The Great Gama and the Migration

Verinag, is a small town in Islamabad, South of Kashmir. Apart from being a tourist spot, it’s also the major source of the River Jhelum. Springs or nags as Kashmiris call it, are also sites of pilgrimages for the Hindu community in Kashmir.

On the way to Verinag, lies the small village of Kapron close to the restive district of Kulgam. With its picturesque valley and a dense forest, Kapron was a busy village in the late 20th century.

Kapron had iron ore that was mined by Kashmiris to make agricultural implements. In Kashmiri, an ironsmith is called a ‘Khar’. After the Treaty of Amritsar, Kashmir was sold by the British to the Dogras. The Hindu supremacist Dogra regime suffocated Kashmiri industries with exorbitant taxation especially on Kashmiri Muslims.

One of the families that were in the business of iron, Khars or Bhats of Kapron suffered tremendous losses. They left their properties and their homeland, escaping from the tyrannical tax system.

During the middle of the 19th century, especially during the Dogra rule, there were mass migrations of Kashmiri Muslim families towards Amritsar and Sialkot. With local industries and trade owned by Kashmiri Muslim families coming under ruthless taxation, that later led to the uprising of the shawlweavers also called the Shalbaf revolt in 1865.

Among the illustrious descendants of the refugees/migrants were Allama Iqbal, Sadat Hasan Manto, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Nawaz Sharif, Sheikh Rashid, Ali Azmat Butt, Farhan Saeed etc.

According to Jalal ud Din Shah, an oral historian, the Khar-Bhat family that too had to leave their family business in Kapron, and later settle down in Amritar. On 22nd of May 1878, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat was born to the émigré from Kapron.

From his childhood, Ghulam Mohammad was into the traditional sport of wrestling. His father Muhammad Aziz, was also a wrestler. By the time he was ten, he was winning wrestling bouts and local tournaments.

After remaining undefeated in British India, he moved to foreign shores in 1910. There he fought Stanislaus Zybysko, in his first fight, pinning him down in less than a minute. Later, Zybysko never showed up in the rematch. Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, became the World Heavyweight Champion. Ghulam Mohammad Bhat was now known as ‘The Great Gama’.

In his 50-year career as a professional wrestler, he remained undefeated. In 1947, The Great Gama, like the migration of his ancestors, left for the new state of Pakistan.

In 1963, the Great Gama lost his only battle, with life. He passed away in Lahore.

His legacy had even inspired the legendary Bruce Lee. The legendary Lee had remarked that he followed the vigorous training regiment, that Gama was famous for.

His grand-daughter, Kalsoom Nawaz born to a Kashmiri Doctor, who is from the Reshi lineage of Kashmiris. She married Nawaz Sharif who is from the Ahanger family but is also a Bhat. Nawaz Sharif’s family had also migrated from Shopian which is close to Kulgam. His family is also believed to have been in the iron trade.

Nawaz Sharif’s fierce rival Sheikh Rashid is also from Kashmir. Sheikh Rashid during his tenure as the Information and Broadcasting Minister in the then General Musharaf government had sought permission to travel to his motherland.

Sheikh Rashid’s request had been welcomed by the then Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed, who had said, “People go from here. People from Pakistan can (also) come here. Sheikh Rashid is most welcomed here. He is a Kashmiri. He has many relatives here.”

Rashid had played an important role during the beginning of the armed-uprising in Kashmir in 1989.

While he wanted to go back and meet his entire generation of cousins in Habba Kadal, Srinagar. His request was never entertained by the Indian Government.



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