Communalism A Chronology

The Hindu Right has evolved its own distinction in narrating and understanding history, especially of Kashmir. In the last of the two parts series excerpted from the book of Dr Nirmal Singh, the Speaker of J&K assembly, Inter Communal Relations in Jammu and Kashmir from 1846-1931, basically his PhD thesis, the focus is on the instances of communal clashes in the state upto 1931 and the factors responsible for those events

In the State of Jammu and Kashmir, communalism rampant was the culmination of the process which had already taken its roots in neighbouring Punjab.

In 1888, Moharram Ali Chisti, Editor of Rafiqi-i-Hind, an Urdu paper of Lahore, wrote a letter to the Civil and Military Gazette, an English paper of Lahore, advocating the cause of annexation of Kashmir by the British. He also appealed to the British Government to permit cow-slaughter, which was banned in the State, and dismiss Hindus from Government services.

This suggestion was strongly condemned by both Hindu and Muslim newspapers. Akhbar-i-Am, dated 29th October, 1885, wrote “that an English daily paper of Calcutta has declared in a communicated article that Mussalmans in Kashmir were not allowed to celebrate the Id owing to the death of the late Maharaja (Ranbir Singh), that they were highly dissatisfied in consequence, and they are sure to migrate to British territory someday if they continue to be ill-treated in this way”. While refuting these charges, Akhbar-i-Am further said: “The Darbar did not forbid them to celebrate the festival, but they forbore the celebrations of their own accord. They said that it was a custom among them to suspend the Id on the occasion of the death of an elder member of a family and that; consequently, they would not celebrate the festival this year as a sign of mourning for the death of the late Maharaja”.

In J&K communal disturbances first took place during the last decade of the 19th century. The Shias and Sunnis clashed in Kashmir in 1872 owing to their traditional ideological differences, besides their clash in the economic interests.

The Hindus and the Muslims also quarrelled over the possession of a bathing place at Alikadal, Srinagar in 1893. This may indeed be said to have been the first instance of the communal outburst in the real sense as a result of the activities of communal elements in Kashmir.

In 1894, there erupted Hindu-Muslim feuds in the Poonch town also due to some misunderstanding among the two communities. In the course of these disturbances, the warring parties desecrated each other’s religious places and the Poonch town remained cut off for a number of days from the rest of the country.

In consequence of the Islamic revivalism in the last quarter of 19th century, the Muslims of village Amia of Ranbir Singh Pura tehsil in Jammu Province started in 1895 the practice of saying Azan (call to prayer) which they had not been doing since time immemorial. The Hindus of the area objected to this, and both the communities quarreled over the issue. The Stale authorities intervened and restored peace by bringing the parties to a mutual agreement. As a result, the right of the Muslims to say Azan was protected. It is to be noted that this was the only communal dispute which took place in a Hindu majority area till 1930.

But the communal disturbances that occurred in Mirpur in 1897 were more influenced by economic causes than religious. Here religion was used but as an instrument to flare up the communal feelings to avenge the opposite party. Actually the Muslim peasantry was labouring under the feelings of exploitation due to the mortgage policy of the Sahukars who were mostly Hindus. Their grievances were supplemented by the suspicion that some Hindu shopkeepers were providing information to the police about those persons of their community who were involved in cow killing cases. Consequently, in 1897, the Muslims of village Kheri of Mirpur tehsil forced the Hindu shopkeepers to leave their village and also dispossessed them from the lands which they had mortgaged. They also championed the cause of those who were involved in cow-killing cases and subscribed for their defence in the law courts. The situation might have become worse but for the intervention of the Governor, Jammu, who restored peace.

In 1913, two incidents, coupled with the traditional rivalry among the local Hindu and Muslim officials, led to a communal outburst in the town of Poonch. It was alleged that Dewan Badri Nath, Jailor of Poonch committed a sacrilege to the Quran. The opening of a jhatka meat shop in the town became another cause. The Government was, however, able to restore normalcy, though with difficulty, and expelled four persons for spearheading this movement.

In 1914 trouble broke out in Rampur Rajouri also. One Maulvi Abdur Rehroan then undertook a communal propaganda in this illaqa. Besides fanatic preaching’s, he excited the Muslims against the highhandedness of the Mahajan Sahukars of the area. He further declared that cow sacrifice on the occasion of Id-ul-Baqar was a religious duty of the Muslims and that it was in vogue when Rajouri was under the Muslim rulers.

He asked the Muslims not to eat the things touched by the Hindus. Likewise, he instigated the Muslim agriculturists to launch an economic blockade of the Hindus of Rajouri. For this purpose, he suggested that the Muslims should not work as cattle grazers of the Hindus, supply them grass and fuel, and mortgage or sell land to them. He also proposed that, in order to relieve the poor Muslims from the clutches of the Sahukars, subscriptions should be collected by collecting two maunds of maize from every Muslim family.

