Monday, July 13, 2009

Defiance Day

July 13 is the closest we have to a national defiance day. It marks the beginning of our assertion as pretenceless, independence-seeking, audacious people. Most historians agree that on July 13, 1931 the sky was tenderly overcast in Srinagar and there had also been a dust storm that morning. But no tempest could stop the fervor in the hearts of people, who had gathered outside the Central Jail in Srinagar. They wanted an open trail for the mystery man – Qadir – who was being tried by the Dogra ruler’s [Hari Singh] kangaroo court.

Qadir, now relegated to the margins of Kashmir’s vicissitudinary history, still has historians confounded. Most chroniclers of our nation’s narrative cannot agree on where he came from or what happened to him after July 13, 1931. All we know of him is that he was a butler to Major Abet, a British army officer, British Resident in Kashmir. On June 21, 1931 Qadir gave a rousing speech to hundreds of assembled men at Khankah-Mohallah in Srinagar. Kashmir had never seen such upfrontry. Pointing to the Maharaja’s palace in the Zabarwan foothills, Qadir hollered the famous words: Demolish the edifice of injustice, cruelty and subjugation.

The immediate provocation was the desecration of the Holy Quran by Maharaja's troopers in April that year. The Dogra feudatories would often treat Kashmiris like shit and had no regard whatsoever for their faith. A huge resentment was already brewing against the vainglorious rulers for years of persecution and all it needed was a sharp spark. Infact people had assembled to find a way to channelize their sentiment on the June day when Qadir gave that fiery speech. Before he spoke, a committee was formed to continue the fight against the Dogra oppression. Seven wise men were selected: Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Sa’ad-ud-Din Shawl, Mirwaiz Moulvi Yusuf Shah, Mirwaiz Ahmadullah Hamdani, Aga Syed Hussain Jalali, Munshi Shuhab-ud-Din, and Khwaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai. [Yes Mirwaiz’s and Omar’s grand-dads too. We share a collective legacy, don’t we?]

Four days later Maharaja’s men zeroed in on Qadir and put him in chains. He was swiftly charged with sedition and waging war against the state [yes the same sections of the Ranbir Penal Code, Omar still slaps on the pro-Freedom guys]. Qadir was to be tried on July 13, 1931. But he had already kindled a fire, which was going to consume Kashmir, in its enticing warmth. Around noon, as more and more people encircled the Central Jail in Srinagar, Maharaja’s troopers panicked. Matchlock guns were cocked. People refused to bulge, demanding the release of Qadir. Never before in almost 350 years [since the Mughal annexation in 1586; the vain rule ended 1753] was such an angry defiance palpable in the airs of Srinagar. Soon gunshots pierced the rebellion. Khaliq Shora, a feisty man from Srinagar, was the first man to fall. Kashmir had its first martyr. Crimson blood spilled. Twenty seven others died. Two women among the martyrs. Scores lay injured. The magnitude of Dogra brutishness was such that no one attended to the injured hours after they were shot.

July 13 marked an epoch in our assertion of a bold, new, chivalrous defiance. Hitherto called cowards and slaves, Kashmiris rose to the occasion and attempted to storm the ugly walls of tyranny, just like the French did in Bastille, on July 14, 1789. Sadly we couldn’t breach the walls. What was to follow was a murky trapeze that involved a series of compromises and deceits and charades. And as years went by the committee constituted in Khankah mohallah to take the struggle to its logical conclusion split. The Mirwaizs went their way, the Sheikh ofcourse we all know, walked into the glory-land, only to fall later. Ever since both sides have staked a claim to Kashmir’s past, its martyrs, its patch-work history. Both have dibs on a sentiment which in reality belongs to no one person. It is a collective legacy.

It was a spontaneous, collective act of rebellion, of revolution, of uprising which was to give an impetus to Kashmir’s centuries old yearning for freedom. Not that we were not rebels before but July 13 truly made revolutionaries out of us.

And we were never ever the same.