Kashmir Riots 1931: A Research Paper - I
by Veer Wangoo & Rahul Razdan on 22 Jul 2013 7 Comments

The 13th of July 1931 saw an expression of extreme communalism from the majority community of the Kashmir valley - the Kashmiri Muslims. In the name of protest against the local king, Maharaja Hari Singh, the Kashmiri Muslims unleashed gruesome violence on Hindus living in the valley.


The simmering


On June 21, 1931, the Young Man’s Muslim Association (YMMA) led by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah planned a public meeting at Khanqah-i-mohalla. It was unique as all Muslim leaders, irrespective of their schools of thought, assembled there. At the meeting, Abdullah asked Muslims to unite and demand their rights. He appealed to the Pundits to join hands with Muslims to seek redress of grievances and to demand independence.


All leaders swore in the name of the Holy Book that they would remain faithful to the cause of Islam. Khawaja Saad-ud-din Shawl, Mirwaiz Moulvi Yousuf Shah, Mirwaiz Moulvi Hamdani, Chowdhury Ghulam Abbas, Agha Syed Hussain Shah Jalali, Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, Munshi Shahab-ud-din, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, and Sardar Gohar Rahman were elected as representatives of the Muslims.


Just when the meeting was ending, a well-built Pathan, Abdul Qadeer Khan (36-40 years), rose and delivered an inspiring speech: “The honor, respect, and relevance of the Holy Quran are dearer to the Muslims than the rulership of the world. Oh, Muslims arise! Time is near when you shall reply with stones against the bricks. I warn you that your representatives and memorials cannot come to your rescue, now will these papers remove injustice and misery. You must stand on your legs and fight against the autocratic force. Even if you have no arms, you can fight with sticks and stones”. He pointed towards the Shergarhi palace of the Maharaja and cried: “Demolish this edifice of injustice, cruelty, and subjugation”. The crowds shouted ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ in support of Khan.


The Riots


Communal instigations, coupled with the arrest of Abdul Qadeer on charges of sedition, culminated in uninhibited loot, arson, murder, and extreme violence against the ethnic minority Kashmiri Pandits. The Tribune, a leading national newspaper, reported:


“At noon about a thousand Muslims gathered outside the Central Jail and there, in defiance of the law, arranged a meeting. The Police Superintendent ordered them to disperse but they refused. The Superintendent next ordered his constables to disperse the unlawful assembly. He had hardly given these orders when the mob which had swelled into thousands charged the small police force present with brickbats. The mob, in spite of police resistance, broke open the Jail gate and set a barrack on fire. The small prison guard fired and a few protestors died. About ten deaths are reported. A short time later cavalry Police and military force arrived. Alarm bugle was sounded.


“Wild rumors spread in the city fast. The Muslims had already been observing a complete hartal since the morning but now the Hindu shops were closed. The mischief - mongers, realizing that all the forces, were centered around the Central Jail, a place 3 miles away from the city, decided upon raiding the houses and shops of the Hindus in the city. There seemed to be a well- organized conspiracy behind all this. The telephone and electric wires were cut off, and about six thousand Mohammadans raided Maharaja Gunj, looting and plundering the Hindus of the vicinity. Then followed harrowing scenes of incendiarism. No military or police aid reached those quarters for full two hours during which hundreds of Hindus had been looted and hundreds of them were injured with lathis and stones and incalculable damage was caused to Hindu property. Visitors were also not spared, they were severely belabored, and everything, even their shoes and turbans, were snatched away. Cars and buses were stoned and smashed. When the military and police force did arrive, it found the mob beyond control; and it was not before 7 p.m. that the havoc abated. Children, while returning from their schools, are reported to have been picked up and hurled in the river Jhelum. Hindu women were insulted and maltreated. The magistrates, military soldiers and police constables were stoned as a result of which many got seriously wounded. State buses carrying the soldiers were also stoned and their drivers grievously hurt. The police had to open fire at Maharajgunj also. A few casualties are reported from among Mohammadans. But in spite of all this the mob did not disperse and continued looting and wandering.


