While many people are not tired of parroting that “Kashmir is the unfinished business of partition”, they run away from the fact that Kashmir – as a conflict between the autocratic ruler and the oppressed population – existed even before India and Pakistan were founded as independent and separate nations. The same mainstream politicians, who tout that Kashmir is either some ‘internal matter’ or some ‘Indian/Pakistani issue’, make a beeline for the Martyrs’ Graveyard on 13th July every year, barricading common Kashmiris out of it.
Martyrs’ day is remembered every year, in the memory of the fallen heroes of July 13th,1931 – when Dogra Maharaja’s forces shot at protesting Kashmiris and killed around 23 people (some claim 21). While 13th July is an important date in the resistance of Kashmir, it is by no means the date when resistance started in Kashmir. There have been incidents of equal importance before this date, but historians seem to have chosen this date to mark the start of people’s movement against Dogra aristocracy and oppression. During the reign of the Dogras, severe taxes were imposed on the Kashmiri working classes (all of them were Muslims), and these taxes, along with unending state persecution, ended pushing the commoners to deprivation and penury. Among other oppressive tactics, almost 300% taxes were imposed on shawls, right from raw materials, processing, labor and trade; and when shawl weavers tried to flee the trade, they were forced back into it. Heavy fines or jail sentences were imposed on workers who tried to leave Kashmir and migrate to Lahore. On 29th April, 1865, a huge procession of Kashmiris started protesting against the Dogra regime near Zaldagar. Dogra soldiers, on the orders of a Kashmiri Pandit official of the Dogra Raj, Raj Kak Dhar, attacked the protesters killing scores of people.
But 13th July has its own significance in that it heralds another start of a popular movement against the Dogra aristocracy. On June 25th, Abdul Qadir had addressed protesters at the central mosque in Srinagar against the Dogra rule, which drew huge support from the commoners who had been subjected to centuries of autocratic and feudal oppression. Abdul Qadir was arrested immediately by Dogra soldiers, and was tried at the Srinagar Central Jail on 13th July. When common Kashmiris gathered to protest against his prosecution, they were fired upon by Dogra forces killing 23 people (some claim 21). Such brutal action by the Dogra forces was repeated across Srinagar, coming down heavily against other protests across the city. Simmering discontent of centuries had now come fully to the surface and cascaded into more protests and resentment on the ground. The Dogra Maharaja, sensing the rising tide against his rule, tried to call the ‘loyalty’ of a fringe Muslim elite (the few families who had been part of the feudal system along with the majority Pandits), but they could not help the Maharaja win any confidence among the commoners. Even Sheikh Abdullah had started to identify with the 1931 protests (his political base owes much to them), and refused to meet the Maharaja, as part of protesting Kashmiris, on 6th August 1931.
The incidents of 1931 had such started to shake the foundations of the Dogra Raj, that it prompted the British rulers of India (who always assumed a covert influence on the Dogras, having sold Kashmir to them earlier), to appoint a commission headed by B. J. Glancy, for looking into reasons of these popular protests and civil revolt. The report came out clearly against the oppressive and discriminatory rule of the Dogras against the Muslim majority in Kashmir, pointing to the ‘Hindu’ bias in the feudal and aristocratic system. The commission recommendations (many of which went unheeded) gave legitimacy to the grievances of Kashmiris, pointing to a clear divide between the governing Hindu kings (and their feudal system that was controlled by the Pandit elite), and the governed and oppressed Muslim majority. While these protests, that were followed in the later years into a more forceful movement, have been credited in pushing for the removal of Dogra rule in 1947; has anything really changed since 1931 in Kashmir? Would the Dogra rule really have ended in Kashmir if, in parallel, the British dominion in India and Pakistan would not have ceased?
While there was a governance transition in Kashmir post 1947, with the cessation of Dogra rule, nothing much seems to have changed here over the decades. Both the economic and political rights of Kashmiris are still under subjugation as they were under earlier autocratic rulers. Then the resources and people were subjugated by feudalism and aristocracy; now feudalism has changed hands to Indian corporations, like NHPC, and the resources have been given away either to military footprints or to Indian interests here. Now aristocracy wears a ‘democratic’ robe in Kashmir, yet the people have been denied the basic right of political freedom.
While the politicians in Kashmir have been commemorating 13th July every year, common people in Kashmir have been living 13th July every day of every year. As were on 13th July 1931, peaceful protesters attacked and killed by pre 1947 autocratic forces in Kashmir, so were the peaceful protesters at Gawkadal, Zakura, Tengpora, Hawal, Kupwara, Bijebehada, Brakpora and numerous other places in the post 1990s of Kashmir, one that was ruled by ‘democratic’ India. As was the right to political dissent considered and treated as a crime in the Dogra era, so is political opposition and dissent considered now. As were force and draconian laws used by the ruling Dogra state against its civilian population then, often leading to convictions and sentences without any trials, so is the ruling ‘democratic’ state treating its citizens now with the same anarchic laws. As was the voice of the majority in Kashmir suppressed and muted by military muscle under the Dogra rule, so has been continued even after the Dogra rule had elapsed and ‘proxy democratic’ transition under the auspices of New Delhi been forced in Kashmir. What has changed between 1931 and the present day in Kashmir?
Now, the same politicians, who represent the iron fisted autocratic state, claim exclusive right over July 13th Martyrs, while barricading and locking up the same commoners whose rights these Martyrs laid their lives fighting for. Come 13th July and Kashmir will again be bolted by the state, concertina loops shall again be laid, excluding the commoners from the Martyrs’ Graveyard, silencing by force the very voices that these martyrs represented. While these politicians present a customary salute to the Kashmiri martyrs on 13th July each year, with a state guard of honor; the same politicians can be found at a later date, in some other ceremony, showering praises on the same autocratic rulers against whom the 13th July martyrs fought and laid their lives. Clearly, political loyalties for these politicians are weather oriented – one direction in the valley and another direction outside it.
While 13th July may be a state holiday in remembrance of a movement, this movement has not been buried yet and continues to seek for rights that were never restored. The movement continues to remind India of its conveniently forgotten promises, pointing at the scarecrow of democracy, that has been precariously hung for decades by firing barrels in Kashmir. This day lives in the thousands of Martyr Days that Kashmir has been living in and continues to live through. We have for long been condemned to live the solemn remembrances of our history, in continuity of an anarchic order – one that our Past had been fighting against and which our Present refuses to surrender to.
Every day is July 13th in Kashmir!