Partition Voices: Mahmooda Ahmad Ali Shah + Sajida Zameer Ahmad
Partition Voices: Mahmooda Ahmad Ali Shah and Sajida Zameer Ahmad
Sajida Zameer Ahmad (one from left) with other members of the WSDC, 1948 - photo courtesy India Picture
Mahmooda Ahmad Ali Shah (one from right) with family members
In June 2007, I had the privilege of meeting and talking to two of Kashmir's most distinguished educationists, both of whom were active in the women's militia (the Women's Self Defence Corps,) of 1947-8 and in the progressive wing of the main Kashmiri nationalist party, the National Conference. I have posted here the audio of that conversation, almost an hour long, which took place in the garden of the Srinagar home of Dr Girija Dhar, who was the sister-in-law of both women.
Mahmooda Ahmad Ali Shah (1919-2014) was a left-wing activist, a student at Lahore in the early 1940s, who was the leading woman on the communist-aligned wng of the National Conference. She was a key figure in the formation and recruitment of the Women's Self Defence Corps. In later years, she was the principal of the Government Women's College. She was close to G.M. Sadiq, another left-winger within the National Conference who broke with Sheikh Abdullah and was in the 1960s the Prime Minister (and later the Chief Minister) of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Sajida Zameer Ahmad, nee Malik, (1925-2019) was a prominent activist in the Quit Kashmir movement of 1946-7 and in the women's militia. She later took on prominent roles in promoting women's education. Her husband and brother-in-law were active members of the men's militia established in late 1947.
This grab from a Pathe newsreel film of May 1948 shows Sajida Zameer Ahmad in conversation with Jawaharlal Nehru
Mahmooda Ahmad Ali Shah and Sajida Zameer Ahmad (nee Malik)
Interviewed in Srinagar, 18 June 2007 - in the gorgeous flower-filled garden of Mahmooda’s sister-in-law Dr Girija Dhar (a librarian) in a splendid house near Nishat Bagh
M: Mahmooda Ahmad Ali Shah: 87, unmarried, a former head of the government women’s college in Srinagar; communist sympathiser, active in Congress both early and late in life, supporter of NC in 1940s; frail, hard of hearing, but alert and intelligent
S: Sajida Zameer Ahmad nee Malik: 78 [sic], Mahmooda’s younger sister-in-law (married to her brother).
italics means off mike
M: … I’m 87 now. 1919 … I was born, September.
CAN YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU FIRST BECAME INVOLVED IN POLITICS?
M: You see, when I was in college – I had my education in Lahore, in those times there was the Punjab University, one of the colleges, Kinnaird College, it still exists, a very prestigious college in Lahore, I joined there, I did my BA honours from … Lahore, and there I came in contact with … Lahore students union and then I became a member of the Congress party. … My father was in the forest department – a very high class, I would say, Muslim, more like a spiritful man, very honest man, very hard working … Paharis. … My father from Pahar, ??, Tithwal near Muzaffarabad. My mother from Jammu. But they settled here, we never went anywhere, so as I child I wrote Pahar, didn’t speak, but all others speaking Kashmiri very well. Lahore was … a great centre of social and political life and people used to come there and meet them.
AND WHEN DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN POLITICS HERE IN SRINAGAR?
M: Srinagar, you see, when I came, in 1940, … I didn’t become a member of the party so to speak. Here, you see, there was no Congress only National Conference, and we had to join the National Conference. I never became a member but I was interested in politics, in social, educational and economic welfare of the Kashmiris. We would go hold meetings, and this lad ?? –ji, she is my sister-in-law, and she is a real Kashmiri who speaks Kashmiri – from 47, we used to go from street to street, corners we would held meeting, she would be the speaker and also sing, she was in charge of cultural front also, in those times when the raiders came.
… AT THAT TIME, WHO DID YOU LOOK UP TO, WHO WERE YOUR LEADERS?
M: At that time, Sheikh Abdullah was the – our leader was Jawaharlal Nehru, my leader, then of course here in Kashmir was Sheikh Abdullah.
