Srinagar: Tomorrow (July 13), Kashmiris will observe the martyrs’ day. Pro-Indian parties and ‘separatists’ will go to the graveyard to lay wreaths on the graves of martyrs who ‘laid down their lives’ while fighting autocracy. The Chief Minister and other senior leaders of the National Conference will also visit the graveyard to mark the ‘beginning of the end of autocratic rule’.
July 13 is an important date in Kashmir history and the persons who offered sacrifice on this day in 1931 must be remembered but April 29, 1865 is equally an important date. Scores of people achieved martyrdom on that day when Dogra soldiers stormed a peaceful demonstration of shawl weavers near Zaldagar Bridge. But this date goes un-noticed for unknown reasons.
Noted columnist and author Zahid Muhammad told Kashmir Reader that the April 29 killings at Zaldagar could not become a national narrative. Renowned social activist and poet, Zareef Ahmad Zareef said the Zaldagar martyrs were ‘orphans’. While elaborating he said they did not have a leader like Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. “However, that does not mean that the 1931 martyrs are less important,’ he said.
Historian Ashiq Husain Bhat said the national Conference did not observe martyrs’ day on July 13 up to 1948. “Kashmiris used to observe Kashmir day on August 14. The call for observing August 14 as Kashmir day was given by Kashmir Committee in 1931. However, in 1947 Pakistan came into being on August 14. Sheikh Abdullah, therefore, did not observe the day in 1948 when he was the Prime Minister of the state. He observed July 13 instead, since then July 13 is observed as martyrs’ day,” he explained.
In 1856 Ranbir Singh ascended the throne. Gulab Singh suffered an attack of Dropsy which ultimately killed him in 1859. Ranbir Singh strictly followed his father and imposed severe tax on the shawl weavers. Raw material and import of wool from Ladakah were also taxed. Besides custom duty, tax was also imposed on the finished products. According to some historians around 300% tax was imposed on the shawls which broke the back of shawl industry. At that time around 125 thousand persons were involved in the shawl industry. These included weavers, washer men, skilled laborers having know how of printing. The industry generated more than Rs 50 lakhs annually.
Meanwhile a Pundit, Raj Kak Dhar got the contract of the shawl department for Rs 12 lakh. He set up his office at Saraf Kadal (Zaina Kadal) and imposed tax to the tune of Rs 49 on the shawl weavers. Dhar was patronized by the government and would take army along to recover tax. The weavers approached the then governor Kripa Ram to apprise him of their woes but he did not listen to them. To press their demands the weavers took out a procession on April 29, 1865. The protesters staged a demonstration in a ground near Zal Dagar. They later decided to march towards the residence of governor. Meanwhile, Raj Dhar managed to instigate the governor who sent Col Beach Singh to take care of the protestors. The army herded the protesters towards Haji Rather Sum (A small bridge on Kut-e- Kul.) The bridge collapsed. Around 28 people drowned. Many sustained injuries. According to Dr Altaf Husain the author of Wounded Paradise, the Dogra Soldiers also opened fire on the protesters.
In 1931 an Imam was restrained from delivering the Eid sermon at Jammu. This was followed by desecration of Quran by a police man. The incidents triggered violent demonstrations across the state. On June 21, seven representatives were appointed at Khankah-e-Moula to take the movement forward. Abdul Qadeer delivered speech and was charged for sedition. The court was shifted to Central jail and the case was fixed for hearing on July 13. A number of people assembled outside the jail to witness the trial. The soldiers opened fire killing 22 persons on the spot.