Martyrs’ Day

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FOR the first time since 1948, J&K didn’t observe a holiday on July 13 otherwise commemorated as the Martyrs’ Day by the successive governments. Nor was there any official function held.

On this day in 1931, twenty two people were killed near Srinagar’s Central jail when they were protesting against the trial of an anti-government activist Abdul Qadeer. Kashmir was then ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, an autocratic ruler. The killings became a trigger for a drawn political movement against Maharaja’s rule spearheaded by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Sixteen year later, as India got freedom from British, Maharaja’s control of his state too slackened and finally it was the subsequent tribal invasion from Pakistan that forced his exit from power. But before that Maharaja had signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947 that made J&K an autonomous part of India. Later, Abdullah, then J&K’s most popular leader, who too threw in his lot with Kashmir’s destiny with India became the first Prime Minister of J&K. July 13 was made the gazetted holiday of J&K. It became a potent symbol and reference point for Kashmir’s struggle against feudalism and Maharaja’s autocratic rule. It remained one for 88 years before being struck off as a holiday this year.  In recent years, however, a section of political opinion in Jammu had started observing July 13 as the “black day”. They remembered the day when according to them first ever communal attack took place against a religious minority in Kashmir.

Incidentally, the government has also delisted Abdullah’s birthday on December 5 as the official holiday. The decisions have followed the revocation of Article 370 on August 5 last year.  In the new list of gazetted holidays, the government, however, has declared October 26 as one. On this day in 1947, Maharaja had signed the Instrument of Accession with the dominion of India.

However, the government’s decision not to observe the July 13 has not gone down well with the political organisations and the larger civil society in Kashmir. There has also been a backlash on social media. The decision is being interpreted as an attempt by the government to erase an important event of Kashmir’s history from the collective memory.  Incidentally, the re-imposition of the Covid-19 lockdown which has come into force on this day has pre-empted any street expression of the opposition to the government move. On its part the  government when it delisted the July 13 holiday didn’t explain the rationale behind it. That said, the withdrawal of the government patronage of the day has made people more conscious of its historic and symbolic significance. If the government doesn’t review its decision, July 13 is likely to grow in its symbolic significance with time and become a powerful rallying point for the dissident voices in the union territory.

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