The martyrs of 1931 did not belong to any particular political party. They espoused a noble cause far above the petty political considerations. But the way the day of their martyrdom is observed now, it is loaded with politics.
July 13 is observed as Martyrs’ Day in Kashmir valley to remember the people who laid down their lives against Dogra oppression on the same day in 1931. But over the last two decades, its true significance has been lost in the troubled politics of the land. The day has been relegated to a mere calendar event marked by a gazetted holiday, government-enforced restrictions and a general shutdown called by separatist groups.
It is the same story every year. Ahead of the July 13 official function, the Martyrs’ Graveyard in downtown Srinagar (Khwaja Bazar-Nowhatta) is turned into a fortress with bomb disposal squads and sniffer dogs “sanitizing” the cemetery and security guards keeping vigil from vantage points. Stringent security measures are put in place as the chief minister and other dignitaries pay floral tributes at the graves during the morning ceremony. Meanwhile, the separatist leaders are put under house arrest to ensure hassle-free proceedings and to prevent any civilian gatherings.
By evening media offices receive official statements about the official tributes paid to the martyrs. Separatists also issue handouts mocking the government ceremony and condemning the restrictions imposed on civilian movement.
The martyrs of 1931 did not belong to any particular political party. They espoused a noble cause far above the petty political considerations. But the way the day of their martyrdom is observed now, it is loaded with politics. Playing politics over the sacrifices of martyrs may not be unique to Kashmir, but here it assumes grave proportions.Needless to say, this is not the ideal way Kashmiris would like to commemorate the sacrifices of their martyrs. July 13 has to be more than just a gazetted holiday, marked in red on the calendar. It ought to be a day of collective commemoration. In Kashmir, the government looks to reserve this privilege only to a select group of VIPs. The true essence of the martyrdom is lost by the way the state government manages the whole affair.
There are many things on which PDP and its ally BJP are not on the same page. Martyrs’ Day is one among them. While PDP leaders attend the function at the Martyrs’ Graveyard, BJP has been skipping the event for the last three years as the party “doesn’t consider them martyrs”. Talking to ‘The Indian Express’, BJP state vice-president and incharge of Kashmir affairs Ramesh Arora said: “We don’t consider them martyrs because the people killed in 1931 were protesting against Maharaja who was a genuine ruler of the state,’’. Arora said BJP wants the issue to be debated. “The people who were killed (the 22 Kashmiris protesting against Dogra Maharaj) had the same ideology as present day separatists. BJP is never going to compromise on the issue,’’ he said. It’s one of the many ironies of the PDP-BJP coalition.
Back to the lost essence of Martyrs Day, elders remember the day being commemorated with zeal and people coming out in processions towards the Martyrs Graveyard to pay their tributes. There also used to be an official procession of smartly dressed policemen who would pay a formal tribute. Unfortunately, all that has been left now is the official ceremony involving the policemen and of course the politicians.
One of the pictures which often finds place in newspapers of the next day (July 14) is that of residents of houses adjoining the graveyard looking out of their windows as the official rituals are underway. The grim look on their faces says it all.
In his article titled “Memorializing 13 July 1931 in Kashmir” published by Kafila.org, noted author, MriduRai observes: “Whereas in the decades immediately following 1947, July 13th could still be remembered with buoyancy and hope, after 1989 it had become the subject of elegy.”
Rai starts her piece with a poem by an Irish poet, Liam Mac Uistin. “In the darkness of despair we saw a vision, We lit the light of hope, and it was not extinguished…We sent our vision a swim like a swan on the river.The vision became reality…Bondage became freedom. And this we left to you as your heritage.O generation of freedom remember us, the generation of the vision…”
As Rai observes, these lines express thankfulness for the sacrifices of generations of rebels who brought independence to Ireland in 1921. “Liam Mac Uistin’s poem evokes the solemn bequeathing of a legacy by those who envisioned freedom and struggled to achieve it to those generations, present and future, who were to enjoy its fruits. And at its heart was the invocation to remember. Such remembrance is not to be nostalgia; it is not to be a mere wistful reminiscing of the past. Instead, it is meant to serve as a powerful collective act of memorializing to galvanize a striding forward and a renovation of the past into the present and the future.”
In Kashmir, this very essence of remembering the martyrs has gone missing, thanks to the politicians.