1931, The pellet start

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A public holiday, July 13 is a landmark day in the history of Kashmir that is being observed sincerely by both the camps in Kashmir’s ideological conflict. Accounts of the happenings are galore. Masood Hussain excerpted this eye witness account from the book Kashmir Kee Tehreek-e-Azadi, Khawb, Azaab Aur Sarab, that is based on the notes of Pir Mohammad Afzal Mukhdoomi. The authoritative account offering context and subtext to the Himalayan development in Kashmir’s history suggests it all started with pellets and was followed up by rumours that created stature of leaders. The first bullet was also fired by a Kashmiri

Security personnel scanning grave yard before arrival of VIPs on 13th July.

Maharaja Hari Singh had no successor from his first wife. So in 1930, he married a Kangra Rajput. Within a year, the Maharaja was on way to Paris to ensure proper medical care to Maharani. In March 1931, the heir apparent Dr Karan Singh was born. It was a major development and triggered massive official celebrations. Punjabi Muslims took out a procession and sung songs to thank God and praise the family. But there were tensions after a Pandit capitalist Bal Kak, then Wazir-e-Wazarat, sent a telegram to Maharaja congratulating him on behalf of “Hindus and Muslims Chakdars, landlords, Raees’s and the subjects” on the birth of Rajkumar.

This was strongly resented by the Muslim bourgeoisie. They saw it a challenge to their status. So they created a front with the sole objective of sending their own telegram. The entire Muslim bourgeoisie met at the residence of Zaildar Pir Sahab. The idea was to congratulate the Maharaja and also draw his attention towards the status of Muslim subjects. In the first meeting, it was decided that a telegram needs to be sent. By the second meeting, the draft was readied. In both the meeting, a young man, whom people identified as Mohammad Abdullah, resented the telegram. In the second meeting actually, he was fierce in his reaction that shocked the bourgeoisie.

Eventually the draft was ready and in included a “request” that once the Maharaja is back home, they will host high tea in either Nishat or the Shalimar garden, where, they will also make certain demand on behalf of the Muslim subjects. Maharaja got the cable when he had reached Bombay. He rejected any invitation in which there will be demands. Kashmir’s Muslim elites were crestfallen.

When Hari Singh left with his wife to Paris, he handed over the charge of his government to a Board. Led by Prime Minister G E C Wakefield, its members included General Janak Singh, the Revenue Minister and Watal, Home Minister. It lacked any Muslim representation. Taking advantage of the arrogant Maharaja’s absence, the Muslims made certain representations to the Board, insisting over the absence of Muslims in the government. By then, Kashmiri Muslims were being termed as “Banerjee’s sheep” because one of Maharaja’s ministers’ Sir Albion Rajkumar Banerjee was so impressed negatively by the worst governance and the suppression that he resigned and told in Calcutta about how the Kashmiri Muslims are being managed like goats and sheep. Muslims wanted a change in their status and petitioned the Board.

But the Board proved ‘more royal than the king’. It ruled the jobs in the government were being given on basis of capacity and education, rather than faith. But the Board insisted that the government is marinating adequate percentage of the Muslims as “hundreds of weepers, shoe-shiners and the Jamadar’s from the Muslim community were serving in Jammu and Kashmir.”

These series of events had surcharged Kashmir and for the first the bourgeoisie and educated were on the same page. A simmering Kashmir started reacting by mobilizing the masses. The historic Reading Room with Sheikh Abdullah as a member started operating in Dukan-e-Sangeen in Fateh Kadal.

In wake of this mobilisation when the Kashmiri Muslims met in the lawns of Jamia Masjid, leaders made speeches. But when it came to slogans, people did not know what to say. A Jammu journalist Munshi Mohammad Hussain shouted Nara-ie-Takbeer, but people did not know what to say in response! Then, they were educated about the sloganeering. It was in this public meeting when Sheikh Abdullah impressed the audience.

The second major milestone was June 21, 1931 when thousands of people assembled in the lawns of Kahnqah-e-Moalla. It witnessed the two main clerics of Kashmir Molvi Yousuf Shah and Molvi Ahmadullah Hamdani sharing the stage which was a sort of miracle. Muslim bourgeoisie, educated and the restive young men, all were there. There were no divisions. After Sheikh made a huge impressive speech, the public meeting nominated seven of its representatives comprising two clerics, Agha Syed Hussain Jalali, Munshi Shahabuddin, Khawaja Saiduddin Shawl, Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashaie, Sheikh Abdullah and from Jammu Choudhary Ghulam Abbas, Mistri Yaqoub Ali and Sardar Gowhar Rehman.

People offering funeral prayers of 1931 martyrs at Jami Masjid.

