“Our men,” writes A Q Rafiqui, and Mohammad Yasin in History of Freedom in Jammu and Kashmir, “should sit in their homes and wear burqas,” said a woman demonstrator in the summer of 1931 while protesting against the atrocities of Dogra regime. “We are proud of our Punjabi Muslim brethren but so far they have merely confined themselves to merely issuing statements. We request the members of the British Parliament to take our grievances to the League of Nations. We appeal to the army not to oppress women as it is no chivalry. But if they pass any such instruction, they will find us ready to meet the challenge,” said the fiery woman while addressing a 5000 strong all women procession carrying black flags. The procession was baton charged injuring 10 women.
In the history of Kashmir, women have played very important role along with men both in the Independence movement and other empowering movements which were part of it. Being born fighters against tyranny, the Kashmiri women, though illiterate, took a prominent part in the freedom struggle, fighting against the alien oppressors. Through their long history Kashmiri women have witnessed varying fortunes. From the beginning of the 18th century up to now the people of Kashmir are suffering untold miseries at the hands of ‘alien’ rulers. It may be called the darkest chapter in the annals of the Valley. Whether it was Afghan, Sikhs or Dogras all of them were generally irresponsible, cruel and greedy. During the period of alien rulers the status of Kashmiri women degraded. Besides the molestation of women, harsh types of punishments, most inhuman and against all codes of morality were introduced to keep the subjects in constant awe and terror. However, women of Kashmir ventured same courage as exhibited by men in raising their voice against the oppressors. They too actively took part in freedom struggle. The first person to do was Begum of Shaikh Immamudin, the last Sikh governor of Kashmir.
It was during the year of 1931 in the contemporary history of Kashmir that Kashmiri masses for the first time raised the banner of revolt against the alien Dogra rule and laid the foundations of a democratic movement for the annihilation of autocracy and despotism. Thus July 13, 1931 became a landmark in the annals of modern Kashmir. It was from that date that the people took upon themselves the task of securing for themselves the right of democratic self-rule. During the early years of the movement, the processions were entirely composed of women, some of them with suckling in their arms passing through the streets, raising slogans, denouncing the suppressive policy of the Dogra despot, or demanding release of imprisoned leaders and establishment of a democratic set-up. A number of women throughout Kashmir came to the fore in the war of Independence against Dogra regime, prominent among them were Sajida Bano, Jan Begum, Freechi, Fazli, Jan Ded, Zunoo Bibi Mujahida, Khat Ded, Fatima Raja Kacher, Zainub Begum, Mehmuda Ahmad Ali etc. Most of these women were martyred during the processions by police firing. In spite of harassment they continued their work and were imprisoned many times. These women participated actively in National Conference led ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’, ‘National Militia’ etc. There were many progressive ladies among the woman of Kashmir who started education movements for the awareness of masses in general and Kashmiri women in particular.
In Shopian Sajida Bano, aged 25, who had lost her husband took part in a big procession and received a bullet wound during the procession when Dogra military opened fire. She was pregnant and died along with the child on the spot. The second woman martyr was Jan Begum, 35, a widow, resident of Khawajapora in the locality of Nowshera Srinagar. She was also killed during a procession in police firing. The third woman martyr of Freedom Movement against Dogra regime was Begum Bohru, better known as Freechi, 30 years of age. She was widow of Khawja Razaq Joo Bohru, a resident of Mohalla Jalal Sahib, Baramulla. Like most of her town sisters she was deeply disturbed by the continuing news of the innocent killings all over the Valley and played a prominent part in the processions taken out by women in the town.
On the fateful day a number of women took out a procession. They were mourning the martyrs and cursing the oppressors. When they reached near the bank of Jehlum in the midst of the town, the police blocked their passage and a Sub-Inspector used abusive language against political leaders. Freechi couldn’t bear it. It was the midst of winter and there had been considerable snow-fall. Freechi was carrying a Kangri filled with burning charcoal. She hurled it on the sub-inspector from some distance. It crushed straight into his face disfiguring his face permanently. The gallant woman was shot dead on the spot. Almost the whole town walked bare-footed and bare-headed behind her, when taken for burial. The fourth woman martyr was Mrs. Fazli, killed on 24th Sept 1931, when the military opened fire on a procession of women that were parading at Maisuma Bazar.
Jan Ded, who was another heroine of 1931 uprising, used to lead the processions against atrocities and injustice. Her natural talents were not exposed. To fight against injustice and for attaining rights was in response to an urge within her. She was pragmatist as poles apart from many of the male political leaders of Kashmir in secularizing the political atmosphere and shunning narrow communal loyalties. Another brave daughter of Kashmir who sacrificed everything for the cause of freedom movement was Zunoo Bibi Mujahida. She was born in the Pather Masjid area of Srinagar. She started working for the people’s Freedom Movement in 1939 at the age of 27. She participated in processions and demonstrations along with the men. She had been to Jail nine times and received punishments by way of taxes to be given to the Maharaja’s government. Her husband left her because of her participation in the struggle for freedom. She lost her 9 year old son when he got killed in police firing during a demonstration while she was in Jail. Her parents also disowned her because they were harassed by the authorities, but she was undaunted and continued her work. Her four teeth were broken during a demonstration when she was beaten up by the police.
During the ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ she worked for months underground with Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Kara. She used to distribute so called ‘seditious’ leaflets and pasted posters on walls. Another active member of freedom movement from women’s category was Khat Ded- a resident of Maisuma. She joined the freedom movement at the age of 18. Many times she led the women processions at Srinagar; she used to attend all the meetings of NC at its head office at Mujahid Manzil. An elusive figure was Noor Gojree a milkman’s naughty daughter, who plagued the military and the police through her vituperative utterances and pugnacious pranks. She was repeatedly arrested. Undeterred she continued joining the ranks of agitators. Though illiterate she was independent in her views. Another female character of that era, who sacrificed her life, was Fatima – a peasant woman who was shot dead by the Dogra Army at Anantnag (Islamabad) on May 1946 while leading a procession carried out against the repressive policy of the Maharaja’s government. Raja Kacher was also an active worker of the underground movement. She had been given the work to paste posters on walls and electric poles. She used to participate in processions as well. She was arrested many times.
These women shaped the destiny of every class, community and nation and were successful in attaining the goal of freedom from Dogras. They broke the shackles that bound them to certain pernicious traditions and customs.
(Samie Shah is research scholar in Political Science department of Kashmir University. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org )
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