The significance of the Martyrs’ Day of Kashmir | Kashmir Files #27

I know, 13th July is far gone, I did think of writing this on that day, but my research wasn’t complete, so I also suppose not many people will be interested in this given that hashtags are over now, moreover this is going to be a long one. As I scoured through the internet to see what “truth” and “realty” people have written about this topic and it was ignorant, opinionated without context and hilarious. Labels man, I’m telling you, you can call a scholar a dimwit and yourself a scholar and the audiences mindset will shift immediately in your favor, basic manipulation, same thing is done when you call an article “truth” or “reality.” Most people when they read history – I’ll give you the example of Kashmir – they pickup the most mainstream and bite-sized book they can find and assume that’s all there is. Firstly, just because the narration is eloquent doesn’t mean its right, so you shouldn’t care about how a book is written (its ‘storytelling’ so to speak) when reading about history, it should be as dry as it can be. When reading about Kashmir people pickup books like Curfewed Night, The Collaborator, Bonding with Kashmir, which is all well and good but there’s a certain dimensionality to them, that if you care about a well rounded history aren’t the best choices. But if you care about other things more and just wanted to pick upon a little bit of Kashmir issue, then sure go on, no worries. I’d say as Kashmiris one shouldn’t be satisfied with such books, no way, to me its reprehensible in a way. So how do we get to know the facts? It’s through actual history books, like of Alastair Lamb’s, Yusuf Saraf’s etc. Now, there are and will be certain books that have a focus on a particular dimension, some will have it on militancy, some on politics, some on accession, and rightly so.

One of the main arguments I hear everyday over the remembrance of Marty’s day of Kashmir is that the state’s non-muslim population has to suffer the commemoration of their oppresses every year. The point being made here is that on 13th July, 1931 Muslims after starting a “riot” in support of a terrorist laid atrocities on the non-muslim population. Okay then, let’s analyze the situation:

The “riots” which were actually protests were in support of a sympathiser of the Kashmiri struggle by the name of Abdul Qadeer. This man was nothing more than an employee of an English army officer Major Butt, of the Yorkshire Regiment. Qadeer had come with his employer who was a casual visitor on leave from the army looking to spend the summer in Kashmir. Qadeer gave a passioned speech after taking the opportunity to express his feelings about the atrocities of the Maharaja’s regime, which we’ll get into. What caused this?

A few key incidents had happened in quick succession around the region to raise the sentiment of religious oppression among Muslims. Before we get into them one thing to note is that as far back as 1850 “The Caste Disabilities Removal Act” of British India had protected the property rights of persons renouncing their faith but despite great demand by Muslims, it wasn’t reenforced in the state, solely to prevent the spread of Islam and Christianity.

The first incident was that of a leading land-holder in Udhampur Jammu who embraced Islam. The Hindu Tehsildar of his area sanctioned a fresh mutation of his lands, eliminated his name and mutated the same in the name of his brother. He filed a suit, which was later dismissed with the remarks that unless he re-entered Hindu faith, he was not entitled to any property. This was done in accordance with a decree issued by the Dogra Government on 31 December, 1882.

The second incident happened on 29th April 1931, in the city of Jammu. The Muslims offered their Eid Prayers in a garden maintained by the Municipal Committee. The Imam after the prayers recited the verses talking about Pharaoh and Moses. When the Imam spoke of Pharaoh as a cruel and tyrant king, the sub-inspector Babu Khem Chand, who was on duty along with a posse of policemen, ordered him to stop the Khutba (sermon) as in his view the Imam had transgressed the bounds of law and was guilty of treason. A young man Mir Hussain Bakhsh stood up to defy the ban and addressing the people told them that the Government had been guilty of interference in their religion. The cry was taken up by the congregation; they marched in a procession to the city’s main Masjid where brief meeting was held condemning the incident. It was resolved to hold a protest meeting in the evening. One of the biggest ever gatherings in the city, it was presided over by Mir Hussain Bakhsh. The Muslims felt deeply hurt. Politically suppressed and economically strangulated, the interference now in their religious observations aroused deep hatred against the then rulers. Holding protest meetings from then on became quite frequent. The Muslims brought a complaint in the court of Additional District Magistrate under section 296 Ranbir Penal Code against the Hindu inspector for disturbing a religious assembly which was dismissed, as the Hindu Magistrate held that Khutba was not a part of the prayers. A large crowd of Hindus who were present in the court premises raised the slogans: “Khem Chand Zindabad” and “Hindu Dharam Ki Jai.”

