"For the Conversion of Kashmir": the massacre at St Joseph's mission hospital in Baramulla
Here's the text of an article published in a book of essays - it's about the massacre at a Catholic mission in Baramulla on 27th October 1947 and the way it has been remembered and memorialised. The massacre was the central event in my book A Mission in Kashmir. I've also written on the BBC website about accompanying two of the sons of Tom and Biddy Dykes back to the spot where their parents had been killed seventy years earlier. This piece has a different focus - on the church and how it dealt with the deaths and with the dying words of one if its own.
The full reference for the piece is:
Andrew Whitehead, '"For the Conversion of Kashmir": the massacre at St. Joseph's mission hospital in Baramulla' (pp.195-212) in Religion and Politics in Jammu and Kashmir edited by Reeta Chowdhari Tremblay and Mohita Bhatia, Routledge India: London, 2021
'The Battle Field' by Felix Thenganakunel Chembery
"For the Conversion of Kashmir": the massacre at St Joseph's mission hospital in Baramulla
The sisters were, at first, not sure how - or whether - to mark the seventieth anniversary of the massacre. The death of a young Spanish nun, Sister Teresalina, and five others at St Joseph's hospital on 27th October 1947 was a defining moment in the history of the mission. It was the time that the community's faith was most keenly tested. When the survivors were evacuated almost two weeks after the attack, the ransacked mission lay abandoned - but two years later, the nuns returned. The memory of the fellow nun they regarded as a martyr was part of the imperative to resume the work of the mission. In more recent years, when the nuns' order, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, has gently suggested that the security situation merits a rethink about the future of the convent and hospital, the example of Sister Teresalina has been an important factor in the nuns' resolve to remain at Baramulla. But the contested claims to Kashmir which lay behind the killings in October 1947 remain unresolved, and the town of Baramulla and surrounding district has been at the sharp end of the conflict. Staging memorial events offered not simply logistical but also security and political challenges - not least because October 27th, regarded by the sisters as martyrs' day, is marked in Kashmir as a "black day". On the same day in 1947 that the Baramulla mission was overrun by tribal fighters from Pakistan, the first Indian troops were airlifted into the Kashmir Valley commencing a military presence that has persisted ever since.
Just as the attack on the mission in October 1947 arose from India and Pakistan's competing claims to Kashmir so too the seventieth anniversary was embroiled in the continuing conflict. The Indian army - which at moments of tension has gone out of its way to protect the convent and hospital - advised that any memorial events should be small and restricted to those known to the nuns. The army has its own stake in the killings and their memorialising. Among the dead was Lt-Col Tom Dykes, a British officer in the Sikh Regiment who had agreed to stay on for a short while after independence in mid-August 1947 to help the handover. He is buried in the only Commonwealth War Grave in Kashmir; his wife, Biddy, was also killed and is buried in the same plot at the back of the hospital. Colonel Dykes was serving in the Indian army at the time of his death, and the army continues to tend his grave. On the anniversary, the most senior Indian general in the Baramulla district was among those to lay a wreath at the graves. This brought along with it an array of security measures: armed soldiers keeping watch in the orchard surrounding the burial site; an army jeep with mounted machine gun in the hospital grounds; camouflage sheets curtaining the burial plot, perhaps to foil snipers; and the extraordinary sight, and sound, of a surveillance drone overhead.
The memorial services on October 27th 2017 had begun on a more solemn note. At seven in the morning, a mass of remembrance was held in the mission church. It was celebrated by Bishop Ivan Pereira, based in Jammu, and attended by the provincial head of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Sister Taurina Vaz, who had travelled from Delhi. Among the congregation were the two surviving sons of Tom and Biddy Dykes (both of whom had been at the mission when their parents were killed) and members of the small local Catholic community, some from families which had suffered grievously during the turmoil seven decades earlier. After the service, the congregation formed a procession bearing candles to the spot amid apple and walnut trees where five of those killed in the attack lie buried. From there, the worshippers moved on to a small graveyard on the other side of the church where women in holy orders areinterred. Sister Teresalina's grave had been covered in petals. During the ceremonies, Sister Josephine, the superior at the convent, twice reminded those assembled of what the church records as Sister Teresalina's dying words: "I offer myself as a victim for the conversion of Kashmir."
This article will explore how the Baramulla mission came to be established; what happened there on 27th October 1947; the manner in which those events have been memorialised by the church and by others; the reworking of the concept of 'conversion' as envisaged by the woman who remains the Catholic church's only martyr in Kashmir; and the interlocking of clerical and geopolitical narratives in a region which has become painfully familiar with the concept of martyrdom.
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The Kashmir Valley is, in religious terms, one of the less diverse regions of India. It has for centuries been overwhelmingly Muslim, and the exodus in 1990 during the early stages of a separatist insurgency of almost all Kashmiri-speaking Hindus further accentuated that dominance. Currently - if one excludes the Indian armed forces and others not permanently resident in the region - the Kashmir Valley is about 97% Muslim. Among non-Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus comfortably outnumber Christians. Kashmir was never promising territory for missionaries seeking new audiences for the Christian gospel. 'Your work is not easy, your lives have an element of peculiar loneliness not found in other missions', the head of a missionary order counselled his priests during a visit to Kashmir. 'You have not the consolation of seeing the Church thrive and expand as a result of your labours. You are not cheered and encouraged by a great influx of converts into the Church. You sow in hard, stony arid soil so that in God's own time, others may reap.' Most of the very small number of Catholics in Kashmir are from families whose roots lie outside the region and who were Christians before they came to the valley. The usual Sunday congregation at the mission church in Baramulla is about thirty, of whom more than half are in holy orders. The Holy Family church in Srinagar sometimes attracts a slightly greater number of worshippers; the city is also home to another Christian place of worship, the Anglican-foundation All Saints church, now part of the Church of North India.
