Kashmir Riots 1931: A Research Paper – II
by Veer Wangoo & Rahul Razdan on 23 Jul 2013 1 Comment
The inquiry commission: An inquiry commission under Barjor Dalal submitted a report on the riots of July 1931. Author Shailender Singh Jamwal (Barjor Dalal’s report of the Srinagar riot enquiry committee – 1931) concluded that the riots were the desired outcome of intrigues the British indulged in from 1847, but Maharaja Gulab Singh astutely overcame. Even his successor, Maharaja Ranbir Singh, managed to outwit British ploys to get a foothold in the State to control its political set up. But during Maharaja Pratap Singh’s reign, the wily British managed to subvert the political and administrative authority of the Maharaja.


By the time Maharaja Hari Singh ascended the throne on September 23, 1925, the British were in position to exploit the fact that the State had a Hindu Maharaja, which they exploited to divert attention from the effects of economic turmoil in the rest of India due to the economic depression in Europe to which the Indian economy was linked. They raised the bogey that the ruler was blocking the economic empowerment of the Muslims to keep them in perpetual slavery. The report examines eye-witness accounts and different shades of opinion to analyze what went wrong that changed the social and political dynamics of the State forever. The Maharaja had been astute enough to promulgate the hereditary State subject definition, to checkmate the intrusion of Britishers to interfere in the State and restrict their entry. Maharaja Pratap Singh was also aware of their mischief; it was during his reign in 1924 the Silk factory workers in Srinagar raised the banner of revolt.


Maharaja Hari Singh was not the favorite of the British rulers as he was aware of developments all over the world. He had made his mind clear about the role the princely states should play to uphold the Indian nation. The report extensively discusses how the British instigated the Muslim populace of Punjab, as a result of which the All India Kashmir Muslim Conference came into existence in 1928. It members had nothing to do with Kashmir, but the element of pan-Islamism was instigated. Though the Conference started pleading the case for Muslim education in the State, “its real object was to secure for the Muslims of British India, especially of the Punjab, the right to be appointed in the State services so long at least as the Muslims of the State remained unqualified.”


Both provinces of the State were kept on boil by the British. In Jammu, the Young Men’s Muslim Association was set up; it acted on the lines of the Muslim Reading Room Party of Fateh Kadal, Srinagar. The brain behind the disruptive activities of these formations was Wakefield, of the political department of the Government of British India. The visit of the Muslim Association to Kashmir and interaction with the Reading Room Party was made to infuse a sense of coherence to instigate bigger trouble for the Maharaja in 1931.


The trial of Abdul Qadir, a non-state subject cook of the British officer, and his seditious speech that unleashed communal frenzy in Srinagar, is clearly discussed in Jamwal’s book. It exposes the group that grabbed power in 1947 by making the Maharaja abdicate under pressure from VP Menon under the advice of Vallabhbhai Patel.


Shailender Singh Jamwal has aptly summed up the state of Hindu minorities in Jammu and Kashmir on July 13, 1931, who observe this day as Black Day: “The people of Kashmir and their political organizations barring Kashmiri Pundits observe this day as martyr’s day because Dogra troops resorted to firing in Kashmir in which ten people lost their lives. While many in Jammu, including Kashmiri Pundits observe this day as a Black Day as their business establishments in Kashmir were plundered by the members of the majority community; moreover, their dignity, honor and lives were endangered. Since then, both the major communities of the State have been living as poles apart. This event has divided the people of the State on religious, regional and ideological basis and does not allow them to sink their differences.”


MJ Akbar on Qadir 


MJ Akbar’s views on the Qadir episode invest a non-entity with a heroic aura. Qadir, to him, seemed to ‘discover a new-identity when he was in Kashmir as a cook in the retinue of a European’. What was the identity he discovered in Kashmir which was lacking in Peshawar?

Akbar hails Qadir’s oratory as ‘more spicy than his cuisine’. Akbar has assessed the entire episode in the light of oratory and cuisine and missed the importance of the episode as part of a bigger game the British played to execute their geo-political objectives.


Had he probed deeper, he would have discovered a sinister intrigue hatched by the British-Ahmadiya-Abdullah nexus to destabilise the Maharaja for his anti-British postures, and in the process would have known that Qadir was only a pawn to get things to a crisis-point, paving way for direct British takeover of the state by dislodging the Maharaja. Qadir’s oratory was doctored, packed with communal poison; his arrest and trial unleashed communal frenzy directed towards Kashmiri Pandits like an artillery barrage.


February 1931: Kanikoot massacre


We often forget that July 13 was not in isolation; the biggest massacre ever happened at Kanikoot village, a few miles uphill from Nagam in Chadoora tehsil of Budgam. Nagam is a big village and old tehsil headquarters. It had sizeable Pandit population before 1990.


