Heroes of Kashmir: The Chapris

Zahir-Ud-DinHeroes of Kashmir Comments

Abdul Ghaffar Chapri was born in Srinagar in 1888. He received his preliminary education at the Biscoe School but could not continue his studies for various reasons. He was fond of trekking, and would spend most of his time in the mountains.

Growing up, he realized his duties towards his people and participated in the Silk Factory agitation of 1924. Later, he joined the Muslim Conference, and strongly resented its subsequent conversion into the National Conference. He helped Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi in reviving the Muslim Conference in the early 40s.

When Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited the Valley in 1944, Abdul Ghaffar Chapri supervised the construction of the stage for the Quaid-e-Azam. It was he who facilitated Jinnah’s meeting with Peer Jamat Ali, a meeting that took place in a Srinagar houseboat. When Jinnah entered the cabin smoking a cigarette, someone in the Peer’s halqa objected. But the mystic silenced him. “Don’t mind his smoking,” he said. “You do not know what he is doing.”

Ghaffar would also travel to Lahore twice a year to meet Allama Iqbal, whom he greatly admired, and often quoted.

Once, when the police were hunting for Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah who had to attend an important Muslim Conference function at the Khanaqah-e-Mu’alla, it was Abdul Ghaffar who saved the day.

He took the Sheikh along, even carrying him on his back some of the distance, and secreted him in a houseboat for the night before taking him to the venue the next morning.

Meanwhile, his son, Muhammad Iqbal, too had joined the Muslim Conference, and the father-and-son duo rendered yeoman’s service to the organization. One winter in the 1940s, when the boat housing the office of the Muslim Conference capsized in the Jhelum near Zaina Kadal, both of them jumped into the icy river and retrieved precious documents and records.

All important meetings of the Muslim Conference were held in their house. When Pakistan finally came into being, they hoisted Pakistani flags on all government buildings in the city.

This riled National Conference workers who raided their home, looting money, cooking vessels and other house-hold goods. Iqbal was bound with rope and dragged on the road.

According to Muhammad Yusuf, Iqbal’s younger brother, some weapons were also found in their house.

The raid left the Chapris bereft.

Abdul Ghaffar passed away on September 10, 1978 and was buried at the Malkhah, the city’s main cemetery. In a letter to Iqbal, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah condoled the passing away of his father, and called him a great freedom fighter.

His son, Muhammad Iqbal Chapri was also an active Muslim Conference worker and like his father loved trekking and hiking.

As Indian troops landed in Kashmir after the creation of Pakistan, he and other members of his party were disheartened, but continued their struggle against heavy odds.

When the Quaid-e-Azam passed away, they did not want the day to go unnoticed in Srinagar. Muhammad Yusuf Khan who then lived in Kani Kadal (and later shifted to Balgarden) contacted Iqbal through a messenger and asked him to head for the Mirwaiz Manzil.

On arriving there himself, Khan found the diwan khana (state room, which was also used by activists to hold meetings) deserted. He told Iqbal, who got there shortly afterwards, to hire a tonga (horse-drawn carriage) and announce the passing away of the Quaid, and that his ghaibana namaz-e-jenaza (funeral prayers in absentia) would be held at the Jamia Masjid.

As some more activists turned up, another tonga was hired, draped in black, and taken round another part of the city, with Khan and his friend on board. It made for Nawa Kadal first, and then took the turn towards Zaina Kadal, while Iqbal had been told to start from Gagribal (close to what is now central Srinagar) and come down to the Jamia Masjid.

The news of the Quaid’s passing away sent a wave of grief and shock through the city. Khan saw distraught women come into the streets, tearing their hair and beating their foreheads.

But soon the police swung into action. Iqbal was beaten up ruthlessly and taken into custody along with the hundreds of people following his tonga.

They were herded into the Zaina Kadal police station, where Khan had already been brought. Somehow, the latter persuaded the thaneydaar to allow him to see Iqbal.

When a policeman brought him in, Khan broke down at his friend’s condition.

But Iqbal merely smiled.

“They beat me to pulp,” he said. “But I felt no pain.”

Though Khan was set free later that day, Iqbal and others were sent to jail.

(Muhammad Iqbal Chapri passed away on February 27, 1995)

About the Author
Zahir-Ud-Din

Zahir-Ud-Din

Zahir-Ud-Din is a founding member of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. He's also a senior journalist and an author of numerous publications.