The influence of Christian medical and educational pioneers in Kashmir has been out of all proportion to the size of the community. From the 1860s, a series of notable Protestant medical missionaries from Britain - particularly William Elmslie, described as 'the founder of modern medicine in Kashmir' (Mufti, 2013, 51), Irene Petrie and the brothers Arthur and Ernest Neve - brought allopathic medicine to Srinagar, and established hospitals and dispensaries. Among Protestant educational missionaries, Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe arrived in Kashmir in 1890, taking under his wing a Church Mission Society school established a decade earlier. The school that continues to take his name has claim to being Kashmir's most prestigious educational institute and retains a link to the Church of North India. These distinctly colonialist and unbending Christian zealots also produced a copious stream of missionary memoirs and travel journals, sometimes more revealing about their authors than the region in which they laboured. These missionaries were not alone, in the sense that from the 1890s until independence in 1947, Srinagar was home to a significant European and Christian population attracted by the temperate summers and majestic landscape. During the Second World War in particular thousands of soldiers, administrators and others made their way to Kashmir to seek respite from the burning summer heat of the plains. Indeed, it was "white mischief" territory, where some of the colonisers came to have a 'good time' and generally misbehave.
The contribution of Catholic educational missionaries has been quite as pronounced - and the well-regarded Burn Hall and Presentation Convent schools in Srinagar and St Joseph's school in Baramulla, on a large site adjoining the convent and hospital, remain church-run and over-subscribed. The Baramulla hospital has been the most conspicuous achievement of Catholic medical missionaries.
The Mill Hill Missionaries - or more formally, the St Joseph's Missionary Society, for many years based in the Mill Hill district of north London - was given the task in 1887 by the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith of evangelising Kashmir and what was then termed Kafiristan (the latter now being part of Pakistan and Afghanistan). Four years later, a Catholic mission school was opened in Baramulla - a key staging post on the recently constructed road entering the Kashmir Valley from the west - and from this St Joseph's school was established in 1909. The Mill Hill Missionaries, mainly British and Dutch, maintained their presence until recent years, when the increasingly onerous restrictions placed by the Indian government on foreign missionaries occasioned the handing over of responsibility to Capuchin Fathers from South India.
Once established in Baramulla, these pioneering male missionaries appealed for help from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) to reach the women of Kashmir, who were particularly in need of medical and primary health services. The FMM is the only Catholic missionary order of women religious founded on Indian soil. It was established in South India in 1877 by a French-born nun, Helene de Chappotin de Neuville, better known as Blessed Mary of the Passion. The order is now the fifth biggest institute for women in the Catholic church, with a presence in more than seventy countries. It retains a particular strength in South India and of the fifty or so provincial heads, five are based in India. In 1916, two nuns based in Rawalpindi, Mother St Michel and a colleague, made an exploratory journey to Baramulla, a journey mainly by horse-drawn tonga and taking several days. 'Your daughters are the first women religious who have ever set foot in Kashmir', they reported to their superior-general. 'What a mission here in Kashmir - not a single indigenous Christian!...I pray that we can make this foundation, for this is utterly virgin soil which has never been evangelised nor even visited by missionaries until barely twelve to fifteen years ago. I would be happy if we could bring exposition of the Blessed Sacrament here, that would be the sun which would render fruitful a land arid up to now.'
Five years later, by which time Mother St Michel had been elevated from a provincial head of the FMM to the order's superior-general, the nuns established a small convent in Baramulla. It was in part funded by a Scottish man whose daughter was an FMM nun in India (in 1926, she became the superior at Baramulla). The initial task of the nuns was to visit women in their villages and provide medical care. The order's archives include an account of the work of the nuns based on the journal kept in their initial months at Baramulla:
In their visits, made on horseback or shikara (a small boat ...) they sometimes tended 20 or 30 patients a day. Soon a poor Sikh who had become a Catholic brought his six children whom he could no longer feed asking the Sisters to take them and baptise them as Catholics; this was the beginning of a small orphanage which continued to grow slowly until it was transferred to Rawalpindi. At Christmas the Sisters were able to give this report on the Christians of Baramulla, where a few years earlier there had been none but the missionary priest: six boys, four girls and one old man were Catholics, while a Protestant and a Muslim were preparing for baptism. The dispensary, handed over to the FMM by the Mill Hill Missionary, treated an average of 60 patients a day ... The baptism of the little girls was the first religious ceremony in Baramulla, and the first Christmas there was a joyful feast. By 15 August 1922, the numbers had rise to 518 child baptisms and two baptisms of adults; eight conversions at the point of death; 16,500 patients treated in the dispensary; 17 children in the orphanage.
The mission was not simply about saving souls and winning converts, but the number of Kashmiris being baptised and seeking conversion was clearly an important measure of the nuns' success.
In the mid-1920s, the convent's chapel room was no longer sufficient for those who came to worship and a purpose-built chapel was constructed. The hospital opened in 1929, initially with fifteen beds, on occasions being served by an FMM doctor and sometimes by a woman lay doctor. It developed a reputation as a good maternity hospital but this was not an easy posting. In 1943, the resident doctor died during a virulent typhus epidemic; two of the sisters who nursed her also contracted the illness and died. The order's Baramulla roll call for 1947 lists sixteen nuns: a Belgian superior, and sisters from Spain, France, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands and England along with just one Indian nun. Most had specialist roles as nurses and pharmacists. Only four of the sisters were under forty.
When India and Pakistan gained independence in mid-August 1947, the maharajah of Kashmir had still not decided to which new dominion he would accede. The territories under his rule extended well beyond the Kashmir Valley, which constituted by population under half and by area less than a tenth of the princely state. The working assumption of the British appears to have been that Kashmir would go to Pakistan. The maharajah, however, was a Hindu, though more than three-quarters of his citizens were Muslims, and when it became apparent that his preferred goal of independence was unachievable, he edged towards signing up to India. In this he had the support of his nemesis, the radical Kashmiri nationalist leader Sheikh Abdullah, who was released from the maharajah's jail in late September 1947. He was a Muslim and on occasions used Islam to mobilise political support, but he was more inclined towards secular and socialist India rather than the more clerical and feudal-minded Pakistan.
