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13 July: Curfewed Martyrs' Day

…a contradiction in terms with parallel narratives
Dr. Javid Iqbal
Srinagar | Posted : Jul 18 2017 1:33AM | Updated: Jul 17 2017 11:23PM
13 July: Curfewed Martyrs' Day
File Photo

Curfew on martyrs’ day—July, the 13th is indeed a contradiction in terms. The martyrs laid down their lives for establishment of a democratic order and nor for curfewed disorder.  The cause the martyrs’ laid their lives for in 1931 entailed liberation from heavy handed state structured to immunise Dogra Maharajas from toiling masses devoid of political and economic rights. The supreme sacrifice of martyrs’ was not meant to make way for  political operatives of the state to honour their noble deed by imposing curfews and making yearly trips to their mausoleums, while confining the masses to their quarters. The contradiction in terms also relates to parallel narratives undermining the sacrifice of martyrs by elements forming the part of the state—BJP running the state in an alliance with PDP. 

Dogra Maharajas had earned the right to rule by a dubious sale deed executed on March, the 16th 1846 in Amritsar. The evil deed on a black day in history of Kashmir was followed by cruelty of worst order.  Forced labour (baigar) heavy taxation on produce of all forms ranging from agricultural products to Kashmir crafts became the norm. The autocracy worked out a class of vested interests amongst rural masses—the land holding zamindari fleecing the peasantry. Iqbal recounts:

Peasant, the peasantry, the streams, the gardens sold

A nation was sold and how cheap was it priced! 

There were urban middle-men too, the likes of Raj Kak Dhar to collect taxes on famed Kashmiri Shawl—taxes on its raw-material—the yarn, on its production and on its marketing, leaving the artisans with pittance. In this sordid melee, a moment of pride was registered. In 1865, artisans-- shawl weavers revolved, 28 were martyred. Kashmir’s labour movement was registered 21 years before Chicago revolt of 1886, when American labour recorded its protest. The event is remembered as May Day. 

The tyranny of Maharajas was of back-breaking proportions compelling migration. Many fled. Kashmiri colonies in Amritsar, Lahore, and Sialkot remain a witness. In 1924, there was another labour revolt of silk factory workers. While Kashmir silk flourished, the labour suffered, the wages being abysmally low. The labour movements in 1865 and 1924 build the momentum; however the soul of nation found its voice in 1931, resulting in organized resistance.  It continues in one form or another, as question mark remains on Kashmir’s polity, awaiting resolution.

Masses are the real inheritors of the sacrifices of martyrs. Any attempt to usurp the legacy by one questionable political quarter or the other could be but a self-defeating exercise. Same holds true for the state with a disputed legacy. The very fact that the state has to resort to curfew in places in the vicinity of Mazar-e-Shuhda and restrictions elsewhere makes the whole exercise of the state paying floral tributes to martyrs, questionable? Two, by selectively allowing some political formations to honour the martyrs and holding back others, the state ends up exposing its political bankruptcy. 

Chief Minister—Mahbooba Mufti represented the state as the chief political executive, whatever her credentials to claim. The function was held with full state regalia.  As Mahbooba Mufti presided over the state function at Mazar-e-Shuhda, her coalition partner—BJP was marked by its absence. BJP not only absented from the function, but maligned it, too.  BJP’s parallel narrative continues, ever since the party joined the alliance three years back. The continuing stance of BJP vis-à-vis the state function, while being the part of the state, poses a question that CM is duty bound to answer. 

BJP by series of acts has left no stone unturned to highlight the Dogra autocracy responsible for the gruesome crushing of 1865 uprising of shawl weavers, 1924 labour movement of silk factory workers. And, the Dogra durbar gunning down 22 persons outside the central jail Srinagar on July, the 13th 1931, the persons who got immortalized as valued martyrs. BJP chief spokesperson—Sunil Sethi  was quoted by Greater Kashmir as relating that ideologically the party’s stand was that ‘’we don’t accept July 13 as martyrs day’’.

This is thus the company that Mahbooba Mufti keeps as her alliance partner. And, still has the gall to preside over a state function that paid tribute to martyrs. Mocking the alliance partner, the BJP has had a resolution passed in legislature to hold a public holiday on Hari Singh’s birthday. The same Hari Singh, whose autocratic forces caused the carnage on July, the 13th 1931, carnage of forces of democracy? Mahbooba Mufti attests. In an interaction with media-persons, she said martyrs of July, the 13, ‘’laid down their lives against autocracy and suppression’’. Period!  Chief spokesperson of her alliance partner-- Sunil Sethi  says, ‘’the persons who were killed on July 13 by the state forces had broken the law and the state forces did what was required to do under the law’’. That is, adding salt to the injury. 

It could be asked—does autocracy rhyme with just laws? Was Hari Singh anything but an autocrat? And, how does autocracy rhyme with democracy? It is the question to ask, as BJP has democratic pretensions. How do democratic pretensions co-exist with garlanding the statue of Hari Singh that BJP legislatures did in Jammu, on the day they were sworn in?

Mahbooba Mufti continues to run with the democratic hare and hunt with autocratic hounds!

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

(The author is doctor in medicine, a social activist, and a senior columnist)