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Feb 1931 Kanikoot massacre

13th July 1931 was a conspiracy hatched by the British Political Department against Maharaja Hari Singh for his highly patriotic stand at the Round Table Conference in London. The other dimension of the plot was to coerce him to submit to the long promoted British demand for lease of strategic Gilgat. The conspiracy was implemented on the ground by Wakefield, Maharaja Hari Singh's Prime Minister and the British Resident. The objective of 13th July incident was to destabilize Maharaja's government, by provoking his Muslim subjects and terrorising the Kashmiri Hindus through unprovoked communal violence. There is overwhelming evidence to support this view. Year after year, Muslim organisations of Kashmir, including those that profess to be secular continued to observe this black day as 'The Martyrs Day’. This in a way is a reflection on the low level of secularisation in Kashmiri Muslim society.

From time to time patriotic leaders of stature from among other communities have been raising their voice against the attempts to politicise the communal happenings of 13th July and thereby accord respectability to the British Conspiracy and Communalism. To put the history in its proper perspective on the occasion of 75th Anniversary of the 13th July, 1931 incidents, we are publishing eyewitness accounts of the incidents in Srinagar and Kanikoot.  - The Editor

Kanikoot is a village located few miles uphill from Nagam in Chadoora tehsil of Budgam. Nagam is a big village and old tehsil headquarters. It had sizeable Pandit population before 1990.

Two Kashmiri Pandit families lived in Kanikoot village in 1931 - those of Pt. Zana Bhat and Pt. Janki Nath. Not long ago,

Kanikoot used to be a dense forest. Ancestor of Zana Bhat had come to the village and settled there after clearing the forest area.

Through sheer hard work and enterprise he acquired wealth. Since this huge tract of land could not be cultivated on his own, he encouraged Muslim peasants from other places to come there for tenancy.

Many villages in Kashmir have come up this way during the past three centuries in areas close to forests. Pt. Janki Nath and his mother lived 100 metres away from Pt. Zana Bhat's house. Pt. Zana Bhat's family was pioneer in horticulture development in the area. Even in 1931 they had big fruit orchards. The family did not deal in moneylending business, as has been claimed by some uninformed people. For his affluence, Pt. Zana Bhat commanded prestige and authority in the area.

Watakul was a neighbouring village and had no Pandit family as its residents. Kanikoot tenants were on good terms with Pt. Zana Bhat.

In February 1931 nine members of Zana Kak's family were axed to death by some people from the adjoining Watakul village.

Did this incident had any link with happenings of 13th July? There are no clear answers. The British agencies were already active and 13th July was the culmination of the nefarious policies they were pursuing to destabilise Maharaja Hari Singh. Pt. Zana Bhat's family had no problems with their tenants of Kanikoot nor did the family engage in usury. Even if it is assumed that the family had personal enmity with some family/people from Watakul village, could this have invited retribution of this magnitude? How could ordinary peasants under autocratic rule take such an action? How many such type of incidents have occurred in Kashmir during the proceeding decades? The circumstantial evidence points to a conspiracy. A few days before the incident, the conspirators had hatched a conspiracy and devised the modus operandi of targetting Pt. Zana Kak's family.

On the fateful night, the conspirators reached Pt. Zana Kak's house. They called the sleeping family members to open the main door, pretending they had some urgent work. It seemed these people were quite familiar to the family and the latter trusted them. The conspirators hacked nine members of the family, including ladies and children, to death with an axe.

Few members of the family, including Prem Nath who were studying in Srinagar survived.

Thelone survivor in the massacre was a boy, who was sleeping with a Gujjar servant that time. After hacking their victims to death, the conspirators set on fire the top floor of the house to destroy the evidence.

The loyal servant carried the lone survivor of the family with him and escaped through a window near the main staircase.

Many of the bodies were half burnt. The servant went to a neighbouring peasant family and narrated the gory happenings.

The following morning the servant in utter grief cried hysterically. The Gujjars from the surrounding areas too reached the massacre spot. Same evening Janki Nath and his mother left the village.

So neatly was conspiracy hatched that it seemed even the Patwari of the area, who happened to be a Kashmiri Pandit, was in league with them orhad been bribed otherwise.

The Patwari prepared a fictitious report, attributing the incident to a case of 'Atish Nagahani' (accidental fire). But for the evidence of the loyal Gujjar servant, the Patwari's report may have well been accepted by the government.

After all the victims, and the Patwari belonged to the same community! The incident sent shock waves among the Kashmiri Pandit minority.

Pandit population all over the Valley observed fast for two days, both as a mark of protest as well as to express their grief over the massacre. The trial was conducted by the Chief Judge, Sh. Arjan Nath Atal. Two of the 13 accused died during the period of trial. Besides the evidence of the lone survivor and the Gujjar servant, two of the accused turned approvers. It was established that the peasants of Kanikoot had no knowledge about the conspiracy,neither they stood as witnesses. They also did not demonstrate any sympathy with the conspirators.

Pt. Janki Nath, the head of the other Pandit family also excused himself from favouring either of the party and deposed that at the time of massacre he was in deep sleep.

Four days after the incident, Pt. Gopi Nath Bhat of village Woodru, Shoolipora accompanied Pt. Mahand Joo, press reporter of Daily Martand, from Srinagar to Kanikoot.

He recalls, "when we reached Kankoot, the village looked desolate. The victims had no one to weep for them".

The judge sentenced the 9 accused to death by hanging in 1933. All the accused belonged to Watakul village. Neither the Muslims nor the Pandits interfered in the trial nor did they politicise the matter and allowed the law to take its own course.

Even the Muslim Conference which led 13th July agitation did not sympathise with the conspirators nor arranged any relief for the families of the accused.

Pt. Zana Bhat's three grandsons - Prem Nath, Radhakr-ishnan and Jia Lal survived as they were in Srinagar at the time of massacre. In 1965, when Pak saboteurs entered Budgam, Radhkrishan, that time the village Chowkidar, was kidnapped by the saboteurs and was tied to a tree with rope. Locals rescued him.

This again endorses the view the Kanikoot peasants had no enimity with Pt. Zana Bhat's family.

Radhakrishnan continued to function as village Chowkidar till 1990. All this points that the Kanikoot was a conspiracy, the exact contours of which remain unidentified.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

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