“At last order was restored by energetic action of the State forces. Among the 15 deaths reported due to police firing almost all were Muslims. Many Hindus, including women were reported missing. In the night curfew order and section 144 were promulgated. Services of more military were requisitioned, as the city observed a complete hartal amidst the prevailing panic. In Amira Kadal, the Hindu shops were open as the military and police patrolled the city. All business came to a standstill. Colleges, schools, courts and offices remained closed. Except for the General Post-office all other post - offices were also closed. Besides 150 arrests, house searches were made to recover looted property. Unconfirmed reports of looting, plundering and belaboring of Hindus were received from Vicharnag.”




While the instigation was made out to be a spontaneous revolt against the Maharaja, careful analysis of the situation brings out the real picture. Despite being autocratic, Maharaja Hari Singh in his address to the Chamber of Princes in London was unequivocal in his support of the growing demand for Indian independence which frightened the British imperialists. Plans were hatched to keep the Maharaja under pressure so he would not dare thwart or impede British strategies to meet the challenges posed to their sprawling empire by Russian expansion in the regions contiguous to their territories. On the chess-board of British geo-political strategies, Kashmir was a key-region and the Maharaja suspect. Hence it was deemed expedient to pin him down in communal tension that was covertly and overtly fuelled and heightened by inciting the Muslim majority against him as he was not Islamic.


The communal riots that engulfed Srinagar (Kashmir) on July 13, 1931 were the culmination of prolonged intrigues by the British to violate the Treaty of Amritsar, signed with Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1846, founder of the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir. Their aim was to control the Northern Frontiers of India to keep an eye on the ethnic tribes that inhabited these regions, and Russian advances. They were aware that the Himalayas, of which the State of Jammu and Kashmir was a critical constituent, defined the civilisational and cultural moorings of the Indian Nation. They wanted control over the Himalayas to subvert the authority of the Maharaja as the seeds of the Anglo-Muslim alliance were already sown to implement the policy of divide and rule. This was made operative on ground in 1931 in Kashmir.


Sheikh Abdullah spearheaded the movement against the Maharaja through the Reading Room Party. He is said to have been chosen for this role, as revealed and established by the bunch of letters shown to Jawaharlal Nehru by Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, then Food Minister of India, when the stage was set for Sheikh’s dismissal in the wake of his fiery and treacherous statements questioning the irrevocability of Kashmir’s accession to India.


The Reading Room Party was communal and its bias against Kashmiri Pandits so pronounced that it prepared the ground for the blatant loot and murder of Kashmiri Pandits in July1931. The stage was set by malicious and apocryphal propaganda that they (Pandits) had an absolute stranglehold of state services. On the contrary, the state services (though small in number) were dominated by Punjabi and Bengali Muslims and Hindus. Despite impeccable academic credentials, Kashmiri Pandits were reluctantly recruited to lower rung services for a mere pittance, which was also stopped by the then powers in view of mounting pressures on the Maharaja.


Lacking discernment, Sheikh Abdullah nursed a personal grudge against the Maharaja as he was refused a lectureship in an academic college, not out of religious bias, but because another person had a better record (said to be a Kashmiri Pandit). Abdullah, however, devoted his energies to transform the Reading Room Party into a seminary of religious venom against the Pandits.


The Sheikh wanted the Maharaja to show him special consideration on grounds of educational and economic backwardness of the community he belonged to, without bothering to check the poverty, backwardness and deprivation among Kashmiri Pandits. In this case, his competitor was also a man from a poor and backward family. Despite economic disabilities and other inhibiting factors, the fact is that Kashmiri Pandits all through their chequered history and despite Muslim oppression have not broken their tryst with learning and education, while Muslims have cultivated other priorities; their educational backwardness was perpetuated by self-seeking Mullahs who repulsed modern education. The Maharaja simply adhered to the rules and stipulations laid down for recruitment to the institutions of higher learning and did not relax, bend or flout them (as Sheikh did when in office, introducing the virus of mediocrity into mainstream Kashmir polity).


