By Shahnaz Bashir
When Muslims from Punjab in 1930’s had begun to shape public opinion in Kashmiri Muslims under “Kashmir Committee” (the name hijacked by some members of Indian National Congress a few years ago to initiate a diplomatic intervention in Kashmir) shrewd ministers of Maharaja Hari Singh organized a tour of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (real name Mohiuddin Ahmad) and Tej Bahadur Sapru into the valley. The duo tried to dissuade Muslims of Kashmir from their struggle. They, like the current interlocutors, campaigned throughout Kashmir and asked people to cooperate with the Maharaja’s government. This resulted in pacifying some Muslim leaders for some time. And by the intervention of a liberal Muslim politician from British India, Meher Shah, an agreement was achieved between Muslim leaders of Kashmir and the government. The agreement is known as Temporary Truce. The announcement of the terms of this truce in Jamia Masjid on August 28, 1931, outraged the people. Ultimately, the truce proved a farce as there was nothing for the government to implement and people wanted the regime, that was the cause of all their grievances, to end.
Subsequently the revolt spread and mobilized more and more people across the valley. The arrests of several Muslim leaders on September 21, 1931, the breaches of Temporary Truce and conspiracies like Riots Enquiry Commission, further enraged people to agitate against the Maharaja. Complete hartal was observed on September 22, 1931. People assembled near Jamia Masjid and started peacefully protesting but were manhandled by Maharaja’s military. When people objected the police opened fire and three men died on the spot and several were wounded. Gunfire was opened on another crowd on the same day at Maisuma where two more souls sacrificed their lives and the other three, including a woman, were injured.
The military of Maharaja unleashed a torturous reign on the people. Anyone could be arrested on a fake document and false charges would be slapped. People would be arbitrarily convicted and brutally punished. The accused in these cases would even be subjected to public flogging at Exhibition ground near Amira Kadal. Men were stripped naked and lashed thirty times.
In South Kashmir people synchronized the protest with the rest of the valley. On September 23, 1931 a procession marched from Eidgah, in district Islamabad. The procession passed through Janglaat Mandi to Cheeni Chowk but when it reached Malak Nag, it was lathi charged and subjected to severe thrashing. People clashed with troops and argued with them. Fourty people laid down their lives and 27 were injured. Of those, killed and injured, were children of less than ten years of age.
On September 24, 1931 a Muslim Fakir was taken for trial at the Munsif’s court in Shopian for his “seditious” slogans against the Dogra government. This created unrest in the town. People took out a procession demanding release of the detained. Fire was opened and several people were wounded. This created more trouble and people beat a police officer to death and pelted the police station at Shopian. Police fired back from the windows of the station injuring dozens of people. That same day Hari Singh passed an Ordinance (September 24, 1931) to check the organized rebellion of Kashmiri masses. The Ordinance was called 19-L. This Ordinance empowered troops to enforce draconian laws. There were several arrests and the important leadership of Muslims was put behind bars. People in Srinagar came on the streets, first time in thousands, and made their presence felt as a majority. Through this draconian Ordinance the city was handed over to the military control and civil administration was suspended.
The Rajput soldiers of Maharaja took full benefit of the Ordinance Raj in coming days. They used it to take revenge of their murdered fellow in Shopian from the people. 19-L gave troops a free hand to go about the town. Soldiers entered the houses, looted them and raped the women. Several cases of rape were reported to Middleton, Enquiry Officer of Riots Enquiry Commission. Shopkeepers were asked to keep their shops open. And when they did it, they were arrested for investigation. In their absence the shops were plundered.
People were forced to salute the military officers in the streets of the town.
On October 5, 1931, during the celebration of his birthday, Hari Singh proclaimed his support to his armed forces and endorsed their “public management skills”. He said, “I believe I am voicing the general feeling when I say that we are deeply grateful to the troops for their devotion to duty and self restraint they have shown in maintaining the public peace and authority of law during last three months.”
