In the bitter chill of winter shivers his naked body

Whose skill wraps the rich in royal shawls

So wrote Iqbal, who himself was of Kashmiri origin, when he visited Srinagar in 1921. What he saw was disparity at its worst. The Dogra rule had been almost abysmal for Kashmir. The peasants had been reduced to the condition of serfs as the Mahrajas audaciously indulged in exuberant lifestyles.

The 20th century brought with it socio-economic philosophies that challenged prevalent norms. Educated Kashmiris returned from Delhi and Lahore and sought retribution from the Mahrajas and their colonial patrons. Their efforts resulted in the social education of individual rights across personal and professional capacities. The workers understood the potential of trade unions while some flirted with the philosophy of socialism.

In the spring of 1924, Kashmir saw its first worker’s strike in a state-owned silk factory. The protests were met severely. They were beaten savagely and the organizers were imprisoned, where they were tortured to death. Muslim notables sent a memorandum to the viceroy, Lord Reading, to protest the treatment. This enraged the Mahraja who furthered his vendetta against the Muslims. Such was the bias of the Mahraja and his succeeding rulers that Albion Bannerji, the chief minister of Kashmir, resigned from his position. He voiced out his frustration at his inability to implement reforms in these words: The large Muslim population is absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages and practically like dumb driven kettle’.

The vengeful attitude of the Mahrajas was made obvious in more of such events. In April 1931, the police stopped a Friday sermon claiming that referencing of Moses and Pahraoh were ‘tantamount to sedition’. This particular event resulted in a wave of protests. In the following June, the largest political rally ever witnessed in the lands of Srinagar came to the streets and elected 11 representatives to lead their struggle against native and colonial repression. Sheikh Abdulla was one of these leaders.

Abdul Qadir, a speaker at this gathering, was later arrested for describing the Dogra rulers as ‘a dynasty of blood-suckers’. On the day of his trial, thousands of demonstrators demanded a right to attend the proceedings. The police opened fire on the crowd, where 21 were killed. Leaders, including Sheikh Abduallah were arrested. This particular moment of Kashmiri history, arguably, saw the birth of Kashmiri nationalism.

There was widespread agitation on their arrest, so much so that the viceroy himself instructed the Mahraja to release them. When released, the leaders were carried through streets on the shoulders of jubilant crowds. Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues proceeded on to formalise their political movement. The All-Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference was founded in Sri Nagar in October 1932. Abdullah, who was resolutely secular in his politics, was elected as president.

Abdullah’s secularity was criticized from the beginning, where Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah and his followers split from the political union angered at the ‘soft attitude’ of Abdullah for Hindus. The All-India Kashmir Committee of Lahore too voiced their anger and frustration at Abdullah for not resorting to the purely Muslim political philosophy and instead leaning towards the social-revolutionary nationalism of Nehru.

The Muslim Anglo-Oriental College educated Abdullah, to demonstrate his devotion to secularity and indeed to win support from a multi-religious populace, invited Nehru to Kashmir. Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the ‘Frontier Gandhi’, accompanied him. Together the three leaders addressed the population of Kashmir, promising land reforms, liberation from the colonists and the advantages of mass revolutionary movements. The bond established in this visit helped Nehru’s cause later when separatism took over the subcontinent.

When partition took place, the leaders of the two new born states started wooing the heads of the princely states. Muhammad Ali Jinnah too tried to convince Mahraja Hari Singh of the logic of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. The fact that he was not made part of this process angered Abdullah. This resentment stayed with him for a long time.

Hari Singh was indecisive. He knew that the majority of the Kashmir population was favorable for an accession to Pakistan. Even secular politicians in the valley urged that Kashmir was to naturally become part of Pakistan (the details of these factors that made accession to Pakistan ‘natural’ have been detailed in previous parts of this series). However, Hari Singh was inclined towards India. Secretly, he started negotiating with India for an accession. When Jinnah became aware of these negotiations, he grew desperate. Even though both Lord Mountbatten, then the Governor General of India and Field Marshall Auchinleck, the joint commander and chief of both Indian and Pakistani armies, had warned Jinnah against use of aggression, he decided to authorize a military operation into the valley. Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan was given the charge to lead the operation. This was the first war fought between the two nations for Kashmir. As history is witness; there were indeed more.