WERE YOU INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNIST MOVEMENT AT ALL –
M: Of course I was, there was no doubt about it. But I never became a member of the party but |I worked – and I am even now.
EVEN NOW YOU ARE A COMMUNIST SYMPATHISER?
M: Absolutely. ... When I was in Lahore, there was all those ???? , one was Mazhar Ali … he was my class fellow, in Government College Lahore I did my MA –
DID YOU KNOW B.P.L. BEDI?
M: They were our friends, they were here they would stay in our house. … B.P.L. Bedi was very intelligent and very politically oriented. But then his wife, Freda Bedi, was very very fine woman. No doubt about it.
THEY WERE COMMUNISTS
M: Of course.
PEOPLE SAY B.P.L. BEDI WROTE THE NAYA KASHMIR PROGRAMME.
M: He was a part of – The Quit Kashmir movement was in 1946. … My role in – you see Begum Abdullah was in the front at that time, and then we were with the people, we were with the people helping them, S… had a great role, Freda Bedi –
S: She was a great friend of ours … and we used to call he Uggi … as a pet name … Hw she was involved with the Kashmir people, and her husband, they used to bring out that newspaper ‘People’s Age’ newspaper and always a page was written by B.P.L. Bedi about Kashmir, every day during the Quit Kashmir movement of ours
WHAT DID WOMEN DO DURING THE QUIT KASHMIR MOVEMENT?
M: Common women, they came out on the streets and fought for their rights, Common women were very brave. There was one common woman Zoon Gujjari, she was a milkwoman herself but she was so powerful, so intelligent –
S: It was a mass movement … I used to go to … I have worked underground also for a long time. Commonw women of Kashmir they came out like anything, and their leader was Nehru and – because that that time Nehru was the only person, at the time the great leader and he wanted to be with us and at Kohala bridge near Muzaffarabad he was stopped by the maharaja and he even courted arrest for us. That thrilled us so much, we came out and became part of India. Because it was so sincere, at that time – I don’t know later on, politics always gets mugged up and so many influences start working and all those people who were against us they were becoming the most loyal people afterwards, the real ones were nowhere. …
TELL ME ABOUT THE WOMEN’S SELF DEFENCE CORPS – HOW WAS THAT SET UP?
M: This was all of a sudden, you see, because when the raiders came, they came to loot Kashmir, they came to rape women, they came to kidnap women and – they burnt villages. All the women joined together, and we took up arms.
WHO SET UP THE MILITIA?
M: It was a spontaneous –
S: … Sheikh Abdullah, but then G.M. Sadiq and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad … and G.M. Sadiq was a communist sympathiser but a great staunch Kashmiri leader with sincere … feelings … . He came out and then his friends, communist friend, from India came to our rescue, for instance they brought … I have forgotten his name now, he made a documentary also. There was help from India also, lot of help from India also – but our local leaders all these people for this women’s defence corps. When everybody came out, they said why not should women be given this thing also. And they brought people to train us … from -
M: It was a spontaneous women – upsurge of women, compelled – who went to the leaders and said, you give us arms, give us training, because we had never been given any arms or anything.
AND WERE THE COMMUNIST WOMEN IN THE LEAD IN THIS
S: They were the lead but … -
M: Yes, yes they were the lead – the whole communist set up, the elite of India, were coming here … They would come here. (c10’00)
DID YOU HOLD A RIFLE?
S: Yes, yes, yes. There is a photograph of hers …
M: Everyone had – we were self defence also and defending the city against, there should be communal harmony, no one should do anything, we used to, since morning till evening -
S: … with small … sticks, … and we were surrounding all these pandit brothers, that nobody should harm them, nobody should become mad now that Pakistan was being an Islamic state and all that –
M: Sheikh Abdullah’s role was very – he said that all this the raiders have come and then they want to pressurise Kashmir to join Pakistan – we, Kashmir will never make an alliance with such people. Brutal, they are killing people, and we are not, Kashmir will never – (11’15)
HOW MANY WOMEN WERE IN THE SELF DEFENCE CORPS, ARE WE TALKING ABOUT 20 OR 30 OR - ?
