SRINAGAR—Locked gates, boots on the ground, and desolated cemetery marked 90th “martyrs’ day” in Kashmir.
Post-abrogation of Article 370, the Centre has canceled the gazetted holiday and disallowed the function to pay homage to the martyrs of 1931.
Martyrs’ day is being observed every year on July 13 in memory of the 22 Kashmiris who fell to the bullets of the police of Maharaja Hari Singh’s regime in 1931, marking the beginning of the uprising against the monarchy in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to Kashmiri historians, a couple of incidents led to the tragedy of July 13, 1931. In the first incident, a Hindu businessman in Udhampur had converted to Islam. The government of Maharaja Hari Singh seized his property and gave it to the businessman’s brother.
The businessman, who converted to Islam, lost his case in the court, too. The second incident pertained to the government’s April 29, 1931 order that banned Khutbah or sermons before Friday congregational prayers.
This interference in religion caused massive unrest among people. Consequently, protest against the government became more frequent. The third incident relates to defiling of “Punjsura” (five chapters from the Quran) inside Jammu Central jail on June 4, 1931, and the fourth incident was about pages of the Quran found in a toilet in Srinagar on June 20, 1931.
These incidents led to massive protests in Srinagar. Later, Abdul Qadeer, who led one of the protests, was arrested under sedition charges and imprisoned in Srinagar jail. The final verdict in the case was to be pronounced on July 13, 1931, which was Friday. Thousands of people gathered outside the prison, raising slogans and demanding the release of Abdul Qadeer. When the time for congregational Friday prayers approached, people gathered for prayers. When the muezzin stood up to give a call for Azan, Governor Raizada Tarlok Chand ordered police to fire on him. One after the other, 22 people came forward to deliver Azan, and they were shot dead by Maharaja’s police.
The people carried the dead in the streets of Srinagar, chanting slogans against the Dogra dynasty. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, who played an essential role in the uprising, emerged as the leader of Kashmiris. The incident of July 13 was compared with the massacre in Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh. Those killed were called martyrs and buried adjacent to the tomb of Khwaja Bahawuddin Naqshbandi in Srinagar. This graveyard is termed as Mazar-e-Shuhada or the Martyrs’ Graveyard.
July 13 is the only day where both mainstream and separatist groups are on the same page, though with a different connotation. While mainstream parties believe the mission of martyrs was achieved when the autocratic rule came to an end, separatists claim that the struggle continues since Kashmir remains an “unresolved issue.”
“The plebeian masses in Kashmir fought against communal/feudal oppressive order in the 1930s in what was the largest princely state of India. Those who were fired outside the Srinagar central jail, according to William Wakefield, `bore their wounds on their chests rather than their backs.’ Therefore, we need to avoid looking at 1931 from the prism of contemporary nation-state paradigm and situate ourselves in the arena of people’s history or history from below,” wrote eminent political scientist Prof Gull Mohammad Wani in an article to a local daily.
Paradoxically, this year nobody was allowed to visit martyrs’ graveyards to pay homage. However, prior to the abrogation of Article 370, an official function was organized at the martyrs’ graveyard to pay tributes to 22 martyrs. From chief minister to ministers, everyone was making a beeline to the cemetery. Floral tributes were paid, and police used to pay tributes by sounding the last post.
Paying rich tributes to the martyrs of July 13, 1931, the CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said the martyrs laid their life for freedom, justice anddignity.
“Today, on the occasion of Martyr’s day, gates leading to their graveyards have been locked up. Attempts to distort and rewrite Kashmir’s history are only being made to create a sense of defeat & helplessness amongst Kashmiris. Nevertheless, as we pay homage to the heroes of 13th July 1931, our resolve to strive for the restoration of J&K’s dignity remains firm,” tweeted former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
National Conference vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah said July 13, 1931, marks the assertion of J&K” s identity and rights of its people. “The Martyrs of July 13 will continue to be a beacon of LIGHT for us and the coming generations. Heroes forever!” Omar tweeted.