By Saima Bhat
It was a speech and what followed it that made him a hero of the 1931 uprising in Kashmir. His identity, however, still remains a mystery. Abdul Qadeer Khan left the political scene of Kashmir as dramatically as he entered it. His speech against the Dogra rule in the state at Khanqah-i-Moulla shrine, asking people to revolt against the cruel policies of the Maharaja, gave a vent to the perpetual yet dormant anger among the civilians who suffered under different autocratic rules of Sikhs, Afghans and then the Dogras. Although much has been written about Khan by historians, scholars and writers, most of it lacks proof.
MAKING OF A HERO
It was on June 21, 1931 that the ‘Young man’s Muslim Association’, led by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, planned a public meeting at the Khanqah-i-Moula. It was a unique meeting because all Muslim divines, irrespective of their schools of thought, assembled there.
The meeting was addressed by Abdullah himself. He asked all the Muslims to unite and demand for their rights. He also appealed to the Pandits to join hands with Muslims to seek redress of grievances as well as, demand for independence. All the leaders swore in the name of the Holy book that they would remain faithful to the cause of Islam.
Khawaja Saad-ud-din Shawl, Mirwaiz Moulvi Yousuf Shah, Mirwaiz Moulvi Hamdani, Chowdhary Ghulam Abbas, Agha Syed Hussain Shah Jalali, Khwaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, Munshi Shahab-ud-din, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Sardar Gohar Rehman were elected as representatives of the Muslims. Just when the meeting was about to be over, a well-built Pathan, around 36-40 years old, rose up and delivered an inspiring speech which was considered to be seditious by the State Government. The Pathan was Abdul Qadeer Khan.
He said, “The honour, respect and reverence of the Holy Quran are dearer to the Muslims than the ruler-ship of the world. They will never tolerate any interference in their religion or defilement of their Holy Book. The Government of the Maharaja does not care for his subjects. It has no touch with the people, nor any sympathy for the downtrodden. Oh, Muslims arise! Time is near when you shall reply with stones, against the bricks. I warn you that your representatives and memorials cannot come to your rescue, nor will these papers remove injustice and misery. Such things cannot solve the issue relating to the defilement of the Holy Quran. You must stand on your legs and fight against autocratic force. Even, if, you have no arms you can fight with sticks and stones”.
Khan then pointed towards the Shergarhi Palace of the Maharaja and cried: “Demolish this edifice of injustice, cruelty and subjugation”. The listeners, who included leaders and the general public, were quite flabbergasted to hear such a speech. The crowd seemed so mobilized and motivated by the speech, that they shouted ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ to manifest their support for Khan. After the event, Abdul Qadeer Khan and his speech became the talk of the town. Some said Khan was a man of wheatish colour, sharp eyes, big face and curved moustaches, who had come to Kashmir with a European tourist as a butler. Others believed he was a disciple of Maulana Jamal-ud-din Afghani, a foremost Muslim philosopher of the 20th century, who had also visited Kashmir before his departure to Russia via Pahalgam.
Two religious defamatory incidents are believed to have played a major role in inspiring Khan. The first incident took place on the 29th April 1931, and is remembered as the ‘Khutba incident’ in Jammu. It is said that during Eid prayers, Khem Chand, a Hindu police officer ordered the Imam, who was conducting Nimaz to stop the Khutba.
The second incident that seemed to have provoked Khan took place on the 4th July 1931. It is still remembered as Tohin-i-Quran. In the police lines Jammu, a Hindu official Lakha Ram, threw away the Holy Quran, which a Muslim employee was reciting in his room. Besides these two incidents, Muslims generally were barred from practicing their religion under the rule.
Soon after delivering the speech, Khan was arrested on 25 June, 1931. The offences like Section 124(A) (Anyone who by words or expression of any kind brings or attempts to bring or provoke a feeling of hatred, contempt, or disaffection towards government established by law is culpable under the section for imprisonment from 3 years to lifetime with or without fine) and 153 (Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot-if rioting be committed-if not committed) of the Penal Code were charged on him in the Court of Session Judge on the 4 July, 1931.
During the hearings, it was found that the trial had greatly excited the Muslims as it was the first case of a political nature in the state. The Muslims of the state were sympathetic towards Khan and thousands of people assembled in the court to know the fate of the prisoner. As such, there was an imminent danger of turmoil and so on 11 July, 1931, District Magistrate suggested that the trial be held in Jail and permission for it was granted. Not to forget is the fact that no lawyer came forward to defend Khan, except Maulvi Abdullah Vakil.
