Some moments are important than epochs in the histories of nations. So holds true about 13 July 1931 in the history of Kashmir. On this day v people of Kashmir scripted their history with their blood. It was not the first day when people laid their lives for just cause- history of Kashmir after 1819 is replete with incidents when people were brutally murdered by ruthless alien rulers. The year 1865, is an important milestone in Kashmir history, in this year shawl makers protesting against the brutal tax system were drowned alive near Nawab Bazar. Notwithstanding, every day of our sacrifices is important. But July 13, 1931, for changing the course of history, is more significant than many other dates. On this day soldiers of Dogra ruler emptied magazines after magazines of their assault rifles on unarmed people that had gathered outside Srinagar Jail to know about the court proceedings about one detained Abdul Qadeer. Twenty-eight people were gunned down and scores others received gunshots in their limbs when they had gathered for offering noon prayers outside the Central Jail Srinagar, where their new hero was being tried in camera.
It was not the arrest of a political leader of a stature that had made people gather outside the Srinagar Central jail and agitate. The man who became the 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 at Khanqah Moula perhaps “the first” in the country. His sudden appearance at a political rally shaped the contemporary Kashmir history. It 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 the bigoted rule of a Hindu king. In 1931, Muslims constituted 85 percent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir 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 economic, 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 the Mogul rulers and others.
The meeting elected representatives for meeting Maharaja Hari Singh with their demands, 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 historic hospice of Shah- Hamdan that a young man Abdul Qadeer came on to the 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 and had committed sacrilege by tearing apart the Holy Book. He asked the people to pull down the Maharaja’s palace brick by brick. 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 people to rise in revolt. To this day, many questions continue to remain unanswered about this British Sahib butler. Of these questions, one is if appeared on the stage and addressed the gathering sou-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 a couple of times on the lawns of the Hazratabal Mosque.
The man whose arrest triggered 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 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 seven years after the massacre outside the country is in itself a subject that needs a detailed study.
Qadeer, after his fiery speech, was arrested and tried. His one address had made him the 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 tidal wave that was going to sweep away the rulers from their firmly entrenched pedestals.’
Stating that it was an accident of history does not mean that if Qadeer had not appeared on the scene, there would have been no freedom movement. It would not be correct to say that the struggle against the tyrant and oppressive rule started in 1931. But, the historical reality is that it was born on the same day when British sold Kashmir for the paltry sum of Rs.7500000/ (Nankshahi). People did not accept it as fait accompli but rose in revolt. The Dogra soldiers were defeated; it was with the help of the British army that they entered into Kashmir. After that, there have been many uprisings which were suppressed through brute force by the Dogra rulers. The first major one was the 1865 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 is golden pages of Kashmir struggle against the oppression of Hindu ruler. I have in much 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 the role 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 the cause of Kashmiri Muslims as the cause of the Muslims in British India by attracting Muslim intelligentsia to join Kashmir Committee. Those who joined Allama 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 Hishammuddin (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. Syed Mohsin Shah was appointed a 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 the ambit of its activities played a 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 Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas. In more than many ways, the Muslim Association Jammu can be seen as a 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, was also crucial 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 Muslim press of Lahore reported the incident, and it had sent shock waves not only in Kashmiri community living in Punjab but the entire Muslim population. And it was the Kashmir Committee that brought the plight of Kashmiris under focus in 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 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 at the end of anti-Muslim feudal rule in the overwhelmingly Muslim majority state.
Z. G .MUHAMMAD is a Columnist and Writer from Srinagar, Kashmir.