There are few points of convergence between members of various political and social organisations in Kashmir. July 13, Martyrs’ Day, is one of them.
A lot has been written about what exactly happened in real terms. Few understand that it was the real, overt, beginning of the struggle of Kashmiris against hereditary or appointed rulers, a struggle that continues to this day. Few also remember the fact, that although the people shot on that fateful day, were all Muslims, who had come in response to the raising of a banner of revolt, the Kashmiri Pandits stood in tandem with the Muslims, and wholeheartedly supported the struggle. Kashmir’s ‘Tehreek’ had begun.
But what resonates most in the present day, is the surreality of the moment. Unarmed, defenseless, poor, Kashmiris, being shot dead one by one, by the instruments of a despotic ruler, backed by agents of an Imperial power. The moment would play again, and again, in Kashmir’s history – in 1953, in 1962, in 1978, 1989-1999, and again in 2008-2010. It was the beginning of the ‘victimhood’ mentality, which has stayed on till today. The moment survives in our memory, not only because of the pain, but because the realities that led to July 13, 1931, exist today – the call of ‘democracy’ notwithstanding. How else can one explain the impunity with which the ‘Security Forces,’ occupy public and personal property in the name of the security of India? In a democratic society, where ultimate power emanates from the people, how can the ‘Security Forces,’ arrest, torture, maim, and kill, the very people it has to serve? Whose ‘security’ are they ensuring anyway? Whom are they working for? The old man, walking to his orchard? The young girl, off to school? The young man, in search of a livelihood? None. They work for powers that exist elsewhere, in the same way that the Maharaja’s men worked for a Maharaja who could not care less for his subject. They tell the Kashmiri people: ‘Here are the lines we draw for you. Do not cross them. Consequences will be deadly.’
The aftermath also saw the rapid rise to prominence of a certain Sheikh Abdullah, who was to become the leader of the Kashmiri resistance against the Maharaja. In his story is the mirror of Kashmiri life – anger, revolt, hope, despair, despondency, defeat, compromise and death. A cycle that has been repeated time and again by short-sighted individuals who laid claim to the seat of servitude – starting in 1953, repeated in 1964, 1975, 1984, 1996, and continuing to this day, and one that has not shown any signs of abating. Another reason that has made July 13, 1931, so powerful a memory for Kashmir.
The conditions of Kashmir, as they are now, with each person reduced to some form of dependency on Government dole-outs, with an ever-rising number of Kashmiris becoming economic migrants in India and abroad, can trace their origin to that day and its fallout. The crop of leaders that arose from that event, and their misguidance, and ill-judgement of the situation post-Independence, has had a direct bearing on the present day. Had leaders at the time, led by Sheikh Abdullah, not cared for their own egos, and maintained the interest of Kashmiris in general, then the current pitiful state may not have arisen. For instance, if the Kashmir dispute had not arisen at all, the possibilities of co-existence and cooperative economic growth between India and Pakistan would have been endless. In an atmosphere of peace and prosperity, the people of Kashmir would have benefited the most. In the current dispensation, with India on a rising trajectory, and Pakistan tearing itself apart, and with both countries now having learnt to grow apart, peace in Kashmir is in no one’s interest.
What Martyrs’ Day holds for present-day Kashmiris is a memory of sacrifice – a memory that has driven the Kashmiri mentality till this day, and serves as an inspiration. The battle for control over all of Kashmiri land, over its own future has yet to be won. But, at least, we know how it started, and when.