Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh didn’t observe ‘Martyrs’ Day’ as an official state holiday Monday, for the first time since 1948, even as political groups in the Valley paid tributes to the “13 July martyrs”.
The erstwhile state of J&K observed ‘Martyrs’ Day’ on 13 July as a state holiday to mark a 1931 protest against the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh in the then princely state. On that day, 22 Kashmiri men and women were shot dead as they gathered outside the Srinagar central jail to protest against the arrest and subsequent trial of Abdul Qadeer Gazi, who was seen as a crusader against Singh’s Dogra regime.
The people of Kashmir started observing Martyrs’ Day from 1932 onward. After J&K acceded to India in 1947, the day was incorporated in the official list of holidays.
Usually, 13 July would see important government functionaries, including the governor, chief ministers, cabinet ministers, heads of various political parties and even separatist groups, visit the martyrs’ graveyard or Mazaar-e-Shuhada to pay homage.
However, this was undone last year when the newly-created union territories of J&K and Ladakh removed 13 July as a state holiday from the official calendar after the Article 370 was scrapped on 5 August 2019.
Last year, former and last governor of the erstwhile state of J&K, Satypal Malik, had skipped the official ‘Martyrs’ Day’ function. His predecessor N.N. Vohra had also skipped the official function for the first time in 2018, but paid homage to the slain men and women.
This year, however, would go down in history as the first one to not mark the decades old tradition.
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This time, the day coincided with fresh lockdown measures announced by the administration in the wake of rising Covid-19 cases, making it difficult for people to carry out marches or demonstrations towards the graveyard as used to happen earlier.
Major regional political parties in the state, including the PDP and the NC, condemned the move, saying the present day situation is similar to 1931.
‘Memory can’t be erased by changing calendar’
In a statement issued by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a spokesman said the memory of 13 July martyrs “cannot be erased by changing the government calendar of holidays as they will live forever in the hearts and memories of every freedom loving Democrat”.
“The martyrs laid down their lives for the empowerment of the people of J&K and that it is tragic that the myopic and communal actions of the present government demolished with one stroke on August 5, all the progress that had been achieved in the last seven decades,” said the PDP spokesperson.
“The resultant chaos is now showing results that are completely opposite to what had been sold to the people of India at the time of scrapping of state constitution and special status granted by the Constitution of India,” the spokesperson said.
He added that the 13 July movement had originally started as a campaign for empowerment of Muslims but it later “evolved into the most inclusive and secular movements of the pre-Independence era”.
“Unfortunately for the present government it became the main target of its agenda of hate,” added the PDP spokesperson.
National Conference (NC) vice-president and former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah said 13 July marks “the collective defiance of the oppressed against oppressors”.
“The day is the watershed moment in the people’s struggle for restoration of their universal human rights. It was their valor that inspired millions of other to rise against the then despotic and autocratic regime,” the NC leader said in a statement.
“We observe the day to reiterate our commitment to fight evil with kindness, violence with non-violence and peaceful struggle. I on this day pay my humble tributes to all the martyrs who laid their lives for securing a dignified life to future generations,” said Abdullah.
Peoples Conference senior vice-president and former minister Abdul Gani Vakil drew a parallel between the 1931 situation and the present day.
“Our struggle today is the same. The present day rulers have left the monarchy well behind in their unquenchable thirst to disempower and humiliate Kashmiris. We must be inspired from the spirit that was nurtured and sown by the martyrs in 1931 and resolve to rise above self to carry forward their sacred mission of fighting for the rights, interests and dignity of disempowered Kashmiris,” said Vakil.
Separatist group Awami Action Committee, which is led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said the congregational tributes and march to the martyrs’ graveyard to pay tributes to 13 July 1931 martyrs had been cancelled in view of the house arrest of Mirwaiz and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Notwithstanding the long period of over seven decades, the Kashmir issue is still lingering, awaiting resolution and the dispute continues to be the bone of contention and hostility between the two neighbouring countries – India and Pakistan,” it said.
What the supporters say
Political groups based in Hindu-majority Jammu had long been demanding abolition of this state holiday. Last year, they held a protest demanding that Maharaja Hari Singh’s birth anniversary on 23 September be recognised as an official holiday, instead.
Surinder Singh Gilli, president of an outfit called Yuva Rajput Sabha that led protests last year, expressed satisfaction about the day not being observed as an official holiday.
“We are happy but our job is not done completely. Our demand for declaring 23 September as an official holiday remains. The Hindu Dogras helped with getting rid of Article 370 and the government took all the credit. The least they can do is declare September 23 as an official holiday. If they won’t do that, we will take to the streets,” said Gilli.
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