July 13, 1931: A History of Martyrs’ Day

Feb 14, 2023 | Brutality by Occupying Forces

Kashmir Media Service 

Martyrs’ Day commemorates the 22 Kashmiris killed by forces of the Dogra king of Jammu and Kashmir on July 13, 1931. Since then, it has remained a reference point for the Kashmiri freedom struggle. The 1931 uprising was preceded by many agitations. The deep resentment of the masses was building up before it exploded on July 13, 1931.

The Sequence of Events

Banning of the Friday sermon in Jammu:  The weekly Kashmiri Musalmaan, published in Lahore, reported on 10 May 1931, that on 29 April 1931, while Muslims at Jammu were offering Eid prayers, the Dogra DIG Chowdhary Ram Chand and another police officer, Babu Khem Chand, told the Imam, Atta Ullah Shah Bukhari (or Mufti Muhammad Ishaque) to stop the mandatory Friday khutbah in which he spoke of the cruel king of ancient Egypt, the Pharoah. The Imam was also accused of making political speeches against the Dogra king. 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 a brief meeting was held condemning the incident. Chowdhary Gowhar Rehman, secretary of the newly established Young Men’s Muslim Association, took a serious exception to this religious interference and held a protest meeting. The meeting was addressed by Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas Khan, Sardar Gauhar Rehman Khan, and Mistri Yakub Ali.

Desecration of the Quran in Mirpur: According to the daily Inquilab dated July 1, 1931, and Khan, Freedom Movement in Kashmir, p.126 , one Fazal Dad Khan, a police constable from Mirpur, was sitting on a cot when a Head Warder, Balak Ram, reprimanded him for being late on duty. In the meantime came one Labhaya Ram, a Sub-Inspector, who threw away Fazal Dad’s bedding in a fit of recklessness. The bedding contained a copy of Panj Surah (five chapters from Holy Quran). Fazal Dad approached the Young Men’s Muslim Association. The association at once issued a poster, calling upon all Muslims of the state to hold protest meetings. The valley’s Muslims responded to the call, and started peaceful protests.

Probe into the Quran desecration: According to the Resident Political Secretary, Government of India, July 11, 1931 (Rough Note on Political Situation, pp.2-3), on 6th June, G.E.C. Wakefield, Political Minister for Kashmir, was deputed to go to Mirpur and investigate the matter. Wakefield met representatives of all the eight Islamia Anjuman of Jammu on 9th June. He asked them to choose two members, and, along with them, investigated the whole matter the next day. In a press communiqué, the Maharaja deplored the incident and, on the recommendation of the Enquiry Committee, retired Labhaya Ram from service.

Another incident in Srinagar on 20th June 1931: Leaves of the Holy Quran were found in a public latrine. No Muslim could ever dare do that. Mirwaiz Muhammad Yousuf Shah at a public meeting held at Hazratbal said: “If we are arrested there is nothing for you to fear. If ten of us are arrested, other ten must be prepared to take our places.”

Hari Singh calls for a meeting: Concerned at these ominous developments, Maharaja Hari Singh invited a deputation of Muslims from both Jammu and Kashmir to meet him for talks. The Young Men’s Muslim Association of Jammu chose four members, namely, Mistri Yaqub Ali, Sardar Gohar Rahman, Chowdhry Ghulam Abbas, and Sheikh Abdul Majid. In Srinagar, according to Shah Hafiz Mohammad Ismail, “A list of representation was already formulated on June 20, 1931, at the office of Anjummi-i-Nusrat-ul-Islam under the leadership of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah.” These representatives were expected to submit the grievances and demands of the community to the Maharaja at the suggestion of G.E.C. Wakefield, Political Minister for Kashmir. The Muslim representatives from the Valley were Saad-ud-Din Shawl, Mirwaiz Moulvi Yusuf Shah, Mirwaiz Ahmadullah Hamdani, Aga Syed Hasan Jalali, Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Munshi Shahab-ud-Din.

Mirwaiz Yousuf introduces Sheikh Abdullah to Kashmir: According to G.H. Khan, “On June 8, 1931, a protest demonstration was organised at Jamia Masjid. It was at this time that Sheikh Abdullah, who was afterwards to become an undisputed leader of the people, was introduced to the audience by Molvi Mohammad Yusuf Shah, recently succeeded to the position after his uncle’s death in early 1931.”
According to Sadat, Rozana Diary, p. 694-95, “Now encouraged by the enormous mass support and fully backed by the Mirwaiz Mohammad Yusuf, who extended the Jamia Masjid as the organisational centre for his political activities, Sheikh Abdullah organised public meetings in different parts of Srinagar city which used to be attended by thousands of people.”