M: No, seventy
S: Countless women … Srinagar city, women from all ranks, educated lot, uneducated, all were there. … It was a mass movement.
M: About sixty here, but they would work in the streets and all that
S: - go on educating people, telling them what has happened and then … them, maharaja had left us with nothing, he ran away from this place and took all his bag and baggage, they were no ration, there was shortage of ration, and there was no – even currency was not there, all money he had taken away, and then these raiders, they came up to Shalteng … to that place, and it was only the people of Kashmir who stopped them. And there was our great person Sherwani who was killed by them, who they put like these … and put a nail on him, they told him to say Pakistan zindabad, and he said, I am for secular India and for Kashmir – Pandit ji and everbody from India helped us, Pakistan never helped us, … Farooq’s son said you must obey maharaja, and we know how much maharaja tortured us, Kashmiris, our people were so poor in 47, you would see no child, majority of children without shoe, only with very little clothing, with very little to eat, that was the position of Kashmir at 47. Sheikh Abdullah and his leadership and that contingent of you know his great workers, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, G.M. Sadiq, all those people who really – and then his communist – friends from India, friends from India … you have opened a pandora’s box and it is so painful for us (13’50)
S: My name is … Sajida Zameer Ahmad … I am 78. … [Maiden name] Sajida Malik. …
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE WOMEN’S SELF DEFENCE CORPS?
S: I started, you can say, getting involved – that is during Quit Kashmir. I was at that time a student and married in 1944, married in their house – I had done my, only matriculate, I had finished schooling
SO YOUR HUSBAND IS MISS MAHMOODA’S BROTHER?
S: Brother, yes, and he was a militia soldier. And never – he took a vow that we will clear this place of the raiders … he was doing graduation, I had done only matriculate when I married, all my studies which I later carried on was in this house because I got the support of whole family, plus my husband who allowed me to go ahead otherwise at that time, my husband will allow - But at that time, we were all – we were in the student – Pran Nath Jalali, … n that student also working, that was Quit Kashmir, which started in 45 - … May 45 when the real slogan came out of Quit Kashmir and all that, and Sheikha Abdullah was arrested and all that. And Pran Nath Jalali abnd everybody we were all, you know, together, students – my husband was, you know student president also, he was also one year senior to his [?? whose] brother –
AND THESE WERE ALL COMMUNIST ALIGNED STUDENTS, LARGELY?
S: I think so - … there was this thing which we couldn’t understand at that time, but for us we were for our own rights, for our own independence, for our own struggle – that suited us perhaps at that time very nicely – … Now I can see that, but at that time we couldn’t differentiate – the poverty, the misery, the torture was so much that we were wanting some change and everybody –
AND YOU WERE FROM A SRINAGAR FAMILY?
S: Yes from Srinagar.
M: From a freedom fighter’s family. All her family was in the movement. Bakshi Ghulma Mohammed, you know, he was cousin.
S: He was not cousin, he was my cousin’s husband. … Right from the beginning I had this thing in me – revolt.
SO HOW ACTIVE WERE WOMEN IN THE QUIT KASHMIR MOVEMENT?
S: Quit Kashmir – Sheikh Abdullah took them as they came out with him … even his lectures used to attract them like magnet. Women came out like anything – this Zunu Gujjari and later one who became the women’s self defence corps were actually the workers of Quit Kashmir movement. Everybody has been working – we have been working during nights with this Zainab, she was the leader of our defence corps movement during 1947. We used to cyclostyle all those posters and all that, go on the streets and put on the roads, against maharaja, against – And in Lahore there was a cell working – Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, G.M. Sadiq, and plus their friends in Lahore who used to help, and literature used to come – and Freda Bedi was also here at that time during the – B.P.L. Bedi was in Lahore, his wife used to carry this, she was part of the, what do you call the, literary wing, or you may say the - … all the information which used to come and all the writing which used to come, things, all that, whatever they used , instruct us do this do that, and Freda Bedi was – I used to take her on a tonga to a place in Srinagar, Kumangapura [ph] in a burqa, because so that nobody recognises her – she was a Britisher, tall woman from Oxford, such a nice person and all that working for the people of Kashmir …
AND THIS LITERATURE AND THE POSTERS, WERE THEY IN URDU OR KASHMIRI?