Historians say Maharaja Hari Singh had appealed to the masses to stay away from the functioning of government but that appeal was completely rejected by the Muslims. They were “prepared to sacrifice for the sake of Islam and for the sake of the helpless prisoner, for whose defence they had planned to raise subscriptions”.
13 July 1931
The trial was to be held in the Srinagar Jail premises. The Deputy Inspector of Police came to the site with one Inspector, two Sub Inspectors, five Head Constables, and 44 policemen. Out of this force, 22 policemen were armed with rifles and the rest with clubs, while the Inspectors had revolvers. Besides, the Jail forces comprised 119 policemen armed with bamboo canes and 19 policemen with rifles.
Before the arrival of the Session Judge, a large group of Muslims had gathered on the road leading to the Jail compound. When the Judge arrived in his car, escorted by the police, they shouted slogans like: ‘Our brother from Raibareli! Release Abdul Qadeer! Our brother from Rawalpindi! We will go to the jail. Imprison us instead’.
The Jailor told the Judge that people wanted to have a glimpse of Khan but the Judge refused. Khan was brought out of the Jail to the court at 2 pm. People were excited to see Khan and started raising slogans like Allaha-o-Akbar. The Sessions Judge ordered the people to disperse but they requested for permission to offer prayers. The police arrested five men and this incensed the people further. One of them -Khawaja Abdul Khaliq Shora, stood up and recited the Azan (call for prayers) loudly. A policeman promptly shot him dead. This agitated the people more and they started pelting stones on the police.
“Oh, Muslims arise! Time is near when you shall reply with stones, against the bricks. I warn you that your representatives and memorials cannot come to your rescue, nor will these papers remove injustice and misery“
Two rows, comprising five policemen each, fired on the people. The Magistrate ordered the policemen to fire three rounds in the air but the people continued shouting slogans like Allaha-o-Akbar and Islam Zindabad. Many people got injured and many were arrested in the incident.
The first man to be arrested was Khawaja Muhammad Yahya Rafiqi. Some of the protestors entered the Jail Office and picked up charpoys to carry the ‘martyrs’ and the wounded. The police had used about 200 rounds of ammunition and arrested 32 persons in the initial stages.
Meanwhile, the military and the cavalry forces had arrived and they mercilessly beat up the people with spears and sticks. They wanted to snatch away the dead bodies from the people but they confronted them bravely and proceeded towards the Jama Masjid. The wounded were carried towards the nearby Mission Hospital Rainawari and some towards the clinic of Dr. Abdul Wahid. In all, 22 people in the first instance and then six more were added to the count. In the meanwhile, military took over the city and killed three men in Nawabazar who were shouting slogans against the Maharaja.
The bodies of the Martyrs were laid in the compound of Jama Masjid Nowhatta. Sheikh Abdullah, Mirwaiz Maulvi Muhammad Yusuf Shah and other leaders started delivering speeches against the Maharaja. At the suggestion of Khawaja Noor Shah, all the martyrs were buried in the compound of Ziarat Naqashband Sahib, Khanyar.
The soldiers arrested about 700 Muslims in the city. The next day the leaders of the Muslims -Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, Chaudary Ghulam Abbas, Moulvi Abdul Rahim, Sardar Gohar Rehman were arrested and Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was locked in a solitary cell of the Hari Parbat Fort.
As a protest against these atrocities, the entire valley observed a strike for 19 days. The people shouted slogans against the Maharaja from their rooftops. At many places, the police and the military resorted to firing and killed several Muslims in Maisuma, Habakadal, Nawakadal and Jamia Masjid area.
For the first time, the Kashmiri Muslims had risen from deep slumber, and now none could stop them from their onward march towards freedom from the autocratic rule of the Maharaja. Sheikh Abdullah had emerged as their leader and had started to be known as the Sher-e-Kashmir.
The Maharaja had failed to check this upsurge and as such he decided to make changes in the administration. He appointed Pandit Hari Kishan Koul as the new Prime Minister of the State and issued orders for the release of all political prisoners except Abdul Qadeer Khan, who was given five years rigorous imprisonment. A compromise was reached between the leaders of the Kashmiri Muslims and the Maharaja through the efforts of Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad.