Two Kashmiri Pandit families lived in Kanikoot village in 1931 – those of Zana Bhat and Janki Nath. Not long ago, Kanikoot used to be a dense forest. The ancestor of Zana Bhat came to the village and settled there after clearing the forest area, and became wealthy through sheer hard work and enterprise. As he could not cultivate this huge tract of land on his own, he encouraged Muslim peasants from other places to come there for tenancy. Many villages in Kashmir have come up this way over the past three centuries in areas close to forests.


Janki Nath and his mother lived 100 metres away from Zana Bhat’s house. Zana Bhat’s family was a pioneer in horticulture development in the area. Even in 1931 they had big fruit orchards. The family was not in the money-lending business, as has been claimed by some uninformed people. For his affluence, Zana Bhat commanded prestige and authority in the area.


Watakul was a neighbouring village with no Pandit family. Kanikoot tenants were on good terms with Pt. Zana Bhat. In February 1931, nine members of Zana Bhat’s family were axed to death by some people from Watakul village.


Did this incident have any link with the events of July 13? There are no clear answers. The British agencies were active and July 13 was the culmination of the nefarious policies they were pursuing to destabilise Maharaja Hari Singh. Zana Bhat’s family had no problems with their tenants of Kanikoot; nor did the family engage in usury. Even if it is assumed that the family had personal enmity with some family/people from Watakul village, could this have invited retribution of this magnitude? How could ordinary peasants perform such an action? How many incidents of this nature have occurred in Kashmir during proceeding decades? All circumstantial evidence points to a conspiracy.


On the fateful night, the conspirators reached Zana Bhat’s house. They called the sleeping family members to open the main door, pretending they had some urgent work. It appears that they knew the family and the latter trusted them. The conspirators hacked nine members of the family, including ladies and children, to death with an axe.


Some members of the family, including Prem Nath, who were studying in Srinagar survived. The lone survivor in the massacre was a boy who was sleeping with a Gujjar servant at the time. After hacking their victims to death, the conspirators set fire to the top floor of the house to destroy the evidence. The loyal servant took the lone survivor of the family with him and escaped through a window near the main staircase, went to a neighbouring peasant family and narrated the gory happenings.


The following morning, Gujjars from surrounding areas reached the massacre spot. The same evening, Janki Nath and his mother left the village. So neatly was conspiracy hatched that it seemed even the Patwari of the area, a Kashmiri Pandit, was in league with the killers or had been bribed or somehow silenced.


The Patwari prepared a fictitious report, attributing the incident to ‘Atish Nagahani’ (accidental fire). But for the evidence of the loyal Gujjar servant, the Patwari’s report may have well been accepted by the government, as the victims and Patwari belonged to the same community! The incident sent shock waves among the Kashmiri Pandit minority.


All over the valley, the Pandit population observed fast for two days, both as a mark of protest and to express grief over the massacre. The trial was conducted by Chief Judge Arjan Nath Atal. Two of the 13 accused died during the period of trial. Besides the evidence of the lone survivor and the Gujjar servant, two of the accused turned approvers. It was established that the peasants of Kanikoot had no knowledge about the conspiracy; they neither gave testimony nor demonstrated any sympathy with the conspirators.


Janki Nath, head of the other Pandit family, excused himself from favouring either party and deposed that at the time of the massacre he was in deep sleep. Four days after the incident, Gopi Nath Bhat of village Woodru, Shoolipora, accompanied Pt. Mahand Joo, press reporter of Daily Martand, from Srinagar to Kanikoot. He recalls, “when we reached Kanikoot, the village looked desolate. The victims had no one to weep for them”.


The judge sentenced the nine accused to death by hanging in 1933; all belonged to Watakul village. Neither the Muslims nor the Pandits interfered in the trial nor did they politicise the matter and allowed the law to take its course.


Even the Muslim Conference which led July 13 agitation did not sympathise with the conspirators nor arrange any relief for the families of the accused. Zana Bhat’s three grandsons - Prem Nath, Radhakrishnan and Jia Lal survived as they were in Srinagar at the time of massacre. In 1965, when Pak saboteurs entered Budgam, Radhakrishnan, then the village chowkidar, was kidnapped by the saboteurs and tied to a tree with rope. Locals rescued him. This proves that the Kanikoot peasants had no enmity with Zana Bhat’s family. Radhakrishnan continued to serve as village chowkidar till 1990. All this suggests that Kanikoot was a conspiracy, the exact contours of which remain unidentified.


Anyone who thinks 1931 was a secular Kashmiri uprising and that Kashmiri Pandits were helping the Muslims to revolt against the Maharaja, must explain the intention behind the communal riots by same forces. 




Web References












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, Jia Lal Kilam

20. Cultural heritage of Kashmiri Pandits, S S Toshkhani

21. My frozen turbulence in Kashmir, Jagmohan

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

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