When Dogra forces opened fire on unarmed protesters in Srinagar killing 21 of them on spot, known poets from India including Alama Iqbal assembled in Shimla to condemn Maharaja’s misrule in Kashmir. Khalid Bashir Ahmad revisits the historic event that would create Shimla’s historic connection with Kashmir.
The wounds of tyranny had been festering for long. The pent up resentment against a highly repressive and hated regime that made no distinction between shooting a game bird and its subjects was only waiting to burst. The killing of 21 unarmed civilians on July 13, 1931 sent shock waves across Kashmir. Although the government came down heavily on people who protested against the massacre of unarmed demonstrators, the situation became palpable with the cry for deliverance from oppression.
Even as within Kashmir there was no change in the plight of the people who continued to suffer the bigoted dispensation, the July 13 incident, for the first time, saw groups and individuals outside Kashmir rallying around the oppressed Kashmiris.
The first development was the formation of the Kashmir Committee at Shimla, barely a week after the Srinagar massacre. Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal, who himself had Kashmiri lineage and was aggrieved by the plight of his brethren, was the main force behind mobilizing support for Kashmir struggle. He and a host of several other poets like Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Hafeez Jalandhari, Abdul Majeed Saalik, Agha Hashar Kashmiri and Muhammad Din Fouq had been giving voice to the sufferings of Kashmiris through their verses that worked as an effective mobilizing force for public opinion.
The Kashmir Committee comprised prominent leaders including Sir Zafrullah Khan, Khawja Hassan Nizami, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mohammad, Hassan Shaheed Suharwardy, etc. who belonged to different parts of India from Peshawar to Calcutta (now Kolkata). Newspapers like Zamindar, Inqilab, Siyasat, Alfaaz, Paisa Akhbaar, Panja-e-Faulad, Kashmir Mussalman and Lahore Chronicle had become the mouthpieces of the oppressed Kashmiris and an instrument to create awareness in India about the affairs of Kashmir.
The Conference at Shimla spelt out its objectives to bring pressure upon the Government of India to help Kashmiris in securing elementary rights of humanity hitherto denied to them, to acquaint the ruler with the real affairs of his State, ask for an appointment of independent commission of inquiry into Kashmir affairs, seek a new interpretation of the Treaty of Amritsar which had deprived Kashmiris of their proprietary rights in the State (The Kashmir Committee wanted to put this demand before the British Parliament) and make the Kashmir affairs known to the entire civilized world by writing books on Kashmir and widely circulate them in England. The Kashmir Committee tried to open dialogue with the Maharaja of Kashmir and send a deputation to Srinagar which he did not agree to. Dismayed by his response, the Committee, in order to create awareness among the Muslims of India about the state of affairs in Kashmir, decided to observe August 14th as the Kashmir Day.
The success of the Kashmir Day could be measured by the fact that it was not restricted to the Punjab but also observed in other cities like Delhi, Surat, Gorakhpur, Bombay, Calcutta and, of course, Shimla where the Kashmir Committee was founded. Processions and public meetings were held at all these places in support of political and religious rights of Kashmiri Muslims. This was happening for the first time that Kashmiri Muslims heard supporting voices for their demands from outside their own land. Prior to this some European travellers visiting Kashmir had written accounts of repression and atrocities the Kashmiris were going through. Any procession being staged in their support by non-Kashmiris was a new development.
Shimla held the distinction of bringing together the Muslims of India in support of Kashmiri brethren in their hour of distress and abject deprivation. The city not only hosted the meeting at which the Kashmir Committee was constituted but on July 24, 1931 a large procession was taken out to condemn the atrocities committed against Kashmiri Muslims by their ruler. The procession passed through Ganj Maidan, Ganj Road and Cart Road and culminated at Jama Masjid in the evening. Maulvi Ziauddin and Abdul Gani were in the vanguard of the procession that raised slogans like “Blood of martyrs is the charity of the nation”, “Death to oppression”, “Death to oppressive government”, “Death to Kashmir Government”, “Long live Islam” and “Long live Muslims of Kashmir”. One Ferozuddin of Lahore addressed the procession at four different places and castigated the Kashmir government for the oppression perpetuated on its Muslim subjects. He said that the atrocities being suffered by Kashmiris could not be expressed in words and described Dogra rulers as “devils” for opening fire on innocent and unarmed Muslims that he termed as “an act of meanness”.
In the evening, a public meeting was held at the Jama Masjid which began at 10.15 PM and was presided over by Khan Bhadur Mian Rahim Bakhash. The intelligence report submitted to the Prime Minister of Kashmir on August 29th 1931 by Inspector General of Police counted the gathering as 1500 strong. The meeting passed a resolution to the effect that “this public meeting of the Muslims of Shimla expresses deep indignation over the zulm (cruelty) perpetrated upon the Muslims of Kashmir and that its consequences will be ultimately injurious for the Kashmir State.” The mover of the resolution made a fiery speech alluding to their making representations for long against the tyranny in Kashmir and their decision now to fight to the finish. He said that until Kashmir was not freed they would not take rest nor allow others to do so. He then referred to the killing of innocents in the Central Jail Srinagar and refusal of the Kashmir government to allow medical aid to the injured.
The speaker was of the view that had the Viceroy of India and the Secretary of State for India appointed an independent inquiry commission into the affairs of Kashmir the facts would have come to light. He countered the Kashmir Maharaja’s assertion that outsiders had no right to interfere in the internal affairs of his State arguing that the Muslims of the world were one body. He held out a warning that if out of frustration on the inability of the Kashmir government to take right steps they did anything the responsibility would squarely lay at the door of the Kashmir Darbar and Government of India.
Several other speakers including Muhammad Umar, Abdul Gani, M. Ziaullah, M. Ahmad Hussain, M. Zakaullah and Khan Bhadur Mian Rahim Bakhash also addressed the public meeting that came to a close at midnight. They dismissed the inquiry commission appointed by the Kashmir Darbar to enquire into the July 13th incident and demanded an independent inquiry. The meeting also resolved to raise fund for relief to the victims of the carnage in Srinagar. One Shiraz Sahab read a poem on the tragedy of Karbala to bring home the atrocities suffered by Kashmiri Muslims. Khan Bhadur Mian Rahim Bakhash dismissed the allegation of the Kashmir Darbar that the killed protestors had invaded the Central Jail Srinagar and snatched arms from soldiers. He hoped that justice would be done to the Muslims of Kashmir and their voice heard.
Twenty days later on the Kashmir Day, Shimla again reverberated with voices supporting the Kashmir cause. A public meeting was held under the chairmanship of Imam Syed Hussain and three resolutions were demanding appointment of an independent body to inquire into the events related to July 13th massacre, allow a barrister from outside Jammu & Kashmir to enter Kashmir and defend the cases pending in connection with the riots, justice to Muslim subjects, abolition of all such rules as were hostile to Islam, complete freedom of religion and social, economic and political progress of Muslim subjects, recognition to the proprietary rights of land for Muslim Zamindars and distribution of State services and a share in the ministry to Muslims in proportion to their population. One of the resolutions dismissed the charge levelled by the Hindu press that Muslims wanted to capture Hindu states one after the other.
From formation of the Kashmir Committee in July 1931 and processions brought out that month in support of the Kashmiris to the Shimla Agreement signed between India and Pakistan, again in the month of July, in 1972, Shimla has intricately remained attached to the history of Kashmir.