In an attempt to forestall Kashmir's accession to India, tribal fighters from Pakistan staged an invasion (Whitehead, 2007, passim). In the early hours of October 22nd 1947, armed contingents from the North-West Frontier and adjoining tribal agencies, many of them Mahsuds and Afridis, crossed into the princely state, seized control of the town of Muzaffarabad and advanced east along the Jhelum valley road towards Baramulla and Srinagar. They had been encouraged by some of their religious leaders, notably the Pir of Wana and the Pir of Manki Sharif; sections of Pakistan's government and armed forces provided more tangible support in the form of trucks, fuel and rifles and a few key personnel. The attackers' motives were mixed: they were conducting jihad, looking for loot, avenging anti-Muslim violence in Jammu and Punjab, seeking the overthrow of a non-Muslim princely ruler and claiming Kashmir for Pakistan. They rapidly overcame the maharajah's army and on October 26th, the fifth day of their military campaign, the tribal fighters entered Baramulla, then the second biggest town in the Kashmir Valley. Many of the invaders turned to gathering booty and abducting non-Muslim women, and the discipline of the attacking force ruptured. By then, the maharajah had fled the Kashmir Valley to the safety of his palace in Jammu to the south, where he signed the document by which his princely state became part of India. At first light on October 27th, India's armed forces began an airlift to the rudimentary landing strip outside Srinagar to protect the Kashmiri capital and repel the invading force. Some of the first troops to land, from the Sikh Regiment, headed towards Baramulla, but finding themselves outnumbered took up a position a couple of miles to the east of the town. They could hear the tumult and gunfire but were unable to intervene.
As the tribal fighters approached, and word got out about their looting aimed particularly at non-Muslims, many Hindus and Sikhs living in Baramulla fled - among them several patients in the mission hospital. The sisters and the two British missionary priests at St Joseph's school made no attempt to evacuate as they didn't expect to be targetted. Late in the morning of October 27th, the first groups of attackers reached the hospital, and began smashing doors and seizing any items of value. Their violence seems to have been restricted to those who sought to impede their progress. Within a matter of minutes, six people had either been killed or suffered fatal injuries. Besides Sister Teresalina and Tom and Biddy Dykes, these were a nurse or nursing assistant, Philomena, the husband of the hospital doctor, Jose Barretto, and Mrs Motia Devi Kapoor, a patient and the only non-Christian among those killed at St Joseph's. The superior, Mother Aldetrude, suffered a bullet wound but survived. The initial wave of violence seems to have ended when a Pakistani army officer in civilian clothes arrived at the mission by motorbike and ordered the attackers to stop.
The survivors of the attack, joined by some local families who had sought refuge at the mission - about eighty people in total - then endured ten days in captivity in the hospital's Baby Ward. They were joined by a British war correspondent, Sydney Smith of the Daily Express, who happened to be in Kashmir, arranged a lift with the Indian army towards the frontline, and then was captured by the tribesmen. Father George Shanks, the senior priest at the school, emerged as the leader of the beleaguered group. While tribal fighters abducted and raped women and girls in and around Baramulla, those confined to a single room at the mission hospital appear - though the evidence is contradictory - to have been spared sexual violence. The ordeal ended when those held captive at the mission were evacuated by the Pakistan army, reaching Abbottabad on 7th November; once there, Sydney Smith reported the attack on the mission and the battle for Kashmir in breathless style for his newspaper. By then, the Indian army - supported by strafing and bombing from the air - was gaining the upper hand. Indian troops took Baramulla without a fight on 8th November 1947 and it has been under Indian control ever since. Journalists and news photographers who followed in the army's wake recorded the extent of the devastation at the mission, which included the desecration of the chapel.
The killings at St Joseph's were not the bloodiest episode of the tribesmen's invasion. In all, several hundred people - perhaps as many as a few thousand - were killed during the three weeks that the Pakistani irregulars were present in the Kashmir Valley. But the attack on a hospital, the desecration of a place of worship and the killing of foreigners all contributed to make the Baramulla massacre the most notorious aspect of these opening salvos in the Kashmir conflict. The British government was concerned both to investigate the deaths of two of its nationals and to safeguard the 400 or so British residents of Srinagar. The British high commissioner in Karachi wrote to Pakistan's prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, urging that those responsible for the killings at the mission be found and punished. The prime minister replied that 'the incidents took place in non-Pakistan territory and the Pakistan Government cannot assume any responsibility in respect of them.'
A British official, Major W.P. Cranston, reached the mission just a few days after Indian troops took control of Baramulla. 'The Convent buildings and hospital and chapel had been completely wrecked inside', he reported. 'All the furniture was pulled about, books had been pulled out of their racks and largely torn up, including a very good library in the Convent itself. All articles of value had been looted.'
In the Church the destruction and desecration of the altar, statues, crucifixes, books and furniture, was most deliberate. It was obvious that this had not been done merely in the first hurried search for loot but was a deliberate policy carried out over a period of time and the thoroughness with which this desecration had been done and the deliberate maltreatment of holy emblems and statues showed that the action taken must have been done under the instructions of persons who knew exactly what they were doing.
To add to the sense of Christian disquiet, Major Cranston noted that while a section of Baramulla had been burnt down, 'by far the greater part of it was left untouched. It was a strange contrast that many Hindu temples and buildings should have been left completely untouched by the raiders, whilst the Catholic Convent and hospital and Church should have been deliberately destroyed and desecrated in a most thorough manner.'
