Yasin Valley, about 148 kilometers from the city of Gilgit was once a separate state with its own rulers before it was occupied by the Dogra Rulers of Jammu & Kashmir. Its Rajas were great warriors who had a history of fighting against and repulsing the armies of the Sikhs and the Dogras. Below here is an account of a massacre of the people of Madoori village in Yasin by the Dogra soldiers after they had attacked the state in 1863. A well known nineteenth-century explorer, George W Hayward had come to this region in 1870 to explore Pamir and to find the origin of Oxus when he met the people of Yasin and was told about the havoc wreaked by the Dogras in Madoori village in 1863. In one of his letters to Culcutta newspapers, he wrote:
Camp Yasin, 7th March 1870.
As I venture to hope the Indian public regard with somewhat of interest the success of British enterprise, and the results of geographical explorations and scientific research in Central Asia, I take the opportunity of sending to India a brief resumé of the progress of the Pamir expedition up to date; and what is of far greater importance, a history of the events which have occurred in the countries trans Indus during the past twelve years.
My present communication having special reference to the aggressions of the Maharaja of Kashmir in the Gilgit Valley, I proceed to lay before you a relation of the occurrences with which I have become acquainted. The countries of Chitral and Yasin have been from time immemorial under the rule of the ancestors of the present Chief, Raja Aman-i-Moolk, while the present Yasin Chief in descended from a branch of the same family. They claim descent from Alexander of Macedon, through the Kings of Khorasan. It is certain they possess a pedigree of high antiquity and can boast an uninterrupted succession. The eldest son of the Chitral ruler takes the name of Shah Katore, which title was assumed by the grandfather of the present Chief, Aman-i-Moolk. The Chiefs of Yasin have intermarried so frequently with the family of the Shah Katore, until apart from a common descent they have become the same in their feelings and prejudices.
Even Swat can hardly be considered to be more inaccessible to Europeans on account of the bigotry and fanaticism of its inhabitants, than the countries of Chitral and Yasin. But there is this difference. While the population of Swat owns no allegiance to any ruler and acknowledges solely the spiritual authority of the Akhoond, the inhabitants of Chitral and Yasin are as much subject to their respective rulers as any serf in Russia, or fellah in Egypt or Turkey. The ablest and most energetic of these later Yasin Chieſs would appear to have been Rajah Goor Rahaman Khan, who ruled over the territories of Yasin and Gilgit from about the year 1835 to 1859, a period ever eventful in Indian History. During the reign of the Chief, Gulab Singh, the Maharajah of Kashmir, commenced active hostilities against Gilgit, after having conquered Ladakh and Baltistan. While, however, Goor Rahman was alive, the Dogras could never obtain any footing in the country across the Indus.
Dying in 1858, dissensions as to the succession arose amongst his sons; and the present Maharajah of Kashmir, who had succeeded Gulab Singh, was enabled to take advantage of the disturbed state of the country to intrigue with members of the same family. A large force of Dogra suddenly crossed the Indus at Boonji, and succeeded in establishing themselves in the fort of Gilgit, which position they have since maintained solely by force of arms. Either in ignorance of the event or from a disinclination to interfere, this act of aggression did not call down from the British Government the severe remonstrance which it so justly merited. In the treaty of 1846, between the British Government and Maharajah Gulab Singh it is stated in Article 1, “The British Government transfers and makes over forever in a dependent possession to Maharaja Gulab Singh and the heirs male of his body all the hilly or mountainous entry with its dependencies situated eastward of the River Indus and westward of the River River, including Chumba and excluding Lahoul, being part of the territory ceded to the British Government by the Lahore State according to the provisions of Article IV. of the Treaty of Lahore, dated 9th March 1846.” And again in Article IV, ” The limits of the territories of Maharajah Gulab Singh shall not at any time be changed without the concurrence of the British Government.” It will be seen that by thus crossing the Indus and annexing the territory to the westward of the specified boundary, the Maharajah of Kashmir has most signally infringed the treaty of 1816 with the British Government.
Furthermore, this treaty in being persistently infringed by the continued attempted aggression in the direction of Yarkand and Badakhshan. Since the seizure of the fort of Gilgit, the policy pursued by the officials of the Maharajah towards the several tribes has been one uniform system of intrigue and treachery. It is a striking anomaly that a court so notorious for its parsimony that of Jammu should be content to expound large sum of money yearly for the purpose of maintaining its position across the Indus. What ulterior motives the Kashmir Darbar may entertain will be presently glanced at.
