Kashmir: A Nation, A Struggle
13th July represented a fresh assertive mobilization of Kashmiri Muslims
The geographical isolation of Kashmir was bridged to a large extent with the opening of new communication lines in early twentieth century. In 1890 with the opening of Jhelum Valley road, Kashmir got connected with Rawalpindi. Banihal Cart Road connected Srinagar and Jammu, while railway line between Sailkot amd Jammu was constructed in 1915. These communication links opened up new avenues for Kashmiris, who could now travel, frequently, to British India for business and education. The stay in British India in the period of great political churning influenced young Kashmiri minds and the Punjabi press that was not only sympathetic to Kashmiri Muslims but moral and financial supporter as well helped them organize into a decisive force. Thus, in the early 1920s there emerged on the political scene of Kashmir “an embryonic Muslim political class” who sought, assertively, the social and economic rights of their co-religionists.
Kashmir witnessed first political unrest in the shape of labor strike organized by the Silk Factory workers in 1924. This momentous strike brought to the attention of the British Government the pathetic condition of the people of Kashmir “in a manner which it was difficult to ignore.” On the occasion of Lord Reading’s visit to the state in October 1924, prominent members of the Muslim Community, like Hassan Shah Naqshbandi, Saad-ud-Din Shawl presented him with a memorandum that contained several demands of the Muslim community and highlighted dismal representation of Muslims in the services by citing statistics. Maharaja Hari Singh responded severely by confiscating jagir of Saad-ud-Din Shawl and exiling him and other memorialists were served warnings. Such repressive measure was taken by the government to curb the emerging political assertiveness of the Muslim leadership. However, it proved counterproductive as Khawaja Saad-ud-Din Shawl, while in exile, made contacts in Punjab, wherefrom he build up a movement for reforms in Kashmir.
Another remarkable event that helped in highlighting the gross misconduct of Dogra rule in the state of Jammu and Kashmir was the 1929 resignation of Sir Albion Bannerji. Since 1927 Mr. Bannerji, a Bengali Christian, had been senior minister of the Council of State of Jammu and Kashmir. His resignation was in protest to the misgovernment in the state that was made public through Daily Tribune Lahore on March 19th, 1929. Bannerji said in the statement that, “Jammu and Kashmir State is laboring under many disadvantages, with a large Muhammaden population absolutely illiterate, laboring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages and practically governed like dumb driven cattle. There is no touch between the Government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievances and the administrative machinery itself requires overhauling from top to bottom to bring it up to the modern conditions of efficiency. It has at present little or no sympathy with the people’s wants and grievances.”
As discussed in the beginning number of Kashmir Muslims had left the state to pursue their higher education in British Indian universities. These young talented Muslims from Kashmir were patronized by Kashmir émigrés of Punjab who had established a forum called All-India Kashmir Muslim Conference (AIKMC). This organization offered scholarship grants to young Kashmiri Muslims to pursue their higher education in universities such as Punjab University and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in northern India. This moral and material support provided by AIKMC nurtured a first politically conscious generation of Kashmiris, who mostly studied in Punjab University and AMU and were exposed to the political ferments in British India, like Non-Cooperation Movement, Civil Disobedience Movement, Khilafat Movement etc.
During their stay outside they were exposed to the political culture pervading in the larger part of British India and some of them were very much influenced by Marxist ideology. On return to their native State, this articulate group of educated Muslims like Sheikh Abdullah, Mirza Afzal Beg, Ghulam Abbas, and G M Sadiq “rapidly assumed of dominant place in local political activity in collaboration, and also in connection with the old Muslim leadership which was headed by the two Mirwaiz.”
The main spiritual leader of Kashmir, Mirwaiz was also active politically and even contested the Prajha Sabha elections in 1933. So, this increasing consciousness created a new political culture in Kashmir and the first large-scale attempt to resist the Maharaja’s autocracy took a definite shape in the early 1930s. To a large extent new Kashmiri leadership was inspired and influenced by the civil disobedience campaigns organized by the Indian National Congress under Gandhi’s leadership. Since most of the Kashmiris were Muslims bearing grievances against a Hindu monarch, a Hindu administration, and Hindu landlords, the movement inevitably took on communal overtones.
The new generation of Kashmiri leadership created a decisive opposition against the Maharaja, but it was still “inevitably (and) inextricably bound up with Islamic sensitivities” This salience of Islamism in political agenda was in large part influence of Aligarh Muslim University where Pan-Islamic ideology received a new lease of life after demise of Ottoman Empire.
The new leadership embarked on a process of political mobilization by using arguments of relative deprivation. They also used Islam as a political force to mobilize the people. They would hold meetings in Mosques and address people on Friday congregations. They tried to expose the communal premise of Maharaja’s regime: he was denounced from the pulpits of mosques as an autocratic Hindu Maharaja governing predominantly Muslim subject with an administration composed mostly of Punjabi and Kashmiri Hindus. Philips Talbot wrote in World Politics that ‘the beauteous valleys and rugged mountainsides of Kashmir support an impoverished, illiterate and insecure population of peasants and herdsmen…and these unprivileged Muslim villagers have long depended mostly on the Brahman and Dogra classes for governmental favors and trade essentials. The unequal relationship between rulers and ruled led naturally to communal bias when political consciousness spread to Kashmir in the 1930’s.’
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Lastupdate on : Wed, 11 Jul 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 11 Jul 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 12 Jul 2012 00:00:00 IST
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