BY Mohamad Zubair-u-din
There is an interesting thing about the martyrs of July 13, 1931: both the anti- and pro-India leaders in Kashmir lionize them as men of their tribe.
The pro-India leaders offer floral tributes at their graves inside the shrine of Khwaja Naqshband Sahib Shrine in Srinagar every year on this day, acknowledging their contribution to freedom of Kashmiris from the brutal Dogra king.
Hurriyat or pro-freedom leaders, on the other hand, view the present resistance movement of Kashmir as a continuation of the long-drawn struggle of which 13 July, 1931 constitutes the bed rock.
In what various experts on history call this day as ‘Jalianwala Bagh of Kashmir’, at least 22 unarmed men were gunned down by the soldiers of Maharaja Hari Singh.
Thousands of men had assembled outside the Central Jail, Srinagar to witness the proceedings against Abdul Qadeer who had been charged with sedition after he delivered a fiery speech on the long-suppressed aspirations of the people of Kashmir (especially Muslims) in the precincts of the Khanqah.
The resignation of Sir Albion Bannerjee, the foreign and political minister of State in 1929 and his subsequent interview to the press created a wave of indignation in the then undivided India and caused much stir within Kashmir. What he revealed summed up the reasons of discontent in Kashmir.
He said: “Jammu and Kashmir State is labouring under many disadvantages, with large Muhammadan population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages and practically governed like dumb driven cattle. There is no touch between the government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing the grievances and the administrative machinery itself requires overhaul hauling from top to bottom to bring it up to the modern conditions of efficiency. It had at present little or no sympathy with the people’s wants and grievances.
“There is hardly any public opinion in the state. As regards Press, it is practically non-existent…”
What actually turned people against the Dogra regime is not difficult to surmise. The people of the state, especially Muslims, were groaning under extreme suppression and misrule which was accentuated with the burden of heavy taxation. There was discontent among the Muslim educated youth over the lack of opportunities which turned into anger and frustration when they witnessed the appointment of Dogras of mediocre abilities to high posts.
The lot of peasants was pitiable and so were the other professionals in grinding distress. At the top of it, there was no freedom to form associations of any nature.
Further, a few incidents of communal nature flared up the emotions of otherwise docile Muslim population and it all needed a spark to explode which came with the arrest and the subsequent trial of Abdul Qadeer. It all culminated in the martyrdom of at least two dozen kashmiris.
The message sent across was clear and unambiguous. The people of Kashmir would no longer persevere in their ruthless suppression on all fronts. The people stood up as one man against the might of Dogra regime. No wonder 13 July 1931 is considered as a watershed in the history of modern Kashmir.
Down the memory lane, the event embedded in the collective memory of the people of Kashmir as a glowing inspiration to fight for their inalienable rights of which freedom occupies the central place.
But one wonders who the actual representatives of these martyrs are?
A dispassionate look at the causes which resulted in the 13 July 1931 makes one believe that if brought to life again, these martyrs will surely not subscribe to the Indian rule in Kashmir and will fight against the current establishment until the dawn of real freedom descends upon Kashmir.