As the crowds started thinning and the meeting was about to close, a good number of audience, at the behest of Kahwaja Ahmadullah Karra, wanted to listen to the speech of a non-local Abdul Qadeer. A Pathan settled in Lucknow, he was a chef hired by a European. By evening Qadeer was arrested.

Monday, July 13, 1931, was the hearing of Qadeer’s case. It was the second day of the Urs of Mukhdoom Sahab, so the rush was around. In order to prevent law and order from getting out of hand, the government deciding holding the hearing within the Central Jail Srinagar. Word of mouth triggered a sort of campaign and thousands of people started moving towards the jail to witness the hearing. Molvi Mohammad Abdullah Vakil was Qadeer’s lawyer. He reported to the jail at around 1 pm, asked people to stay peaceful. Qadeer, he said, will be brought out for trail after the government lawyers will came and then you can see him. He advised people to offer Zuhar prayers, till then. Mohammad Yousuf Halwaie called for the prayers. But most of the people started offering prayers individually near the Central Jail and around the Pokhribal.

While people were offering prayers, a rumour started travelling quite fast: Qadeer was given seven years of imprisonment and his lawyer was also arrested. This triggered a crisis that people rushed to the gate of the jail and started asking for Qadeer. Within seconds the violence started. People resorted to stone pelting.

We were eight friends including Ghlam Mohammad Halwaie and Ghulam Nabi Kalwal. We saw a huge platoon of the police in the lawns of the jail, mostly armed with guns and mostly non-Kashmiris. Some even carried bamboos. The two local cops who were visibly active were Sergeant Qadir Khan and Head Constable Hakim Ali from Batamaloo.

Police was busy in cane charge, and I saw Ghulam Mohammad Halwaie, a former police man, attacking Sergeant Qadir Khan.  He succeeded in snatching the weapon and within seconds of it, Hakim Ali opened fire on Halwaie. He fired two bullets; one hit his face and another chest. He died on spot. Then the firing continued for 15 minutes.

This needs a special mention that the guns which opened on people were hunter guns, the pellet guns and not the 303 rifles. Had the cops opened the rifles, the killings could have been around 500. They opened in fire and then targeted the people and that is why more people were injured by splinters. I got splinters in both my legs.

Maharaja Hari Singh

The firing took place where now the office and the residence of jail superintendent are located. Then, there were shingled quarters of the jail wardens, then called Barkandaz. People in the lawns of the jail were so huge in number that had the jail not been locked, they might have barged into it.

The people collected torn clothes and threw them over the shingled roof of the Markandaz quarters, sprinkled the kerosene oil of the lamps of these quarters and set it afire. This happened after the police was out of ammunition and retreated a bit. Speedy winds were blowing, that time. Then, some prisoners were being driven back from the court. People intercepted them and broke their chains and set them free. Two Gilgit prisoners who were given life imprisonment were freed but they refused to leave saying it is immoral to flee when the verdict is pronounced. But two Pahadi prisoners fled when they were unchained.

By then the people had taken away the charpoys of the jail staff and started taking the dead and injured in a huge procession towards Jamia Masjid. People in hoards started assembling near Kastour Penj at the Mukhdoom Sahab shrine. The unusual assembly of the people near the shrine led to the suspension in the government forces that the people might be attacking the fort. A platoon was despatched and officer with a pistil in his hands came to the shrine, enquired about the assembly and returned.

All the slain Kashmiris were brought to Jamia, so were all the injured. People took the injured to the Maharaj Gunj hospital but the doctor had fled. So the people took the injured to the private clinic of Dr Abdul Wahid where a computer Molvi Ahmad Shah did the first aid to the extent possible.

I was feeling pain in the injuries so I somehow got hold of a senior hospital compounder who extracted the three splinters of mine and gave me the first aid.

Pellets damaged the injured severely, some lost their legs, and some had to amputate their fingers. Some actually lost their eyes.

Entire state, especially Srinagar was handed over to the army. All the vital spots in the city were under siege. Army’s chief of staff Brigadier Sutherland and Maharaja’s Wazir-e-Hazouri Nawab Khusrou Jung Bahadur, visited Jamia many times to see the injured. The latter was a polite and sensitive person. He wept publicly after seeing the injured people. In one of his trips, he was accompanied by two officers, probably General Rehmatuallh Khan and Brigadier Khuda Bakhsh.

As the day passed, people started assembling in Jamia. Molvi Yousuf Shah was carrying his turban in his hand and reciting the verses. Moulana Abdul Qadoos, who was a teacher in Oriental College was also speaking to the people. People were using the caps of their turbans, usually the turban is tied on a strong cap, to get the water and quench the thirst of the injured. I used my cap to quench teh thirst of various injured who later died.

