Srinagar: While Kashmir remembers the martyrs of 1931, what do the descendants of those people we venerate think of that event and the subsequent history of Kashmir? For one such person, Abdul Rehman Chola, 80, nephew of Mohammad Ramzan Chola — one of the 22 martyrs of July 13, 1931, who fell to the despotic Dogra Maharaja’s bullets — the idea for which those people sacrificed their lives remains unfulfilled.
Says Chola, who lives near Armpora Masjid located in congested Khanyar locality, “I have not seen my uncle. But I have heard his story from my father, his brother, Mohammad Shabaan Chola. My father would repeatedly narrate it to me as I grew up during the tumultuous days of the pre-1947 era. My uncle was associated with handicrafts. He was 30 when he was hit by bullets of the Maharaja’s forces”.
Going down memory lane, this man with a frail body and sporting a white beard, says that day the whole of downtown had converged on central Jail Srinagar after news came that Abdul Qadir – the first man to raise a voice against the atrocities of the Maharaja – was hanged. “There were also reports that the forces had desecrated the Quran,” Chola says, “it made people angry. They attacked the jail. It was the first open uprising against the despotic ruler. His forces opened fire leading to the death of my uncle and 21 others.”
As the evening approached, Chola says, dark clouds had shrouded the sky. He says everybody was mourning and angry: “The residents lifted the bodies and marched towards Jamia Masjid. Thousands of people were accompanying them and raising slogans like ‘Ali Mohammad Jinnah Qazi, Sabz Jhanda Nabi Razi, Mitowun Hukm-e-Kufristan, Banwoun Din Dar Islam’. In Kashmir, Muslim Conference was the only party. The martyrs laid down their lives for the ideology of that party. They wanted to break the chains of slavery and get freedom and protect their identity.”
Later, Chola says, the Maharajas cavalry appeared on the scene to disperse the agitating crowd. “The people beat drums and pelted stones to chase them away. Funeral prayers were offered at Jamia Majid. The bodies were buried at Naqshband Sahib.”
Soon after their burial, he says, the trend of exploitation of the martyrs’ graveyard for political reasons started. “There was only Muslim Conference in Kashmir. Mirwaiz Mohammad Yusuf Shah told us that we should listen to Sheikh Abdullah. We followed what he (Sheikh) said. He came here twice during the days when my uncle was martyred. Later, as we rallied for Muslim Conference, he changed sides, turning it into National Conference. But I still followed him.”
After accession, Chola says, he remained a dedicated National Conference worker. “I rose to Halqa President rank in the NC. But I also observed the NC forgot the mission of the martyrs. They turned the martyrdom of 22 men into a customary ritual, cleverly ignoring the fact and ideology for which they offered their lives.”
“NC turned Kashmir into its fiefdom. The Sheikh never visited our house afterwards. I sought an appointment with him several times, but he never agreed. He forgot everything except running after power. This happened despite the fact that I gave precious years of my life to jails during the Plebiscite Front days. He was callous and power hungry,” he says.
Asked that if the NC worked against the mission of the martyrs why he still remained with the party, Chola says, “We were not conscious of our rights. We were ignorant, but not greedy. It is a mistake which I still regret. But compare the property Sheikh Abdullah, Ali Mohammad Sagar and other leaders had before they became leaders and afterwards. They exploited the idea of those martyrs, twisted it and fooled people only to grab power.”
He says the NC never gave freedom fighter benefits to his family, neither has the family, till now, served in the government: “The Abdullah family destroyed our Kashmir, our identity and our freedom – ideals for which martyrs fought and laid down their lives. It was not a simple accession, it was accession of slavery and sufferings. We were sold from one despot to another.”
Regarding the government decision to observe Martyrs’ Day or “Youm-e-Shuhada-e-Kashmir” on July 13, Chola says the government has confused the martyrdom of the martyrs. “The pro-India parties come with wreaths and lay them on the graves of those who stood against their ideas. Deceit is the right word for them. How can Muftis, Abdullahs or pro-Indian parties celebrate their martyrdom? It is simple political exploitation and a public stunt. The end story is that graves in Kashmir have become a source of livelihood. The people who sell graves, bodies, to please one or another (sic) rule the state or earn money. Selling graves and providing a shield for crimes against humanity has become a profession,” Chola fumes.
“On July 13, flowers and bouquets will be trampled after photo-ops. Tear gas canisters will be fired and arrests would be carried out to give Kashmir a peaceful look. The martyrs are forgotten. The new martyrs are in the line. Sadly, I am alive to tell the tale,” he says.