In 1992 three Pulwama villages invoked draw-of-lots to decide where their faith-healer Syed Gayas-ud-din Bukhari should stay. Babhaar, a dusky Pulwama hamlet won. Quickly, the god-man migrated out of his native Rupwen village in Budgam.
Bukhari’s murid (follower), sheep-herder Dost Muhammad Wagay gave-up sheep-husbandry and followed his Pir to Babhar. As a watchman of Pir’s new home, Dost stayed put there, ever since.
The new Babhar residence of the Pir remained crowded with his followers, who visited him regularly. For establishing a spiritual centre by Pir, Babhar’s four zamindars (landowners) — Syeda Begum (Mrs Abdul Ahad Malik), Ghulam Mohammad Mir, Farooq Ahmad Sheikh, and Ali Mohammad Sheikh — gifted land. Pir’s popularity had surged donations and offerings. Within a decade, Pir’s new residence flourished into a vibrant spiritual centre, attracting people from all social and economic classes.
“Even the rich and influential would pay a visit here,” says Dost Muhammad, now a frail elderly in his 60’s.
The seminary known as Darul Aloom Rohani Markaz, tucked inside dense apple orchards, is spread over 6.6 kanals. Inside the walled seminary, air of tranquility and silence pervades. Shrubs and evergreens encircle its manicured garden.
Amidst this serene quietude stand a couple of structures. Right at the entry, a two-level concrete and glass structure, painted in white and green, greets a visitor. It is the Rohani Markaz (spiritual centre).
“This is the place where Pir Sahib used to sit with his followers,” explains Dost Muhammad. “It is now locked, but if you peep through the glass windows you can see his framed pictures inside.”
On the right side is a well furnished white varnished mosque, decked with traditional pagoda-style tin roof. Abutting the mosque on the far side rests Bukhari in his tomb.
Pir’s loyal followers still visit his white-washed brick and mortar tomb — burning incense sticks around it, hanging garlands, tying votive threads on the window handle bars. They donate money in the brown steel safe that sits comfortably at the tomb’s entrance.
“His murids regularly visit the shrine and organize niyaz (a feast in somebody’s memory),” Dost Muhammad informed while advising to remove shoes before stepping on the tomb steps.
There are other structures around also. A two storey building used as a dormitory for the students of the Darul Aloom, a concrete one storey building where the Pir used to sit after migration, a big store house, and a stone plinth of an abandoned construction — now converted into a kitchen garden.
“Previously this place thrived on the footfalls,” says Dost, “politicians, police officers would come here. It was always a lively place.” But not anymore.
Currently, all is not well with this serene habitat. After Pir’s death in March 2009, the 6.6 kanal property has turned into a site of dispute, dividing relatives and the villagers. The centre for community’s spiritual growth has now become a devise issue.
The division is unique. On one side stands Pir’s 58-year-old son Syed Mukhtar Ahmad Bukhari, and Majeed, one of the land donors. Opposing them are Syed Bashir Ahmad Andrabi (Pir’s son-in-law) and the three remaining land donors. The dispute is already seven year old. They lodged FIRs and petitioned courts, and on one occasion, entered into physical brawl also.
Pir’s son Mukhtar and his supporters hold that since the seminary’s property belonged to the Pir, his children are its natural and legal inheritors.
Opponents, however, contend that the land was gifted for building a religious institution — a Takeer (Trust) — and not as a personal property.
“When my illiterate father and aunt [Syeda Begum] donated their ancestral land they did it for the sole purpose of establishment of a Trust,” says Abdul Qayoom, son of a land-donor Ghulam Muhammad Mir. “After Pir’s death, his son, who had rarely visited the seminary, claimed ownership.”
Qayoom alleges that Mukhtar even sold seminary’s land at Sombur, in Pampore outskirts, which Pir had purchased from the donations raised at Babhar centre.
But Mukhtar refutes the allegation. “We (one son and four daughters of Bukhari) are the rightful owners of everything that our father owned, and only an owner can sell the property,” he explained.
What makes the case a curious family dispute over property is the presence of Syed Bashir Ahmad, Pir’s son-in-law, in the opposition camp. Working in Handicrafts department, he lives in Srinagar. Presently, the seminary is in occupation of the group that Bashir supports.
Qayoom says more than 100 students are currently enrolled in the seminary, functioning under the guidance of Maulana Shakeel ul Rehman. “It was the wasiyat (will)” says Qayoom, “of the Pir Sahib that Syed Bashir Ahmad should become his spiritual janasheen (successor)”.
Mukhtar neither accepts his brother-in-law as Bukhari’s ‘spiritual’ successor nor does he accept that the land, including the seminary, belongs to any institution.
“My brother-in-law in cahoots with the other party started this dispute,” Mukhtar said. “He claimed he is entitled to care-taking of the property. However, we filed a case in the civil court against him and the Pulwama court has issued a stay order, barring his entry into the premises.”
Qayoom argues that seminary cannot become a personal property because different government departments have also donated to it: toilets by Block Development Office, funds donated by MLAs and Deputy Commissioner, and RDA.
“Actually it is our land donated for a purpose,” explains Qayoom. “If they try to make it a personal property we will take it back.”
When the property transfer was under process in 2010, the opposing group had submitted their objections to the Additional DC Pulwama before 90 days. But, they alleged, a revenue officer was influenced to ensure the land ownership to Pir’s son.