S: Urdu – mostly Urdu, only Urdu
AND YOU WENT UNDERGROUND –
S: Yes, yes –
FOR QUIT KASHMIR?
S: For Quit Kashmir. And we used to put these posters around, and then during the day I used to carry this Mrs Bedi to places where she used to meet the people and instruct because everything was banned, and G.M. Sadiq and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed had to go to Lahore. I took Sadiq sahib from herre during the night [slight laugh] facing the maharaja’s army and [laughs] what I will tell you – it is now in books also, some books have also put it, written about it, you know – that I reached Kohala and when he was off this maharaja’s territory and I came back no one knew who was with him and I disguised myself as a parsee girl and took him in the car and he was off – because he was, the order was to arrest him and all that, army was – so I smuggled him from Srinagar to Kohala
IT MUST HAVE BEEN VERY EXCITING –
S: And I was only 17 or 18 years old at that time but full of vigour and strength and all that, and that determination to free Kashmir from all this misery, that was always there.
DO YOU REEMEMBER SHEIKH ABDULLAH BEING RELEASED FROMJAIL IN SEPTEMBER –
S: Yes, everything – everything we remember – we were part of those crowds, to congratulate him, to greet him, to meet him, for us he was our leader.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLEVD IN THE SELF DEFENCE CORPS?
S: Because Kashmir when we worked and when these raiders came and we suddenly found ourselves you know, what has happened to us, why not to fight first we started with, we just got together, then we made a programme and we were going street to street educating people, telling them raiders are come, we have to fight them, we – first started with small sticks, then protecting these pandit brothers of the city so that nobody kills them, nobody touches them, nobody harms them. And it was such a difficult job – there were no light and that, you know, Mahura … power house was destroyed by the raiders. There was no light, no food, nothing – we had no salt for sic months, and later on it started coming from India … we have taken food without slat for four, five months ourselves. And there were less of rations because maharaja left us you know (22’00), on the road.
AND HOW DID YOU PERSONALLY GET INVOLVED ON THE SELF DEFENCE CORPS, WAS THERE A SYSTEM OF ENROLLING OR –
S: No, there was no such enrolling – we just, when they said that we must – you know, Sheikh Abdullah gave a slogan that I need Abdullah guards. Because when there was no army and nothing they said they wanted to organise young people also to do something for the people at that time because there was no police, no army, no, no government – everything, there was nothing. So there was, the slogan was we need Abdullah guards and all women became Abdullah guards, all men became Abdullah guards, and we started that way – that way how it came up. And then this Krishna Misri who you have met, her brother was also one of us and our men – my husband, that Pushkar Zardoo [[ie Krishan Misri’s brother]], my brother-in-law, who organised, who was the colonel of us, colonel of the JK miliria –
WHO WAS THAT?
S: His name was Sayeed Ahmed Shah [ph] – Sham ji – he used to be, my mother-in-law was so secular, she has given him also a Hindu name, he was know to the last as Sham-ji – he was there, my husband was there, and this Pushkar, and there was another person, this was, this Parn Jalali and all one. But at that time I remember we had a small truck, when Indian army came, we had shown some places also – you know, the way we worked and there was an ordinary truck which was left, I don’t know not a very good – this vehicle also. And they poor things took that and they guided them and Pushkar neve returned – he was killed by the raiders because he never came back
M: Girija’s husband, my brother Dr Nasir, he was in Lahore doing his MBBS. But before that he was a student leader here and very much – when he was in Pakistan he was in prison and he was in the Lahore fort … [ref to Nehru and Mridula Sarabhai] and he was repatriated to Kashmir
S: in 1951, he was in Lahore jail, because he was a student of King George Medical College in Lahore, and Pakistan government arrested him and told him your whole family is against us and up with arms against us, your family, and he was arrested
WHEN YOU WERE IN THE WOMEN’S SELF DEFENCE CORPS, DID YOU HOLD A RIFLE?
