Desperate under crushing taxation, shawl-weavers rose against their rulers’ extortion on the morning of April 29, 1865.
Decrying the Dagshawl Department with slogans, they and their apprentices (khandvaavs) marched peacefully through Srinagar towards the Governor, Kripa Ram’s palace.
On their way they also burnt the effigies of Raj Kak Dhar, the Dagshawl inspector.
Kripa Ram decided to kill this spark of defiance, for good.
Intercepting the marchers near the Zaldagar Bridge, Colonel Bijoy Singh, leading a Dogra army detachment sent in for the job, ordered the demonstrators to disperse.
The marchers stood their ground.
What followed was horrific.
The army opened fire, and then charged at the marchers with lances.
Hundreds of weavers jumped off the Haji Rathar Sum, hoping to save themselves in the marshes along the Dal Lake.
At least 28 bodies were recovered later from the Zaldagar area, and buried in complete secrecy. More than100 workers had sustained injuries.
The administration penalized the weavers’ community with heavy fines.
Even revenue officials were not spared. Those in charge of areas witnessing the march too were similarly punished.
Shawl-weavers killed in what was the world’s first workers’ struggle were never identified.
Their leaders, Sheikh Rasool and Abli Baba, were caught and tortured to death in a dungeon in the Shergarhi Palace.
They became the first in Jammu and Kashmir to die in custody.
Their associates, Qudda Lala and Sona Shah, were imprisoned in the Bahu Fort at Jammu when they failed to pay a fine of Rs.50, 000 each to the government.
Hundreds of other protesters were jailed at Habak, where many died of cold and hunger.
-inputs: Frontline, May 6-19, 2006