April 29, 1865: When Dogra army killed 28 Shawl weavers
Srinagar, Apr 28: The Dogra army no longer exists in Kashmir. But memories associated with them do, at least in the hearts and minds of the residents of Zaldagar in Shahr-e-Khaas.
It has been about 150 years since the Dogra Army killed 28 people in the area, yet the incident is still fresh in the hearts and minds of the residents. According to them the carnage took place on April 29, 1865 when scores of shawl weavers marched on the streets of Shahr-e-Khaas against the ‘cruel tax policies’ of the Dagh Shawl Department of the Dogra regime.
The procession, which later came to be known as the Shalbaf procession, was organised to protest against the “difficult working conditions, meager wages, excessive taxation and a ban on weavers who wanted to leave Kashmir valley.”
The protests were held in the wee hours of April 29 outside the house of Pandit Raj Kak Dhar, the Kashmiri Pandit official who headed the Dagh Shawl Department, in the city’s Zaldagar locality.
Historians say Dhar misinformed the Dogra army that he was being attacked.
As the protesters reached Zaldagar, the Dogra troops led by Colonel Bijoy Singh rounded off the demonstrators and asked them to disperse. When the unarmed protesters refused to do so, the troops fired at them and later charged them with spears.
Dozens of protesters jumped off the Haji Rather Sum Bridge at Zaldagar, in the hope they would hide in the marsh underneath, but at least 28 bodies were recovered from the river, and over 100 sustained wounds.
“We haven’t seen the incident ourselves. But our elders have narrated it to us. And all we remember is that the demonstration was organized to fight against oppression and exploitation,” said Muhammad Amin, a resident of Zaldagar, pointing toward the bridge. “Those who died that day are always remembered in this area as our heroes. And this bridge is a symbolic representation of the carnage. It is important that we remember those people who laid their lives for the Kashmir cause.”
According to academics, the Shalbaf procession is a significant event in the history of Kashmir. “It was the first ever agitation against the exploitative work system,” said Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches Law in Kashmir University.
The Shalbaf procession, he said, was a big event in the global context as it took place much before the historic May Day of 1886. May 1st is observed in many parts of the world as International Workers’ Day.
“But it is a pity on our part that we ignore our own martyrs who rebelled against the oppressive system,” Dr Showkat told Greater Kashmir.
Sheikh Rasool, Ubli Baba, Qudda Lal, and Sona Butt were among the protesters during the Shalbaf procession who, according to historians, were imprisoned in different jails like Habak, Bahu Fort, and Ram Nagar. They were later “tortured to death.”
The noted historian, Fida Muhammad Hassnain, has recorded that Shalbaf protest was “perhaps the first organized protest for demands in the history of class struggle in India.”
Lastupdate on : Wed, 28 Apr 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 28 Apr 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 29 Apr 2010 00:00:00 IST
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