On July 13, 1931 Maharaja’s government had immediately made an attempt to dilute the incident of Central Jail, Srinagar. Unidentified goons were sent to Mahraj Gunj, Nowshehra and Vicharnag, to loot and molest Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims before the processions, protesting against the firing of Central Jail, passed these areas. This was done to show to the world that the event of July 1931 was not a struggle for freedom but an outcome of communal trouble. This all was astutely engineered. The then Prime Minster, Wakefield was manageably dislocated from his office so that no complaint of loot could be registered in his office. The Rajput I G of police excused himself from acting in the matter and later said he had been waiting for the orders from P M O. The loot happened simultaneously at all the places at 2:30 pm and the police officer went to Mahraj Gunj at 4:45 pm after all the evidence was wiped out. The police stationed in Mahraj Gunj closed the doors of the police station. And when the looters had gone they came out to provoke the Hindus to take revenge.
On July 14, 1931, to make full use of his constructs, Hari Singh appointed, the already mentioned, Riots Enquiry Commission under Justice Barjor Dalal. The Dalal Committee did not entertain Muslim complaints against the loot of July 1931 except only the grievances of Hindus which were formally submitted. The report of the Committee was released on the same day, 24th day of September 1931. It caused a great shock to the Muslims of J&K. On October 31, 1931 a procession was organized by Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA) that paraded the streets of Jammu. The Muslims of Jammu carried a copy of the Dalal Committee report on a coffin. The coffin was ultimately set on fire at a place called Ghazi Camp. Then protests followed for several days and on November 3rd 1931 troops fired on people at Ghazi Camp in which two men died and fifty were seriously injured.
Glancy Commission, formed on November 12, 1934 to check the grievances of people, helped Hari Singh, to consolidate his power over the state by exploiting the event, rather tragedy of July 1931 in three ways. One: he called the acknowledgement of Muslim representatives to legitimize his autocracy by trying and taking the Muslim subjects into confidence. Two: the equal representation of Pandits and Hindus of Jammu in the commission conformed to the legitimacy of Hindu Dogra rule as secular. Third: he easily managed to manipulate July 13 martyrdom by distorting the truth of its being a part of the political struggle as an outbreak of economic grievances.
In 1933 the abhorable recommendations of Glancy Commission about the distribution of state services created a furore amongst the Muslim Conference leaders. Out of 763 gazetted appointments 74 had been given to Pandits and only 10 to the quota of Kashmiri Muslim majority. YMMA of Jammu gave an ultimatum to the government to accept the demands of Muslims after a serious clash between the Muslims and the authorities in January 1934. Government reacted with promulgating the regulation of 19-L on January 28, 1934 and exiled seven Muslim leaders. This act spurred the Muslim masses to revolt. Hundreds were arrested and heavy fines were imposed on them. In some other areas private property was auctioned, which further stoked the fire. People were rendered indescribably miserable. Protestors at Bijbehara and Pulwama on 2nd and 6th February 1934 shouted against the government. Troops opened fire at both the places. Three people were killed at Bijbehara and ten at Pulwama and dozens were injured. Many Muslims were forced to migrate from Bijbehara to the adjacent areas.
The formation of Srinagar Legislative Assembly in April 1934 further expanded the effect of Hari Singh’s policies. Instead of ensuring the participation of the representatives of his subjects, it, as a powerless organization, pitted one group of legislatures against the other. The presence of members was marked by consistent walkouts. Hari Singh facilitated it as a platform for creating feuds among the members. Political conversion of Muslim assemblage into the creation of Legislative Assembly as a symbolic political participation to debate their grievances, was in fact used to dampen the Muslim voice. But both of these clever political reformations couldn’t stop what is the universal fact of a genuine resistance.
The situation of post-Nineteen Thirty One Kashmir is analogous to that of present. People continue to protest and bleed against the political injustice and oppressive policies of the same callous state.
Shahnaz Bashir is working as Assistant Professor at Media Studies, Central University Kashmir.
This piece is published as ‘Authors Submission’. It was earlier published in Greater Kashmir on July 13, 2006.