"KASHMIR KI TEHRIK-I-AZADI" is one more welcome addition to Kashmir's historical literature that brings to the fore what has never been told before. A careful perusal of its contents will surely be a rewarding exercise to dispel many of the doubts that are hedging the most critical issues of Kashmir Movement. It is a genuine attempt at helping us to form a proper perspective not only of the genesis and growth of political upheaval of 1931 but also of its radical supporters and movers and shakers whose firmness of purpose and realness is increasingly clouded with obscurely written accounts. It is, therefore, a must read for all shades of opinions, interests and ideologies.
For those interested in understanding the subtle nuances of evolutionary phase of Kashmir's organized struggle against exploitative system of governance under the alien rule, it is a treasure house of information that is of primary importance. Equally useful is this publication for those besieged by bewildering profusion of ideas. And who are lost in the wilderness of confusion and contradiction. And who are yet to resolve their differences to accommodate and blend together all groups of conflicting ideas. For them it is a book of great lessons to learn from; a political plum cake with wonder ingredients and varieties of fruit too sugary to sweeten sour tongues; too solacing to beatify intensely hostile emotions; and too soothing to bring around concordance in discordance and peace in chaos.
Likewise it is an engrossing treatise for sociologists and social activists to peep through to gauge the magnitude of wickedness that had permeated the society and affected its underlying structure so grievously. That the malefic influence of these evils still continue afflicting us collectively and ignominiously is a fact easily discernible from the scenario obtaining in today's Kashmir.
It is a beautifully published collection of a long series of articles in chaste, lucid Urdu, written by late Peer Muhammad Afzal Mukhdoomi, a few decades ago, essentially for Shamim Ahmad Shamim's most popular and widely read Weekly Aaina. it is valuable compendium on early years of Kashmir's quest for unity, individuality and dignity that had been mischievously sacrificed at the altar of East India Company's profits by a disparate vendor through the scandalous sale of its vales and dales to an inglorious buyer and political upstart who was in no way connected with the Kashmiris and their ethos. It is a reliable firsthand account, of the beginning of Kashmir's fight against feudal coercion and for people's empowerment, by an eyewitness who actively participated in the flux that followed the Massacre of innocent people in 1931 outside Srinagar Central Jail.
It is a gripping saga of an unending fight of stifled people against centuries old despotism that had reduced them not only to abject penury but also to the position of beasts of burden who, were used for transporting loads and military supplies across the high mountain ramparts during winters only to become incapacitated, nay disabled for the rest of their life. And whose children were conscripted for Begar.
It is a riveting narration of events that awakened the poor Kashmiris to the sad facts that had made their plight awfully miserable and constricted their social mobility to ensnare them in a web of untold sufferings, humiliations, intimidations, injustices and bigotry.
It presents a true portrayal of abominable conditions of bad, bitter days:
1) when not only the doors of government employment but also those of worship places were closed for the Muslims.
2) When starving, impoverished and hapless Kashmiri Muslim women were officially coerced into the trade of prostitution to bring forth enormous revenues to the State.
3) When the sale of young girls to ill-famed houses, both within and outside Kashmir, was protected and encouraged by law of the land for monetary considerations.
4) And when the State coffers were inflated with the money generated through unjust taxes on cow dung, circumcision, marriage, and varied occupations including white slave trade.
The book is absorbingly readable with a narrative thread that never loses its coherence despite certain unavoidable and meaningful digressions/ diversions here and there. It is equally exhaustive enough to shed immense light on issues of both great and less importance. Alongside big leaders, influential clerics, peers and Pandits it familiarizes us with the average political workers, volunteers, razakars and common agitators ; the unsung heroes whose unwavering dedication to the collective good of the society was indisputably unquestionable and in no way insignificant. And who despite their sacrifices have been denied their due space even in the footnotes of books on contemporary Kashmir. Protestors and martyrs like Yusuf Saraibali, the Muezzin who summoned the gathering for Nimaz-I-Zuhar outside the Jail gate on the fateful day, and Ghulam Muhammad Halwai who snatched a gun from constable Qadir Khan and was the foremost to fell to the bullets, therefor, find their deserved place in the narration.