In the established clerical narrative of the attack on St Joseph's, the victims died in particularly valorous circumstances. Motia Devi Kapoor was stabbed through the heart in her hospital bed; Philomena was shot while seeking to protect the patients; Colonel Tom Dykes, who had come to the hospital to collect his family, sought to stop the attackers assaulting the nuns and was shot; his wife, Biddy Dykes - who had given birth in the hospital two weeks earlier - ran out on seeing her husband fall down, and was herself shot; Jose Baretto rushed to stop nuns being molested in the hospital grounds, was led to a tree - some accounts say he spread his arms as if being crucified - and shot; Sister Teresalina, the twenty-nine year old assistant to the superior who had arrived in Baramulla just a few weeks earlier, leapt out in front of Mother Aldetrude, taking bullets intended for the older woman. It's very difficult to distinguish hard fact from accounts intended to offer solace to relatives and provide the seeds of religious fable.
The initial memorialising of the Baramulla massacre, and adapting of its narrative, was to meet a secular rather than religious purpose. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the bare facts of what happened at the hospital and across the town were difficult to ascertain: all those at the mission had been evacuated; many residents of the town had fled to escape the violence and looting; the destruction was evident, but the extent of casualties much less so. Reporters had to rely on eye witness accounts, hearsay and the version passed on by the Indian soldiers who accompanied them. The tone of much of the coverage was set by Robert Trumbull of the New York Times who reported from Baramulla on 10th November:
This quiet city in the beautiful Kashmir Valley was left smoking, desolate and full of horrible memories by invading frontier tribesmen who held a thirteen-day saturnalia of looting, raping and killing here. The city had been stripped of its wealth and young women before the tribesmen fled in terror at midnight Friday before the advancing Indian Army. Surviving residents estimate that 3,000 of their fellow townsmen, including four European nuns and a retired British Army officer known only as Colonel Dykes and his pregnant wife, were slain. Thirteen other foreigners, mostly priests and nuns and two of Colonel Dykes' three children - the third child is missing - were taken under the protection of the raiders' commander, said to be a Pakistan Army officer, and evacuated to Rawalpindi, in the West Punjab Province of Pakistan. ... Today, twenty-four hours after the Indian Army entered Baramula [sic], only 1,000 were left of a normal population of about 14,000.
Trumbull was not asserting that all but a thousand of Baramulla's residents had been slaughtered (and the casualty estimate he recited of 3,000 dead in the town is unreliable and almost certainly a considerable exaggeration) but that's often how his report is cited. His account of the attack on the mission assumed that all the dead there apart from the British couple were nuns when only one of them was in holy orders. The tribal invasion led eventually to war between India and Pakistan and the delineation of a ceasefire line partitioning the former princely state, though the Kashmir Valley was on India's side of the line. As the tussle for Kashmir moved away from the battlefield towards the United Nations and international opinion, Trumbull's account and similar reportage were eagerly circulated by the Indian government and excerpts were included in an Indian government 'white paper' in support of its claim to Kashmir.
Some of the news reports included in the white paper again featured in another propaganda piece published half-a-century later. In 1997, on the fiftieth anniversary of both India's independence and Kashmir 's accession to India, a well produced thirty-two page pamphlet entitled The Horror of Baramulla 1947 once again threw the spotlight on the attack on St Joseph's. Alongside the snippets of reportage from 1947, it published lengthy excerpts of interviews which All India Radio had recorded in Baramulla in 1958 with Father Shanks and several of the sisters recalling the attack. The introduction made an overt political link between the invasion by Pakistani tribesmen in 1947 and subsequent Pakistan-backed militant activity in the Kashmir Valley. 'For Pakistan, incursions into Kashmir have become a habit. The operation "Gulmarg" of 1947 was replaced by Operation "Gibraltar" of 1965, when raiders were sent into Kashmir by Ayub Khan, self-styled Field Marshal of Pakistan. Now we have to deal with blood-thirsty outfits like the Harkat-ul-Ansar, which has just been declared a terrorist set-up by the US Government ... But over the decades, it is worthwhile to recall the statements of Father Shanks and the Nuns at the Franciscan Convent of St Joseph's'. The attack on the convent and hospital attracted the notoriety which made it potent propaganda.
Neither Trumbull nor the other Indian and foreign journalists who reached Baramulla once India had taken control of the town suggested that nuns had been raped. But the desecration of the convent and the undoubted prevalence of sexual violence elsewhere in Baramulla were soon conflated to support India's narrative of Pakistani barbarism. Even before Indian troops took the town, India's deputy prime minister, Sardar Patel, issued a statement on Kashmir drawing from the confused and conflicting reports from areas under the invaders' control. 'The grim tragedy which overtook the British members of a religious order at Baramula [sic], the details of which are too heart rending to state, and the murder in cold blood of European families there are sufficient to reveal the true character of the so-called missionaries of liberation and emancipation.' This hints at sexual violence at the mission. Over the years, Indian diplomats and politicians made repeated references to the fate of the nuns at St Joseph's and 'the rape of Baramulla' when making their case on Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah, speaking as prime minister of Indian Kashmir at the opening of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly in 1951, recalled: 'Even the nuns and nurses of a Catholic Mission were either killed or brutally mistreated.' (Abdullah, 1951, 17) The starkest version, curiously, appears in a work of history which lacks any obvious partisan purpose. In Freedom at Midnight, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre recounted - with more than a touch of hyperbole - how in Baramulla 'the Pathans ... were giving vent to their ancient appetites for rape and pillage. They violated the nuns, massacred the patients in their little clinic, looted the convent chapel down to its last brass door-knob.' (Collins and Lapierre, 1957, 357)
Alongside Trumbull's reporting, another American, the renowned photo-journalist Margaret Bourke-While, also helped to establish the totemic significance of the attack on St Joseph's. She was in Pakistan when the invasion of Kashmir began. 'The stories that began leaking out about the violating and shooting of the nuns of the Order of St. Francis', she aptly commented, 'sounded like old-fashioned atrocity tales'. In spite of the best endeavours of the Pakistani authorities to keep her away, she managed to reach the town of Abbottabad, the key staging post for the invasion, and spoke to armed tribesmen who were heading towards Kashmir. She also chanced across some of the nuns from Baramulla just as they reached Abbottabad.