S: Yes. … They gave me a test also in Badami Bagh that how are you and I stood – I did very well, you know, and General Cariappa was there and he thought perhaps … she has got good luck … but I did second time … And then there was one person, I don’t know, he belonged to that movement, Indian freedom movement also, Colonel Sher Jung – he had given us the training of this gun and pistol and grenade, at that time these were the three things
YOU WERE TRAINED IN GRENADE?
S: Grenade. How to use the grenade, range of 50 metres at that time – we were told everything about grenade, and about pistol, because he was put, and he used to write his name in pistol – so accurate in that, and he taught us. And then even people from Indian army, even Brigadier Usman … he laid his life in Jehangir [??] for us, he was the leader of Indian army, he used to come also occasionally during weekends, you know, to teach us, to be with us, because he was a true Gandhian also .
M: - and that play that you did
S: Then we wanted to educate the army people, our own people, what has happened and what we are struggling for so we started this small group of people together allo of us, that we start that cultural front where we used to play dramas, you know, telling them what has happened and there was one beautiful drama written about this raid, Kashmir Ye Hai, and I played the heroine’s role in that. Even Pandit-ji watched that – it was very powerful, an I used to tell the raiders the Kashmir you wanted is not there, Kashmir is this and I used to say to that you know that Afghan, you know, who had come from Peshawar
AND WHO WROTE IT?
S: There was some professor come from Jamma, Mahmoud Hashmi [ph] – later on, what I will tell you how he suffered also poor man, but he wrote this drama. And in that drama, the first woman who worked was the wife of – I think [s]he married that communist leader, Rajban, Usha – Usha Kashyap. Rajbans was the leader of the militia also – you know you said that communist influence – he was a communist leader, he had written, he had made a very beautiful documentary … Rajbans was the leader of the militia at that time, in charge of the militia at that time, because he was communist background
S: No, no, no … Rajbans had made a beautiful documentary of that 47 thing, the self defence corps, because I said that documentary once when he showed to Mrs Gandhi and it was so powerful – I don’t know what happened to that documentary … His wife is still alive … Usha Kashyap. Because he was the first person who worked in this drama Kashmir Ye Hai, and then somehow she got involved, this man and wanted to marry him and he took her to Bombay … [laughs] … Rajbans and Usha Kashyap … Rajbans Krishan … he is known as Rajbans, and then Usha Kashyap the girl he married, she was not Kashmiri but she was resident of Kashmir for a long time, her family and all that, … they were traders … But she contributed a lot, she first worked in this drama as a heroine, but when they came and Pandit-ji had to come … and thee journalists and all that wanted to come … at that time she had let the place and went away to Bombay … and there was nobody who will do the role, so I came forward and I tried to do it very nicely and it was appreciated also. Then I … worked for one or two years for this front.
AND DO YOU REMEMBER THE SONGS YOU USED TO SING?
S: Songs were many – (30’30) … There were songs at that time, in our Kashmiri songs we used to say that [in Urdu or Kashmiri], there was one like that that was very famous, that was our Quit Kashmir song.
CAN YOU REMEMBER IT?
S: I don’t remember whole of it … and there was another when Sheikh Abdullah became, afterwards when this cultural front Abdullah took as Prime Minister of Kashmir … and when we unfurled this flag of … in Kashmir we has this hal ka jhana
NATIONAL CONFERENCE FLAG
S: National Conference flag. … And we had this very active Kashmiri, Sumitra … and her sister, we three, we unfurled that flag when Sheikh Abdullah took oath as Prime Minister and we, we said [in Urdu or Kashmir] – you know it was a song which we at that time … we unfolded that flag and we sang that song (32’20)
IN THE SELF DEFENCE CORPS, DID ANY OF THE WOMEN EVER NEED TO FIRE THEIR WEAPONS?
S: Yes, we used to receive this training, Chandmari we used to call it you know, and do it, fire it – where the army used to do it, we used to go there and do it. Another work the self defence corps at that time did, we used to go to hospitals and meet the, the soldier who came wounded, Indian soldiers, because the army was not our own army … And we used to go and see them and take gifts and all that and give moral support. We used to do that. And we used to go through the streets to distribute food, salt, all these things, and we used to also educate them that be careful about all these other influences that were around, you know, that this against women, they may not harm our secular tradition which was so deep rooted at that time, it was so beautiful at that time. And we wanted to maintain that, we never wanted to tarnish that. And for that everybody worked.