Kashmir representatives call for gathering at Khanqah: This gathering, in the words of the Sheikh (Aatish-i-Chinar, p. 142), “should be considered the formal inauguration of the freedom movement of Kashmir.” It was at this historical gathering that a body of the Muslim representatives was ratified.

Gazi Abdul Qadir Khan’s Speech: According to Sheikh Abdullah (Aatish-i-Chinar, p. 61), “When the leaders dispersed, a young man appeared on the podium and started chanting slogans against Hindus. He said: “Listen. Time has come when we have to act. Requests and memoranda will serve no purpose at this point. It will not end tyranny and it will not end desecration of Quran. Stand up upon your legs and fight the tyrant rulers.” He pointed towards Raj Mahal (Palace) and said: “Raze it to the ground.”’
Although most historians believe that Qadir Khan was not a Kashmiri and some believe him to be an agent of the British, but Zahir-Ud-Din, a valley-based journalist and historian, brings up another anecdote and claims he was from Gutli Bagh in Ganderbal.

Case of treason against Abdul Qadir Khan: Under Section 124-A (Treason) and 153 of the Ranbir Penal Code, Qadir was arrested and put on trial for his fiery speech. His speech was recorded by the CID and when he returned to Naseem Bagh in the dead of night, he was arrested on June 25 from the house-boat of his employer.

Defence Council for Abdul Qadir Khan: Polymath Molvi Abdullah Vakil, an Ahmadi scholar, took over as defence lawyer along with a team comprising Pir Qamal ud Din and Ghulam Mohammad.

Hearing of the case: During the four hearings held on the 4th, 6th, 7th and 9th of July, a large number of Muslims would assemble in the compound of the court to witness the trial and to express their solidarity with their hero. Finding the atmosphere quite volatile, the session judge shifted the venue of the trial from the court to central jail, which was more secure from the crowd. But the masses insisted on an open trial.

13 July 1931: According to Fida Hassnain, on the 13th of July 1931, the trial of Abdul Qadir Khan Ghazi was held in the Srinagar Jail premises. The Deputy Inspector of Police came to the site of the trial with one Inspector, two Sub Inspectors, five Head Constables, and 44 policemen. Out of this force, 22 policemen were armed with rifles and the rest with clubs, while the Inspectors had revolvers. In addition to the above reinforcement, the Jail forces comprised 119 policemen armed with bamboo canes and 19 policemen with rifles.
Before the arrival of the Session Judge, a large number of Muslims had gathered on the road leading to the Jail compound. When the Judge arrived in his car, escorted by the police, they shouted these slogans: ‘Our brother from Rai Bareli! Release Abdul Qadir! Our brother from Rawalpindi! We will go to jail. Imprison us instead.’
In the meantime, a jail official informed the governor, Raizada Trilok Chand, about the matter.

Azaan that consumed 17 people: By 12:45 pm, the muezzin gave the call to prayer and the people began lining up for their noon prayers. The police arrested five men and this incensed the people further. One of them, named Khawaja Abdul Khaliq Shora, stood up and recited the Azaan loudly. A policeman promptly shot him dead. Such was the euphoria that he was quickly replaced by another person who continued with the call to prayer. He, too, was shot dead. In this way, 17 daredevils were martyred and 5 more among the hundreds injured succumbed to injuries later. This was the first Azaan of the world which took 22 lives to be completed. Protesters made a flag of the soaked shirt of the martyrs, lifted them on charpoys, and proceeded towards Jamia Masjid. The first agitator to be arrested was at Central Jail, Khawaja Mohammad Yayha Rafiqui.
One of the martyrs who had not as yet breathed his last had reportedly told Sheikh Abdullah, “I have done my duty and now you proceed ahead.”
Newspapers The Hindu and Daily Tribune reported the loss of 21 Muslims in the firing by police. There was widespread condemnation of this state-led massacre.

Barjor Dalal Commission: On 14th July, Maharaja Hari Singh appointed an inquiry commission under Chief Justice of J&K High Court, Barjour Dalal. The Commission of Inquiry also had two judges of the High Court, BR Sawhney and Abdul Qaiyum, as official members, and two non-official members, one a Muslim and the other a Hindu. Later, the number of non-official members was raised to four, two from each of the Hindu and Muslim communities, one each from the Jammu and the Kashmir province. The non-official Muslim member, Khwaja Saad-ud-Din Shawl, submitted his resignation from the commission on 19th July. The Maharaja appointed Khwaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai in his place. He, too, tendered his resignation.

