A Butler Changed Destiny of A Nation

It was an accident of history. That is how I look at 13 July 1931.  And like all great accidents in the histories of nations   it changed the course of Kashmir history. It may be questioned why I see this important day in our freedom struggle as an ‘accident of history’. It is not to  belittle the significance and importance of this day but it is the events preceding this gruesome day that suggest that it was not a programmed  political rally organized by  the then political leadership that was fired upon by the soldiers of the Dogra Maharaja.

It was not    the arrest of a political leader of stature that had made people to gather outside the Srinagar Central jail and agitate.   The man who became cause of the massacre was   not a religious scholar of stature or political leader of consequences but   an ‘unknown’ person – a butler with a British Sahib.

Three weeks before he had   suddenly shot into prominence at the first major political public meeting perhaps “the first” in the state. His sudden appearance at a well thought political meeting I see an ‘aberration of the event’ that not only shaped the contemporary Kashmir history but also provided grist to the conspiracy theories that subsequently proved disastrous for the well intended political movement of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir state against discriminatory rule of Hindu king of overwhelmingly Muslim majority. In 1931, Muslims constituted 85 percent of the population of this State surrounded by India, China, Afghanistan and China.

On 21st of June first ever political meeting had been organized by a group of Muslim intelligentsia to elect a representative body for presenting a charter of demands of Muslims of the state to Hindu ruler against his biased and discriminatory economical, social and political policy. The Hindu ruler’s soldiers had occupied major masjids and converted them into barracks and granaries. These included some historical mosques built by Moguls.

 The meeting elected representatives and after the elections the meeting was dispersed and the leaders had retired to a nearby house, “ostensibly to have some refreshment and plan out future strategy.”  The people were still on the lawns of the hospice that a young man Abdul Qadeer came to empty podium. He made an emotional speech calling upon to rise in revolt with one voice against the Hindu ruler whose officers had been showing disrespect towards Islam. His speech touched the hearts of people and agitated their minds against the autocratic ruler. It was at the spur of the moment that he emerged as the people’s hero. His speech encouraged to rise in revolt. There are many questions that continue to remain unanswered about this British Sahib butler. Of these questions, one is if appeared on the stage and addressed the gathering suo moto or he had the ‘tacit approval’ from the leaders if not all but at least from Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.   Sheikh  writes in his autobiography about having met him before the public meeting couple of times.

 The man whose arrest trigged the agitation and shaped the course of our history was chaste Urdu speaking ‘robustly built’ young man Abdul Qadeer.’ The vested interests amongst the minority community used the “inflammatory speech by Qadeer” to spread rumors in their community about some inevitable trouble against them. Some of them perhaps even Prem Nath Bazaz alerted the Congress leadership in India about the ‘resurgence of Muslim nationalism” in Kashmir and its consequences for the Hindu in the state more particularly Kashmir Pandits. Mirdu Rai writes about it, however, the Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus, shaken by the expression of   such hostile sentiments as those of Qadeer had disseminated their own set of rumors. One such spreading like wildfire and indicating the fear felt by a minority of possibly losing the ground in the state of the Muslims majority was that the Dogra ruler was about  to permit cow slaughter.”  How these rumors not only alerted the Congress leadership and made them play a role in changing the political discourse of Muslims leadership in the state barely seven years after the massacre outside the state is in itself a subject- that perhaps at this time beyond the scope of this incident.

Qadeer after his fiery speech was arrested and tried. His one speech had made him darling of the Muslims masses of the State- who   after some sacrilegious incidents both in Jammu and Srinagar had become worrisome about the intentions of the rulers. “The trial of Qadeer had started on July 6, 1931 at the Sessions Court, Srinagar. During the hearings huge crowds of Muslim had gathered to hear the proceedings of the case. The presence of people had made the authorities nervous.’ The trial was transferred to Srinagar Jail to be held in camera on 13 July 1931. On the day of trial people gathered outside Srinagar Central jail and it was on these people that Dogra soldiers had fired upon the innocent people. As very rightly written by Mirdu Rai , ‘the significance of the date drew from the fact that it was the first time that a gathering of Kashmiri Muslims openly challenged the authority  of Maharaja Hari Singh and his government.” The slogans raised by the agitated crowds were sufficient to tell the rulers that it was a tide that was going to sweep away the rulers from their strongly entrenched pedestals.’

