Martyr's Day: History From Below

We need to avoid looking at 1931 from the prism of contemporary nation-state paradigm
Martyr's  Day:  History From Below
paying tributes to Martyrs of 13th July at Martyr's Graveyard in Srinagar's Khwaja Bazar. [Image for representational purpose only]FIle/ GK

The July, 13 (Martyrs Day in Jammu and Kashmir) has figured in the ideological frames of political parties/actors in a partisan manner quite opposite to 'people's history' - the impulse for which is to understand the lives of common people. The people's historians are pedestrians whose core template for recording history is unity rather than uniformity. Emotion-based history is not the same as evidence based history - writing whose software needs to be collected from the people.

The plebeian masses in Kashmir fought against communal/feudal oppressive order in 1930s in what was the largest princely state of India. Those who were fired at outside the Srinagar central jail according to William Wakefield “bore their wounds on their chests rather than their backs”. We need to avoid looking at 1931 from the prism of contemporary nation-state paradigm and situate ourselves in the arena of 'people's history' or 'history from below'.

The political thinking during 1930s in sub-continent was not in favor of creating separate nation-states, rather it was for unity in diversity. The oxford historian Faisel Devji opines: in 1930 Sir Iqbal talked of "Muslim India within India while searching for to make India a country without a nation". In 1946 Rajendra Prasad pressed for an "un- national" India and MK Gandhi also conceived India as an international category.

The radical journalist and poet Hasrat Mohani talked of "separate Muslim states in India, united with Hindu states under a national federal government" . Many Indian thinkers were trying to imagine a new post-colonial order within ethical foundations outside the irreligious, unnatural nation-state construct that only produces destructive wars. We need not look at July 13, 1931 from the prism of contemporary ethno-states also which are exclusionary and further marginalize the marginalized. In this article an attempt will be made to analyze the significance of July, 13 in the annals of Kashmir history within the framework of 'people's history'.

In the Lap of Historiography

Historiography as a discipline has witnessed internal and external contestation resulting in its liberation from crude influence of nationalist historiography and dogmatic Marxism. It also needs to break from history writing which is sentimental and inspirational. This type of history writing is proving dangerous to what subalterns call the importance of “stitching together histories of the people(s)”. History from below marks a reaction against accounts mainly focused on socio-political and the religious elite. Eric Hobsbawm the great Marxist historian stated that “nationalist historians have often been servants of ideologies”.

He observed that history as “inspiration and ideology has built-in-tendency to become a self-justifying myth. Nothing is more dangerous than the history of modern nations and nationalism”. Rajive Bhargave, a leading political theorist refers to the play of "lies and distortions in the birth and growth of nations". The 'accusatory history' recording in the post-colonial South Asia has partly led to rise of a militarist psychology hampering emancipatory potential of peoples movements. Their counterpoints are the flexibilities of our older history and histories which intellectually speaking constitutes non-elitization of social sciences.

Those flexibilities are still here, in the region –but often not at the level of party politics, diplomacy, current history, state to state relations or sectarian groups but at the level of people’s history. Piecing together such history has potential to heal wounds inflicted by political partitions . Edward Said stated “scholars should be skeptical towards all received wisdom. They should maintain the critical distance by being to stand both outside and inside the society”.

Additionally, we also need to bear in mind that author cannot be completely taken out from the social lab where different events are experienced. British historian John Hugh wrote "history is above all else an argument. It is not a set of facts but a set of interpretations". So no historian can claim to have monopoly over truth which is an authoritative concept.

But all said and done let us keep ears to the ground and try to understand what David Hudson (the author of Great Divide) writes “I reflect that every historian however, impartial and careful of truth as I have tried to be must have a personal point of view without which history is anemic". The people's history too is shaped in the crucible of politics and not outside it and is penetrated by the influence of ideology on all sides but within the framework of social justice. This frame bestows us a method to analyze the July 13, 1931 political developments in Kashmir to understand the depth of people’s history/history from below

Srinagar Central Jail

A non- Kashmiri Abdul Qadeer had come to the valley as the butler of Major Abbot - an English man posted in the Yorushire regiment in Peshawar. He participated in a public meeting at Khanqah-e-Mullah (interior of Srinagar city) and delivered a fiery speech. The CID officials had reported a part of his speech. Pointing towards Maharaja’s palace Qadeer said “pull that edifice and take on your oppressor”. He was arrested and lawsuit filed against him under clause 124(A) and 153 of Ranbir Penal Code.

