n Momin Iftikhar
Every freedom struggle has a defining moment; a benchmark that ignites the powder keg of history and sets into motion the inexorable march of a people towards their destiny of freedom. For the oppressed Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir, this occurred on July 13, 1931. The importance of this day is underpinned by the fact that this became the first occasion when the Kashmiris rose en masse and spontaneously against the oppression of the Dogra ruler. As many as 21 people were shot by the Maharaja’s forces and the day came to be known as Youm-e-Shuhada (the Martyrs’ Day). July 13, 1931, is the landmark in the political movement of Kashmir and is manifest of the politicised Muslim identity that drives the freedom movement in Kashmir; even to this day.
It is one of the greatest injustices of modern history that Kashmir, along with predominantly Muslim population, was sold by the British to Maharaja Gulab Singh for Rs 75 lakh through the provisions of the Treaty of Amritsar (1846). The Kashmiris got a raw deal from their rulers. As observed by Walter Lawrence: “Almost everything save air and water was taxed in Kashmir.” Younghusband observes: “The poor coolies, who were engaged to carry load for travellers, had to give up as tax half of their earnings.”
The Dogra rulers paid no heed to the lamentable conditions of the masses and undertook no reforms to alleviate their sufferings or make adjustments to the change of political winds in British India where the Muslims, with the turn of the century, under the dynamic leadership of the Quaid were organising to launch a struggle for their political rights as a community. It was the gathering focus on their state of neglect as a community that the first mass expression of discontent of Kashmiri Muslims made its forceful emergence on July 13, 1931.
The countdown to the eventful day started on June 25, 1931, when the Reading Room Party convened a mass meeting at Khanqah-e-Muallah. The ambience of the meeting translated into a highly-charged and emotionally-political atmosphere; and as the meeting began to disperse, a young man appeared before the crowd and mesmerised it with a stirring speech. This young man who ignited the fire and passions of freedom was Abdul Qadeer, who hailed from Amroha in U.P. and was visiting Kashmir along with his British employer. Such an unprecedented boldness could not be let off by the Maharaja’s administration. His speech was recorded by the secret police and he was arrested on June 25 on charges of treason.
When the Muslims heard about his arrest, there was a wide and intense reaction in Srinagar. The result was that when Qadeer was produced in the court of the session’s judge, there were throngs of people who lined the route to kiss his hands and touch his clothes. The transformation of the populace from a detached and passive countenance to that of a determined people bent upon showing their resolve and respect for freedom, shook the administration’s confidence in the efficacy of their repressive tactics. Catering to their newly-found apprehensions, on July 5, the venue of the trial was moved to central jail that caused a lot of resentment among the population and further charged the already tense atmosphere. It was becoming manifest that the things were moving on an inevitable course for a showdown.
On July 13, thousands of Muslims assembled outside the jail and demanded permission to enter the compound and allow their representatives to watch the proceedings. The authorities’ refusal to entertain these demands turned the situation grave. At 1:00pm when the Muslims began to line up for Zuhr prayers, the Governor personally issued immediate orders for the arrest of leaders present there. The police arrested five leaders from among the crowd, whereupon the people became restive and chanted anti-government and pro-Qadeer slogans.
The situation became dangerously confrontational when the crowd asked for the immediate release of the leaders and attempted to force its entry into the compound. Instead of handling the situation with tact, the Governor lost his nerve and ordered the police to open fire that resulted in the martyrdom of 21 people, besides injuring over 40. It goes to the valour of the shuhadas that, according to Mr Wakefield, “the wounds of dead Kashmiris (shuhadas) were all in front.” The violent mob then set the police quarters on fire and using the blood soaked shirt of a martyr as flag, took the bodies to the Jamia Masjid where they were kept under a vigil for the whole night by the people/procession.
The Maharaja immediately imposed martial law and handed over the city to the army that encircled the Mosque. The standoff continued until the shuhadas were buried in the compound of Khanqah-e-Naqshbandi on the third day of the incident amidst heartrending incidents of devotion and inspiration. The entire population of the city had assembled to pay homage to the heroes. The site of these graves has come to be known as Mazar-e-Shuhada where every year on July 13, the Muslims from all over Kashmir gather to dedicate themselves to the cause of freedom and honour.
July 13, through spilling the blood of martyrs, made a singular contribution towards the evolution of the freedom struggle in Kashmir. The blooding of a docile people broke the collective spell cast by the tyranny suffered in silence through centuries and vehemently underscored the power of sacrifice and character for securing the ideals of independence and freedom. It significantly asserted the Muslim identity in Kashmir and established the tradition of armed struggle for the Kashmiris to secure their rights. The 21 martyrs of July 13 blazed a trail of glory that, ever since, has inspired generations of Kashmiri youth to follow in their footsteps. The impact of this sacrifice has become even more relevant in the current context, when India is employing all possible delaying tactics to avoid finding a solution to the Kashmir issue in line with the wishes of the Kashmiri population.
One has to recognise that the Kashmiris have staked a claim for independence from India based on a bloody and valiant armed struggle that began in 1989 and is sanctified by the blood of over 100,000 martyrs. In a milieu, where the Indians are using all kind of delaying tactics to crush the indigenous freedom struggle by unrelenting repression - combined with political skulduggery, the significance of the Martyrs’ Day has become that much more relevant.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.