grazing Gujjars moved ahead of us, their animals sending up large clouds of dust in the air.  Meanwhile, the tonga-driver pointed out the local sights of importance. 'Here', he said, pointing to a field bursting with bright yellow mustard flowers, 'was where more than a thousand Muslim villagers were slaughtered overnight in the violence of 1947'. And then he went on to relate a horrific tale of the bloody massacres of that eventful year, in which he and his family, along with several thousand Sikhs and Hindus, had fled across to Jammu from Sialkot, now in Pakistan, and how an equally large number of Muslims in Jammu had been pushed across into Pakistan.

An hour later, we passed by the village of Dagh, the last settlement on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. We crossed a little stream and then headed up a narrow path. When we came out into a clearing the tonga-driver pointed out to a clump of eucalyptus trees hardly a stone's -throw distance away. 'That's Pakistan', he said. A sudden wave of excitement filled me and ran down my spine. Pakistan! So close, and yet so far!

The tonga trudged down the path in the direction of the trees, streams of sweat trickling down the horse's hairy black coat. Gradually, the large bulbous dome of the Baba's dargah drew into view. We had reached Chamaliyal. At the entrance of the shrine, we were stopped by a smart uniformed Border Security Force guard. He wanted to know what I was doing in the area. 'Just a casual visitor', I said to him. That did not fully satisfy him, but he let me in, nevertheless.

The Baba's dargah is, quite clearly, an Islamic structure. His grave lies under a large, green onion-shaped dome, and in the courtyard, in the shade of a large peepul tree, are the graves of two of his closest disciples, again buried in Islamic fashion. However, since there are no Muslims any more living in the area, the shrine has been considerably Hinduised. A large, gaudy welcome arch installed by the Border Security Force with a brightly-painted Om symbol greets the visitor at the entrance of the dargah, and inside posters of various Hindu deities and figures have been stuck on the walls. No one seems to remember who the Baba actually was. Until 1947 the dargah was looked after by a Muslim family, which had to flee Chamaliyal when a wave of mass killings was unleashed on the Muslims of Jammu. Since then, because there are no more Muslims here, the shrine has been looked after by the Border Security Force, which has constructed a free community kitchen and a guest house for the large number of pilgrims who come here from all parts of northern India.
According to local legend, the Baba was a holy man who was killed in a battle with a local chieftain. Even after his head had been severed from his body, so the story goes, he kept up the fight, and finally dropped dead on the spot where his dargah stands today. Of his two closest disciples, one was martyred along with him, while the other fled the battle-field. That night the Baba appeared to the latter in a dream, and angry with him for his disloyalty, cursed him with leprosy. The next morning the man awoke to discover his body covered with sores and his limbs rotting away. He ran to the Baba's grave and begged him for pardon. The Baba then appeared once again to him in a dream and told him to rub his body with the mud from a pit near his grave and the water of a well close by and he would be cured. He did as he was told and recovered completely. Soon, the fame of the curative powers of the Baba's shrine spread far and wide, and people from all castes and communities started flocking here in the hope of curing various skin ailments. And so it remains till this very day People with all sorts of skin problems come here, and rubbing themselves with the mud of the pit, which they call shakkar or sugar, and the water of the well, stand in the sun for days on end. Scores of men and women may be seen in this condition on any day throughout the year, looking like eerie ghouls.

The Baba is equally, if not more, popular on the other side of the Line of Actual Control. Till the late 1980s Pakistani pilgrims were allowed to visit the shrine during the annual urs or fair, which is held every June. This has, however, now been stopped by the Indian authorities, unfortunately. Instead, the Border Security Force makes arrangements for the mud and water from the dargah to be transported in trucks to the border, from where the Pakistan Rangers distribute it to the devotees on the other side.
I spent an entire day at the dargah, and after a hearty lunch with a local Sikh peasant family, I strolled over to the BSF bunker just behind the shrine and looked beyond. Hardly a hundred metres away, across an imaginary frontier, were the huts of the Pakistani village of Sayyedawali, and a tall Pakistani border watch-tower, with its green and white flag fluttering merrily away in the breeze. A group of Pakistani farmers were working in their fields and a little country bus was gently rolling down a road. Just then, a flock of  birds flew overhead and went sailing right across the frontier. The senselessness of that invisible blood-stained line struck me then with a force that mere words fail to express.

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