Unknown, Unsung

While Abdul Qadeer Khan was on trial in Srinagar Central Jail for exhorting people to rise against the monarch, a crowd gathered outside the jail was fired upon. Zahir-ud-Din tracks the various theories surrounding the birth and death of Kashmir’s little chronicled hero.

Much has been written and said about Abdul Qadeer Khan but to this day nobody knows who he was and what happened to him. The people who wrote the history of Kashmir have made just a passing reference of the person who changed the course of Kashmir history on July 13, 1931. He deserves a better deal. But, who was he and where did he come from. Theories about his life and origin remain fuzzy.

Of Afghan descent but resident of Gutlibagh

Professor Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Shah of Hathi Khan Mohalla says that before joining higher education department he was in police for a brief stint. “One day I was going through a file when a man with a wheatish complexion walked into my office. My colleagues simply ignored him. After some time, he introduced himself as Qadeer’s brother. I looked at him curiously. He was wearing a ring on right ear. Qadeer was a household name in Kashmir then.

I offered him a chair and ordered tea for him. He had come to my office regarding some problems in his job; he was an employee in the police department. Since in Kashmir a non-state subject can’t get a job, particularly in those times when the state subject law was strictly enforced, it is clear that Qadeer was a Kashmiri.”

(Professor Shah passed away a few months ago after prolonged illness. I had interviewed him in March 2007 when I was collecting material for my book Bouquet: A tribute to unsung heroes of Kashmir)

Soon after a friend, Peer Mairaj-ud-Din who migrated to Pakistan in 2003 contacted me in 2007. He had come across a man in Islamabad who spoke good Kashmiri. The man turned out to be Qadeer’s son, Abdul Saboor Khan Durani. Durani told Peer “it was my father Abdul Qadeer Khan Durani who addressed the people at Khankah-e-Moula on June 21 and changed the course of freedom struggle. We lived in Gutli Bagh, Ganderbal and my mother hailed from Kaloosa, Bandipora of Baramulla district. He worked as a cook with a British officer who was staying in Kashmir. My relatives still live in Gutlibagh. They have been living there for the past 300 years after their migration from Afghanistan.”

“Emotions overwhelmed Saboor Khan for a moment, but he pulled himself together and continued his tale. My mother’s name was Ayesha and she was born to Malik family of Kaloosa Bandipora. My sister’s name was Noora.”

Saboor Khan had mentioned his father’s martyrdom, but did not know how, when and where Qadeer was martyred. Nor did he know where Qadeer was laid to rest. “When 22 Kashmiris fell to bullets outside Srinagar Central Jail, I was just a five-year-old chap. My mother told me about father. He could speak Kashmiri and was influenced by the Ahrar leaders,” he said. Ahrars were an anti-British and anti-Qadiani resistance group in Punjab.

Like father like son

Saboor narrated how he was brought up and how he started taking part in the freedom struggle of Kashmir. “After my father’s martyrdom I was brought up by a renowned scholar Moulana Wafai who took me to his home at Shopian. I lived with him for two years. He later sent me to Moulana Abdul Gani, a close relative of Moulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri, of Kupwara where I lived for three years.

I went to Mian Marg Gilgit where I stayed for five years. I came back to Kaloosa, Bandipora where I stayed with my maternal uncles. Finally I shifted to Srinagar and lived at Barbar Shah. My mother and sister also lived with me.”

Saboor Khan had hesitantly spoken about life to Peer Mairaj, but his account makes the adage like father like son sound true. “Soon after the landing of Indian troops in Kashmir in 1947 Sheikh Muhamamd Abdullah became the emergency administrator. A few years later I became a member of Political Conference and was arrested from Delhi Muslim Hotel Amira Kadal along with Muhammad Amin Nehvi Advocate, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Salati Advocate, Abdul Rehman Shagoo, Abdul Hamid Karra, Ghulam Qadir Hawa Baz and Professor Mohi-ud-Din Hajni. We were shifted to Badami Bagh where all of us were severely tortured. The notorious DIG Qadir Ganderbali used to call me Reyi Badshah (Ant King) because I would climb poles like an ant to hoist Pakistani flags.” My quest for facts took me to Muhammad Amin Nehvi Advocate. The ailing Advocate does not remember Saboor Khan. Another Political Conference activist Hafizullah Makhdoomi also does not know any person named Saboor Khan.

