July 13, 1931: The Day of an Idea

Greater Kashmir

“History is the vital Magistrate that passes the Judgement”

Martyrs’ Day is an annual day observed by nations to salute the martyrdom of those who sacrificed their lives defending the sovereignty of their nation from the alien rule. Martyrs Day is the historic day that crowns the sacrifice of martyrs. The 1931 Martyrs’ Day is not only a seminal mark in our history but also an important event in the global history of struggles of people. Many historians believe that Kashmir freedom struggle has its roots in the partition of British India.  They have forgotten that our freedom struggle is 82 years old. They have distorted history by suppressing the facts and events of history.  However, the Issue of Kashmir between India and Pakistan was born with the independence of United British India on 14/15 August 1947.
The history of Dogra rule (1846-1947) in Kashmir is replete with brutal treatment, perpetrated on the Kashmiri Muslims by Dogra forces. Under their rule, the life was made so terrible and miserable for the Muslims that it was difficult to differentiate them from beasts. Slave labour, heavy taxes, capital punishment for cow slaughter, and living under constant state-terror was order of the day. Maharaja Hari Singh’s Army “instead of donkeys and horses, were using   Kashmiri Muslims for transportation of goods across the far-flung areas”. Sir Walter Lawrence in his renowned book, ‘The India we served’, wrote: “army was employed in forcing the villagers to plough and sow, and worse still…the soldiers came at harvest time and when the share of the state had been seized” and “there was very little grain to tide the unfortunate peasants over the cruel winter.” However, under the tyrannical regime, political rights had no place; even the religious rights had been denied to the Muslims of the state.
It was in 1926 when Kashmiri Pandits launched all Kashmiri Pandit Association for safe-guarding their rights. Meanwhile, the Muslim community led by Molvi Mohammad Abdullah, Khawaja Ghulam Nabi Gilkar also applied for
the registration of All Kashmiri Muslim Uplift Association, which was granted by Dogra administration reluctantly. The main aim of the association was to seek education and government jobs to Muslim community. For his mission, Gilkar Sahab obtained the support of Khwaja Abdul Ghani Nengro and Khwaja Ghulam Hasan Saboon and a few other educated young men. The association obtained the patronage of Maulana Ahmad Ullah Hamadani and opened about several night schools for Muslim education. The Maharaja had to enact the State Subject Law in 1927 reserving all State Government jobs for the original residents of the State besides forbidding sale, purchase or possession of immovable property by non-State subjects.
Reading Room Party
Maharaja Hari Singh occupied the throne of Jammu and Kashmir in the year 1925. He was an absolute autocratic ruler and did not grant any fundamental political rights to his subjects. It was his deliberate policy to place the Muslim community, which constitutes a total 85% of Jammu and Kashmir, in a state of utter illiteracy, so that they would not become conscious of their civil, political and fundamental human rights. However, some Muslim families were fortunate enough to impart education to their sons who started to take notice of the injustice and discriminatory treatment, accorded to the majority Muslim Community. Consequently, a group of conscious persons belonging to educated Muslim families, made a representation to him, for granting civil, educational and political rights to Muslim community also, and liberate them from injustice and in discriminatory treatment in Government Services and other public welfare programs. At the same time, a group of energetic and educated young men established a Reading Room Club which assumed the shape of a political party and came to be known as Reading Room Party (RRP) in Feteh Kadal, Srinagar with Sheikh Abdullah their leader to awaken the youth about their fundamental human rights. The Reading Room Movement espoused the cause of the educationally and economically backward Muslim community. The Reading Room Party served the purpose of preparing the ground for a political campaign against the injustice and suppressive policies of Maharaja Hari Singh.
The sentiments of common people of Kashmir, against Maharaja Hari Singh, received encouragement due to the public statement made by one of his Ministers, Sir Albion Benerji, a Bengali Christian, who exposed the sectarian and despotic character of Dogra Ruler, of the time. He stated that large Muslim populations were governed like dumb driven cattle, the press was non-existent and economic conditions were appalling. Along with this statement, he announced his resignation from the cabinet of Maharaja in pursuance of the dictates of his conscience.  The Reading Room Party was joined by the Punjabi Muslim intellectuals of Jammu Region.  The Reading Room Party became the foundation of the Kashmir freedom struggle.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, Hero of 1931 Mass Uprising.
Consequently, a big gathering was organized by RRP on 21 June 1931, at Khanqah-e-Moula, which is highly honored Shrine of the top most Saint of Muslim World, popularly called as Hazrat Shah-e-Hamdan. The aforesaid gathering was formal inauguration of the freedom movement in Kashmir. The main purpose of this meeting was to elect a representative body of Kashmiri Muslims in order to submit a memorandum of their grievances and demands to Maharaja Hari Singh. This was suggested by political Minister of the Maharaja, Mr. G.C.E. Wakefield. Eleven representatives were nominated, seven from valley and four from Jammu. The prominent and influential personalities elected were, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Khawaja Saad-ud-Din Shawl, Mirwaiz Mohammad Yousuf Shah, Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas (Jammu), Mirwaiz Atiq-ullah Hamadani and  Aga Syed Hussain Shah Jalali. In this historic gathering, a Pathan from Northeast Frontier Province of British India,  Abdul  Qadeer (cook ),  spoke against Maharaja, asking people to fight for their fundamental rights and pointing his finger to the Maharaja’s palace, raised slogans “destroy its every brick”. The result was that he was arrested on June 25, 1931 and prosecuted, on the charges of sedition, in the court of Sessions Judge. With the accusation of sedition, he was arrested. Abdul Qadir was to be tried in the court but due to large public resentment, the court was shifted to Central Jail, Srinagar. M.J Akbar hails Qadeer’s oratory as ‘more spicy than his cuisine’? 

