13 April is the day of Baisakhi Festival. On this day the farmers of Punjab and Haryana welcome the New Year after reaping the rabbi crop. This is also the day on which the tenth and last Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth in 1699. To commemorate the event, the day of Baisakhi is also celebrated on a large scale in Punjab and the nearby areas. Thousands of devout Sikhs gather at Amritsar on this day to celebrate the foundation of the Sikh religion.
Unfortunately, 13 April is also the day on which the most infamous event of the Indian history took place: the Jalianwala Baug massacre in the year 1919. This grossly inhuman massacre is entrenched in the psyche of not just the Punjabis but all the Indians.
This year also 13th April was commemorated as the day of martyrs. Exactly 100 years since the ghastly incident. Many newspapers and organizations have taken cognizance of the significance of April 13 however, given the election fever in the country at the moment, not enough notice has been taken of it.
Even otherwise, the contribution of an important Kashmiri Muslim leader at the national level, Dr. Saifuddin Kichloo and many Kashmiri Muslims in that era has not been duly acknowledged or remembered. Yes, a few writers have mentioned it is a small way but most of the print media has chosen to simply ignore the fact.
After this massacre the entire country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari had risen as one against the British Raj one hundred years ago. Poet Rabindranath Tagore had returned his knighthood in protest of the massacre and thousands of young Indian men and women were inspired to jump into the freedom struggle.
Martyrs like Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh were the products of this massive involvement of the youths in the freedom struggle. Indians, divided as they were into religions, castes, languages and sects got united to fight against the foreign rule and even Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for Non Cooperation with the British Government.
At that time, the British had just brought out the draft of Rowlett Act, which provided for incarceration of Indian leaders without framing any charges, gagging the media against the government etc. The Act was clearly aimed at suppressing any national movement against the Raj. Dr. Satyapal a Punjabi leader and Dr. Saifuddin Kichloo, a Kashmiri Muslim leader based in Punjab started a movement in Punjab to protest and reject the Act. On 10th April, 1919, the government arrested them and sent them to Andaman.
To protest against their arrest and also against the oppressive Rowlett Act, Dr. Muhammad Bashir organized a public meeting at Jalianwala Baug on 13th April, 1919. Lala Kanhaiya Lal Bhatia was the chairman of the meeting. According to the records, hundreds of Kashmiri Muslims were present for this meeting (in those days more than 21,000 Kashmiri Muslims were living in Amritsar). These people were the sellers and traders of Kashmiri saffron, walnuts and shawls. Some had settled in Amritsar as laborers.
British officer Gen. Dyer order focused firing on the people gathered at Jalianwal Baug to protest against the arrest of Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Saifuddin Kichloo. While the government officially admitted 379 deaths in the inhuman firing and published the list of the dead, the Collector Office of Amritsar has a list of 484 dead.
Among the official list of 379, available in the Jalianwal Baug museum there are 14 Kashmiris; the youngest among them was 7 year old Mohd. Ismael and the oldest was 44 years old Ghulam Mohammad, son of Jan Mohammad Kashmiri. In reality, according to many researchers, the actual figure of Kashmiris was much more. Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya had declared the total no. of casualties to be more than 1,300 whereas the then Civil Surgeon of Amritsar, Dr. Smith had revealed more than 1,800 deaths.
Dr. Saifuddin Kichloo, against whose arrest the meeting was called was born in a Kashmiri Muslim family. His father was in the business of selling saffron and Pashmina shawls. Originally a Hindu Pandit family from Baramulla in Kashmir, the Kichloo family had embraced Islam at the end of eighteenth century. Dr. Saifuddin was very proud of his roots as a Kashmiri Pandit and Indian.
Dr. Kichloo lived his entire life as a freedom fighter. He was one of the founders of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (Indian Youth Congress). In his life he had taken out protest marches against the British government with thousands of Kashmiri students and youths.
Though based in Punjab and having been accepted as a leader across the faiths, he played an important role in aligning the Kashmiri Muslims with the Indian mainstream. He had openly and outright opposed the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan with religion as base. He argued against partition of India. Naturally, when the decision of partition was taken, he was greatly disappointed. He said that nationalism has surrendered before communalism.
Kichloo was a staunch Congress worker till Independence. However, when Independence was followed by horrendous communal riots, especially in Punjab, his house was burned down and many of his colleagues as well as relatives were killed.
Despite that, he preferred to stay in India. He in fact, felt proud that while the rest of the country was burning, his own Kashmir was quiet. Eventually, he left Congress to work with the Communist Party for some time. He also founded the All India Peace Conference. To be fair, in 1952, the central government made him a lifetime trustee of the Jalianwala Baug National Memorial Trust, along with Jawaharlal Nehru himself and Maulan Abul Kalam Azad. His son Taufiq Kichloo carried on the work of preserving this legacy after him.
Dr. Saifuddin Kichloo could have been a major link between the Kashmiris and the rest of India. A frustrated Kichloo however, worked for national and international peace in his later years. In 1952 itself, he was chosen for the Stalin Peace Award (now rechristened Lenin Peace Award). He died in Delhi in 1963.
In the current tense atmosphere in Kashmir, the Kashmiri youth and indeed the nation need to be reminded of Dr. Saifuddin Kichloo.
After 1919, Kashmiris have participated in and contributed to the country’s freedom struggle through many movements. The sacrifice at Jalianwala Baug strengthened the national unity by going beyond the boundaries of caste, faith or state and Kashmiri Muslims have played a role in it as well. To remember and acknowledge that would be the true homage to the martyrs of all religions in the Jalianwala Baug massacre. (The author is the founder president of ‘Sarhad’, Pune)