Srinagar: The 1865 martyrs are likely to get a memorial in the coming months. Different trade union groups have agreed to take up the project shortly.
On April 20, 1865 twenty-eight shawl weavers were killed by Dogra soldiers near Zaldagar while protesting levy of heavy taxes on shawls.
Former president SMC employees union, Haji Bashir described the day as Ummul Tahareek (mother of all movements).
“Nobody knows about the forgotten martyrs. We owe them a lot and something has to be done to commemorate their martyrdom. There should be a memorial in their memory. A strategy has to be chalked out to put the idea into shape,” he said.
The President of the All Kashmiri Pashmina Karigar union, Rouf Qureshi shared similar views with Kashmir Reader.
According to him, there should have been a provision for observing the day officially. He, however, said a memorial for those who laid down their lives 150 years ago will be seriously considered. “It must come up in the vicinity of the place where they achieved martyrdom,” he said.
Rouf added people by and large were unaware of the April 29 massacre. “We intend to hold a seminar to make people aware about the importance of this day,” he said.
He said the trade unions in Kashmir should observe April 29 instead of May Day.
Kashmir witnessed the first ever strike of workers anywhere in the world on July 6 1847. Around four thousand shawl weavers observed strike against exploitation by the Dogra rulers. Soon after, thousands of weavers migrated to Lahore via Shopian. A British officer, Lt Reynell Taylor rushed to Shopian and persuaded the weavers to refrain from migrating to Lahore. Some grievances were taken note of.
Noted columnist Dr Sheikh Showkat, who teaches international law at the central university of Kashmir said that the Shalbaf (Shawl weavers) procession, is a very significant event in the history of Kashmir. ”It was the first ever agitation against the exploitative work system. It was a big event in the global context as it took place much before the historic May Day of 1886. The Shawl Weavers protest becomes globally important in a way that it occurred many years before the May Day. But it is pity our part that we ignore our own martyrs who rebelled against the oppressive system,” said Dr Showkat..
In 1865 around 125 thousand people 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. In that year, shawls worth 254 thousand British Pounds were exported from Kashmir. However, the weavers got peanuts. Most of them made around Rs 5 to 7 every month that too after working 16-18 hours a day. They had to pay tax to the tune of Rs 5 monthly. They could not change their profession or stop working. Heavy fine was imposed on the weavers who had unsuccessfully migrated to Lahore. Some of them were jailed.
It is worth mentioning here that Afghan governor, Haji Karimdad Khan had imposed the tax and it was then called Dag Shawl.