The Mother Superior had been seriously wounded and was rushed to the hospital. The grave-faced sister from whom I got the details had been in the babies' ward on the convent grounds when the tribesmen began smashing up X-ray equipment, throwing medicine bottles to the ground, ripping the statuettes of saints out of the chapel, and shooting up the place generally. Two patients were killed; an Englishman and his wife who were vacationing at the mission were murdered; and two nuns were shot. "They didn't hurt my babies," added the sister triumphantly. For nine days there was a reign of terror in the convent. The nuns, their hospital patients, and a few stray townspeople who had taken refuge at the mission were herded into a single dormitory and kept under rifle guard. On one of these days, after an air attack from the Indian Army had left the tribesmen in a particularly excited and nervous mood, six of the nuns were brought out and lined up to be shot. It was the accident that one of them had a conspicuous gold tooth that saved the sisters. One of the riflemen wanted to get that tooth, before his colleagues had a chance at it. In the scuffle that followed, one of their chiefs arrived; he had enough vision to realize that shooting nuns was not the thing to do, even in an invasion, and the nuns were saved. (Bourke-White, 1949, 206-7)
A few weeks later, in December 1947, Margaret Bourke-White managed to get to the other side of the front-line, and travelled from the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar, to see what was left of the Baramulla convent. She was accompanied by a Punjabi communist, B.P.L. Bedi, who had taken the lead in drafting the notably radical 'New Kashmir' manifesto adopted by Sheikh Abdullah's Kashmiri nationalists. After Partition, Bedi and his family had moved from Lahore to Srinagar to work with Sheikh Abdullah. He had a particular responsibility for counter-propaganda, making the case for a secular and progressive (and Indian-ruled) Kashmir in preference to either the religious intolerance associated with Pakistan or autocratic princely rule.
'Bedi and I walked up the hill to the deserted convent,' Bourke-White wrote. 'It was badly defaced and littered, and a delegation of students from Srinagar was coming next day to clean it up and salvage what remained of the library.' The group had been carefully selected to include Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, and would be escorted by members of the Kashmiri Home Guard, both men and women - these too chosen symbolically from the three religions. They would put the Christian mission in as good order as they could in time for Christmas Day. We made our way into the ravaged chapel, wading through the mass of torn hymnbooks and broken sacred statuary. The altar was deep in rubble. Bedi stooped down over it and picked up one fragment, turning it over carefully in his big hands. It was the broken head of Jesus, with just one eye remaining. "How beautiful it is," said Bedi, "this single eye of Christ looking out so calmly on the world. We shall preserve it always in Kashmir as a permanent reminder of the unity between Indians of all religions which we are trying to achieve." (Bourke-White, 1949, 211)
This was a propaganda triumph for both Indian and Kashmiri nationalism. Bedi's English wife, Freda Bedi, was among those who sought to make good the damage to the chapel: 'how happy we were on Christmas Eve to see the chapel looking its old self again (if only a war battered self!)', she wrote to Bourke-White. 'By some miracle, we managed to piece the altar together from panels scattered over the floor + even mounted the reredos again in its old place. It at least had the illusion of completeness, even if the images were battered + pathetic on their pedestals.' (Whitehead, 2019, 178)
Once the nuns returned to Baramulla, a string of journalists visited the mission and sought to retrieve their memories. Frank Moraes, the first Indian editor of the Times of India, had been an intimate friend of Margaret Bourke-White and knew the Bedis too. In 1957, he visited St Joseph's and spoke to three nuns who had lived through the attack. '"As they looted and attacked us, the raiders kept shouting 'Pakistan has come'", said the Italian nun. "I only knew that the devil had come."' There was, however, an attempt to challenge this pro-India narrative. Ian Stephens, who had been editor of another leading newspaper, the Statesman, and was sympathetic to Pakistan, came to Baramulla in 1952, visited the convent and spoke to some of the nuns who had survived what 'had certainly been a very shameful affair' (Stephens, 1953, 216-8). But some years later he dismissed the attack on the mission as 'a bad but secondary episode, soon inflated out of all proportion by Indian propaganda aimed at countries of the Christian West. And the time lost over these misdeeds, we can now see, also lost them the campaign - it was of no avail that later waves of invading tribesmen behaved much better, sometimes fighting superbly.' (Stephens, 1963, 202-3) Novelists too were attracted to the story - H.E. Bates never travelled to Kashmir, but borrowing liberally from Sydney Smith's journalism in the Daily Express, he wrote The Scarlet Sword, published in 1950 and (as with his earlier novels, The Purple Plain and The Jacaranda Tree, both set in Burma) primarily concerned about the response of an isolated group of Europeans to extreme adversity.
The initial priority of the sisters evacuated at Baramulla was to decide on their future, and above all whether they would return to Kashmir, and once they had resolved to re-establish the convent and hospital to see through that goal. They returned in March 1949 and the patients' admissions book, still kept at Baramulla, records that the hospital was up-and-running again from August. The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary were well aware of the value of martyrs in strengthening a sense of mission. In China in 1900, seven of the order's sisters - all European and in their twenties and thirties - were killed during the anti-colonial Boxer Rebellion. The founder of the order, Blessed Mary of the Passion, is reputed to have said when she heard of the killings: "I can say with St. Francis: now, I have seven true Franciscan Missionaries of Mary". They are known within the order as the seven martyrs of China, and highly stylised paintings of the group are on display at St Joseph's, Baramulla, and every other FMM convent. One of the nuns at Baramulla told me: "we pray through their intercession to have such a daring attitude for each one of us if such situations come to any one of us that we may give our lives for the sake of Jesus whom we love". The seven martyrs were beatified in November 1946 - an event which would have been fresh in the minds of the nuns at St Joseph's as they came under attack the following year; they were canonised in 2000.
