J&K Drops Martyr’s Day, Sheikh Abdullah Birth Anniversary From Public Holidays List

The Valley’s mainstream parties attacked the BJP-led government at the Centre for the “absurd move”, calling it a “brazen display of its fascist mindset".

Srinagar: Every year, Jammu and Kashmir would officially observe July 13 in remembrance of Kashmiris who fell to the bullet of the Dogra forces in 1931. Similarly, December 5, the birth anniversary of former J&K Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was a listed public holiday. But not anymore.

Both the days, which hold significance in the region for their political history, have been dropped by government from the list of public holidays for 2020 in the newly created union territory of J&K.

Instead, October 26, which is observed as the day when J&K “acceded” to Union of India, figures in the list.

The list of the holidays was released by J&K’s general administration department late on Friday night under the Centre’s Negotiable Instruments Act, 1981.

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It is the omission of July 13 and December 5 from the list that has triggered a political storm in the restive Valley.

The changes are seen in line with the demand of BJP which has never accepted the Martyrs’ Day and had been pushing for observing October 26 as a “historic day” in J&K.

The changes have been made less than five months after the Centre scrapped J&K’s special position and bifurcated the erstwhile state into two UTs.

Outrage in Kashmir

The Valley’s mainstream parties attacked the BJP-led government at the Centre for the “absurd move”, calling it a “brazen display of its fascist mindset”.

National Conference spokesperson, Imran Nabi Dar described dropping of July 13 and December 5 from the list as “assault on the political identity” of the people of J&K.

“These moves are a part of BJP’s programme which started on August 5 to erase the identity of people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

He however said such “arbitrary acts” cannot take away popularity of Abdullah, neither can people forget sacrifices of July 13 martyrs. “These events are part of the history and BJP can never change the history,” said Imran.

The Peoples Democratic Party said the BJP was “displaying its true colours”. “These decisions are brazen display of the BJP’s fascist mindset,” said PDP spokesperson Tahir Sayeed. “They want to erase contribution of people and the leaders who fought for J&K’s political rights.”

Sayeed said Abdullah was the “tallest leader” of J&K. “Politics aside, we can never forget his political contribution,” said Sayeed.

The CPI-M too reacted to the development, terming the move as “absurd and disgraceful.” Cautioning that such methods were bound to alienate people, the leftist leader M.Y. Targami said Martyrs’ Day was people’s movement for democratic rights and “against tyranny”.

“Dropping the day from the list was an insult to those who laid down their lives for better future of people of J&K,” Tarigami said. He said Abdullah was “freedom fighter”.

“History cannot be reversed,” he said.

Importance of July 13

According to historical accounts, at least 22 Kashmiris fell to the bullets of the last monarch Hari Singh’s forces outside Srinagar’s Central Jail on July 13, 1931, drawing first blood in Kashmir’s long history of agitations against the Dogra ruler.

A non-local, Abdul Qadeer Khan was being tried by Maharaja’s administration on the day. Khan had been charged with sedition and instigating people after delivering fiery speeches against the Maharaja’s “oppressive” rule.

Every year, the J&K chief minister and ministers and leaders of opposition parties would visit the graves of the 22 Kashmiris in Srinagar’s Khawaja Bazaar locality to pay floral tributes to them.

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Hurriyat leaders would also held separate functions on the day to remember the contribution of the martyrs toward the “freedom struggle”.

When the BJP rose to power in J&K in 2015, in alliance with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the ministers of the right-wing party stayed away from the official function.

In fact, for the past four years, after its rise in J&K politics coincided with the party’s rise at the national level, the BJP vociferously started to demand to drop July 13 from the list of public holidays.

The Sheikh’s birth anniversary

For his supporters, National Conference founder Sheikh Abdullah remains the tallest leader and the “lion of Kashmir”. After starting his political career in the 1930s, Abdullah went on to become a key figure in state politics.

But it was in 1946 that Abdullah truly came into the prominence when he raised his voice against Maharaja and led the “Quit Kashmir” agitation against him.

Two years later, he became the prime minister of J&K after the Maharaja signed the instrument of accession with Union of India. However in 1953, Abdullah was accused of conspiring against the state and arrested. Five years later, he was tried under “Kashmir conspiracy case” and jailed for 11 years.

Abdullah gave up his long struggle in 1975. He returned to the politics and agreed to his demotion to the chief minister of erstwhile state of J&K, a move described by many as the beginning of his downfall in the politics.

Born in a middle class family in Soura locality of Srinagar on December 5, 1905, Abdullah continues to be the “architect” of people’s sufferings for his detractors.

When Kashmir became a part of India in 1947 after Maharaja signed the instrument of accession, Abdullah, as the most popular leader, lent his support to the deal.

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Till his death, he commanded respect among a section of populations including his supporters. That was evident when lakhs of people joined his last journey in 1982.

After his death, the government declared December 5 a public holiday. On that day every year, the National Conference, led by Farooq Abdullah, holds a function at his mausoleum on banks of Dal Lake in Hazratbal.

The government would also pay tributes to Abdullah on the day. Last year, when J&K was under the direct rule of the Centre, Governor Satya Pal Malik had said Abdullah was a social reformer who “fought for rights of the oppressed people and strived for sustenance of secular and pluralistic values”.

This year, however, Lieutenant Governor of J&K UT, G.C. Murmu decided against issuing any statement or paying any tributes to Abdullah, as head of the state.

A new holiday

As the sovereign of J&K, the Maharaja had signed the Instrument of Accession with Union of India in 1947, handing over powers to the Centre for making laws on three subjects – defense, communication, and foreign affairs.

According to some accounts, the instrument was inked on October 26, 1947.  The day (October 26) has now found a place in the list of the holidays for J&K UT.

Over the years the BJP has been however celebrating the “Accession Day” in J&K. While on the other hand, the separatist camp would call for a complete shutdown on the day to observe it as a “black day”.