IN THE SELF DEFENCE CORPS DID ANY OF THE WOMEN FIGHT, DID THEY EVER GO TO THE FRONT?
S: No no not to the front, not to the front, because it was not for the front that time – and there were, two, three things involved. Number one, all the Indian army people who had come at that time came also from those places were their brothers were killed, where their sisters were killed, they were already, people who were already hurt because this Hindu-Muslim thin was on in the whole of India, north India was especially bad, Punaj and those places, they had come from those places – with wounded hearts. We were slightly bit, we were just thinking that they will not think Kashmiris are that, you know. So that was added responsibility, ours – to make them feel that life is not that … We wanted to pass on that message that Kashmir is really secular place, and we used to go and with these dramas and other things, songs, and we used to be with them, we used to go forefront, not very near, but we used to go with gifts and that and … in that two brothers, sardar brothers, they did marvellous work, Colonel Harbakhsh, later on he became the general, and what he used to do, the Indian army was also very great … defence corps helped to build that relationship up and the people that they are one … Because there was no food, I remember that General Harbakhsh he used to, they used to keep fast for two days, army, and they used to collect that ration, and then we’ll go with them and distribute to the villagers in which this fighting range was, it was like that. Very beautiful relationship between Indian army and the people of Kashmir.
WHEN THE RAIDERS WERE APPROACHING SRINAGAR, DID YOU FEEL SCARED?
S: No, I was never scared … my husband was the Abdullah guard, he was with the Indian army to show them the places, my brother-in-law was Abdullah guard at that time militia soldiers, … there was no man in the house … my mother-in-law, she, me and that other brother-in-law’s wife and nobody else … two or three black sheeps, they could us, oh, they will kill you, you will be no more – there were not many, but one or two there used to be, these Pakistani people. But we were not scared at all. … And then many Hindu ladies … who came to our house … Being a Muslim house they wanted to stay with us, we said, OK you come, first we will get killed and then you will be killed, but you come and be here with us. There was no man in the house, there was nothing much in the house, but we had that love and affection for them.
M: Number of Kashmiri pandits came to the house, three or four bedrooms, but they were a hundred
S: And there was one family up from Bengal, … Biswas, they were Kashmiris because their father was some way back during maharaja’s time an officer in the electricity department, but they were now part of Kashmir, they were state subjects also, they came to our house, and small babies and that his family was there, pandit families they stayed with us for a long – because they were scared that raiders might come up to Srinagar and all that, like that
DID YOU EVER SEE ANY OF THE TRIBESMEN?
S: No I never seen – never liked them, never wanted to see them, but I knew where they were …
M: No I didn’t. We were against the kabailis, they never came here. Never came to see this house.
S: We have never seen kabailis, but my husband and my brother-in-law, they may have seen because they used to be at the front … We haven’t seen like people in Baramulla saw the, because they came to their houses. … They were stopped at Shalteng.
THERE MUST HAVE BEEN SOME PEOPLE IN SRINAGAR WHO SUPPORTED THE RAIDERS
S: Very few, very few – nowadays this Umar Farooq’s family perhaps was the only family at that time who were with the maharaja also at that time. That element was there, but very very small. They were not powerful at all … They had no common base, except they had a religious …
IT SEEMS THAT WOMEN HAD MORE OF A ROLE IN 47 IN KASHMIR THAN THEY HAD AFTERWARDS – THAT THIS WAS A BRIEF OPPORTUNITY FOR WOMEN
M: You must have seen, Kashmiri woman is very brave, and in all the trouble she can fight and she knows how to keep her head up. (40’15). And she gets involved – saving the country and all that. Because the raiders – they raped the women, the kidnapped the women, they took away young girls, children. They were very very brave, and solidly won. They wanted to give us training, give us the arms, but then the army you see never allowed them to go to the front. At that time also, there was partition in army. It was not so well organised as now.