Saboor Khan was released after a while. Just fifteen days before his arrest, Saboor had married Fatima the daughter of late Assadullah Mir of Aloocha Bagh, Srinagar. After his release, Saboor went underground for several years. But he was arrested and externed after a month-long detention. He went to Pakistan administered Kashmir from Uri and got involved in the movement against Qadianis. He was arrested and detained at Lahore. After his release he came back to Kashmir. His wife had left him. A shocked Saboor went underground for two years after divorcing his wife. Finally he succeeded in crossing the cease-fire and lives in Pakistan. He could not attend the funeral of his mother and sister.

“For several years I would receive letters from my relatives in Kashmir, but not now,” Saboor had told Peer Mairaj.

A UP Muslim?

Shabnam Qayoom, a writer says he did extensive research for his book Kashmir Ka Siyasi Inqilaab. The research work took him to Rampur area in Uttar Pradesh. “I was told that Qadeer was born in Rampur but left his native land in early childhood. But they couldn’t tell much about his father,” Qayoom said.

I tried my best to trace out Saboor’s relatives in Aloosa Bandipora and Aloochi Bagh, Srinagar. The locals at both the laces do not know about Saboor’s relatives. However, an old man said the Mir family of Aloocha Bagh had shifted from the area long ago. He did not know where the family was putting up now.

Disciple of Jamal-ud-Din Afghani

Noted academician, Professor Sheikh Showkat Husain while addressing a seminar convened by Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in 2007 said Qadeer was a disciple of Jamal-ud-Din Afghani and was on a special mission in Kashmir. However, he could not support it with evidence. He did not disclose the source of his information as well.

Qadeer wakes up Kashmiri spirit of freedom
A few days before delivering his famous speech at Khankahi Moula, Qadeer was riding with Major Abet, the British army officer, and the former British Resident in Dal Lake in Kashmir Sunflower houseboat owned by Aziz Wangnoo. As they were nearing Hazratbal 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 is believed to have said to Qadeer “Tell your God to free Kashmiris from this oppressive rule.” The British officer’s words inspired Qadeer to deliver the fiery speech. To save himself from arrest, Qadeer changed his clothes in Muhammad Amin Farooqi’s house. (Kashmir ka Siyasi Inqilaab, Vol I, pg 55.)

Kashmir was already bracing up for a rebellion. People had been protesting on the streets against the desecration of Quran by a Dogra soldier at Jammu. The Reading Room Party and Young Men’s Association mobilized the people for the widespread protests. Moulvi Abdullah Vakil, Munshi Naseer, Moulvi Bashir and Ghulam Nabi Gilkar delivered a series of speeches. And Sheikh Abdullah was introduced to the public for the first time.

On June 21, 1931 hundreds of Muslims from different schools of thought assembled at a function at Khankahi Moula where the Muslim leadership forged unity and constituted a seven-member committee to take the struggle forward. The members were Saad-ud-Din Shawl, Mirwaiz Moulvi Yusuf Shah, Mirwaiz Ahmadullah Hamdani, Aga Syed Hassan Jalali, Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Munshi Shuhab-ud-Din. When the leaders dispersed, Qadeer appeared on the podium and shouted slogans against Hindus. He said: “Listen, time has come when we have to act. Requests and memoranda will serve no purpose at this point of time. It will not end tyranny and it will not end desecration of Qur’an. Stand up and fight the tyrant rulers.” He pointed towards Raj Mahal (Palace) and said, “Raze it to the ground.”

Qadeer was arrested and put on trial. On July 13, 1931 when a lot of people assembled outside the Central jail to express solidarity with Qadeer, the Dogra soldiers opened fire and killed 22 men on the spot. Scores sustained injuries.

People who know Kashmir history believe Qadeer was buried somewhere between Goni Khan and Lal Ded hospital. This means Qadeer stayed back in Kashmir after serving his sentence. Had he been externed, people would have definitely raised their voice.

(Zahir-ud-Din is a journalist and has authored Bouquet: A tribute to unsung heros of Kashmir)


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