Sopore: The fenced old martyrs’ graveyard at the main square in Sopore lies in a state of neglect. A small hoarding at the entrance says, “Martyrs of 1931” in Urdu, but the gate looks like as if it has been never opened.
The cart vendors in the busy market cover the fenced graveyard, making the entrance almost invisible to the people.
Inside, covered with thick bushes and shrubs, the gravestones are difficult to locate. It doesn’t take much time to notice that the graveyard has been turned into a garbage-dumping site.
As I tried to click a photo of the graves, a shopkeeper who was standing nearby, said: “These are the martyrs of 13 July 1931.” When I asked for the names, he had no idea. It was strange that a town famed for its rebellious spirit has forgotten its heroes.
The graveyard has been a silent witness to some of the bloodiest massacres in the town. This includes large-scale killings of January 6, 1993 (in which more than 55 people were massacred on a cold winter morning) and several terrible incidents of arson in which Sopore was summarily gutted down.
The graves lie forgotten and forlorn, reflecting the public apathy and lack of historical awareness.
On July 13, 1931, Kashmir witnessed its first revolt against the atrocities of the autocratic Dogra rule in which several Kashmiris sacrificed their lives in different parts of the valley. Sopore lost six brave men, who became the first martyrs of the apple town. For many, the event marks the beginning of Kashmir’s struggle for freedom.
There are seven graves inside the graveyard — six of them from the 1932 revolt, and the seventh of a man killed in police action in 1979 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a popular leader of Pakistan, was hanged. People in Sopore (and other parts of Kashmir) protested the hanging and one protester lost his life in the subsequent police action. Sadly, the identity of this seventh grave is also not known to anyone.
When contacted, the president of Anjuman Committee Sopore, Abdul Aziz Bhat, said that he had no clue about the identity of the martyrs. Nor has the committee made any effort to find out, “but the number of the graves is seven”.
Bhat was recently elected as the president of the committee, which takes care of the martyrs’ graveyard in the town. Asked about the condition of the graveyard (heaps of garbage lying everywhere, bad outdoor and wild weeds) Bhat said: “The families of martyrs, buried in the graveyards, have taken responsibility themselves. But we organize occasional cleaning drives.”
The district office of Tehreek-I-Hurriyat, next to martyr’s graveyard, was shut. A shopkeeper adjacent to it said that from 2016 the office stands closed as most of the Hurriyat leaders are behind bars and a few are on run.
When asked about the poor maintenance of the martyrs’ graveyard, he said that it was the responsibility of Anjuman Committee.
“They come here every year on 13th of July: Youm-e-Shuhada-e-Kashmir” and offer Fateh. That is all,” the shopkeeper added.
In my efforts to find the identity of the martyrs, I contacted an old shopkeeper in Sopore who gave me the name of a person “whose grandfather might be buried there”. I held onto the sliver of information. Abdul Salaam Mushki, a retired teacher from Sopore, was sitting on a chair at his home, with his mentally challenged son playing in front of him. I was little reluctant to enter as his son had a big stone in his hand but Muskhi assured me that the kid won’t throw the stone at me.
Mushki, with a keen sense of history, narrated the story of the day when the Dogra police martyred his grandfather. “My grandfather was part of that protest. The Dogra police fired at the procession near the Jamia Masjid, Sopore. My grandfather, Abdul Aziz Mushki, a very courageous man, marching from the front was hit by a bullet on his head,” Mushki said.
The protestors managed to move six bodies from Jamia Masjid to Baba Yousuf Masjid. The Dogra ruler immediately imposed a curfew and nobody was allowed to offer the last rites for those killed.
“The bodies were lying in a local masjid for six days. It was only when they lifted the curfew that people immediately rushed to the Masjid, offered Jinazah and buried them in the graveyard,” he recollected.
He also gave me the document that contains the names of other five martyrs: Abdul Ahad Shusha of Sopore, Ghulam Mohammad Khan of Sopore, Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh of Sopore, Jabbar Ganaie of Wagub Village near Sopore and Abdul Rahim Dar of Hygam Village near Sopore.
I was able to trace the families of four of them. They corroborated the story which Abdul Salaam, the grandson of Abdul Aziz Mushki, told me. The family members of Abdul Ahad Shusha said that the first martyrs’ graveyard in Sopore or any other martyrs’ graveyard in any part of Kashmir should have been build up as a monument for the coming generation “but sadly nothing has been done till date, instead the martyr’s graveyard of 1931 is lying in a sorry state and nobody among authorities, politicians, Anjuman Committee Sopore and Tehreek-I-Hurriyat Sopore have done enough to honour the legacy of 1931.”