On April 12 during re-poll in some areas of Srinagar Parliamentary constituency, a shawl weaver in a Budgam village dared the militants, stone pelters and the general public. He went to a booth and exercised his right to vote. He, however, got a taste of democracy, when he was picked up from a street by the army and tied to a Jeep to `break the determination' of the people. The act was widely condemned. The Home Minister of India, the army chief, the Amnesty International, the resistance camp and the pro-accession politicians issued statements. The Chief Minister ordered a probe into the incident though only to quell public anger.
As usual the probe will not be completed and slowly but surely, the incident will be consigned to achieves. The shawl weaver, it has been said, has vowed not to cast his vote again. Good for him. The torture he suffered will not move anything. He must bear in mind that he is a shawl weaver and this species has been offering sacrifices from the day Kashmir was sold along with its inhabitants.
One hundred and fifty-two years ago, the shawl weavers of Kashmir registered protest against heavy taxation. On April 29, 1865, 28 shawl weavers were done to death by the Dogra soldiers. Thousands were arrested and subjected to extra-judicial execution. Unfortunately, there is no record of the people who were ruthlessly killed in torture chambers.
Kashmiris have a weak memory. Very few people know about the martyrs. The people must be thankful to Shakeel Ahmad Bakshi who commemorates the martyrdom of the shawl weavers every year. The strike by the shawl weavers was the first ever strike anywhere in the world by workmen. The Chicago incident happened almost two decades later. But, the world observes the day (May Day) and remembers those who got killed on that day. Even the trade union leaders of Kashmir observe May Day and not April 29 when 28 Kashmiri laid down their lives. This incident is recorded as a passing reference in Kashmir history for unknown reasons. However, for the information of the general public, a brief mention of the forgotten martyrs merits a mention
here. On April 29, 1865 they organized a procession. The protesters assembled in a ground near Zal Dagar. Effigies of the authorities were torched.
They called on the then Governor Kripa Ram who sent the soldiers led by Col Bijoy Singh to teach the shawl weavers a lesson. The soldiers stormed the protesters and herded them towards a narrow bridge on Kut-e-Kul. The bridge, Hajj Rather Sum, collapsed. Twenty-eight protesters were drowned and scores injured.
Noted paediatrician, Dr Altaf Hussain writes in his Wounded Paradise that the Dogra soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters on that day. Hundreds of weavers including their leaders were taken into custody. Sheikh Rasool and Abli Baba were tortured to death in a dungeon in Shergarhi palace. This is where the phenomenon started. Most of the weavers died of Tuberculosis and starvation in jails. Nobody knows where the martyrs are buried. They are waiting for a wreath but nobody is interested in raising a memorial in their honour.
The state government and the resistance camp observe July 13 with pomp and show but the 1865 martyrs are ignored. Four years ago, a politician promised to donate land and money for raising a memorial. But the day he was given a berth in the Legislative Council, he forgot the promise and the martyrs. So nothing has changed in Kashmir in the last 150 years. The shawl weavers (read Kashmiris) were tortured and killed then and the present day shawl weavers (Kashmiris) are not only killed but tied to vehicles to scare a defiant people. Then it was the Dogra army and today it is the Indian army, which landed here in 1947 to "protect the life, honour and property" of the people of Kashmir. The phenomenon of custodial killings started in 1865 and it continues to be in vogue today in the `democratic' rule. According to information from human rights organisations, as many as twelve thousand people were killed after arrest since 1990. This does not include the 8000 disappearances. But, the Kashmiris refused to break in Dogra rule and today, they continue their struggle for their right to self determination with all their might. The struggle against Dogras is unparalleled. Yes, nothing seems to have changed in Kashmir but one change is quite visible on
the ground. A new generation is coming up. In 1990, people would run away from encounter sites. Today they rush towards the places where militants fight the troops and help the militants escape. Today, the young men heckle the gun yielding troopers. The message has been conveyed in clear terms.