The Maulvi’s preaching had a far-reaching impact on the minds of Muslims. In the villages where he preached, they refused to get vaccinated by a Hindu vaccinator. The Muslim village officials, like Lambardars and chowkidars, also refused to cooperate with the Hindu officials. The Muslim Gujjars of the area adjoining the Rajouri town made it a regular feature to assemble in thousands on a ground near the town on the occasion of Jumma prayers.

But the Muslims belonging to the Anjuman-i-Islamia of the Rajouri branch dissociated themselves from the activities of the Maulvi. They even requested the authorities to put a stop to his communal propaganda. The local authorities helped them in reaching an agreement on the issue. According to it, the Muslims of the Rajouri town and some adjoining villages only were to assemble in a religious gathering on the ground near the town.

The situation took a serious turn when, on 18th April, 1914, the Maulvi left Rajouri on the instructions of the Government. The vested interests then spread a rumour and thousands of Muslim Gujjars from the adjoining villages ransacked the Rajouri town. The shops of the Hindus were looted and they were beaten. But no loss of life was reported and the Government’s timely intervention prevented the situation from turning to the worst.

In August, 1923, the Hindu Bohras and Muslims of Baramulla came to have a dispute over the possession of a site lying between a Hindu temple and a platform used by the Muslims for prayers. Although neither of the party had a rightful claim over this site, yet the Hindu Bohras had been using it to say their prayers. The Muslims now objected to this practice on the ground that the saying of prayers by the Bohras, while the Muslims were doing Sijda in the course of their Namaz brought disgrace to their religion. Therefore, they occupied the place forcibly. This led to a quarrel between the two parties. The Wazir Wazarat of Baramulla then intervened and used his influence to bring both the parties to a mutual agreement, according to which, neither of the party was to use the disputed land for any activity.

In the second half of June 1924, another dispute arose between the Hindus and Muslims of Anantnag over the construction of a religious platform by the Muslims on a piece of land adjoining a spring commonly used by both the communities. The Stale Government deputed Chaudhri Khushi Mohammad, one of the members of the Stale Council, to go there and settle the dispute. He went to the local Jama Mosque to say prayers and took the opportunity to explain the position to the congregation. Muslims agreed to remove the illegal construction.

The communal disturbances which occurred during the course of the Srinagar Silk Factory strike in July 1924 were, however, of the worst kind in the recent years. On 27th May, 1924, the Muslim workers of this factory struck work. They put forth various demands which included the appointment of only European officers in the senior grade under whom both Hindu as well as Muslim officials should work, punishment to the corrupt officials, and increase in wages. They also complained about the alleged high-handedness of the Kashmiri Pandit officials.

McNamara, the Director of the Factory, appointed a committee composed of 2 Europeans, 2 Kashmiri Pandits, 2 Muslims and 1 Punjabi Hindu to look into the grievances of the labourers. On receiving its report, he accepted majority of the demands, barring a few which involved major policy decisions. But the Muslim labourers were still not satisfied. Consequently, they intensified their agitation. But the Hindu as well as Muslim female workers refused to cooperate with them. Enraged, on 18th July, 1924, the striking Muslim labourers attacked about 4 Hindu employees, besides some Hindu officials of the Silk factory. They also damaged the State property, including the factory building, forcibly blocked the factory gates, and hit three policemen on duty. The State authorities had then to summon troops, and brought the situation under control with their help. Twenty-five of the strikers involved in rioting were arrested.

On the morning of 22nd July, a large crowd assembled outside the city police station and tried to rescue the arrested persons by force. Observing the crowd going out of control, the District Magistrate on duty sought the help of the army, but armed with sticks and lances only. The mob, however, refused to disperse when ordered, and pelted stones even on the Army. The authorities then used force to disperse the mob. Although there were no casualties, a rumour was spread that a large number of Muslims had been killed, and the ring leaders even collected money for the fictitious burial of the alleged victims.

The Silk Factory Strike thus acquired a communal colour. A number of reasons contributed for this development. Firstly, the officers against whom the allegations were made belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community. Secondly, most of the non-Muslim labourers refused to cooperate with the agitators. Thirdly, when the State Government tried to maintain law and order, its efforts were termed as atrocities committed by a Hindu Government on its Muslim subjects.

In August 1924, another major communal disturbance occurred in Srinagar over the alleged sacrilege to Sri Mahakali Devi temple of the Hindus and the damage done to the Khanqah Moulla Shrine of the Muslims. People of both the communities blamed each other for the sacrilege. The State authorities believed that it was an attempt by certain ill disposed elements to stir up ill feelings among the Hindus and the Muslims.

On 26th August, 1924, the State authorities constituted a conciliatory board-cum-enquiry committee to which influential members of both the communities were nominated. But the Board’s efforts to bring the warring parties to some agreement failed, with the result that the trouble continued till December 1924. The Hindus were beaten and the passage to their Shrine was blocked. The Hindu Halwais (sweet makers) were prevented to open sweet stalls on the occasion of Mahakali festival. However, as the leaders of both the communities had come to an agreement, the trouble subsided in due course of time.