From 1949, a cascade of clerical publications appeared proclaiming the valour of Sister Teresalina and the FMM sisters at Baramulla. Among the first was Una Victima Perfecta (A Perfect Victim), an account of Sister Teresalina's life and death by a Franciscan friar, Father Ignacio Omaechevarria who, like his subject, was from northern Spain (Omaechevarria, 1949). It included an account of her dying words: "Ya termino ... Ofrezco mi vida por la conversion de Cachemira" (I'm already finished ... I offer my life for the conversion of Kashmir), and related how her 'fertile blood' has already delivered converts in Kashmir and in Pakistan. This became the hallowed account of a martyr's last words: "Je vais mourir ... J'offre ma vie pour la conversion du Cachemire" (I'm about to die ... I offer my life for the conversion of Kashmir), according to an FMM publication in French, which was the sisters' common language at Baramulla in 1947 (Jusqu'a La Mort, 1956, 112-3). The following year, an account of the martyrdom was published in English:
Night fell and darkness filled the ward. The continual murmur of prayer was interrupted only by an occasional cry from a baby or a terrified shriek from the women over the least incident. Near nine or ten o'clock - all the watches had been stolen - Mother Teresalina called to the nurse: "I am dying." She was unable to move and did not even realise that the Sister had joined her hands on her breast. She accepted a few drops of water and softly murmured: "It is finished. I offer myself for the conversion of Kashmir." Father Shanks gave her a last absolution and suggested some invocations in her familiar Spanish. She renewed her Vows, and again repeated words at the end: "I offer myself as a victim for the conversion of Kashmir." A willing victim, bathed in her own blood, with a smile of peace on her lips, she closed her eyes and died. A deep hush fell upon the crowded ward ... all the more profound, filled as it was with more than 90 people. Father Shanks softly started the De Profundis. Later he wrote: "Seeing her die like this before my eyes, and hearing her pray for the murderers, I felt as though I were assisting at the death of a saint ... she suffered as a martyr. She had the happiest and most beautiful death." One of the Sisters affirmed later: "I can assure you that she died in an ecstasy of joy in the midst of atrocious suffering." Mother Teresalina had always yearned to be a saint. Her soul had instinctively turned towards martyrdom. (I Will be the First, 1957, 28-29)
This clerical pamphlet I Will be the First, the title derived from the nun's lighthearted comment to an uncle who remarked that there was no Saint Teresalina, was for many years given to visitors to the Baramulla mission. It takes the reverential tone common to popular hagiography. The conversion on Sister Teresalina's lips was clearly the winning of Kashmir to Catholicism. Indeed, even as she was dying the two British priests in that same hospital ward were receiving non-Christians into the church as long as they promised that 'if they ever get out alive they will complete the instruction and live as catholics'.
There is strong reason to doubt that Sister Teresalina uttered the words attributed to her. The most detailed account of the attack on the mission by one of those present was written a few years after the event by Father George Shanks. The unpublished account he set down in a desk diary appears to have been prompted by H.E. Bates's novel, and the less than flattering account in it of a priest very loosely based on Shanks. It offers a detailed account of the Spanish nun's last hours, lying alongside the injured superior and being tended by the doctor, Greta Baretto, whose husband had been killed by the attackers just hours earlier. 'I knelt on the floor by the side of Mother Teresalina', Shanks recorded. '
She was conscious, but her eyes were closed, and only the frequent contraction of her limbs and the contortion of her face told of the spasms of pain which racked her. Sister Celeste, who had come out from Spain with her only two months before, knelt at the other side ... re-arranging the sheet over her torn abdomen, whispering prayers into her ear'. “Ma Mere, Father has come.” I took her hand in mine: it was icy cold. Her eyes flickered and opened a little. She tried to smile. “Mon pere - est-ce que - je - je - mourrai?” [Father, am I going to die?] “Oui, ma mere: le bon Dieu vous appelle. Y’a-t-il quelque chose? [Yes mother, the good Lord is calling you. Is there anything?] Haltingly, breathlessly, pausing every little while to struggle against a new surge of pain which tightened the grip on my hand, but brought no cry from her clenched teeth, she made her last Confession. I gave her Absolution, the last blessing; whispered a few words of encouragement to her, and left her to the watchful care of Sister Celeste who had not stirred from her side since she entered the ward. “She is in terrible pain, Father”, said Mother Gertrude as I passed her “we had a little morphine left, but she refused it - told me to give it to the others. She says she would rather offer up her sufferings for the poor Kashmiris, and for those awful men who shot her -"
A few hours later, her last moment came - Father Shanks recorded the scene in lyrical fashion:
Mother Teresalina died at about 10 that night - a death that must live long in the memories of those who assisted at it. The prayers of the dying nun, gradually fading away as she slowly sank into unconsciousness: the tear-stricken faces, the bloodstained, torn habits of the Sisters kneeling around: the wailing of the babies, ready for food again: the floor with its jumble of refugees: the pallid face of the Rev. Mother, just visible in the outer circle of the light of the hurricane lamp, watching the last moments of her heroic subordinate: the murmur of voices, the frequent ribald chuckle, from the circle of guards: the distant sounds of brawling from the raiders’ camps all round: The occasional silhouette of a raider against the moonlit lawn: the red glow of the burning village lighting up the wall behind the dying nun. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man give up his life for his friend” We took her body immediately and put it in the private room outside
It is difficult to imagine Father Shanks hearing or being aware of Sister Teresalina's dying words and not mentioning them in this account. So it seems that while the words ascribed to her may well have been an accurate reflection of the dying nun's sentiment, she didn't give it expression.