The trial was held in Srinagar central jail. A crowd of near 7000 rushed to the jail. The Governor Trilok Chand was pelted with stones after he failed to convince the crowd about the fair trial. The police opened fire and twenty two persons were martyered. Two of them Mr Wali Mohammad Wani and Shabhan Joo Makai were fifty and sixty years old respectively while all others were below thirty. Near about 326 persons were arrested in Maharajgang area alone.

There were clashes in Srinagar and other places. According to Prem Nath Bazaz and Justice Yousuf Saraf, in the Hindu-Muslim clashes three Hindus were killed and 163 were injured. A certain Pundit moneylender, Kailash Butt, told Dalal Commission (enquiry commission) that “among many who were my debtors took special care to see that my documents and other papers were completely destroyed”. Though the Maharaja’s administration appointed, as already stated, Sir Burjor Dalal (chief justice of the state) to investigate the firing incident on July 13, the majority community tendered no evidence before the commission. Meanwhile martial law was imposed in rural Kashmir and the movement started spreading out to other towns. The emerging political leadership started broadening the movement and giving it an institutional form.

The Maharaja also started responding to the emerging volcanic situation by appointing a commission known popularly as the Glancy Commission to look into the grievances of the people. The recommendations of the commission bear testimony to how the feudal/colonial state was operating to the detriment of the majority population. The cow slaughter was an unlawful act and in 1931 eight thousand Muslims were in jail for this crime. On the contrary Muslim subjects never raised any objection to the selling of Jatkha or pork permitted to be sold in the open market.

The Muslim Bakerwals were branded a criminal tribe but the Hindu Bakerwals bore no such stigma. The People’s movement for change could not crystallize due to existence of feudal exploitation by the Maharaja who ruled with the backing of imperialism. The lack of an organized political movement till 1931 helped the state apparatus to suppress and marginalize the subordinate classes.

The major instruments of this coercive machinery according to P N K Bamzai were “Punjabis or the Dogra Rajputs of mediocre abilities”. Even the Kashmiri pundits got distanced due Dogra ruler’s racism and casteism in the initial period because more than 60 percent gazetted posts went to Rajputs despite their low educational attainments. The Maharaja regarded the Kashmiris as a race of slaves.

He did not provide them equal opportunities in trade, industry, education, jobs. The people in general and Muslims in particular became targets of racism, communalism and casteism which defined the general administration of the Maharaja. The casteist philosophy of jurisprudence laid down that everyone except a “Dogra Mian” could be hanged for a murder. The communal nature of the feudal economy was evident in the fact that out of 25 Jagirs that were granted during the first five years of Maharaja Hari Singh (last Maharaja) only two went to the majority community of Muslims. Such a discriminatory policy hampered the growth of a regional petty bourgeoisie and wealth creation in the state. In fact some observers also noticed that feudal instruments led to retarded nascent industrial development to the extent that a leading figure of Indian capitalist class Jamnalal Bajaj complained that “cottage industry in the villages of Kashmir was not valued by the government of Maharaja”. As a logical fall out of such a discriminatory policy of the feudal regime the appointment of a commission to look into the problems of the people became inevitable.

The Glancy Commission

The Maharaja appointed an English man Mr Glancy to head the commission to provide a semblance of objectivity and acceptability to it. The commission was appointed to look into the grievances of different sections of the society. The members of the commission were drawn from different regions and communities and it was on March 22, 1932 that recommendations were submitted to the new prime Minister of the state Mr. EJD Colvin. It is significant to know that except two or three recommendations dealing with religious matters all others centered around economic /educational and livelihood issues of the majority population. Some of these were (1) Malikhana to the state should be remitted (2) a special inspector for Muslim education be appointed (3) All communities should receive a fair share in government appointments (4) the grazing tax should be suspended (5) payment according to proper rates should be made in connection with whatever labor is requisitioned for the state purposes (6) Industrial development should receive urgent attention etc. The note appended by Ghulam Abbas from Jammu to the report stated the need for (1) departmental promotions should not exceed one-third (2) recruitment to cavalry be thrown open to Muslims (3) public service commission be established (4) land revenue to be assessed on Punjab pattern.

