The Communalisation of Jammu: 1900-1930

Kaladi Mahajan
A huge litany of literature exists vis-a-vis the communalisation of the Kashmir politics before accession but when it comes to Jammu, one can only find an obscure account where only tangential references bear the burden to fill up the existing vacuum of literature. Notwithstanding the largely homogenous socio-political apparatus of Kashmir, Jammu has always had various hues of political predilections across its varied geography wherein lied the wellspring of the various political movements in the region, which invariably got communalised in the backdrop of the faultlines that divided our society on religious and ethnic lines later. In this essay, we shall try to understand the inherent role that religion played in Jammu’s politics in the first 3 decades of the 20th century.
Prior to accession with India, Jammu largely existed as a separate administrative province which had five districts and two Jagirs of Poonch and Chenani. This structure was devised in a way that the class of people belonging to ruling house were scattered in three main districts of Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur while the two frontier districts had a large population of Muslims- Gujjars, Sudhans and many other local tribes along with a smattering of Pothowari/Mirpuri speaking Hindu population, mainly in the towns. This reveals that Jammu was a largely plural society with Muslims having a numerical superiority.
Initially, the ethno-linguistic links with the Maharaja and his family made the people of Jammu ignore their grievances, if any, to a large extent. However, as soon as the age of reformation started in J&K with the establishment of a branch of the Arya Samaj in 1891 and the activities thereof, on one hand and the creation of Anjuman-I-Islamia Jammu (by Raja Farman Ali khan, Ghulam Abbas and Major General Samandar Khan), on the other in 1893, it ironically, placed the very foundations of the communal ideas in Jammu. While Arya Samaj ideas gained traction while indulging in proselytization and Shuddhi practices (bringing converted Muslims back into the fold of Hinduism), Muslim groups started affiliating with Tabligh and vented their anger against the Samajists and this chasm ultimately led to a permanent acrimony between the two groups. Muslims, in the meantime, who were earlier politically inactive and relatively sidelined, started to become more politically conscious to an extent that many religious groups emerged in next two decades viz- Anjuman Ahl-I-Sunnat-ul Jamaat (1904), Anjuman Ahl-I-Shaia (1904), Young Men’s Muslim Association (1920). Groups like Anjuman-I-Islamia was, in the meantime, engaged in constant appeals to the Maharaja to remove the causes that stood in way of the Muslim subjects in their quest for acquiring the higher education. This clearly points to the fact that how religious consciousness was gaining an upper hand over the largely indifferent population of Jammu.
These pent-up communal feelings were further aggravated by the media- mainly newspapers that were coming into the state from Punjab. These communal newspapers such Akhbar-i-Aam Lahore, Rafiq-i-Hind, Pratap, Milap, Punjab Gazette etc sowed the seeds of disaffection against the Hindu Raj of the state. Many such papers, therefore, were banned in 1910 (however the reason was more political than religious) under Section 124-A of Penal Code of 1860. Even a local paper called Mahajan Nite (started by Lala Hans Raj Mahajan) was banned in 1909 as it discussed some religious and cultural matters related to the state. All these papers played an important role in vitiating the atmosphere of the state. In early 20s, with the advent of papers like Muslim Outlook and Siyasat, things took a turn for the worse when they indulged in a deleterious and at times, unfounded allegations against the Maharaja and ultimately, their entry too had to be banned later. This elucidates that the dark clouds of religious fervour were hanging large on the skies of Jammu that were casting a faint silhouette of communalism on the ground as its manifestation.
Another major confrontation in the Jammu region started after the Gandhiji, to the chagrin of many Hindus, had announced the launch of the Khilafat Movement. Due to Jammu’s proximity to Punjab, the idea of Khilafat evoked a radical response. Imams of various mosques in Jammu exhorted the people to wage a Jihad for the then Caliphate, despite the ban. Leaders who were involved in this movement in Jammu were Mohd Yaqub, Rahmatullah, Qazi ullah, Miran Baksh etc. These leaders used various mosques at Pir Mitha, Mohalla Pathavan (Ustad Mohalla), Mohalla Qasaban (Gujjar Nagar) for their respective agendas. Ravinderjit Kaur says that “On 15th March, another meeting was held in the mosque of Talab Khatikan, Jammu. The meeting called for Naat Khanni or singing hymns in the praise of God and the Prophet. The meeting was attended by hundreds of men” Meanwhile, on 17th March, 1920, some religious posters were found pasted in Jammu which said “Jid-o-Jehad-Ke-AkhiriFaisle ki Ghari”, “Qaumi Leaderon ka Huqm”. These apparently innocuous statements, even though, not directed against any community, were indeed letting a communal issue to simmer within the region, while the Hindus remained absolutely indifferent to this cause. The Hindus, more or less, remained loyal to the Maharaja but the age-old relationship between the Muslims and the Maharaja had begun to dwindle.
This gets vividly manifested in 1930 during the Civil Disobedience Movement when Muslims, under the influence of YMMA, didn’t participate in the call of Civil Disobedience given by Gandhi and didn’t join Hindus in the demonstrations thereafter against his arrest. Even in the intermittent years, the YMMA which had had very close links to the Muslim organisations of Punjab, continued to vent their angst regarding the minimal representation of the Muslims in the services. This attitude, inevitably led to a scenario where clear lines were drawn within the Hindus, considered loyalists to the Maharaja and the Muslims of the region and unwittingly led to the entrenchment of the communalisation of the social sphere. The statement of the Prime Minister Albion Bannerji, who had unceremoniously resigned, saying that the “Jammu and Kashmir state is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Muhammedan population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages and practically governed like dumb cattle” (published in the Daily Tribune on 19TH March 1929) added grist to their mill and the propaganda from the media based in Punjab became sharper. Bamzai says that “Leaflets and Journals containing stories of the deliberate suppression of Muslims in the state were distributed in thousands among the people, instigating them to rise against the Maharaja who, it was alleged, was dominated by his Hindu officers”. Despite that, the Muslims in Jammu didn’t attack the Maharaja personally (except in Poonch) till this time unlike Kashmir where posters like ‘Hari Singh Go Back’ had appeared in 1929.
Notwithstanding these broad contours that underlined the communal atmosphere of Jammu during the first three decades, the silver lining too was conspicuous during the same time, though with less gusto. The Arya Samaj moderated its stand in Jammu and asked for the preservation of the Hindu-Muslim unity. The secular organisations like Dogra Sabha too played an important role in this direction. Even among the Muslims people like Maulvi Sadr Din said in 1922 that “Now is the time for Hindu-Muslim-Sikh unity” at the Talab Khatika mosque. This phenomenon evidently received further push with the advent of a progressive ruler Maharaja Hari Singh, albeit for an extremely short duration. While these efforts were yet to play a role in countering the communal propaganda, the Maharaja’s visit to Europe and its aftermath, disallowed any chances of reconciliation and things went on a downhill ride ever since.