The story of resistance offered to the forces of obstruction by a well organized group of dauntless women is also vividly told by the author. Among these the most notable are Zoon Ded, Fatta, Malla and Safa Aapa who fought unshakably side by side and close together with men despite the opposition by those conservative Mullas who were not at all inclined to see them out of the four walls of their homes. Instead of dampening the spirit of these real revolutionaries and outstanding heroines of Kashmir the unfavorable comments of the reactionaries prompted them to participate more and more in the processions and political gatherings to give much needed support and strength to the nascent Movement; inspiring, thus, a huge crop of young, energetic women, besides men, to join the ranks of agitators.
The description of poor laborer's role in beefing up the Movement too goes to make the publication interesting. Samad Joo and Lassa Khan, the skilled carpenter and mason who worked strenuously day and night under the supervision of Ustad Habib and Ustad Rajab in accomplishing the construction of Mujahid Manzil complex–Political Centre– in time and within a meager budget get more than their share of attention in the book.
The author does not shy away from exposing those corrupt minded members of his own kin group who in their capacity as Peace Commissioners obtained illegal money by issuing certificates of allegiance in favor of those interested in securing themselves from harm of the jail. The illegal fee imposed was a rupee per certificate.
The entire gamut of emotions, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and opinions that manifested themselves on Fridays at Khankahi Mulla, Jama Masjid and Hazratbal and which dragged Pandits into competitive communal politics at Sheetal Nath is narrated in some detail and with impartiality. The gradual penetration of Movement deep into the soil of Jammu, Pooch, Mir Pure to represent their angst along with that of Kashmir collectively in one voice–a rare phenomenon that became conspicuous by its absence on the eve of Partition–is also depicted with appropriate care and sagacity.
The sad portrayal of growing squabbles and bickering among Kashmiri Mirwaizes together with Hindu- Muslim tensions plus Shaer-Bakra strifes and the resultant riotings and the noise and chaos thereof is equally dealt with precision.
The author ably pierces through the heaps of myths in an attempt to discern truth and rescue facts from receding into obscurity and oblivion. With remarkable success he identifies the man behind the naughty episode of engraving the leaves with the slogan: " Shear-i-Kashmir Zindabad". He was the goldsmith of Safa Kadal locality who had the requisite artistic skill to accomplish this unusual job. The author has, in fact, brought into focus what writers on Kashmir have generally missed. While doing so he has displayed a herculean strength and otherwise humanely impossible feat of valor in gathering together pieces of vital information on the July martyrs by personally visiting different localities on foot despite grave bullet injuries in his legs. Instances of such courage and endurance are difficult to find in history books.
But all is not well with the book. It has its own share of failings which need to be attended to in its second edition. Both the titles of the book: the chief and the subtitle are outrageously misleading; not keeping with the contents of the book. It isn't a history of Kashmiri's Struggle for Independence as presumed by the publisher and erroneously conveyed through its principal title. It is about people's relentless fight against bigotry and autocracy that had stripped them of their basic human rights and whatever they possessed in the realms of culture, religion, agriculture etc. Neither it is a story of illusory, unattainable desires and aspirations as signified tastelessly by its second explanatory title. It speak too poorly and satirically about their struggle. Comparing their collective effort to gain access to and control over their places of worship, mosques and shrines, and share in government services to that of chasing mirage ( SARAB) is to disparage their genuine accomplishments and sincere intensions which they exhibited so determinedly during the formative years of their awakening.
Also the editor/publisher has failed to provide a comprehensive glossary and Index at the end of the book to make it easier for the researchers/readers to comprehend the meaning of Kashmiri idioms, and retrieve without any hassle the information they require for their projects.
The book is not entirely free from certain biases that are intrinsic to the memoirs and accounts compiled by writers with strong political affiliations. The treatment of the subject-matter in such writings flows essentially from the author's ideological constructs. And as a consequence some perceptual and conceptual ambiguities, subjectivities and predilections do occur, more often than not, in the main text of such books. It is, therefore, not unusual to see our author occasionally not so favorably disposed towards those not subscribing to his ideology.
Dr. Ahad is a historian.