Botraj: Over a century in exile Kashmir

Preserving culture & language amidst harsh realities

Society

January 23, 2023

/ By / Srinagar

Botraj: Over a century in exile Kashmir

Botraj is a small community that hails from Hunza valley of Gilgit-Baltistan which was exiled to South Kashmir over 130 years ago (Photo: Nazrah Khan)

Botraj is a small community that hails from Hunza valley of Gilgit-Baltistan which was exiled to South Kashmir over 100 years ago. Despite the harsh conditions of their existence, the community has tried to preserve its culture, language, and other rituals even after living in a small ghetto among the mixed communities of Kashmir.

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On an upheaved plain of Rainawari’s Kathi Darwaza in Srinagar is located the Mohalla Raja Azur Khan which has a backdrop view of Hari Parbat Fort and the area largely comprises Burusho people who are locally known as Botraj. The community is from Hunza and Yasin, in northern part of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

They were forced to move from their homes in Gilgit-Baltistan area to Srinagar in 1891 after their king was defeated in the battle against the British. Their king was captured and lodged in Hari Parbat Fort in Srinagar for six years. Around 500 of his faithful subjects and soldiers were also with him. After he was released from prison, he was kept under house arrest in various mansions in Srinagar and his subjects settled in the area under the shadow of the Hari Parbat Fort, which is where they continue to live even today, over 130 years later.

Over the past century and more, the Botraj have become a part of the socio-economic development of Kashmir and have adjusted with the other communities living around them. Despite intermingling, including weddings with the local Kashmiris, the Botraj community has managed to preserve their culture, language and traditions. The community consists of about 200 families.

The Botraj continue to speak their language despite a small number of speakers, with the elders handing over the knowledge to the young for several generations. This, they say, has helped them stay connected with their roots.

Mohammad Sadaat is a postgraduate student from Kashmir University and belongs to the Botraj community. He says he has been learning his mother tongue “Burushaski” and some tidbits of his culture from his grandfather since childhood. “I feel it is very important to keep the language alive among the new generation. If we forget our language and culture then there is no point in being part of a community who have been trying to preserve these important things for us,” Saadat tells Media India Group.

“The Burushaski is a mixture of Khajunah, Kashmiri, and Urdu and the language sounds very similar to Persian.  When we are sitting together with our family or in any gathering, we only communicate in our language, not in any other language which feels like an alien to us,’’ he adds.

The change of address is not that important to the Botraj, who insist that the most important thing is their culture and tradition. “What if we are not living in our native place or maybe it is an exile for us but we have not forgotten our culture, tradition, and rituals. We follow them with full enthusiasm and make our younger generation understand that we should value our roots and connections wherever we are. It should not happen that we are getting influenced and do not have any idea of our own culture and tradition,” says Naushad Nazreen, a 30-year-old man working in a government department in Srinagar.

“For our elders, it took a long time to adjust and settle here in this different atmosphere. Now situations have changed and we are mixing with other communities, initiating marital ties outside our community so that we can improve our relations and know each other very well,” he adds.

Though getting back to their ancestral lands in Gilgit-Baltistan may no longer be a possibility, in view of the complex situation in Jammu & Kashmir and the tensions between India and Pakistan, the Botraj are determined that just the way they have managed to preserve their traditions for over 130 years for now, they will continue to do so far centuries to come, as well.

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