Nevertheless, the dying words of a religious martyr do not lose strength because they may not be accurate. They are designed to give force to an existing narrative - and the order's repeated use of Sister Teresalina's story through the 1950s, with at least six tracts or books in English, French and Spanish, was intended not so much to bolster the mission in Kashmir, where mass conversion was never in prospect, as to reinforce the FMM's missionary credentials in taking the gospel to difficult corners of the world in the European countries which provided many of its recruits and much of its finance. This left St Joseph's in Baramulla in a difficult situation - the order, and the wider church, proclaimed the valour and sanctity of its martyr, but given that Kashmir was not easy to reach and never a focus of church activity, few came to the grave and there was no sustained attempt to make a case for the beatification of the Spanish nun.
Among many of those in holy orders in Kashmir, there was a fervent desire to see Sister Teresalina recognised in the same way as the China martyrs. Father Hormise Nirmal Raj, in his account of the Catholic church in Kashmir written when he served therein the 1970s, said he had been told that when the sisters returned to Baramulla in 1949, they disinterred Sister Teresalina's hastily buried remains so that she could be laid to rest in the plot reserved for women religious. He states that her body was found to be intact, and the carpenter had to make a coffin rather than a small casket to rebury her. Father Nirmal Raj argued that the nun should be 'canonised as the first Martyred saint of the Valley by the Catholic Church. Let us pray to her, that through her mediation the work of beatification may be taken up and [that] it become an occasion of rejoicing for all of us, to see one of our great heroes be honoured by the Church and people in a fitting manner.' Another missionary priest who served in Kashmir for much of the 1990s, the most turbulent period in the separatist insurgency and brutal response to it of the Indian security forces, also harboured hopes that Sister Teresalina would be recognised as a saint. He recounted that in 1992, a number of elderly Muslims in Baramulla reported regularly seeing Sister Teresalina in their dreams. A petition was made to the bishop 'to exhume her body for veneration, in their hope that a devotion to her might deliver them from the scourge of terrorism and violence in the Valley. The Bishop and the local clergy at that time ... though receptive to the petition, mindful of the repercussion it might lead to from the militant muslims against the Church with an agenda for proselytising, decided to keep quiet over it.' But he reported continuing instances of people in Baramulla receiving favours asked through the intercession of Sister Teresalina in their prayers. 'You must forgive me for having this Catholic outlook to say that God in His Providence and the fulness of time will bring about such a circumstance/situation for her case to be taken up for the cause of beatification and canonisation'. The Jammu-Srinagar diocese appears never not to have put its weight behind the beatification of its martyr, but it did in 2004 commission an artist, Felix Thenganakunel Chembery, to undertake a series of paintings reflecting the progress of the church. The most dramatic, with the title 'The Battle Field', is a somewhat naive representation of the tribesmen's attack on St Joseph's and the death of Sister Teresalina.
The sensitivity about seeking converts in an area so overwhelmingly Muslim, and where religion had been an important aspect of the increasing tide of separatism, has been a persistent concern of the church. Father Shanks insisted that, when he was head of St Joseph's school, 'in no cases have these young men ... emerged from our care as Christians: we have made no attempt to push religion down their throats'. Much more recently a South Indian priest serving in the Kashmir Valley told me that he refused to give out copies of the New Testament, even when specifically requested, to avoid any taint of seeking converts. 'The day we do that', he said, 'is our last day here.' Allegations of proselytising have dogged the church in Kashmir and the last Mill Hill missionary in Kashmir, Father Jim Borst - who has served there since the early 1960s - has faced repeated threats of expulsion, the most recent in 2011.
Given this sensitivity, the dying words of Sister Teresalina have been both an inspiration and a liability. Both priests and sisters have insisted that the 'conversion' for which the nun sacrificed her life was not from one faith to another, but a conversion of hearts and minds. At one point, the church got round this awkwardness by printing over the account of Sister Teresalina's death in the most widely circulated of its tracts, I Will be the First. I have copies in which her dying words have been amended. One word has been printed over, carefully but in a slightly different typeface, making "I offer myself for the conversion of Kashmir" read as "I offer myself for the People of Kashmir". It is startling that the dying words can be subject to modification in this manner, though in the volatile political climate of Kashmir it's easy to understand why the church might regard this as circumspect. What's perhaps as surprising is that the church wished to continue to proclaim Sister Teresalina rather than simply withdraw altogether a pamphlet in which her dying words might imperil its continuing mission in Kashmir. The remarks by Sister Josephine at the memorial services seventy years on - albeit to a small audience - indicate that the church is clear in its belief that their martyr sought the conversion of Kashmir.
+ + + + +
At the seventieth anniversary, thirteen FMM sisters served at Baramulla, all Indian (the last European nun, Sister Emilia, died in 2004 and is buried next to Sister Teresalina); four Carmelite nuns and two priests, again all Indian, were based at the adjoining school. None of the nuns were from Kashmir and they are not aware of any Kashmiri who has become a woman religious. Two of the sisters at St Joseph's are doctors and several others have nursing and pharmacist qualifications. The hospital remains open, and the Baby Ward where the survivors of the 1947 attack were held captive has a marble slab inset into the floor inscribed: 'Sr Teresalina was martyred at this spot in 1947'. The mission has raised money for new buildings but feels denuded of patients, partly as a consequence of competition from a nearby government hospital. The main focus of the mission is its training institute for nurses. In October 2017, sixty-seven young women were in training - three of them Catholics, the overwhelming majority from local Muslim families.
Among those attending the memorial events, Sister Taurina Vaz, the provincial head of the FMM, recalled how at the Catholic school she attended in Mumbai the head teacher, an Irish nun, encouraged her to read I Will be the First. She was twelve or thirteen at the time and devoured the tract eagerly - she regards learning about the example of Sister Teresalina as the first step on her religious vocation. 'That's where the inspiration began that I too wanted to be a missionary. That's how God worked in my life.' The nuns at Baramulla continue to hope that Sister Teresalina will be beatified, though they admit it seems unlikely and complain that they haven't the resources to make the detailed and documented case which the church would require. They also seek her intercession. 'A few of our sisters and myself personally pray through her for protection', one told me, 'and her prayers are answered.' In this version of the Baramulla story, Sister Teresalina's martyrdom serves to guard the mission of which she was part against succumbing once more to the geopolitical battle for Kashmir. There have been occasions when the nuns have feared for their safety, and spent the entire night in prayer seeking to forestall any repeat attack on the mission.
