Kashmiris reflect their insensitivity and indifference time and again especially when it comes to remembering martyrs. All Kashmiris know about July 13 incident but very few people know about Shaheed Gunj martyrs, the heroic struggle of Shawl weavers, Robert Thorp and his grave. There have been instances when unscrupulous elements have destroyed historic evidence.
People who laid down their lives in 1846, 1865 and 1868 went un-noticed. Was it because of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah that the martyrs of July 13 became so important? The situation was totally different in 1931. Or to put it plainly, Kashmir had reached a stage where the launch of a strong movement had become inevitable. And there were people to handle and sustain it.
Yes, Sheikh Abdullah made a difference. He was a crowd puller and a forceful orator. And, the people had just chosen seven representatives on June 21 when Abdul Qadeer delivered a fiery speech that ultimately landed him into jail. The seven member leadership had representatives from all sections of the society.
Everything needed for a movement was there. There was wood and there was fuel. The July 13 killings provided the spark and Kashmir went up into flames. The Kashmiris were fortunate enough to have a person like Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal (RA) to support them. The Qadiyanies also played their part well and last but not the least the support from Punjab press not only apprised the outside world of developments in Kashmir but also encouraged the suppressed people.
All these factors were non-existent in 1846 and 1865. Therefore, Kashmir remained almost unmoved on both the occasions. But that does not mean that these events are less important. Can the people of Kashmir ignore the sacrifices offered then? Their blood is as sacred as the blood of July 13 martyrs.
The martyrs have been ignored by the government as well. While the martyrdom of July 13 martyrs is commemorated by the state with pomp and show, nobody has a wreath for the April 29 martyrs. But does anybody know where they are buried?
Kashmiris fought the Dogra army led by Gulab Singh tooth and nail when he tried to enter Srinagar after purchasing Kashmir for 75 Lakh Nanak Shahi Siakay by virture of the infamous Sale Deed of Amritsar of 1846.
The valiant fight of the people of Kashmir under the dynamic leadership of Imam-ud-Din the last governor of the Sikh rule prevented Gulab Singh to extend his rule over Kashmir for quite some time. A fierce battle was fought near Sheikh Bagh and Gulab Singh was defeated. For several months, Gulab Singh was made to a eat humble pie by the brave Kashmiris. Finally Imam-ud-Din had to give in following British intervention. The people who got killed during the resistance were laid to rest at Shaheed Gunj.
It is believed that Gulab Singh was highly enraged by the resistance offered by Kashmiris. Finally when he assumed the throne, he had a naked sword in his hand. Some people say he waved it and said this would now decide the fate of Kashmiris. What followed reflects his ruthlessness. The defeat had hit hard his pride (arrogance).
The people who lived in Kashmir at that time got special epitaphs for the graves of the martyrs. The epitaphs were intact till late 80s. But one day, a National Conference Khadpainch (worker) decided to fill the graveyard. The epitaphs were removed and the graves of martyrs disappeared under tons of soil. Instead of restoring the epitaphs to their original position, the NC Khadpainch used them as construction material for building a wall around the graveyard. The epitaphs can still be seen holding the wall of the graveyard together. The epitaphs mock at our indifference and insensitivity.
While an ignorant person vandalised the old historic Shaheed Gunj graveyard, educated people did it in Magarmal Bgh. Scores of martyrs of Quit Kashmir Movement were buried in the graveyard. The graveyard had to be filled in 80s. No care was taken to preserve the graves which have now vanished.
Two decades after the Sheikh Bagh fight, twenty-eight shawl weavers laid down their lives near Zaldagar Bridge when Dogra soldiers trampled under their horses and even fired upon them. This was April 29, 1865 and happened to be the first strike of workmen anywhere in the world. The Chicago incident happened two decades later. No to speak of commemorating the martyrdom of the Zaldagar martyrs, we do not know where they are buried.
An attempt was made in early 2015 to persuade a trade unionist turned politician to erect a memorial in honour of the martyrs. He promised to donate money and land for the memorial but after getting a berth in the Legislative Council, he behaved like a typical politician and forgot his promise.
Some people in Shaheed Gunj know about the place where Imam-ud-Din and some of his important men were laid to rest. Let all of us join hands and give his grave a new epitaph.