The inquiry commission report: The inquiry commission under Barjor Dalal submitted a report on the events of 13 July 1931. Muslim leaders in Kashmir had already rejected the commission, alleging it to be biased. Dalal termed Hindu leaders as representatives but Muslim leaders as so-called representatives. He didn’t entertain reports of the plunder of Muslim shops, and much more. Dalal’s report (Srinagar riot inquiry committee – 1931) concluded that the riots were the outcome of intrigues that the British had indulged in since 1847.

Burial of the martyrs: At the suggestion of Khawaja Noor Shah, all the martyrs were buried in the compound of Ziarat Naqshbandi Sahib, Khanyar.
About one lakh Muslims were said to have gathered by this time and the Sheikh, then, one by one announced the names of seven men and got the approval of the gathering for their inclusion in the deputation which was to meet the Maharaja.

On 14 August 1931, a call was given by the All Indian Kashmir Committee for a gathering in Kashmir to protest against the July 13 killings. Kashmiris who had been forced to leave Kashmir by the Dogra regime started pouring in voluntarily in jathas and one Punjab-based Kashmiri, Ellahi Bakshi, was killed by Dogra police while entering the Kashmir border. His slogan was “Kashmir Chalo”. He was the first Muslim martyr from India to lay down his life for Kashmir. All this worried British so much that they started communication with Hari Singh.

Changes in the administration: When Hari Singh failed to curb this upsurge, he appointed Pandit Hari Kishan Koul as the new Prime Minister of the State and his brother Daya Kishen Koul in the administration. He issued orders for the release of all political prisoners except Abdul Qadir Khan.

Murder of Abdul Qadir Khan in Jail: Khan, who was given five years’ rigorous imprisonment, was murdered in jail, according to Fida Hussain.

All India Kashmir Committee:  Sir Mohammad Iqbal called for an inquiry by the Government of India into the incidents of 13 July. He announced the observance of 14 August as ‘Kashmir Day’ and went so far as to suggest a review by the British Parliament of the 1846 Amritsar Treaty (Bazaz, Inside Kashmir, pp. 141-142.)

Moulana Azad as mediator: Hari Singh organised the visit of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Pandit Tej Bahadur Sapru. They tried to dissuade Muslims of Kashmir from their struggle, campaigned in the valley to ask people to cooperate with the Maharaja’s government.

Mehr Shah: Through the intervention of a liberal Muslim politician from British India, Meher Shah, an agreement was achieved between Muslim leaders of Kashmir and the government. The agreement is known as a temporary truce. When terms of this truce were announced to people at the Jamia Masjid on August 28, 1931, they were angered. The people wanted to take the struggle to its logical end and get rid of the tyrannical ruler.

Meerak Shah Kashani’s Narchu Paltan movement:  Narchu is a long spear, usually with five prongs of blades, used for fishing, and Paltan means battalion. Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah, on whom the mantle of leadership had fallen after the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah, proclaimed a Jihad against the feudal autocratic “Hindu Raj”. The Mirwaiz apparently gave two choices to the Maharaja: either use democratic ways to settle the issues or declare open war on Kashmiri Muslims.
Hence, there was a mass protest on the same day, i.e. 24th Sept, led by Meerak Shah, a show of strength of the Kashmiri Muslims. It was known as Narchu or Narichh demonstration. All the able-bodied Muslims armed with spears, axes, lances and even a few matchlock guns formed a paltan which was called Narchu Paltan. The Dogra forces used force against the protestors in what they called as suppression of riots. The events came to be known as the September riots.

Nawab Khusro Jung: The Kashmiris’ combined rural-urban demonstration was countered by the Maharaja with great tact. On one side he engaged the leaders to hold talks with his representative Nawab Khusro Jung and on the other hand prevailed upon his army and police to remain in barracks on the day. A ferocious critic of the Maharaja, Md Yusuf Saraf, appreciates this restrained action of the Maharaja, as any counter-attack by the army could have left hundreds in pools of blood.

Anjuman e Sarfaroshaan: The entry of Ahrars into the state territory had shifted the scene of the resistance from Srinagar to Jammu. On October 30, 1931, Allah Rakha Sagar, calling himself as the first Dictator of the Anjuman-e-Sarfaroshan, gave an ultimatum to the state government to accept all their demands within 24 hours.

