In The Background

Central jail Srinagar. Photo: Muhabit-ul-Haq

By Hilal Ahmad

The roots of July 13, 1931 mutiny against occupation can be found in the restive Kashmiri psyche that has been reeling under the shackles of oppression for centuries and needed a trigger to erupt.

Ironically, one of the triggers was an expose of Sir Albion Banerji, a Bengali Brahman who was a senior minister of Maharaja’s executive council. Explaining the reasons of his resignation before the media, he exposed the sectarian and autocratic character of the Dogra rule. His statement was published in English Press on March 16, 1929 creating a furore.

The fearless criticism of Dogra rule by its own senior minister shook the cruel regime and encourage educated Muslim youth to agitate against the occupation. Since the formation of political associations was banned, the educated Muslim youth, who had returned from various Indian universities, formed what is known as the Reading Room Party (RRP). Muhammad Rajab and Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah were president and general secretary of the committee constituted by RRP.

Other prominent members of RRP were Hakim Ali Pirzada, Ghulam Rasool, Pir Ahmad Shah Fazli, Hakim Ghulam Murtaza, Qazi Saifuddin, Molvi Bashir Ahmad and Mufti Jalaludin. The RRP focussed on highlighting the plight of suppressed Muslims in Indian and foreign press.

1931
Sheikh Abdullah with other leaders of 1931 agitation.Sitting R to L: Sardar Gohar Rehman,Mistri Yaqoob Ali,Sheikh Abdullah,Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas.Standing. R:Molvi Abdul Rahim,L:Ghulam Nabi Gilkar.

The RRP submitted a memorandum to the regency council of British Raj headed by Mr Wakefield. The government took cognisance of the memorandum and invited party leaders for discussion. This encouraged RRP as the government was impressed by the arguments. Punjabi Muslims intellectuals and press helped RRP in its campaign to highlight the policies of Maharaja.

The RRP organised secret meetings exhorting people to cultivate a spirit of sacrifice without which freedom would be distant dream. In one of his speeches, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah said, “I say that the only alternative to get rid of this deplorable situation is that Muslims shall have to remain ready for any kind of sacrifice. As long as the fear of jail or torture and persecution will cultivate cowardice among the people, there is no hope for the redressal of the problems of Kashmir Muslims. I also say that for a test I will offer myself in the first instance and God willing I shall be for any kind of sacrifice.”

Events that proved a catalyst to July 13, 1931 were ban on Eid sermon in Jammu on April 29, 1931. A sub inspector Babu Khem Chand stopped Imam from reciting sermon. It was followed by disrespect of the Holy Quran in Jammu on July 4, 1931. As per the government orders, constables and jail guards of Central Jail Jammu were asked to roll up bedding at stipulated time. A Muslim constable Fazlu-ud-din was reciting Quran and head constable Lakha Ram scorned him for being late and pulled the bedding throwing Quran on the ground. Friday prayers were banned in a Jammu village over the issue of ablution near a common well.

Muslim Associations of Jammu and RRP exhorted Muslims to take out processions and to observe strikes. Government acted swiftly and arrested a protestor Muhammad Ismail, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was dismissed from government job and he began to mobilise people mass agitation. He was supported by Mirwaiz Muhammad Yusuf Shah.

In this connection a big gathering was organised on June 21, 1931 at Khankahi Moula. “This gathering,” in the words of S M Abdullah “should be considered the formal inauguration of the freedom movement of Kashmir”.

At the gathering a representative body was elected. It comprised Khwaja Saduddin Shawl, Mirwaiz Muhammad Yusuf Shah, Mirwaiz Atiqullah Hamadani, Agha Syed Hussain Shah Jalali, Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, S M Abdullah and Shahb-ud-din.

Central jail Srinagar. Photo: Muhabit-ul-Haq

In this meeting a Pathan from North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan Abdul Qadeer set the tone of freedom struggle by his speech considered by Maharaja as seditious. He was arrested on June 25, 1931. His detention and trial in the Court of Session’s judge caused resentment among Muslims and huge number of people assembled in and outside the court on the days of hearing. Consequently, the trial was held in Srinagar Central Jail. As the court was in session, a crowd of 4000-5000 demanded the withdrawal of case against Qadeer and release of protestors arrested by Dogra soldiers on the day. They charged at the gates and pelted stones on the soldiers. The prisoners inside the jail got agitated and the magistrate ordered soldiers to open fire and in the cold blooded massacre 21 Muslims were killed and scores were wounded. Whole valley erupted over the killings. The dead were carried in processions that marched through the streets of Srinagar.

Noted historian Prem Nath Bazaz says, “July 13 was the most important day in the annals of contemporary Kashmir. From this day the struggle for independence and freedom in the most modern sense started openly.”

The event sent waves of resentment across undivided India. Valley observed strike and a mass meeting was called at Martyrs graveyard in Srinagar. Thousands of men, women and children attended. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah addressing the gathering asked them to follow the path of martyrs and opened his speech with Urdu couplets (translated below),

“O Ye Heavens. Thy commotion had only,

Deprived the dead nation of its body and soul,

O Ye ancient heavens those whom we feed with our heart,

Have only been dissolved into a river of blood

The multicouloured flowers of this beautiful garden of Kashmir,

Have been buried unnoticed

The wives of pious Muslims have been molested

The enemies of Islam have set in motion a storm”

Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s arrest on December 21, 1931 caused widespread resentment. Strikes were observed and demonstrations were held in every part of the state. A war Council was formed under the leadership of Mufti Jalal-ud-din at a gathering, which was fired upon by soldiers, when it came out of Khankahi Moula. Four persons were martyred.

The death caused series of protests throughout the valley. People took to streets and at Gowkadal and Basant Bagh eight more fell to the bullets. The revolt continued unabated and Mirwaiz Molvi Yusuf Shah gave a call for Jihad evoking tremendous response. People came out with axes, swords, daggers and whatever tools they could lay their hands on. The ‘armed’ demonstrators assembled at Khanyar. This time Maharaja didn’t fire.

 The author is a senior journalist with Hindustan Times.

This piece was also published in Greater Kashmir newspaper in 2004. The piece is republished here after the authors approval.

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