Kalwal was one of the seriously injured. He once requested his father or brother, who was attending him, to get the Molvi Sahab to him. They took Molvi Yousuf Sahab and Molvi Waterhali Sahab to him and he asked them: “We are giving our life. For God’s sake tell us, if we are martyrs?” To this question, Moulana said: yes, you undoubtedly are. After listing this sentence, he breathed his last.

As the injured were sinking, the people living around the Jamia would get the Kehwa and tea and feed the people.

It was after the Isha prayers that Khawaja Salam Shah and Noor Shah reached Jamia and indicated the government was keen that the dead should be laid to rest in their ancestral graveyards.  There were efforts by the government to convince Moulva Yousuf Shah also but the youth fiercely reacted and rejected the idea. But, Noor Shah, despite being the government employee, said this should not happen because their sacrifice would neutralise. They should be laid to rest at one place, he insisted. Ghulam Mohammad Ashaie, seconded it and then it was a consensus.

Sir Albion Rajkumar Banerjee

Eventually it was Noor Shah who solved the issue. He said the martyrs will be laid to rest in the premises of Khawaja Naqshhband Sahab. Mir Maqbool Shah who was playing a double role supported it. He indicated to the government that sending the slain to different Mohallas will create a larger law and order issue.

The night was tense. As Abdul Raheem Dar and Abdul Rehman were photographing the dead, there were rumours that the government forces may snatch the martyrs and bury them at their own. This triggered a reaction suggesting that if government forces entered the jamia, they will be resisted, even at the cost of the lives.  It was then that the leaders said that the martyrs do not require a funeral bath. At the first light of July 14, when people started moving home, there was massive presence of government forces around.

During the night massive arrests had taken place. Even traders were arrested. Sheikh Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Gilkar, Molvi Abdul Raheem, Choudharey Ghulam Abbas, Sardar Gowhar Rehman and Mistri Yaquob Ali were arrested imprisoned in the Fort, in a dungeon. So many arrests took place that there was no space left. Some people were actually kept in Maharaja’s stable.

Despite all this, the people started coming in hoards to the Jamia. This was despite the rumours that the government will permit only four relatives per dead to accompany the funeral. Finally, Molvi Abdul Qadoos led the funeral prayers. Not many people were permitted to accompany the funeral to the Naqshband Sahab. The entire area was dominated by the army with machine guns fixed almost everywhere. When the martyrs were being lowered in their graves, despite all the restrictions and domination, a sweet maker, Noor Khan somehow attempted breaking the cordon to reach the martyrs cemetery amid shouts at the soldiers: “You will have to pay for this blood. They (martyrs) got their graves, but you will not get one.”

Of the 23 martyrs, nine died on the spot in Central Jail and others breathed their last in the lawns of Jamia Masjid. They were laid to rest at 11:30 am, a day later, on July 14, 2017.

The killings led to instant closure of markets. Maharaj Gunj, then, was the major trading hub. Lalas’ were the dominating the trade. Lala Kishan Chand Baghat, one of these Lalas’ hurled invectives on a Tonga-puller Ghulam Nabi, son of known volunteer Zoni alias Rang-eh-Khraw. He could not afford the disrespect to the dead. He pulled out a pistol and shot at the Lala and then dragged him out. In his support, all the Lala’s of the market came out and the situation turned communal.

Within hours, there were instances of loot in Zaina Kadal, Bahoori Kadal, Fateh Kadal, and other places. But the timely intervention of the army and the police prevented an escalation. Some of the traders shifted their provisions to their homes and claimed loot. It was much later that Assistant Governor Khawaja Salam Shah Naqshbandi, ensured raids on some houses where the looted material was stored and it marked the end of raids for recovery of loot. But there were individuals like Jiya Lal Chrangu of Maharaj Gunj who suffered so much of loses that he could not revive his trade, later.

The massacre proved a landmark. Maharaja sacked Wakefield and replaced him by Raja Hari Kishan Koul, considered to be a hard task master. In the society, interesting rumours started creating profiles. One suggested that a lion was coming near the Fort to register his anger against the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah. Gullible, various people would hide in the Malkhah graveyard to have a glimpse of the angry lion. Another rumour was that the leaders arrested in the fort have gone surprisingly missing and it has given a headache to the government. The other was that if the strike continues for some more days, the Lord Sahab, would personally come and unfurl a black flag, marking the end of Dogra Raj, at the Fort. The people continued their strike and actually went to see the flag unfurling. It did not happen but the movement for freedom of Kashmir got a strong foundation.

(Kashmir Kee Tehreek-e-Azadi, Khawb, Azaab Aur Sarab was compiled by Javed Mukhdoomi on basis of the published notes of his father. The book was published by Meezan Publishers, early 2017 summer)

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