Sopore: A small Sufi shrine, located on the suburbs of Sopore town, has managed to survive the turbulent insurgency years in Kashmir, despite its perilous location inside an army camp.
The shrine of Hazrat Izzat Shah, locally known as Izzat Saeben Bouen, due to its proximity with a century-old Chinar tree, is located inside the army’s 52 RR camp on the Sopore-Tarzoo road.
The green-coloured Sufi shrine has a small hoarding at the entrance which reads, “Ziyarat Izzat Talbal Shah”, the shrine of a saint who came in 1321 to Kashmir from Kashkar Cheen along with the more famous Sufi, Bulbul Shah. A few poetic lines in Urdu are also written underneath.
The appearance of the shrine makes it obvious that it is not among the common ones. The major portion of the shrine lies inside the army camp with concertina wires laid around it. This correspondent had to take permission from an army major at the camp to click a photograph of the shrine, but was asked to make sure that the army camp did not come in the picture.
“Before the days of the insurgency, when I was very young, it was a big grave situated at the bund and everyone who used to pass this bund, especially in the morning, would pay Salam & Fatiha to this Sufi saint. But as soon as the insurgency started and the Indian forces landed in Kashmir, this location was taken by the Border Security Forces (BSF) and we stopped going there. As the years passed, what we saw was surprising: the grave is no longer just a grave but a shrine constructed by the forces themselves,” said Showkat Ahmad Ahangar, 55, a local.
“It was learnt that the BSF forces witnessed something unusual around this grave after occupying it. Some reports even suggested that they were so scared by this grave that they cleaned it, constructed a shrine, and stopped going near it,” Ahangar said.
Despite Sopore’s reputation as a hotbed of militancy, especially during the 1990s, the shrine was left virtually untouched by the forces, even as they occupied most of the area around it. As the camp is situated at one of the entry points of Sopore, there were fears that the shrine might be affected by either the presence of forces or militant attacks.
Locals say that neither the BSF nor the paramilitary CRPF, which was stationed in the camp during the 1990s, did anything to alter the character of the shrine. “The (Indian) forces were both fearful and aware of the veneration that the locals had for the shrine. They ensured that the surroundings of the shrine were clean. However, they didn’t allow people to visit the shrine, at all,” Ghulam Ahmed, a long-time resident of Sopore, told Kashmir Reader.
After the CRPF vacated the camp a few years ago, the army continued the tradition of staying off the shrine, ensuring its surroundings were clean, but disallowing devotees from visiting the place. “Initially, they barred anyone from coming close to the shrine but gradually relaxed their restrictions. However, anyone who goes to the shrine has to produce identity proof and go through several rounds of frisking and questioning, which inconveniences people,” Sartaj Dar, another local resident, said.
Interestingly, there were no more than one or two militant attacks on this camp all these past decades. Several local residents with whom this correspondent spoke asserted that the presence of the shrine was the sole reason that militants didn’t attack the camp.
“The military camp, as well as residents who live in close vicinity of it, are safe only because of this small but significant Ziyarat,” said Raja Begum, who lives a stone’s throw from the camp. He repeated a popular saying of Sheikh-Ul-Alam that “Yus Koch Zaatas, Tas Koch Aalam, Ad Kyazi Koch Nus Na Jin Ta Insaan (One who fears Allah, the world will fear him; why won’t humans and angels not fear him?)”.
A couple of years ago, a primary health centre (PHC) was established near the shrine. It is fully functional now. Although people are now free to visit the shrine, a very few do, mainly due to the apprehension of being harassed by the army personnel, who keep guard nearby.
It is hard to locate a village in the whole of Kashmir where there is not a Sufi shrine, which is why Kashmir is well-known as ‘Pir Waer’, the ‘Alcove of Sufis and Saints’. And just like this Sopore shrine, hundreds of Sufi shrines in Kashmir have survived the decades-old conflict that shows no sign of ending.