The third incident took place at Digore, Jammu. Where a police officer forbade the use, for Eid prayers, of a ground that was traditionally used for that purpose. The fourth incident took place on 4th June, in Central Jail Jammu. One Fazal Khan, a police constable, was sitting on a cot, when a Head Corder Balak Ram reprimanded him for being late on duty. Meanwhile one Labhu Ram, a sub-inspector threw away his bedding with rashness. It contained a copy of Panj-surah (Five Chapters from Holy Quran). The Sub-Inspector did not know of it but it is alleged that when Fazal Dad protested and brought this fact to his notice, they went on to kick it. Fazal Dad approached his seniors and tried to get him departmentally punished but as nobody took notice of the complaint, he made an application to the Young Mens’ Muslim Association, who reacted sharply.

The fifth incident took place in Srinagar on 20th June when leaves of the Holy Quran were found in a public latrine. No Muslim would do that, can’t even think about that, just like any other religious person about their own scripture. It was “apparent” that the Hindus were out to outrage their religious feelings.

While the agitational mood was thus developing in Jammu city, news of the jail incident reached Srinagar and further inflamed the public opinion. Hundreds of copies of the posters containing the news were published by the Young Mens’ Muslim Association Jammu were sent to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah for distribution. In Srinagar, a volunteer, Mohammad Ismail, was caught by the police while affixing a poster and put in Jail. According to Pandit Bazaz, he was the first political prisoner of the Movement. Thousands of people collected outside the jail when news of his arrest became known. The Government got alarmed at the sudden outburst of political activity and that too on such a gigantic scale. So, to counteract the impact, especially resulting from the public meeting, the Governor convened a meeting of city’s “notables.” Some of the notables in the meeting suggested the imprisonment of Sheikh Abdullah for that people went to him for moral support and agitational vision of the time. However others opposed the move for arrest and told the Governor that so long as the grievances of Muslims were not addressed, the situation could not be improved, namely Maulvi Mohammad Abdullah and Pir Maqbool Gilani. The Governor issued an order forbidding holding of public meetings or delivery of speeches in Jama Masjid, which had became a hub for public meetings by then. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah thereupon announced a fresh public meeting in the same mosque on the following Friday in defiance of these orders. The public meeting at Jamia Masjid attracted unprecedented crowds who gave Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah a “thunderous” ovation. The meeting strongly condemned the attitude of the Government towards its Muslim subjects and apart from demanding prompt action against the defaulting Hindu officers in Jammu, also voiced political demands. The Maharaja thereupon made speedy recruitment to the army from his own community and imported arms because it appears that he had come to believe that Muslims were going to rise in revolt.

Instead of adopting a reasonable and just attitude towards the Muslim grievances, the Government thought that the removal of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah from Srinagar would automatically ease the situation as he was rapidly growing in popularity. He was, therefore, transferred to Muzaffarabad as Science teacher in the local Government High School. At a meeting of the group, it was decided that the opportunity to strike at the autocratic regime having already presented itself. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah thereupon tendered his resignation and thus came into being a full-time politician.

The move next initiated by the Government was to invite Muslim representatives to a meeting with Maharaja Hari Singh in order to afford them an opportunity of presenting their grievances personally to the ruler. The meeting, attended by about fifty thousand people, was the biggest political congregation until then. It was also for the first time that thousands of women had joined a public meeting to demonstrate their solidarity with their menfolk in their hour of trial. It was also in this meeting that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah took a public oath, with Holy Quran in his hands, pledging “never to betray the Cause of the Muslims of Kashmir” – yeah right.