The Reading Room Party with Sheikh Abdullah as its moving spirit earned patronage and favors from Muslim landlords, shawl tycoons, parochial mullahs and Muslim educated elite in government service. The landlords owing allegiance to the Maharaja patronized the Sheikh with a view to furthering their self-interests and increasing their clout with the ruler for more economic favors and concessions. Indeed, the Sheikh, at the behest of Muslim landlords, was harnessed to collect funds for organizing a grand reception in honor of the Maharaja when he returned in 1931 from Europe where his wife had delivered a male child. In an attempt to make in-roads into the Muslim gentry, he even accepted convenorship of the Muslim Jagirdar Committee without any prevarication or outrage. The shawl tycoons were on the same wavelength and nurtured and pursued their interests by openly aligning themselves and making common cause with the Muslim Jagirdars. The mullahs strained every nerve to keep the Muslim masses away from education. The Sheikh sought and accepted their support and patronage and the fact that all the mullahs in the city of Srinagar lent wholehearted support to the Reading Room Party testifies to its role of inciting communal passions and awakening furies against religious enemies (i.e., non-believers). The Muslim elite in government service were ambitious of grabbing higher positions not on the strength of merit and achievements, but on the basis of religion.


The Reading Room Party with mosque as its immediate extension emerged as a focal center for execution and fructification of the British intrigues against the Maharaja. The latter was pressured and forced to hand over complete control of Gilgit Agency to the British for their strategic ends. As per available evidences, Sheikh Abdullah who had started strutting about Kashmir’s religio-political firmament reciting Quranic verses in a mellifluous voice in and outside mosque precincts, had forged clandestine linkages with the British Political Department, essentially a receptacle of British and Indian spies recruited by the imperialists for their political interests.


The plethora of letters that the Sheikh wrote to the spies of the Political Department explicitly reveal his bonhomie with British operatives planning and executing schemes to safeguard their vital interests in Kashmir. This was first highlighted in an article published by Blitz (April 24, 1965; reproduced verbatim by H.L. Saxena in his book ‘The Tragedy in Kashmir’). The details are comprehensive and fully substantiated by the letters written by the Sheikh to his mentors whose patronage he sought and enjoyed at the threshold of his religio-political career till he emerged as a formidable force for the Maharaja to reckon with.


Motivated by Allama Iqbal’s pan-Islamism and communal identification of Aligarh Muslim University, Sheikh Abdullah was in regular correspondence and contact with BJ Glancy, Col CW Colvin and Lt Col LE Lang, who had been deputed for spying operations in the Punjab and Kashmir. The mission reportedly entrusted to the Sheikh was to breed discontent and disenchantment among the Muslims of Kashmir and alienate them from the Maharaja and also beat Kashmiri Pandits into submission for their vociferous and strident anti-British views.


It was known that the Sheikh had pro-Ahmadiya links, though Muslims detest them as deviants from Islam. But through British spies he was said to have formed a rapport with rich Ahmadiyas from Punjab, who were known British lackeys.


The Sheikh used their affluence for Muslim welfare, for instituting scholarships for Muslim boys in Kashmir. Many groups and individuals resented and bitterly opposed his political and religious affinity and contacts with the Ahmadiyas. But the Sheikh invited and paved the way for Ahmadiya intervention in Kashmir. The crafty British misled the Maharaja that the Ahmadiyas were stark enemies of the British and warned him of their anti-state activities and designs; but though aware of the nexus between the Britishers and Ahmadiyas, Maharaja Hari Singh dared not devise and execute stern measures to thwart and end Ahmadiya intervention in Kashmir.


Ahrars with their progressive camouflage were on the same wavelength as the Ahmadiyas. Apparently votaries of Hindu-Muslim amity, the Ahrars through the dispatch of their Jathas and groups into the State created conditions for the loot and murder of Hindus. Stridently anti-Maharaja and seemingly anti-British, Ahrars contributed to the British design of fomenting communal conflicts and tensions to de-stabilize the Maharaja. Their commitment to the Congress as a secular organization was so fake and tenuous that they deserted Congress ranks to join the Muslim League or formed their own outfits in the wake of MA Jinnah’s declaration of Pakistan as the separate homeland for Muslims.

