Kashmiri Shawl weavers pioneered the labour movement

The Kashmiri shawl industry workers agitated against the cruel taxation system and employment conditions at least 21 years before the protests of the Haymarket labour movement. They were the pioneers of industry-wise workers’ rights movements in the world.

At least 28 shawl weavers who were put to death by the forces of the ruling Maharaja Ranbir Singh on 29 April 1865 at Zaldagar area of old Srinagar city. Those unarmed shawl weavers were protesting against the cruel taxation of the exploitative working conditions.

Every year, people in Kashmir, particularly the businesses related to Pashmina businesses, commemorate the death anniversary of those innocent weavers. They observe April 29 instead of May 1 as the Labour Day. It was the day when hard working shawl weavers marched through the streets of Srinagar’s old city against the cruel tax policies imposed on them by the Dogra regime. The shawl weavers of Srinagar were compelled by the circumstances of turbulent working conditions, unfair wages, excessive taxation and a ban on weavers who wanted to leave Kashmir valley.

The world labour movement was pioneered by protestors of the Haymarket Riot (also known as the “Haymarket Incident” and “Haymarket Affair”) that occurred on May 4, 1886. The Haymarket protester gathered to near Chicago’s Haymarket Square and turned into a riot after someone threw a bomb at police. At least eight people died as a result of the violence that day.

Almost 21-years before the Haymarket incident, Kashmiri shawl industry workers on April 29, 1865, protesting against high taxes. At least 28 workers lost their lives and hundreds were injured.

The origin of shawls in the world can be traced back more than 700 years. However , the shawl industry introduced by Zain-Ul-Ahadin in mid 14th century who backed the art of weaving in the Kashmir valley.

By the 16th Century the Kashmir shawl industry was an old and well-established one. King Akbar encouraged and promoted the manufacture of shawls in Kashmir. He also presented a gift of Kashmir jamawar shawl to the Queen of England. Fabrics Bernier description of shawls in the late 17th Century, leaves us in no doubt that he is referring to the same pashmina shawls that became famous as Kashmir (Cashmere) Shawls. It became a highly fashionable and stylish garment when Empress Josephine famously received Kashmir shawls as gifts from Napoleon.

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