Their blood was red as well

All these factors were non-existent in 1865 and 1924; Therefore, Kashmir remained almost unmoved on both the occasions.
Their blood was red as well
File Photo

The people of Kashmir offered stiff resistance to Ghulab  Singh after he purchased Kashmir along with its inhabitants by virtue of the infamous Treaty of Amritsar. For six months the Kashmiris under the dynamic leadership of Amir-ud-Din did not allow him to enter Srinagar. Finally the British government intervened and Gulab Singh   entered Srinagar waving a naked sword.

The martyrs were buried in Shaheed-Gunj graveyard. The epitaphs were intact till 80s, according to the locals. But a National Conference worker removed the epitaphs and used them like bricks for constructing a wall around the graveyard. The epitaphs are still there but performing a different function. 

April 29 is an important date in Kashmir history. On this day in 1865, 28 shawl weavers sacrificed their lives while fighting heavy taxes on shawls. Twenty-Eight shawl weavers laid down their lives but it could not trigger a movement. Another agitation by workers of Silk Factory in 1924 also went in vain.    On the contrary, twenty-two killings on July 13, 1931 changed the course of Kashmir history. This where the freedom movement gained momentum and attracted outside attention.

Ranbir Singh strictly followed his father and imposed severe tax on the shawl weavers. Raw material, import of wool from Ladakah was also taxed. Besides custom duty, tax was also imposed on the finished products. According to some historians around 300% tax was imposed on the shawls which broke the back of shawl industry. At that time around 125 thousand were involved in the shawl industry. These included weavers, washer men, skilled labourers having know how of printing. The industry generated more than Rs 50 lakh annually.   In 1865 shawls worth 254 thousand British Pounds were exported from Kashmir.  However, the weavers got peanuts. Most of them made around Rs 5 to 7 every month that too after working 16-18 hours a day. They had to pay tax to the tune of Rs 5 monthly. They could not change their profession or stop working.  Heavy fine was imposed on the weavers who had unsuccessfully migrated to Lahore.  Some of them were jailed.  It is worth mentioning here that Afghan governor, Haji Karimdad Khan had imposed the tax and it was then called Dag Shawl.

Kashmir's shawl industry was always in shackles. Tax on shawls was introduced by an Afghan Governor, Haji Karim Dada Khan. It came to be known as `Dag Shawl'.   By 1856 the tax increased by 300%. A department known as Dag Shawl Department was constituted and Pundit Raj Kak Dhar was made its inspector. Dhar tried to achieve the target with utmost brutality. He wooed the factory owners and the burden of taxes was put on the poor weavers. The weavers were also directed to remain faithful to their respective factory owners. They could not change profession or migrate from Kashmir.

Faced with starvation, the shawl weavers of Srinagar chose to fight. On April 29, 1865 they organized a procession. The protesters assembled in a ground near Zal Dagar. Effigies of Dhar were torched. Dhar called on the then Governor Kripa Ram. He told him the protesters had plans to march towards his residence. Kripa Ram sent his soldiers to `teach weavers a lesson'. The soldiers led by Col Bijoy Singh 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.

According to noted paediatrician and author of Wounded Paradise, the soldiers opened indiscriminate fire killing 28 weavers on the spot. Notwithstanding severe restrictions on movement, the people fished out all the bodies from the river and decided to march to Maharaja Ranbir Singh's palace along with the bodies next morning. Scores of weavers including their leaders were taken into custody. Sheikh Rasool and Abli Baba were tortured to death in a dungeon in Shergarhi palace.

Similarly the  Silk Factory agitation of 1924 left some persons dead. Does anybody know who they were and where they are buried?

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.   

It has to be admitted that Sheikh Abdullah made the  difference this time. 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 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 1865 and 1924. Therefore, Kashmir remained almost unmoved on both the occasions.  But that does not mean that these events are less important. It also does not mean that the people of Kashmir can ignore the sacrifices offered then.  Their  blood is as sacred as the blood of July 13 martyrs. 

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