Three years ahead of his death, Qayoom claims, Pir had written a wasiyat stating the property belongs to the Trust and there are witnesses to vouch for that. These documents, however, were kept by a judge.
Mukhtar alleged that his opponents joined by Maulvi Shakeel ur Rehman started Darul Aloom after evicting his family forcefully from the property in June 2010.
“We had to leave as we feared for our lives,” says Mukhtar. “We had no other option. The case is now pending with DC Pulwama.”
On June 26, 2010 at 5 pm, according to Mukhtar, some 5 to 7 people barged into the seminary premises wielding sticks. They attacked his family and few other people. Mukhtar was with a neighbour at the time, but his son was at the seminary. In the melee one Mohammad Abbas Sheikh was critically injured and hospitalised.
But the opposing group has a different narration about the June 26 incident. They allege that men supporting Mukhtar attacked their women Syeda Begum and Saja Begum, then in their 60’s.
Both the groups registered cases against each other with police. “We lodged an FIR against physical assault. They lodged a counter FIR alleging molestation of old women,” says Abdul Majeed, another resident whose family had also donated 2 kanals of land to the Pir in 1998. But unlike other three families he supports Mukhtar’s right to inheritance, insisting the land transfer to the Pir was through a gift deed.
“The Quran and Sharia makes the inheritance clear,” says Majeed, “Property transfers to legal heirs. The land was given to Pir in 1992 and till 2009 there was no Darul Aloom around. He died in 2009 and after three months the property was transferred to his children.”
Majeed alleges that opponents have “forcefully” brought poor kids from remote corners of Kashmir to the seminary to keep it running. “At the moment, i guess, there must be barely 15 students enrolled. They just want to make money through it. They want the donated land back and talk of Trust is just a smokescreen,” he says.
But why didn’t police help them if the court, as he claimed, had ruled in their favour?
“I approached the police several times. Even I visited the then SSP. But they are dragging the case. Police informed the court that they failed to locate the disputed land site!”
Police, this writer talked to, said they are not authorised to talk. Off the record, however, they said the jurisdiction of the case lies with the revenue authorities. “Legally speaking, we can just provide protection but cannot evict any party,” says a police man at Police Station Pulwama.
Qayoom alleges that Majeed is siding with Mukhtar because one of his relatives, the erstwhile general secretary of the Trust, has misappropriated cash and gold that came as donation.
“He was the bank account holder on behalf of the Trust and I have evidences against him,” alleges Qayoom. “He used Rs 75 lakh of seminary money for the construction of his own house.’’
Majeed refutes these allegations.
Mukhtar, a deputy secretary in Legislative Assembly, says the land donators lack even a shred of evidence to prove that they gave land for the Trust.
“It is a 20 years old thing,” says Mukhtar, “why was the Trust not legally registered in these years? When he (Pir) was alive why didn’t they ask him to register the Trust? If the lands transfer documents were executed in 1995 why didn’t they follow it up till 2009?”
Admitting to the existence of a “religious centre” on the site, Mukhtar said: “it is our pesha [profession] and our livelihood depends on it. Our forefathers too were part of it. We are in this business for the last 100 years or so.”
Hinting at the traditional association of certain castes with the pesha, Mukhtar says his brother-in-law is no Andrabi, but a Shah. “His claims on enrolment make no sense as the property ultimately belongs to me. They are just illegal trespassers occupying the premises against court orders,” asserts Mukhtar.
Talking strictly within the legal framework of inheritance, Mukhtar admitted selling a land plot at Druss. “Suppose I have intention to build a mosque but I die suddenly and I have legal heirs, isn’t it their choice whether they build it or not?” he asked. “His (Pir’s) intentions were indeed noble, but he couldn’t complete it, so what can one do! It is now the discretion of his legal heirs whether they want to continue their father’s mission or use it for their own purpose. Others have no business meddling in this.” He said same argument holds true for another land sale at Sombur.
Asked about his father’s intention in purchasing the Sombur land, Mukhtar explained thus: “If Mirwaiz Kashmir purchases a land that does not mean that he will necessarily build a mosque everywhere.”
“One has his family to look after also. Rohaniyat (spirituality) is fine but one has to live also.”
At ground zero, the new generation is cracking jokes. “The Pir duped the naïve peasants,” one young man, claiming to be equidistant from the warring factions, said. He, however, believed the seminary, if permitted to grow, would contribute positively to the community.
“If the Pir has transferred the seminary property to his heirs, it is a clear case of fraud,” said Tariq Ahmad, a PhD scholar and a Babhar native. “Such cases have made people increasingly wary about pir-muridi system.”
Interestingly, the faith in Pir was unquestioned among warring factions. Village majority believes that Wasiyat must prevail.
Interestingly, the watchman Dost Muhammad’s existence is lost to the parties. He has diligently taken care of the seminary for the last 20 years, at times even sleeping empty stomach. He does not get any salary, but his solemn faith in his Pir keeps him going. Elderly Dost somehow managing a meagre sustenance, tending the kitchen garden and doing the domestic chores.
“Pir Sahib told me,” Dost said with a clear conviction in his soft voice, “If I work here, I will get great rewards in the life hereafter.”
First published in Kashmir Life on 21 June 2016: http://www.kashmirlife.net/godmans-goose-issue-14-vol-08-108835/