DO YOU THINK WOMEN SHOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO KEEP MORE OF A ROLE IN POLITICS AND PUBLIC LIFE? M: Yes they must. They must be proper equal. They must be seen – even now they are much backward. Though of course, with all the programme of New Kashmir and that, women are coming forward, but very few. They have to be according to the population, proportion – and education has to be compulsory, primary education must be there. That there must be empowerment of women. Unless women are empowered we may not see women anywhere. So you can’t do – We have to – much is to be done yet.
ARE YOU PROUD LOOKING BACK AT WOMEN DID IN 46 AND 47?
M: Of course I’m really very proud and I am even very proud now, because so many of their sons, innocent sons, have died, but still they know how to maintain themselves and they put up with that. After all whatever the stories around, - things are different –
BUT BEFORE 46 WHEN YOU WERE A COMMUNIST SYMPATHISER, HOW DID YOU MEET, WHAT SORT OF ORGANISATION DID THE COMMUNISTS HAVE HERE? (42’10)
M: Communists didn’t have any organisation. It was only sympathisers. They didn’t have.
BUT WHAT DID THE SYMPATHISERS DO? DID THEY MEET –
M: Yes of course. I would have a sort of party school – I was also teaching them but according to the agenda of National Conference because that was also very progressive, ‘Land to the Tiller’ and education and all that – No direct, it was sympathisers, because people were poor and they sympathised with the – Kashmiri people by and large are very secular. Now they are becoming fundamentalist, they are being made fundamentalist – by wrong policies. Pakistan and India also has not been kind to the Kashmiris.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WOULD ATTEND A SCHOOL LIKE THE ONE THAT YOU ORGANISED? .. M: Not many. We never wanted a big meeting. It was only seven, eight active workers whom w e had to educate. I was in charge of (? our groups) in Baramulla, in Srinagar – there were so many groups, and later on they became ministers and all that.
SO WHO WERE THE COMMUNIST SYMPATHISERS THEN, WHO WERE THE PEOPLE YOU WERE EDUCATING?
M: (? Ghiazuddin), Some are dead.
S: Pran Nath Jalali.
M: Pran Nath Jalali? Sorry?
AND BAKSHI GHULAM MOHAMMAD WAS INVOLVED FOR A WHILE?
M: No. Bakshi was sort of sympathetic. But he was not involved because we knew his ideology was different. But then he also had a sort of comm. – for the poor people he had a good – he was also – became so that it should not be shown as entirely a communistic thing (??)
AND G.M. SADIQ, HE WAS A COMMUNIST?
M: He was a very much, very much in it. In fact he was a guide, friend, he would tell us what to do.
WAS HE IN THE PARTY, IN THE COMMUNIST PARTY?
M: He was not because here it was the communist party that you don’t become the members, become the members of National Conference. That was the orders of the party.
S: Because communist people helped them, National Conference, a lot in framing what you say the ‘New Kashmir’ and all that and they openly came out to help even B.P.L. Bedi group and then this Rajbans he was also then, there were others at the time – They were all sympathisers … Sheila Bhatia
M:. Sheila Bhatia’s in Delhi I don’t know whether you have met because she was the person
S: She was one of the organisers of the National Cultural Front also. She was later on the director of the National Drama Society of India also … She was a very talented woman … And she was a great help, the great organiser of the National Cultural Front here also, Sheila Bhatia. She worked very hard. People like that – they were all there in the background, communist background. The thinking was communist
M: At the time of the raid, you see, the whole of India – progressive elements – came here. But later on when the government was formed, they had to go away. That is it .
WHO FORCED THEM TO GO. DID SHEIKH ABDULLAH TELL THEM TO GO?
S: But I think they withdraw themselves when they saw something has been put in, and people have got something – their own government – and others. Because National Conference people were very much friendly with them and all that. Sheikh Abdullah had great regard for Bedi, Mrs Bedi – Mrs Bedi taught even at the college when the girls’ college was started, girls college in Srinagar. And Mrs Bedi taught English for at least one and a half years.