The Reading Room Party was closely knit with Ahrars, basked in their patronage and kept regular liaison. The Ahrars hated the Maharaja as he was a Hindu and had Muslims as his subjects. Their vigorous programme of dispatching groups (Jathas) into the state was also perceived to counteract the political hold the Ahmadiyas were fast gaining in Kashmir through lavish spending.


The Punjabi Muslim press under lavish patronage of the British launched a propaganda blitz against the Maharaja who was denounced as a heretic with no right to rule over Muslim masses. The tone and tenor of the published material was blatantly sectarian and communal, inciting Muslims to launch a crusade against the Hindu Maharaja and his Hindu administration. The ‘Muslim Outlook’ and ‘Inqalab’, two front-ranking dailies published from Punjab, fabricated wanton lies and half-truths about Kashmir to incite revolt against the Hindu ruler and his administration. The dailies were extremely popular with members of the Reading Room Party which was committed to inciting communal passions to pave way for direct British intervention in Kashmir affairs.


As per noted historian MK Teng, “Journals and akhbars issued from Lahore and elsewhere taking up the cause of Muslims were patronized by the British to browbeat the Maharaja.”



(To be continued…)


Web References

1.      http://www.thekashmirwalla.com/2011/07/the-hero-of-13-july-1931/

2.     http://www.kashmir-information.com/wailvalley/b1chap24.html

3.     http://www.niticentral.com/2013/04/16/who-remembers-the-srinagar-riots-of-1931-66769.html

4.     http://www.dkagencies.com/doc/from/1063/to/1123/bkId/DK37623339874110304440411731371/details.html

5.     http://ikashmir.net/massacres/13july1931.html

6.     http://kashmiris-in-exile.blogspot.in/2010/07/13-july-1931-in-pages-of-history.html

7.     http://kashmirscoopnews.blogspot.in/2010/07/kashmiri-pandits-observed-july-13-as.html

8.     http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/16811947

9.     http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/4430284

10. http://ikashmir.net/massacres/kanikoot.html


Books & Articles Reference

1. Srinagar Riot Enquiry Report Committee - 1931 by Shailendra Singh Jamwal

2. The wail of Kashmir: British perfidy in the vale unveiled - Page 178

3. Autobiography - Page 119 by Karan Singh - 1982

4. Kashmir: insurgency and after by Balraj Puri 2008

5. Negationism in India: concealing the record of Islam Koenraad Elst 1992

6. India Divided by Dr Rajendra Prasad 1950

7. The Modern Anthropology of India: Ethnography, Themes and Theory - Page 91

8. www.kashmir-information.com/wailvalley/b1chap24.html?

9. Political Science Annual - Page 296 by S. Ramaswamy S. Mukherjee

10. Jihad in Kashmir: A Critical Analysis - Page 17 By G L Jalali 2004

11. Secessionism in India - Page 257 Kana'iyalalu Manghandasu Talreja

12. Kashmir, Wail of a Valley - Page 78 Mohan Lal Koul

13. History of the freedom struggle in Jammu & Kashmir - Page 195 by Mohd Yusuf - 1996

14. Cultural heritage of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh - Volume 2 - Page 498 Nagendra Kr Singh - 1997

15. Kashmir convictions betrayed: legacies of Abdullah-Nehru nexus - Page 7 by O. P. Kapoor - 1995

16. Bahiristan Shahi, A chronicle of Medieval Kashmir: As translated by K N Pandita

17. Converted Kashmir : A book by Narender Sehgal

18. Early Kashmiri Society & Challenges of Islam by S S Toshkhani

19. History of Kashmir Pandits by Jia Lal Kilam

20. Cultural heritage of Kashmiri Pandits by S S Toshkhani

21. My frozen turbulence in Kashmir by Jagmohan

22. Kashmir: Its Aborigines and Their Exodus: Tej K Tikoo

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