Friday, May 1, 2009

Shawlbaf Protest: 29 April 1865

28 shawl weavers were killed for Protesting Against Gulab Singh’s Harsh Tax System
FAHEEM ASLAM
Srinagar, Apr 28: In a newly constructed market at Zaldagar in Shahr-e-Khaas, there are no traces of a carnage carried out by the Dogra army about 150 years ago. Yet, the memories of the incident, which led to death of 28 persons, are still fresh in the minds and hearts of the residents.
It was on 29 April 1865 when scores of shawl weavers marched through the streets of Shahr-e-Khaas against the cruel tax policies of the Dagh Shawl Department of the Dogra regime. The procession, which later came to be known as the Shalbaf procession, was also organised to protest against the “difficult working conditions, meager wages, excessive taxation and a ban on weavers who wanted to leave Kashmir valley.”
The protests were held in the wee hours of April 29 outside the house of Pandit Raj Kak Dhar, the Kashmiri Pandit official who headed the Dagh Shawl Department, in the city’s Zaldgar locality. Historians say Dhar misinformed the Dogra army that he was being attacked. As the protesters reached Zaldgar, the Dogra troops led by Colonel Bijoy Singh rounded off the demonstrators and asked them to disperse. When the unarmed protesters refused to do so, the troops fired at them and later charged them with spears. Scores of protesters jumped off the Haji Rather Sum Bridge at Zaldgar, in the hope they would hide in the marsh underneath, but at least 28 bodies were recovered from the river, and over 100 sustained wounds.
“We have been told everything about the episode by our elders. The procession was nothing but a demonstration of fight against oppression and exploitation,” said Muhammad Razak, a resident of Zaldgar while pointing toward the bridge. “This bridge always reminds us of the procession and protesters who are our real heroes. And the best nation is one which doesn’t forget its history and heroes.” “The Shalbaf procession is a very significant event in the history of Kashmir. It was the first ever agitation against the exploitative work system,” said Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches Law in Kashmir University.
The Shalbaf procession, Dr Showkat said, was a big event in the global context as it took place much before the historic May Day of 1886. May 1 is observed in many parts of the world as International Workers’ Day.
“The Shawl Weavers protest becomes globally important in a way that it occurred many years before the May Day. But it is pity our part that we ignore our own martyrs who rebelled against the oppressive system,” Dr Showkat told Greater Kashmir.
Sheikh Rasool, Ubli Baba, Qudda Lal, and Sona Butt were among the protesters during the Shalbaf procession who, according to historians, were imprisoned in different jails like Habak, Bahu Fort, and Ram Nagar. They were later “tortured to death.”
The noted historian, Fida Muhammad Hassnain, has recorded that Shawlbaf protest was “perhaps the first organized protest for demands in the history of class struggle in India.”

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