Kashmir : The History of Exploitation

After the Dogras became masters of Kashmir subsequent to the notorious Treaty of Amritsar, Kashmiri Muslims were living a life of abject poverty, ignorance disease and above all oppression. Considering Kashmir as his purchased property, the Maharaja levied tax on everything save air and water. Even the office of the grave digger was taxed. The Muslims had to pay taxes even for the maintenance of temples (Mandri) and for the support of the Hindu priests (Ashgal). These taxes were only to be paid by the Muslims while as the Hindus were exempted from paying these taxes. Further the Muslims were subjected to inhuman forced labour (Begaar) resulting in untold miseries both to the individual and to his family. In most of the cases the person forced to undertake ‘Begaar’ could not endure the harsh weather and the hardships and so died unknown unwept and unsung in a far off place. The condition of the Muslim peasants was even worse. They not only had to feed the revenue officials but also had to provide for the needs of their relatives and friends. To extract land revenue from the poor peasants, the use of nettle (locally called soi) in summer and of plunging the defaulting tax payer into cold water in winter were the most notorious methods of torture (E.F.Knight). The condition of the shawl weavers and other artisans was no better. Crippled by excessive and exorbitant taxes, they were forced to flee their home and hearth. As a result of such horrendous state of affairs, the people of the valley were experiencing a misery at its worst. At the start of year 1929, all the sections of the Kashmiri society were seething with discontent. Sir Albon Banerjee, the Prime Minister of Kashmir till he resigned in 1929 because of the policies of the Maharaja portrayed the state of affairs on 15th March 1929, thus, “Jammu and Kashmir State is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Muslim population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages, and practically governed like dumb driven cattle. There is no touch between the government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievances. The administration has at present little or no sympathy with the people’s wants and grievances”. As the breeze of Western education started blowing across the valley, muslims though much later than the Kashmiri pandits started pursuing education. Dogras discouraged education among muslims partly out of political consideration and partly out the religious bias they possessed against all sections of the Muslims community. Meanwhile a batch of young men fired with the spark of freedom and enthused with nationalistic emotions returned to the valley in 1931, after receiving higher education in Aligarh and other Indian Universities. The Kashmiri Pundits who not only constituted the bureaucracy but also formed the dormant majority of the landed aristocracy made it difficult for these educated Muslims to get menial jobs not to talk of prestigious ones. Though the Muslims constituted 80% of the total population of the state, yet their share in government services was simply nominal. Even as late as 1931 one finds the share of Muslims in the state services not more than 15%.Though some lucky few succeeded in securing some petty positions for themselves but not without much difficulty. Late Sheikh Abdullah was one among them and despite being an MSc chemistry from Aligarh Muslim University was appointed as a junior teacher in Srinagar high school for Rs 60 per month, though many of the contemporary gazetted officers were mere matriculates and unbelievably one Rajput head of the department was so illiterate as to imprint his thumb impression on official documents. The stage was therefore all set for these educated but unemployed young men to play their part and act as beacon lights to the hapless Kashmiri nation. Kh Ghulam Ahmad Ashai along with Maulvi Abdullah Vakil, Kh Saddin Shawl and Maulvi Ateequllah began to organize these educated young men and opened a “Reading Room” in downtown Srinagar. parently the Reading Room was a place to read newspapers, magazines and books but in fact, it acted as a rendezvous wherein these educated men held deliberations upon the contemporary socio-political and economic issues confronting the Kashmiri Muslims. Lengthy discussions were held among the members of the party as to how they should get their grievances redressed and ameliorate the wretched conditions in which the Muslim masses were living. The “Reading Room” also managed to obtain statistics regarding Muslims in Government service and got them published in the newspapers of Lahore. Later these figures were also submitted to the “Glancy Commission”. They also submitted a memorandum to the Regency Council headed by Mr Wakefield. The “Reading Room” played a very pivotal role in Kashmir’s struggle for freedom. It not only educated the masses about their political rights but activated and brought them into active politics and political action. All the memoranda and petitions submitted by the “Reading Room” and later by Muslim conference were mostly drafted by Ashai Sahib. That was the backdrop in which the tragedy occurred. In 1931 certain deplorable incidents agitated the masses and compelled them take out processions and hold demonstrations against the Maharaja and his lackeys. What happened is history, but here we must know the landscape of the valley at the time it did. Firstly, the religious sentiments of the Muslims were hurt when in Jammu the Holy Quran was desecrated by a Dogra police officer and in another case a Maulvi while giving a sermon on Idd day was unreasonably stopped from giving the sermon. This created strong resentment among the Muslim masses and the Muslim leaders came out openly and delivered fiery speeches against the government. While co-operating with the Young Men’s Muslim Association of Jammu, the Reading Room Party distributed the posters exhorting the Muslims to take out processions and to observe hartals (Dr. M.Y.Ganai-Kashmiris Struggle for Independence). The disquiet among all the sections of the Kashmiri people was growing and had indeed reached the highest level. To elect the representatives of the Kashmiri Muslims who were expected to submit the grievances and demands of the community to the Maharaja at the suggestion of G.E.C Wakefield, Political Minister, a public meeting was called in the Khanqah-i- Maula on 21st June 1931. The Muslims of Srinagar nominated seven prominent workers as their spokesmen. They were Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah, Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, Khawaja Saad-ud-din Shawl, Mirwaiz Ahmedullah Hamdani, Aga Sayyid Hussain Shah Jalali, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Munshi Shahab-ud-Din. It was at the end of this meeting that Abdul Qadeer, a young and brave pathan while delivering a highly charged lecture beckoned the masses to raze down the establishments of their oppressors. This lecture of Abdul Qadeer as was proved later gave a new direction to freedom struggle of Kashmir. Abdul Qadeer was arrested by the police next day on the charges of sedition and rebellion and ordered to be tried in the central jail on 13th July, 1931. Before the trial started a large but peaceful crowd gathered outside the prison wall to watch the proceedings of the trial. The masses were forced to agitate when few of their leaders were arrested without any reason. The Dogra soldiers who were looking for an opportunity to teach the Muslim subjects a lesson opened unprovoked and indiscriminate fire on the peaceful onlookers killing 21 innocent and unarmed civilians that too without any warning. Many poor persons and innocent children were mercilessly killed and wounded. The local officers on spot did not even bother about giving any medical aid or showing any sympathy towards those wounded or killed in the incident. As the news of this massacre spread, gloom fell the whole valley. That was the day which laid the foundations of the struggle we are still going through Courtesy(Suhaib Mattoo)