Event of July 13, 1931- Mass uprising in Kashmir
The event of July 13, 1931, was the beginning of an organized and mass uprising against the despotic and alien ruler of J & K State, Maharaja Hari Singh. This day  has its own importance in the annals of Kashmir History. On this historic day, during the course of hearing in the Sessions Court, against Abdul Qadeer Khan, a crowd of thousands assembled outside the main gate of Srinagar Central Jail. The crowd besides demanding permission to watch the proceedings was shouting slogan to end the autocratic Dogra rule and was demanding withdrawal of the sedition case against the Abdul Qadeer Khan and other accused, and their immediate release, along with other protestors who were arrested by the Royal Dogra Soldiers. This resulted in pitched battle between people and armed Royal Dogra Soldiers. The angry and infuriated mob resorted to pelting stones on the Dogra soldiers who were cane-charging the mob. When the news of this battle reached the prisoners, they got agitated and started shouting slogans inside the jail. When the time for obligatory prayer of Zuhr (the afternoon prayers) approached, a brave young man stood for Azaan (call for prayer). On the instructions of Maharaja, Governor, Ray Zada Tartilok Chand ordered Royal Dogra Army to open fire at him.  When he got martyred, another young man took his place and started Azaan. He was also shot dead. In this way, 22 Kashmiris achieved martyrdom in their efforts to complete the Azaan. In this way, 22 Kashmiris martyrdom in their efforts to complete the Azaan. This cold blooded massacre of 22 Muslim protestors gave birth to a new revolution.
The news of indiscriminate firing and brutal killing, spread in every nook and corner of the capital city of Srinagar. A flood of angry people marched on the streets, raising slogans against despotic rule of Maharaja (Despotic ruler) and his suppressive and repressive policies. They carried the dead bodies of the martyrs, in processions, and ultimately buried them in a graveyard, situated within the premises of the great and revered shrine of the Muslim Saint, Khawaja Bahaw-ud-Din Naqshbandi, in Srinagar City. This burial place, of the 21 martyrs is called, Mazar-e-Shuhda (the martyr’s graveyard). Since then, this historic day, July 13, has been observed as the ‘Martyrs Day’ annually by the people on the both sides of control line and other parts of globe by Kashmiri Diaspora. The tragic day is the milestone in the history of Kashmiri struggle against foreign occupation. The atrocities against the Kashmiri Muslims did not stop even after the partition of India. The human rights record of Indian government in Kashmir has been terrible and is characterized by arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and extrajudicial killings. The day is also a message for Indian Rulers that if the people of Kashmir did not bow down their heads before the tyranny of Dogra rule, as to how they will succumb to the despotic Indian rule.  July 13, 1931 is not simply a day of remembrance but a day of idea for Kashmiri people, an idea of freedom from subjugation, enslavement and tyranny.  
Aftermath July 13, 1931 
The event of July 13, 1931, sent waves of uprising in all the parts of Jammu and Kashmir. The entire valley observed complete shutdown on the call given Reading Room Party, and a mass meeting was called at the Martyrs Graveyard, Srinagar by RRP leader, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. We inherit the legacy of shutdown calls from Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah; he is the pioneer of strike calls against oppressors. Sheikh Abdullah exhorted the audiences to throw off the yoke of slavery and despotism, and sacrifice. He asked the people to liberate themselves from the shackles of injustice, discrimination and abject slavery and thus make Jammu and Kashmir a democratic territory.  This event made Sheikh Abdullah the pioneer of struggle against Dogra autocracy in Kashmir. Thus the freedom movement of people of Jammu and Kashmir, started to gain strength and momentum, day by day. It assumed the shape of Civil Disobedience Movement. When the State Government could not control the law and order situation, the Dogra ruler ordered the arrest of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and his associates. Therefore, Sheikh Abdullah, G N Gilkar, Chaudhary Abbas, Mistri Yaqoub and Gowher Rehman were arrested and detained at the Koh-e-Maran (Hariparbat) Fort. The Maharaja had, as a lukewarm appeasement move, appointed a commission, on 12th November, 1931, consisting of four non official members, headed by a European officer, B.J. Glancy, of the Foreign and Political Department of British Government of India. The four members were Ghulam Ahmad Ashai – to represent Muslims of Kashmir Valley, Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas- to represent Muslims of Jammu Region, Prem Nath Bazaz – to represent Pandits of Kashmir valley, and Lok Nath Sharma – to represent Hindu Community of Jammu Region. The function of the Glancy Commission was to enquire into the various complaints and to examine the grievances of communal and general nature that had caused the disturbances. The Glancy Commission was published in April, 1932. It is a document of great historic importance. The message of July 13, 1931 is “the fight for Human Right is Just and Right”.
The writer is a political analyst and Chairman People’s Political Party (PPP),  and also a constituent member, APHC (M).