Stating that it was an accident of history does not mean that had not Qadeer appeared on the scene and events that followed the freedom movement would not have been there. It was  not  correct to say that the struggle against the tyrant and oppressive rule started in 1931, it was in fact born on the same day when British sold  Kashmir for paltry sum of Rs.7500000/ (Nankshahi). Some histories have recorded that people had accepted this change over as a fait accompli but that is not the truth the people then also had revolted against it.

 There have been many an uprisings which were suppressed through brute force by the Dogra rulers. It in fact started with the revolt of the Shawl weavers against the brute tax system.  But what could be seen as an organized reassertion of the Kashmiri Muslims could be traced   the birth of Anjuman Kashmir in Lahore- the heart of undivided Punjab. The role played by Kashmiri Muslims settled in Punjab including Muhammad Din Fauq and Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal later Allama Iqbal are golden pages of Kashmir struggle against oppression of Hindu ruler.   I have in many earlier write up mentioned in detail about the role played by Allama Iqbal in our freedom struggle.  There is hardly a historian of Kashmir Freedom struggle who has not endorsed of the Lahore Press in bringing in political awakening in the Muslims of the state or the newspapers started by Kashmiris in Lahore.

It would not be wrong to say Allama Muhammad Iqbal not only emerged as philosopher and guide of our struggle but its first advocate and ambassador in the world outside Kashmir. He had very successfully made cause of Kashmiri Muslims as cause of Indian Muslims by making Muslim intelligentsia to join Kashmir Committee. Those who joined Iqbal and worked with him  day and night from the platform of All-India Muslim Kashmiri Conference, Lahore included Khan Bahadur Haji Rahim Bux   Mian Nizamuddin honorary magistrate, Haji Mir Shamsuddin, Maulana Syed Habib editor, Mian Amiruddin (lord mayor Lahore), Munshi Mohammad Din Fauq (Kashmiri historian), Mohammad Rafiq Ahmad bar-at-law, Khawaja Ghulam Mustafa advocate, Mian Hisammuddin (honorary magistrate), Nawab Habibullah, Sheikh Sadiq Hassan   Sheikh Mohammad Sadiq, Khawaja Mohammad Yousuf, Khan Bahadur Sheikh Din Mohammad (later chief justice and member boundary commission), Malik Abdur Rafi, Malik Abdul Qayyum bar-at-law and Col Mirza Qutubuddin while Syed Mohsin Shah was appointed secretary of the committee.

The history of association of Kashmiri Muslims in fact runs parallel to an association formed by the Muslim intelligentsia in Jammu.  In 1922 Chowdary Ghulam Abbass revived the Young Men’s Muslim Association an organization of Jammu Muslims that had become defunct after its birth in 1909. This organization that he headed from 1924 to 1929 played a prominent role in raising its voice against the discriminatory treatment meted out to the Muslims of the state. It is this organization that after bringing Kashmir within   ambit of its activities played catalytic role in launching the movement that found its expression in June 1931. The meeting at Khanquah  in fact besides electing the representatives had been organized to receive four  members of the Young Men’s Muslim Association, Mistri Muhammad Yaqoob, Sardar Gauhar Rehman, Sheikh Abdul Hamid and Chaudary Ghulam Abbas.   In more than many ways the Muslim Association Jammu can be seen as forerunner to the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference first ever state wide political organization of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir from Mirpur to Nobra and also the founder of the movement that found its first brave manifestation on July 13, 1931.   

The 13 July 1931, has also importance for making the world around to know the brutalities the Muslims of the state were suffering at the hands of autocratic rulers. Five days after the happening the incident was reported by the Muslim press of Lahore and it had sent shock waves not only in Kashmiri community living in Punjab but entire Muslim population. And   it was the Kashmir Committee that brought plight of Kashmiris under focus in the undivided India after launching mass movement at all India level.  There are records about Muslims in many parts of India taking out processions against the Dogra ruler in the state. And it in fact these protests in different parts of India that made The British to intervene in Kashmir affairs and appointments of commissions to look into the grievances of the Muslims of the state. And it was this incident that Kashmir Freedom Struggle gained strength from strength and resulted in end of anti-Muslim feudal rule in the overwhelmingly Muslim majority state.



Zahid G Muhammad

Is Srinagar based columnist, writer and

Author of:.

Cindering Chinars.

Kashmir in War and Diplomacy

Kashmir Dispute, Some Important Dimensions

Icons of Kashmir Dispute

Srinagar: Memoirs and the City.