From Frying pan to Fire

Facebook interactions  are very interesting particularly during the present phase of curfew and hartal. One of the buddies put a straight question on Facebook wall. What did Kashmiries achieve after 13 July 1931, watershed of mass uprising against autocracy, subjugation and injustice in Kashmir? Many people handled the question in their own way providing different versions. I put it in six words—‘Asmaan se gira khajoor ma atka’. Many people liked it some differed and few sensible net-friends asked for an explanation.


13 July continues to be observed as Martyrs’ Day since 1931, a day when exploited and suppressed people of Kashmir openly clashed against the authority of Maharaja. Against the advice of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah a big crowd rushed to Srinagar central jail where Abdul Qadeer a non-Kashmiri was to be tried in camera for treason within the central jail premises. The mob pelted stones on the governor, Raizada Trilok Chand when he ordered their dispersal. Police opened fire and twenty two people were killed and hundreds injured. The martyrs were taken to Jamia Masjid. This became turning point for leadership of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and gave real vent to the molten lava of Kashmiri anger which was brewing since silk factory uprising of summer of 1924. Same was described by Sheikh Abdullah in his own words, “The year 1930 dawned. How could I have known that the nation was on the brink of an eruption? The trampled pride and hope of the people of Kashmir was like molten lava to flow. Nature fanned the embers which were smouldering inside me. It was left to me to take the lid off the volcano’s mouth”. Thus a leader was born!

So, after 13 July 1931 Sheikh Abdullah was completely in command of the situation and he turned out to be the undisputed leader of poor Kashmiris. He almost made conservative Mirwaiz Yousaf Shah and other personalities irrelevant by his towering personality, articulation and art of seizing the right opportunity. Subsequent events, where he shifted from a crowd puller to a political leader and justified his accord with Hari Singh in august 1931 (which almost went against every thing for which he was known to stand) to seek release of political prisoners, reinstatement of sacked officials, and suspension of harsh police measures by saying, “investing us with the status of a relevant party and allowing time to realign our forces”. His popularity among the Kashmiri masses could be gauged by the fact, that when he got arrested for  criticizing Maharaja’s government on 21 September 1931, thousands of Kashmiris assembled at Jamia Masjid on following day to protest his arrest. Hari Singh’s forces surrounded the mosque to prevent them from taking out a procession. Stones, the only weapon with the protestors were returned with bullets causing death of many and scores were injured. Curfew was imposed, but angry protestors violated curfew and many more people got killed in police firing. Unrest and aggressive uprising gripped the whole Srinagar city and adjoining towns. An ordinance 19-L equivalent to present AFSPA was issued to accord special powers to army and police to repress the uprising. What followed harsh repression by way of Ordinance 19-L is history. By the way history is repeating itself even now. Dogra troops could not hold the anger of Kashmiris and people came out with what ever they could lay their hand on, brandishing crude weapons on the streets of Srinagar and the uprising spread to many other towns and habitations. Documented eyewitness accounts mention that police did not dare to come out of its barracks on 24 September but the regime responded with harsher measures. Whipping people in public, loot and exploitation became order of the day. L. Middleton an English officer, who was later on deputed to inquire into the matter, noted how forces misused their powers and resorted to all sort of violation ranging from disregard for  fundamental human rights to rape and pillage.

After crushing this September uprising with brute force Hari Singh was forced to look into the matter and step back for measures to pacify his subjects. Treating unrest and oppression in Kashmir as threat to Imperial strategy and an issue in adjoining areas of British India, Government in Delhi through its resident in Kashmir made Maharaja to mellow down. On his birth day 5 October Maharaja announced general amnesty to all political prisoners along with a proclamation expressing sorrow at the loss of life and inviting people to put forth their grievances and demands for consideration. In addition to these concessions he mentioned in his proclamation, “Parents have at times to use force in bringing refractory children to order. But the parent has not the heart to continue to punish the child after it has ceased to be disobedient. What applies to the parents in their dealing with the children applies to the rulers of the Indian states in dealing with their people—– The law has been vindicated and the impression that it could be defied with impunity no longer exists—”. Again history repeats itself. In context of this proclamation by Hari Singh on 5 October 1931 which by autocratic standards is some what compassionate in subject and matter has almost been repeated by the present rulers. This equation of revolting subjects with unruly children was done by Hari Singh some eight decades earlier and is now unknowingly being repeated.

All these incidents and subsequent developments made Sheikh Abdullah the undisputed ‘Lion of Kashmir’ and vested with unlimited and ultimate mandate to represent the aspirations of People of Kashmir. Thus his journey from humble background of Soura locality to Aligarh Muslim University; interaction with educated and enlightened people of plains particularly at Lahore, reading room party meetings in simple library at Fatehkadel and ultimately to swift turning events of 1931 brought a great leader out of him. From 1931 to 1947 he faced many ups and downs both internal as well as external. His mercurial temperament made him shift stands and as earlier said his graduation from towering (he was 6 feet 4 inches tall) crowd puller to tactical politician pulled him to many power centres and he resorted to change of tactics and strategy very frequently. While committing his party and people to secular movement with a radical socio-economic reform agenda Sheikh said. “We have repeatedly declared that the Kashmir movement is not communal; it is a platform to address the grievances of every section of people. We shall always be prepared to help our compatriots, Hindus and Sikhs. No progress is possible unless we learn to live in amity. For that, mutual respect for each other’s legitimate rights is an important pre-condition. I repeat, the Kashmir movement is not a communal movement”. His decisions from 1931 onwards with regard to the fate of Kashmir and People of Kashmir are not only influenced by his own personality but influence of some of his close aides and circumstance he was in is noticeable. Veracity of his decisions can only be judged by time and learned historians. But one thing is clear that nothing has changed for the common Kashmiri for last eight decades. He was exploited then and his exploitation has not ceased in any case; he stood as a rebel against suppression in 1931 and he is in the middle of an uprising now; his land was bruised then and there is no respite on that account.

In 1931 when people of Kashmir first time rebelled and challenged their tormentors decisively and a great leader was born; giving him unflinching support. But nothing has changed except three generations of Kashmiri people facing the same fate of suppression, carnage and exploitation. The only difference is that earlier these sufferings were inflicted solely by alien autocrats but now the same is being met out by our own people in the garb of people’s mandate. Isn’t it ‘asmaan se gira khajoor ma atka?’


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