Srinagar: Jammu & Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik’s absence at an official ‘Martyrs’ Day’ function in Srinagar Saturday seems to have given an impetus to demands in Jammu for a state holiday in recognition of Maharaja Hari Singh’s birth anniversary on 23 September.
Maharaja Hari Singh was the last Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu & Kashmir, on whose watch the instrument of accession was signed with India.
The state observes ‘Martyrs’ Day’ on 13 July every year, to mark a 1931 protest against the rule of Hari Singh that led to the death of 24 Kashmiris.
It is a state holiday, which important government functionaries mark by attending an official function held at the burial site of the 24 men, the ‘martyrs’ graveyard’, in Srinagar.
Political groups based in Hindu-majority Jammu have long been demanding the abolition of the state holiday.
On Saturday, the 88th anniversary of the event, while Malik decided to skip the commemorative event and sent one of his advisers instead, Jammu witnessed protests — against this state holiday. The protestors demanded the birth anniversary of Hari Singh be declared a state holiday instead.
Surinder Singh Gilli, president of an outfit named the Yuva Rajput Sabha, which was among the protesters, said the governor’s absence at the state event had encouraged him. His outfit, he added, will take to the streets this month if their demands are not met.
“We will meet the governor and, if needed, take to the streets. The date of 23 September must be declared a state holiday,” he added, saying even the Muslims of Jammu supported the demand.
Narayan Singh, the state president of a body called the Shri Amar Kshatriya Rajput Sabha, echoed Gilli, saying the outfit will intensify their call to abolish not just the 13 July state holiday, but also the one observed on 5 December, the birth anniversary of National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah, the former CM known as ‘Sher-e-Kashmir’.
“We plan to organise a major event this year. A previous event held in 2017 was attended by Dr Karan Singh, son of Maharaja Hari Singh,” Singh added.
Malik’s predecessor N.N. Vohra had also skipped the official function last year, but did pay homage to those who died in the protests.
Valley-based politicians told ThePrint that Malik’s decision sent out the wrong message.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Waheed Para said the event skipped by Malik was an official function, and not one organised by separatists.
“It (his absence) sends out the wrong message. He (Malik) is the head of the state at the moment and he should have attended the event,” Para added.
Asked if would embolden groups in Jammu demanding the abolition of the holiday altogether, Para said, “Yes, of course.”
Senior National Conference leader and former J&K law minister Ali Sagar added that groups against ‘Martyrs’ Day’ should read history in the right perspective and acknowledge the contributions of the “13 July martyrs”.
“This event has been celebrated in Kashmir since 1947. The day marks our state’s first human rights movement and I would say it was Kashmir’s first struggle,” he said. “Groups who want the state holiday abolished should stop distorting history.”
“These are just polarisation gimmicks,” he added.