Allah Rakha Sagar: On 1st November 1931, Sagar started a Civil Disobedience Movement and started defying the law of the state by leading a band of 30 volunteers who carried proscribed copies of the Inquilab newspaper in a procession and sold them in public, while shouting slogans against the Maharaja, the state administration, and Hindus.
According to H.L. Saxena (p. 239), Allah Rakha Sagar delivered short speeches at street corners at frequent intervals, in the course of which he declared that the power of the Dogra house had been broken and that its funeral had been held.

Middleton Commission: By 10th November, the Maharaja was ready to fulfil the long pending wish of the Britishers by suggesting the name of L. Middleton, ICS, Punjab, who had requisite judicial experience and advantage of previous acquaintance of Kashmir, to inquire into the alleged excesses by state forces and police during September.
The Middleton Commission blamed Pandit Hari Kishen Koul for use of excessive force against protestors. Middleton, who had started the business of recording the evidence of witnesses on 15th November 1931, and had concluded his job on 24th December 1931, submitted his report to the Maharaja in January 1932. He held the state administration responsible for having used excessive force in suppressing the September 1931 riots, thus giving a new dimension to the Muslim agitation.

Glancy Commission: On 20 October 1931, the Dogra Maharaja announced the appointment of a commission of inquiry headed by Bertrand J. Glancy to inquire into the grievances of people and to make such recommendations as it deemed necessary. The Maharaja also ordered the constitution of a Constitutional Reforms Conference to examine the feasibility of political reforms in the state.
The inquiry commission was presided over by B.J. Glancy of the Indian Political Department. He included two Muslim and two Hindu leaders in his investigating team, but within one month of its constitution, both the Hindu members were asked by their community to resign from the Commission. However, Hindu member Pandit P.N. Bazaz refused to resign. Instead, he continued to participate in the deliberations of the commission against the wishes of his community, for which he incurred great displeasure and opposition.
According to Anwar Ashai, Prem Nath Bazaz was allegedly attacked by cadres of Sanathan Dharm Youngmen’s Association at his Kawadara residence, so he had to run for his life and finally took refuge in Khatri Colony, Abiguzar. (source: Dr Ashraf Kashmiri’s personal Interview with Anwar Ashai).

Hartal in Jammu against Glancy Commission: When the first session of the Glancy Commission was held at Ajaib Ghar, a complete hartal was observed by the Hindus of Jammu. Soon after, Lok Nath Sharma resigned from the commission and on 12th January, 1932, a formal boycott of the Glancy Commission was declared. Now the commission had P.N. Bazaz, G.A. Ashai, and Chowdary Ghulam Abbas as its members.
The Commission submitted its report on 22nd March 1932. Pandits were furious because as per them the commission had chosen to completely ignore the 141-page document of their demands.

The Roti (Bread Agitation), May 1932: The Roti Agitation was a natural outcome of the disappointment caused among the Pandits by the publication of the Glancy Commission Report. They deplored the report with regard to the lowering of educational qualifications for government services in favour of Muslim subjects. They were perplexed by the fact that the Muslim majority had, after all, asserted itself even under Hindu rule.

All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference: According to Chowdhry Ghulam Abbas, (Kashmakash, p. 118), carrying forward their political advantage and capitalising on the recommendations of the Glancy Commission, the Muslim leaders set about giving their movement an organisational shape. Accordingly, a committee was set up which drafted a constitution of the proposed organisation and decided to name it the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference. The All India Kashmir Committee dispatched Moulana Abdullah Rahim Dard, Molvi Ismail Ghaznavi, Sayd Habib Shah (Editor, Siyasat daily) and Mir Zahur Ahmad to Srinagar to assist Sheikh Abdullah in making necessary arrangements.
In October 1932, the Muslim leadership called a general convention of the Muslims of the state. On 15th October 1932, the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference was formed. Sheikh Abdullah was unanimously elected its first president. The inaugural session of the conference was held on October 14-16, 1932, at the historic Pathar Masjid Srinagar. Advocate Sheikh Abdul Majid was elected as its Deputy President, while Ghulam Abbas became the General Secretary and Maulvi Sheikh Abdullah Vakil the Secretary. A constitution was drafted and a party flag similar to that of the All India Muslim League adopted. The flag-hoisting ceremony was performed by Walli Ullah Jani-ud-Abidin, a representative of All India Kashmir Committee, on 17th October 1932.

The article is based on the writer’s
academic research. The writer credits Dr Ashraf Kashmiri for assistance in the research.