The meeting was then dispersed but no one knew that something important was about to happen which was to be of great historical consequences. After the meeting, the leaders requested the people to disperse and themselves retired to a house in the vicinity of the Khanqah, ostensibly to have tea but actually to plan for the future. While the leaders were closeted there, large crowds continued to remain in the spacious compound of the Khanqah, waiting for their leaders to come out and disperse. It was under these circumstances and at this time that a robustly-built young man appeared before the crowd and started addressing them in chaste Urdu. He told them that they were slaves and that they were ruled by a Government whose officers had even the impertinence to insult their religion; he assured them of the solidarity of the Muslims of India and asked them to rise to the occasion and fight for the vindication of their honour. He warned the Government that Muslims would answer violence with violence, if their grievances were not redressed. Naturally, he received a prolonged ovation by a crowd that was thirsty of such words of courage, hope and support. This man was Abdul Qadeer.

His speech was recorded by the C.I.D. and when he returned to Nasim Bagh at the dead of night, he was followed by the Gestapo and arrested on 25th June from the house-boat of his employer and charged under sections 124-A (treason) and 153 of the Penal Code. When Muslims learnt of his arrest, there was wide resentment in the city. Their feelings were injured particularly because here was before them a brother Muslim from outside the State who had courted arrest for their sake and in vindication of their rights. The matter being sentimental, the people became acutely touchy. The result was that when he was put on trial before the Sessions Judge, Pandit Kishan Lal Kitchlu, thousands found themselves sub-consciously drawn to the Court. He was kept in the Central jail which is at a considerable distance from the Court. When he was taken on foot from the jail to the Court, he was followed by a large crowd which swelled into thousands by the time it reached the Court. On 5h July, the Government shifted the venue of the trial to the Central jail, and also decided to hold it in camera. This caused great resentment. In a public meeting held in the evening in a mosque at Bata Malinu, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Maulvi Abdur Rahim condemned the holding of the trial in camera and called upon the audience to get ready for a resolute struggle as the Government had failed to take a realistic view of the situation.

On 13th July 1931, thousands of Muslims assembled outside the central jail. After the entry of the Sessions Judge, they demanded permission to enter the compound. At this stage, Maulvi Mohammad Abdullah, Advocate, advised them to remain peaceful and abide by the wishes of the authorities. This calmed down the crowd; they withdrew from the gate and sat silently outside, waiting for news from inside. At this moment, no unauthorised person was inside the jail compound. At 1 pm, Muslims began lining up for their noon prayers. In a few minutes came the Governor who snubbed the Police on duty for not having taken into custody those who had earlier attempted to enter the compound and foolishly ordered their immediate arrest. The police, thereupon, arrested five persons with the result that the crowd became restive and raised anti-Government and pro-Abdul Qadeer slogans. The situation became extremely grave and obviously it was the natural result of the Governor’s reckless order. The crowd then attempted to force its entry into the compound and demanded the immediate release of their men. They also demanded permission to watch proceedings of the case. Instead of handling the situation with tact, the Governor lost his nerves and ordered the armed police to open fire. Even according to the evidence, officially placed before the Dalal Inquiry Commission, one hundred and eighty rounds were fired. Seventeen Muslims were killed on the spot and forty received serious injuries, five of whom died later in the Jamia Masjid. The Hindu daily Tribune, dated 28th July, 1931, admitted the loss of 21 Muslims in the firing. It goes to the credit of Kashmiri Muslims that even according to Mr. Wakefield, “the wounds of dead Kashmiris were all in front”. However, the crowd could not be dispersed. After setting the police quarters on fire, they placed the dead and the injured on cots and using the blood-drenched shirt of a martyr as a flag, started in a procession towards Amira Kadal, a place frequented by foreign visitors. Then it reached Maharaj Ganj, the Hindu shopkeepers deliberately injured Muslim feelings by keeping their shops open. Some “processionists” thereupon requested them to close their shops in the interest of peace and “good-neighbourliness” one of them abused the martyrs as well as the processionists and condemned them as goondas. This, therefore, though unfortunately, resulted in the looting of some shops but it is generally acknowledged that not a single article was taken away by anyone; these were either scattered in the bazar or put on fire, not a single Hindu shopkeeper was molested.

