While the sacrifice of the July 13 martyrs is commemorated with due deference and ceremony, no one spares a thought for the 28 Kashmiris who laid down their lives on April 29, 1856, fighting a 300 per cent hike in tax on their trade.
Following the footsteps of his father, Ranbir Singh had imposed heavy taxes on shawl-weavers who, at that time, are estimated to have numbered one hundred and twenty-five thousand. The industry generated more than Rs 50 lakh annually. In 1865, shawls worth 254,000 British pounds were exported from Kashmir, but weavers got peanuts. Most of them made around Rs 5 to Rs 7 a month, and that too after working 16 -18 hours a day. They had to pay a monthly tax to the tune of Rs 5. They could not change their profession or stop working. Said to have been instituted by Afghan governor Haji Karimdad Khan, the tax had come to be known as the Dag Shawl, and by 1856, Kashmir’s Dogra rulers had created a fully-fledged department with the same name, and appointed one Pandit Raj Kak Dhar as its inspector.
Dhar tried to achieve the target with utmost brutality. He wooed factory owners, and the burden of taxes shifted to the poor weavers who were ordered to remain faithful to their respective masters. They could not change their profession or migrate from Kashmir. Faced with starvation, the shawl-weavers of Srinagar chose to fight. On April 29, 1865 they organized a procession, assembling near Zal Dagar, and burnt Dhar’s effigies. The inspector called on the then governor Kripa Ram, informing him that the protesters planned to march to his residence. Kripa Ram sent his soldiers to `teach the weavers a lesson’. Led by Col Bijoy Singh, the troopers stormed the protesters and herded them towards a narrow bridge on Kut Kul. The bridge, Hajj Rathar Sum, collapsed, twenty-eight protesters were drowned and killed. How many in Kashmir know where they are buried?