AND YOU SAY THAT SHE HAD A NICKNAME.
S: We used to call her uggi, uggi – because that must be what her son was saying to her. Kabir Bedi. He was six months old at that time. And she used to leave him sometimes with me and do the political work outside – the city. And I used to look after the baby. That to was my duty for three, four hours – I used to do babysitting of Kabir Bedi.
AND WHY UGGI, WHERE DID THAT NAME COME FROM?
S: I don’t know where from it came – but her children used to call her and she was a great friend, and she was really part of us, so we used to call her uggi. And when she became a (? bhikhu) - one day I met her on the railway station, she was sleeping, and immediately then I saw her after a long, long time, I just suddenly – this came suddenly out of my mouth, uggi, and she immediately got up and – I saw bikshu lying, later on she had become a Buddhist. She was a great woman.
DID SHE SPEAK ANY OF THE LOCAL LANGUAGES?
S: No, not the local language. She used to understand little bit of Urdu titbits but – English.
AND SHE WAS ENGLISH WAS SHE?
S: Yes, she was English. And she had done her journalism from Oxford University – she was a great person, very fine woman. And later on Pandit ji gave her this job when the Dalai Lama came from Tibet and refugee children came, then she worked with Tibetan refugees a lot. (48’30) And that – she was perhaps convinced Buddhism was the only thing perhaps to achieve –
AND WHAT WAS BABA BEDI LIKE?
S: Baba Bedi was – he was a communist, but he was not – I don’t think he was so much dedicated in other things. Not dedicated in other sense. I’m not talking about the politics. But he was a very good man, very nice person, and later on perhaps – he changed a lot in the later, maybe things forced him, or maybe things for which he fought, later on it changed, and later on he became somebody different.
ONE NAME THAT I’VE HEARD MENTION QUITE A BIT IS THAT OF N.N. RAINA
M: Ah, N.N. Raina. He was a communist in London also – for a long time – he came back here
S: Then he taught, he was teacher here
M: He was the number one communist
M: Kashmiri pandit.
S: A pure communist.
M: He was in London for a long time – his son very very intelligent, I don’t know where he is now.
A LOT OF THE COMMUNISTS, WERE THEY PANDITS – WERE THERE MORE PANDITS
M: No, no. But they were intelligent people. They were for instance, Mirsi – Misri’s brother, not this Misri
S: Misri’s brother-in-law
M: He’s dead now.
S: Moti Lal Misri. And even this Pran Jalali – they were also some sympathizers – they were the proper members … We used to have other times students’ circle, you know, small circle. I was also one member. Very few people. But we were all – we were not that way, as far as communist doctrine was concerned, but I think the certain parts that suited us at that time – how to help the poor a lot, and that was the main attraction of that movement to us.
WHEN DID THE – THE WOMEN’S SELF DEFENCE CORPS, WHEN DID IT DISBAND? HOW LONG WAS IT IN EXISTENCE FOR?
M: Government did not – government of India didn’t want
S: Something, some politics came in after 49, 50. In 49 it started disbanding. Two years it was quite OK. And later on, maybe what other influences came in and it was disbanded.
M: And one person who has done a lot of work is Zainab Begum. That sister of Sadiq sahib, Ghulam Mohammad sahib. She was a very dedicated worker and all the time she was –
S: She was the leader of the women’s self defence corps
THAT IS HER? [SHOWING PHOTO] (51’45)
S: … I have seen her when Mahatma Gandhi died. There was a very big rally in Kashmir because everybody – this Rajbans has taken a film of that particular, that gathering. And there you see her really teaching the message of Gandhi to the people of Kashmir. … She was very forceful with the people.
M: Begum Abdullah also did some work for her husband, but she was not so –
S: Begum Abdullah was not so much interested in this – she agreed but she was not the proper part of this movement, self defence corps, as Zainab was. Begum Abdullah would come and be with us, but she was the person who –
WAS BEGUM, ZAINAB A COMMUNIST AS WELL
S: No sympathizer (Laughs) – because of the brother, but she was influenced, no doubt. [ENDS - NOT CHECKED]