A surprising aspect of the incident is that the Government pathetically ignored the treatment of the injured. No steps at all were taken to remove them to the hospital for treatment. This duty was performed by an English doctor of the Mission Hospital, who came with an ambulance and removed some of the more severely injured victims to his Hospital where they were treated as best as they could. The martyrs were kept in the Jamia Masjid for the whole night attended by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and his colleagues along with the entire mass of the people that had joined the procession.

The decision of their burial was of concern Khwaja Noor Shah Naqshbandi put forth the idea of a single burial place. When the matter was taken up with the Government, there was resistance but Noor Shah prevailed upon the Governor and the military authorities by arguing that if so many persons were to be buried in their family graveyards, it would mean their burial in as many graveyards which was bound to create a serious law and order situation. At the same time, he offered the compound of Khanqah-i-Naqshband of which his father was the Muttawali. On the third day, they were buried there amidst scenes of a national mourning. Almost the entire Muslim population of the city was there. Thousands had also come from areas adjacent to the city. Most of them broke down under the strain of emotions. The place has since come to be known as Mazar-i-Shuhada where, every year on 13th July, Muslims from all over Kashmir assemble to enshrine their memory and rededicate themselves to the cause of freedom and dignity.

With the imposition of martial law, a reign of terror was let loose in the city; the incidents at Maharaj Ganj were immediately avenged by Hindus under the protection of, and in some cases, in collaboration with the army, by looting their Muslim neighbours in the predominantly Pandit inhabited localities of Rainawari, Gunpatyar, Haba Kadal, Krala Khad and Barbar Shah. The army rule brought the vilest of cruelties in its train. Rowlat Act brutalities were repeated in the streets with greater callousness; Muslims were forced to kiss the Dogra flag, lick the shoes of the soldiers and salute every soldier with the Dogra salutation “Jai Dev Maharaj.” Many incidents were reported when cavalry men entered isolated Muslim houses and ravished females. At Nawan Bazar a man was killed and two others wounded by military firing. A Christian lady, Mrs. Thakar Das, who appeared as a witness before the Dalal Riot Inquiry Commission, testified on oath that a soldier opened fire on a man who was running away and that another shot was fired at a water-carrier who was crossing a bridge. In another incident which was also placed before the Commission, the fingers of a small Gujar boy were blown off within the military lines. “It goes to the lasting credit of the Muslims of Srinagar that they not only lighted the torch of freedom with a toll of so many human sacrifices but also defied the curfew and despite martial law, resulting in indiscriminate firing and ruthless repression by the trigger-happy soldiers, brought out hundreds of processions during those stormy days in defiance of Government regulations.” According to official figures 326 persons were arrested in connection with incidents at Maharaj Ganj alone. Pandit Bazaz testifies that Hindus took undue advantage of the imposition of martial law and got every Muslim, with whom they had any grudge, arrested by the army, ostensibly on the allegation of being connected with the freedom movement.

All those baseless allegation of Qadeer’s speech inciting Muslims against a “benevolent Hindu ruler” solely on the basis on communal rife, encouraging cow slaughter, rioters raping Hindu women, forced conversion are used abundantly to fake a crack in the protests’ core ideals. Perhaps they are ignorant of the incidents prior or how it actually unfolded, perhaps they don’t care, perhaps they will never know. The violence is on the hands of both sides if we’re to take the allegations are true for the sake of the argument, but that does neither nullify the importance of 13th July nor does it put one side on a higher moral stand. The tragic day is the milestone in the history of Kashmiri struggle against foreign occupation. It was revolt against atrocities on July 13, 1931 when people rose against the autocratic Dogra rule, the day mark homage to 22 Kashmiris who were martyred in the struggle. Immediately after the firing outside the Central jail, all roads linking Srinagar with the outside world were closed and telegraph and telephone communications forth with suspended, to prevent the news of the massacre from immediately reaching other parts of the State as well as the outside world. Now you know why Indian Government doesn’t allow 4G in Kashmir, “news…immediately reaching” the world.

Bibliography

  • (Volume I) Kashmiris fight for freedom – Mohammad Yusuf Saraf

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