After the seizure of the Gilgit fort, the Dogra lost no time in planning a further advance to Yasin or Hunza. The Yasin territory offered the greater inducement for a raid, from the country bring more fertile and productive, and the approach easier, whereas the small mountainous tract occupied by the Hanza tribe is not only most difficult of access but yields no produce which might tempt an invader. No serious expedition, however, was undertaken until the year 1863. In the spring of that year, the Dogras secretly collected a force of some 6,000 men with the intention of invading Yasin. So unexpected was this raid that they surprised the Chief and his followers, who seeing they had no chance of resisting such overwhelming odds, fled with their wives and families to the hill-fort of Madoori, six miles distant from Yasin. The Chief escaped to Chitral and the Yasin villagers who had fled for safety to the hills of Madoori, endeavored to come to terms with Hoshara, Samad Khan, Jowahir Singh; and Isa Bahadur, the petty Rajal of Ponyal, and other Dogra leaders. They were assured that no harm should befall them if they would evacuate the fort and lay down their arms. They did so in the simple faith that no injury, as sworn to on oath, should be done them. A part of the Dogras who had gone round the fort then made their appearance amongst the women and children. The men were outside the fort and unable to protect their wives and little ones, for whom they would doubtless have shed their blood had not treachery beguiled them of their weapons. The Dogras immediately commenced massacring the women and children. They threw the little ones into the air and cut them in two as they fell. It is said the pregnant women, after being killed, were ripped open and their unborn babes were hacked to pieces. Some forty wounded women who were not yet dead were dragged to one spot and were there burnt to death by the Dogra sepoys. With the exception of few wounded men and women who ultimately recovered, every man, women, and child within the fort, and in all, 1200 to 1400 of this unhappy villagers, were massacred by the foulest treachery and cruelty. After plundering the place, Yasin was burnt and all the cattle carried off, together with some 2,000 women and men. Several hundred of the poor people died from exposure and starvation before they had crossed the Indus, whilst many of the surviving prisoners are still in confinement in Kashmir, though of others, and alas the greater part, not a trace can be found. Most of the women are still in the zenanas of the Dogra leaders and sepoys.
I have visited Madoori, the scene of the massacre, and words would be inadequate to describe the touching sight to be witnessed on this now solitary and desolate hillside. After the lapse of seven years since the tragedy, I have myself counted 147 still entire skulls, nearly all those of women and children. The ground is literally white with bleached human bones and the remains of not less than 400 human beings are now lying on this hill. The Yasin villagers returned to bury their dead alter the Dogras had retired, and the skulls and bones now found at Madoori are presumably only those of villagers whore whole families perished in the massacre. At one place where the slaughter seems to have centered, are the blackened remains of rafters mixed with charred human bones. At this spot, the wounded women who were yet alive were burnt to death by the Dogra sepoys. I have seen and conversed with many orphans in the Yasin territory whose fathers, mothers, and brother all perished. One little girl of eight years of age was brought to me who at the time of the massacre was a baby at the breast, and the blow that severed her little arm slew her mother also. Her father perished likewise.
Such are the atrocities committed by men who are in the service of a feudatory of the Viceroy of India. The Dogra have twice attacked Hunza but unsuccessfully since they have each time been driven back with heavy losses. In the autumn of 1868, they invaded the country of Dilail, lying on the right bank of the Indus opposite Chilas. Fortunately, the villagers had time to place their families in safety and no women were massacred. Some 120 of the Dilail peasantry were however seized and immediately hung, the sepoys cutting at them with swords as they were hanging and still alive.
On returning from Dilail to Gilgit, the Dogra forces were caught in a heavy snowstorm on the Chonjar Pass, where nearly 150 sepoys perished from the cold. No active aggression has since occurred; but the Maharaja of Kashmir meditates further hostilities since he has pensioned a brother of the Yasin Chief, an unscrupulous villain, who has already murdered an uncle, a brother and the whole of that brother’s family, and who is now in Gilgit petitioning for troops to take Yasin and rule there on behalf of the Dogras. I have written all this in the hope that the Indian public may be made aware of what our feudatory, the Maharajah of Kashmir has perpetrated across the Indus. Apart from the infringement of any treaty, and patting all political motives side, I trust that every Englishman and Englishwoman in India will join in demanding justice upon the murderers of innocent women and children. It is now seven years since this foul massacre occurred, but though long-delayed, that redress for the grievous wrong inflicted upon them, which right and justice should not deny the poor Yasin villagers, cannot be far distant.
Excerpted from G.W. Lietner’s book “The Languages and Races of Dardistan”.