Holiday Politics

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by Masood Hussain

In last more than 30 years, the abnormal situation gave people so much of time to stay indoors that the significance of the official holidays was lost to a larger extent. People, however, are very calendar-centric. These wall hangings are important because they come printed with certain dates in red. Then, people encircle some dates to identify the days they are supposed not to move out. These are ‘holidays’ which they are supposed to observe from the other side of Kashmir’s’ ideological divide. Some of these days are same but observed differently by the two sides of Kashmir politics.

A conservative estimation would suggest that for around 150 days, the employees in Jammu and Kashmir have enough flexibility for staying away from their work. These are weekends and the Sundays, the official holidays and the protest strikes in addition to the abundance of curfews and strikes.

A section of the society was always suggesting that the policymakers might have to rework the yearly work calendar rationally and devise a system that will help people compensate the work deficit once an unscheduled strike comes in between. There was only one instance in which this model was created and successfully put to use: the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipore. There, the campus would work on the next holiday (Sunday included) if the students lost a day to a strike.

By the 2019 year-end, LG GC Murmu’s administration tweaked with the holiday calendar in Jammu and Kashmir. It dropped two holidays and added one new holiday. In 2020, there will be no holiday on July 13 (Martyrs Day), and December 5 (Birth Anniversary of Sheikh Abdullah). Instead, the government employees will stay home on October 26, the day when the accession was officially signed.

These three dates along with many other dates are vital to the history of Kashmir: January 26, April 14, August 15, and October 2. All these dates are relevant to Kashmir because of Sheikh Abdullah, whose birthday was dropped as a state holiday. It was Sheikh who decided to accede to India. Maharaja Hari Singh had already lost Kashmir and had fled to Jammu. He only signed the papers. Sheikh’s apparent insignificance to the history of India is a different debate. That was perhaps why even Congress remained happy with a postal ticket in his name.

Martyrs Day is completely different. It is fundamental to the history of Kashmir. Had this day not been around, there possibly may not have been Sheikh Abdullah, at least in the lion’s stature. The Martyrs Day was a sort of the Jallianwala Bagh event in Kashmir history. (This is interesting that a lot of Kashmiris were also killed in the General Dyer’s massacre.) While 22 civilians were killed in the Central Jail Srinagar premises (most of the gunners were Kashmiri Muslims working for the despot), in the immediate aftermath Hari Singh’s soldiers resorted to a series of massacres almost everywhere across Kashmir.

July 13 is the tallest milestone in the history of Kashmir’s freedom struggle against the East India Company agents who exploited everything that Kashmir had. The family did not fill its belly with the grains from the periphery or the fabric of the city alone but it sold and resold Kashmir’s women to manage its hunger and greed for the money. The day is yet another milestone to explain how the freedom struggles in India and Kashmir were separate: India was seeking freedom from the Company and Kashmir was desperate to reclaim the honour and dignity that was abused by the Company’s agents.

Withdrawing the holidays for these two days indicate the overload of Sangh agenda on the governance system. It suggests that the rightwing was happy with the exploitative rule over Kashmir simply because the ruler was a Hindu. It discounts the larger reality that the family owed its power to the Company for whom it ensured the destruction of Lahore Durbar, the only force that had attempted to fight the English. Their possession of Kashmir was mere recognition of this contribution.

Seemingly, the Sangh has taken the influence from a fake narrative suggesting that July 13, was the ‘black day’ for the Hindus in Kashmir and Jammu. It seems as if it is desperate to please its vote bank in the Jammu plains that are upset in the wake of binning of special status. Jammu is simmering over the potential threats to its land, identity and jobs. Its manufacturing sector is destroyed by the closure of the toll tax system.

The project could be a prelude to the re-writing of Kashmir history that BJP has been busy with various states across India. The reports have already appeared in the media suggesting that the social studies texts for the middle and the high school have been amended and the books are on way to Kashmir – actually stuck right now on the highway. A senior functionary of the Board of School Education also confirmed that certain sections in social studies are amended. The changes, he said, lack any Sangh emphasis.

Histories have withstood enforced changes throughout. Holidays are unlikely to change it. Certain darkest phases of Kashmir history were researched by academia and brought back to life. Kashmir, after all, distinguishes itself as the only place in the entire subcontinent that has recorded history for more than a millennium.

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