An evaluation of the recommendations suggests: First, it were the plebeian Muslim masses (artisans, traders and peasants) who assembled outside Central jail. Second, Muslims got a better deal due to the presence of Kashmiri Pundit, Shri Prem Nath Bazaz in the Glancy commission who annoyed his own co-religionists. This is corroborated by the accounts of Justice Mohammad Yousf Saraf. Third, the use of religion was akin to its use by MK Gandhi at the all India level and far away from any hatred for any community. The external support to the political movement subjectively and cumulatively came from press in Punjab, All India Congress, Khalafat Movement etc. The invoking of French Revolution proved quite beneficial for deepening of the political struggle. The communists were at the forefront so much so that Maharaja declared them as arch enemies of colonialism in India and feudalism in the state. Even the Russian currency was confiscated from certain traders in Kashmir to stop the spread of Bolshevism. However, the effects were neither direct nor immediate. Internally while there was unity among common people across region and religion against the feudal order there was also unity of exploiting classes belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities. The Various landlords like Nazir Hussein, Jagirdar Raja Villayat Khan and Akram Khan openly aligned with the Maharaja. Some upper caste Hindu leaders were able to get a resolution passed by Hindu Mahasabha at its Akola session on August 15, 1931 which stated: the “Hindu Mahasabha looks upon with fear all the propaganda carried on against the Maharaja of Kashmir”. The elite section within Kashmiri Pundits also could not reconcile with emerging political forces demanding egalitarian treatment. They even opposed the constitution of the Glancy commission and opposed its recommendations. The unity of the vested interest gave rise to unity among the marginalized sections of Kashmir society which laid the foundations of a society of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who fought against the government’s policy of divide and rule. Late Ved Bhasin and Shri Balraj Puri hailing from Jammu region have on numerous occasions given me an account of how marginalized sections and extreme poor of Hindu society in Jammu region got benefitted by land reforms carried out in 1948.

Road to Political Peoplehood

The above political events led to incremental growth of political people-building during the period from 1931 which with the passage of time became a competitive process that made the leaders wary of competing narratives and made them to advance their particular constitutive story. The process of people-building demonstrates three essential components according to Roger Smith-a leading scholar of the role of ideas in American politics and history. These are trust, worth and capacity of leaders to attract people to their political/economic vision. The trust condition is met when the community believes that the leaders are striving to advance the community’s values. The worth is demonstrated when the community believes that the leaders are capable of doing so. Trust, the first of Smith’s conditions for people-building was evidenced by the manner in which the political leadership of Jammu and Kashmir adopted the 'New Kashmir manifesto in 1944' which called for total transformation of the polity, economy and society in Jammu and Kashmir subsequently paving the way for right of democratic self –rule.

The basic spirit of "New Kashmir Manifesto" is what Thomas Jefferson stated in a different context: “If church was not separated from the state half the people will be hypocritical and the other half stupid”. The worth was demonstrated by the passage of 'Abolition of Big Landed Estates Act' and Distressed Debtors Relief Act. It also was evidenced in the decision that education in the state will be free from primary to university level. The worth can also be located in the Himalayan thinking of gender equality enunciated in New Kashmir Manifesto of 1944. The dignity of women of Jammu and Kashmir got authenticated in law and politics. It is amazing that it was only in 1960 that women in USA could open bank accounts without the permission of their husbands and this right was acquired by women in UK in 1975. The women in USA also had no right to practice law even after passing bar examination. But in Jammu and Kashmir due to sacrifices of people on July 13, 1931 women, working class, peasants and everybody earned respect and access to resources. This narrative of political peoplehood as explained above came in clash with post- partition nation-state narratives on Kashmir contaminated by the poison and politics of ethno-states that unfortunately has kept the people of our region hostage to sectarian thought thinking .

Prof Wani teaches political science at Kashmir university

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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