At a public meeting in Jama Masjid, the Muslims cursed both Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Mirwaiz Maulvi Muhammad Yusuf Shah, accusing them of compromising the sacrifices of the martyrs of 1931. But both of them explained in their speeches that they will not serve as traitors and will shed their blood, in case the Maharaja fails to redress their grievances within a month.
After the incident, a Dalal Committee was established on 14 July, 1931 by Maharaja to enquire into the cause of the disturbance in the city but the Muslims objected to the composition of the Committee and decided to boycott it. After this, another commission was established called the Glancy Commission. It was formed on 12 November, 1931 and its major recommendations were accepted by the Dogra Raj in April 1932.
The commission accepted that grave injustices had been perpetrated against Muslims and so they were granted landed rights, forced labour was abolished, a representative and democratic set-up in the form of Praja Sabha with 75 seats including 33 to be elected (21 for Muslims) was formed.
Thus, the 1931 movement had “met” its major objectives, and the Dogras were able to contain the movement. The British were not ready to accept that Kashmir could become a trouble spot which could spread discontent among the already disgruntled Muslims from Afghanistan to the Indian plains. Had the British left the situation at the mercy of Dogra rulers, they would have justified the massacres and even invented further justifications for future outrages as they had appointed Dalal commission to it. Glancy commission prevailed, which ultimately was a blessing for the Dogra Raj, for it had “satisfied” the peoples anger and the so-called Muslim leadership had virtually nothing to demand or do, except start infighting.
Who was Abdul Qadeer Khan?
Till date, nobody knows what happened to the revolutionary Abdul Qadeer Khan. Before his rebellion against the Dogra rule, Khan is believed to have worked as a butler with a British Officer, Colonel Alford Butt -a British officer who had come to Kashmir along with his wife and children and they were staying in a houseboat.
Qadeer used to offer Friday prayers at the Hazratbal shrine and in leisure fed fish. It is believed that when he heard about desecration of the Holy Quran by Dogra soldiers in Jammu, he was very furious. He took a big knife from pantry of the houseboat and addressed people at Khankah.
After that, an unidentified person asked for Qadeer in the evening. He was so brave that he went with the man in the Shikara. As the Shikara was about to reach the banks, the unidentified man, probably an intelligence official, whistled and the Maharaja’s soldiers appeared from all sides and surrounded the Shikara. They arrested Qadeer.
Another theory suggests that a few days before delivering his famous speech, Qadeer was riding with Major Abet, the British army Officer. As they were nearing the Hazratbal Shrine, Qadeer saw people rushing towards the Shrine and requested Major Abet to drop him on the banks so that he could join the Friday congregation. Major Abet dropped him on the banks but said to Qadeer “tell your God to free Kashmiris from this oppressive rule”. The British Officers’ words inspired Qadeer.
Noted historian Fida Mohammad Hasnain and writer Shabnam Qayoom believe that Abdul Qadeer Khan belonged to a Pathan family of Rampur connected with the Pan–Islamic Movement of Maulana Jamal-ud-din Astarabadi. His disguised visit as a servant of a British tourist, after the secret visit of Maulana Astarabadi, is significant. Before the delivery of the inflammatory speech, he had established his contacts with the political thinkers at the shop of Pir Abdul Ahad Shah.
“Tell your God to free Kashmiris from this oppressive rule” – Major Abet to Qadeer.
Hasnain also says that Maulana Jamal-ud-din Astarbadi is foremost among the Muslim philosophers of the 20th century, who have influenced political thought of the Islamic countries. He was the founder of the Pan Islamic movement. Khan was a prominent worker of this movement and he could speak English, Urdu, Persian and Arabic. Having lived in Peshawar and Rawalpindi, he could speak Punjabi and Pashtu also.
Hasnain also says Khan must have been murdered by the Maharaja and is buried somewhere between Goni Khan and Lal Ded Hospital. But Zahir-ud-din, a senior journalist and human rights activist, who has also researched about Khan says that he was basically from North western frontier (Afghanistan) but some 300 years back, his ancestors had shifted to Gutli Bagh, Ganderbal Kashmir. In support of his findings, he says if Qadeer had been an outsider then the Maharaja would have never allowed him to stay in Kashmir.