The situation changed in 1931 when Hindu-Muslim riots erupted on a large scale, throughout the State. The beginning of this trouble was made in Jammu. The trouble started when on June 4, 1931, one constable, Fazaldad of Jammu Jail Police, alleged that Labhaya Ram, a Head Constable, had snatched away the Panj Surah, from his hands and threw it on the ground.

The Youngman’s Muslim Association at once took up the issue and gave a call to the Muslims of the State to hold protest meetings. They issued a poster and its copies were also sent to Young Muslim Party, Srinagar, of which SM Abdullah was the leader. In Srinagar, the police arrested one Mohammad Ismail when he was pasting these posters. But the police had to let Mohammad Ismail off when a large crowd of Muslims followed them to the police station.

Later, SM Abdullah, who was leading this crowd, led it to the Jama Masjid where he delivered a lecture, warning the State Government that until those who were responsible for insulting the Quran were punished, their agitation would continue.

Maharaja Hari Singh deplored the incident, and, on the recommendation of the Enquiry Committee, retired Head Constable, Labhaya Ram, from service for his misbehaviour and dismissed Fazaldad from service for misstating the facts which had led to breach of communal harmony.

The Young Muslim Party convened a public meeting at the Khanqah-i-Maulla of Srinagar on 21st June, 1931. Among the various leaders present in this meeting were the traditional enemies, Mir Waiz Yusuf Shah and Mir Waiz Ahmed Ullah Hamdani. Their joining hands together set ablaze the public sentiments. The leaders delivered fiery speeches. SM Abdullah exhorted the Muslims to prepare to do or die to attain the objective of wresting their rights from the Government.

After the meeting was over, Abdul Qadir, an illiterate cook by profession, began to address the crowd which had not yet dispersed. This man, who had come from Peshawar along with Maj Batt of the Yorkshire Regiment to spend his leave in the Kashmir valley, was frequently visiting the Hazaratbal Shrine and also addressing the Muslim religious congregations. In his address, Abdul Qadir invited the crowd to rise in revolt against the Maharaja’s Government and, pointing towards the royal palace.

It was on 25th June, 1931, that Abdul Qadir was arrested for sedition and making inflammatory utterances. During the course of his trial in the court of City Magistrate, Srinagar, a large crowd of excited Muslims began or gather outside the court premises and used to raise anti-Government slogans.

Maharaja’s repeated appeals to maintain peace and tranquillity had no effect on the leaders. SM Abdullah and his party continued convening public meetings and exhorting the Muslims to be prepared for every sacrifice.

Gradually, the excited mood of the crowd became threatening and sensing the breach of peace; the trial judge shifted the trial venue inside the central jail.

On July 13, when the case proceedings were going on, a large crowd of about five thousand Muslims collected outside the central jail and pressed for admission to hear the proceedings inside the jail. After it was refused by the guard on duty, the crowd, on the incitement of some ringleaders, started pelting stones on the police guard. Apprehending further rioting, the trial judge sought police reinforcement from the city. During this time, three of the guards were injured seriously when the crowd assaulted them to force their entry into the jail.

Meanwhile, the police reinforcements reached the spot. Seeing them, the crowd started pelting stones on them also. Thereupon, the crowd was declared an unlawful assembly and ordered to disperse. But it had no effect on the mob who continued pelting stones on the police. Feeling the strength of the police force inadequate and in danger of being overpowered, the Magistrate ordered the police to fire. About ten persons were killed and forty were injured.

After the firing, the crowd dispersed. On their way back, they assaulted and looted the Hindus. In Maharaj Ganj, a large number of their shops were looted and burnt. Similar rioting was indulged in at Vicharnag where some Hindu women were also molested.

Soon, the Srinagar city was handed over to the army. During the night, some miscreants attacked a military picket and tried to seize their rifles. The military opened fire and one more person was killed.

It was on 14th July that SM Abdullah and some other Muslim leaders were arrested. They also included three Muslim leaders of Jammu who had gone in a deputation to Srinagar to meet the Maharaja, but had involved themselves in the agitation.

The Maharaja ordered the appointment of an enquiry commission, under the chairmanship of Justice Sir Barjor Dalai, a Parsi as chairman and two judges of the High Court one Hindu and one Muslim to look into the causes of the July 1931 riots. On 31st July, he also ordered the unconditional release of all the persons arrested during the July 1931 riots. This was, however, done after SM Abdullah and others had given an understanding “to refrain from further agitation”.

On 26th August, 19 31, a truce in the form of understanding, was signed between the Muslim represents lives and the Prime Minister of the State. But SM Abdullah broke the understanding by making political speeches in the mosques and incited the Muslims against the State Government. Consequently, the Government arrested him and some other leaders, and with this began another phase of the Muslim agitation. According to the Resident, it was at the behest of the Ahmediya Khalifa that SM Abdullah had started this agitation with a view to lessening the influence of the Ahrar Party which had by this time started anti-State Government agitation from Punjab.

(References have been edited out for the reasons of space and certain interventions were made for the reasons of clarity. The analysis solely belongs to the author.)

Read part one of the two-part series here


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