For more than seventy years, Sister Teresalina's fate and the wider tragedy that befell St Joseph's has fed into multiple narratives, religious, political and literary. A foreign life lost has attracted more attention than the tens of thousands of Kashmiris who have been killed in decades of conflict. Among that casualty toll are many who would be described or regarded as martyrs: those who were shot down by the maharajah's forces in the early stages of Kashmir's political awakening; those who were killed seventy years ago by the invading tribesmen; those who have lost their lives in the fight against Indian rule; those in India's security forces who have died combating the separatist insurgency or while guarding the line of control. The concept of martyrdom has become so universal that it has lost some of its force. For the Catholic church, Sister Teresalina is exceptional - for Kashmiris, she is anything but unique. The spiritual example that she offers is complicated by the geopolitical conflict in which her death, and her memorialisation, are entwined and the political parable is made less compelling because she is one among so many martyrs.
Dr Andrew Whitehead is an honorary professor at the University of Nottingham and first got to know Kashmir as the BBC India correspondent. He is the author of A Mission in Kashmir (2007) and has recently completed a biography of Freda Bedi.
Asad, Mohammad Saeed (editor), Wounded Memories of the Tribal Attack on Kashmir, Mirpur: National Institute of Kashmir Studies, 2010
Bates, H.E., The Scarlet Sword, London: Cassell, 1950
Bourke-White, Margaret, Halfway to Freedom: a report on the new India, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1949
Collins, Larry and Lapierre, Dominique, Freedom at Midnight, London: Collins, 1957
The Horror of Baramulla 1947: revelations by foreign correspondent and missionaries [no publication details given] 
I Will be the First, London: [Franciscan Missionaries of Mary], 1957
Jusqu'a la Mort, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, 1956
Mufti, Gulzar, Kashmir in Sickness and in Health, New Delhi: Partridge, 2013
Omaechevarria, Father Ignacio, Una Victima Perfecta, Vitoria: Editorials Catolica, 1949
Stephens, Ian, Horned Moon: an account of a journey through Pakistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, London: Chatto & Windus, 1953
Stephens, Ian, Pakistan, New York: Ernest Benn, 1963
White Paper on Jammu & Kashmir, Delhi: Government of India, 1948
Whitehead, Andrew, A Mission in Kashmir, New Delhi: Viking Penguin, 2007
Whitehead, Andrew, The Lives of Freda: the political, spiritual and personal journeys of Freda Bedi, New Delhi, Speaking Tiger, 2019
 I would like to record my appreciation to the nuns of St Joseph's for their warm and generous hospitality during my stay in Baramulla in October 2017. An account of the memorial services is available online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-41996612. In earlier visits to the mission, I met and interviewed Sister Emilia, an Italian nun who was the last survivor at the convent of the 1947 attack. This article has been informed by conversations with several of the sisters at Baramulla and with other members of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.
 The words of Father Thomas McLaughlin, superior general of the Mill Hill Missionaries, while visiting Kashmir in 1960, cited in Father Hormise Nirmal Raj's unpublished work written in 1976, 'Unknown Churches, Unknown Martyrs' f96. Father Nirmal Raj went on to comment on the paucity of conversions: 'One may say nil in Kashmir, and few in Jammu.' A copy of this typescript is held in the archive of the Mill Hill Missionaries.
 This extract from the records of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary was made available to me by Sister Sheila O'Neill, who at the time was researching the history of the order in South Asia.
 From documents made available to me by Sister Sheila O'Neill, FMM.
 In a remarkable confirmation of the flow of loot and abducted women back to the tribal regions, a BBC journalist, M. Ilyas Khan, gathered testimony seventy years later of some of those in Pakistan with memories of the invasion: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41662588. Powerful Kashmiri testimony of the invasion is contained in Asad, 2010, passim
 Father Shanks reported privately in a letter to the Very Rev T. McLaughlin on 14 November 1947, held in the archive of the Mill Hill Missionaries: 'there was always the constant fear that they [the attackers] would run true to type and interfere with the womenfolk. That was attempted only on one occasion, thank God, and was interrupted quite providentially'. It is possible, however, that Father Shanks was referring simply to the days spent captive in the hospital ward rather than the initial attack.
 Sydney Smith's news reports appeared in the Daily Express on 10 and 11 November 1947, headlined 'Captive Reporter Sees Bus Invasion' and 'Ten Days of Terror'.
 India Office Records (IOR), LP&S/13/1850, ff20, 76, British Library
 'Note on St Joseph's Convent and Hospital at Baramulla', 27 November 1947 - IOR, LP&S/13/1850, f36. Major Cranston visited the Baramulla mission, in the company of another army officer and two medical missionaries, on 13 and 16 November.
New York Times, 11 November 1947. All three children of Tom and Biddy Dykes, then aged five, two and two weeks, survived the attack. Two of them were present at the services at St Joseph's seventy years after their parents' deaths.
 Sister Teresalina was born Joaquina Zubiri. Although now known within the order and described on her gravestone as Sister Teresalina, in earlier clerical publications she is often described as Mother Mary Teresalina. She was sent to Baramulla as assistant superior and would have had some authority over the other sisters.
 An earlier and broadly similar account of Sister Teresalina's death had been published in English by the FMM as 'Even Unto Death'.
 Father George Shanks's manuscript account of the raids in Baramulla in October 1947, written in 1953 and held in the archives of the Mill Hill Missionaries. In the extracts quoted, punctuation and abbreviations have been standardised. With the archivist's permission, this account has been transcribed and posted online here: http://www.andrewwhitehead.net/father-shankss-kashmir-diary.html