By M Ahmad
THE freedom attained on 15th August 1947 was a result of a long struggle which involved contributions and sacrifices of men and women of all classes and communities of India. Muslims form an integral part of this history. That muslims played an equal and important role in the freedom of India cannot be overstated.
It was muslims who spearheaded the very first attempts to fight back British imperialists. The list of people is inexhaustive. Whether it was Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah in the Battle of Plassey or Tipu Sultan in the Seringapatam battle in South India in 1799; Muslims were not soft by any means towards Britishers. Infact, in what is known as the first war of Independence, 70% Hindu revolutionaries together with Muslims chose a Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar as India’s Ruler.
Bakht Khan from Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh, was a major part of the rebellion of 1857. An experienced army-man, Bakht Khan was serving as the Subedar in the Army of East India Company and took command of the rebel forces. His strong and powerful rebellion activities prompted the British rulers to launch a manhunt against him, following which, he was shot dead by Britishers.
There are still many muslim heroes, some at the center and some pushed to the margins. Muhammad Ashfaq Ullah Khan of Shahjehanpur who conspired and looted the British treasury at Kakori (Lucknow) to cripple the administration is one. When asked for his last will, before execution,he said: “No desire is left except one that someone may put a little soil of my motherland in my winding sheet.”
Similarly, Barkatullah and Syed Rehmat Shah of Ghadar Party sacrificed their lives for the independence of their country. Umar Subhani, an industrialist and a millionaire of Bombay is popularly known for presenting a blank cheque to Gandhiji for ‘Tilak Swarajya Fund and INC. His boundless donations crippled him but he bore the challenge for his country.
Who doesn’t know Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, “frontier gandhi”, who was one of the major reasons behind the Britishers leaving India. Ghaffar Khan met Gandhi and entered politics in 1919 during agitation over the Rowlatt Acts, which allowed the internment of political dissidents without trial. In the following year he joined the Khilafat movement.
Then there was another such stalwart leader and freedom fighter of India, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. His service to the nation didn’t just stop after India became independent, he continued serving India till his last breath.
Inspired by Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, Abbas Ali joined the Indian freedom movement in his teenage after completing his education. He joined the Indian National Army (INA) or the ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ and was subsequently court-martialled and sentenced to death.
When thousands of freedom fighters were getting jailed everyday, yet another Indian muslim, Asaf Ali stepped up and fought their legal battles to bail them out. He was even jailed alongside Jawaharlal Nehru. He participated in the ‘Quit India Movement’ and did everything he could to help India achieve independence. On 1 April 1953, Asaf Ali died in Bern (Switzerland) while serving as India’s representative. A postal stamp was issued in his honour in 1989.
Important historical events and etched echoes from India’s freedom struggle have a marked muslim presence, shoulder to shoulder with other Indians. It was Dr. Saifuddin Kichloo, hailed as the ‘Hero of Jallianwala Bagh’ who conducted a public meeting at the historical Jallianwala Bagh on 30 March, 1919, protesting the Rowlatt Act during the Indian National Movement. It was Yusuf Meher Ali, a socialist leader, founder of the National Militia, Bombay Youth League and the Congress Socialist Party who said, "Simon Go Back" was part of the Quit India Movement along with Mahatma Gandhi for India's last nationwide campaign for independence from the British Empire.
Cardinal movements like the Non-cooperation Movement and the Swadeshi Movement saw overwhelming Muslim participation. Janab Sabusiddiq who was the sugar-king of that time gave up his business as a form of boycott. The Khoja and Memon communities owned the biggest business houses of that time and they parted with their treasured industries to support the boycott.
Muslim freedom fighters were active in the field of journalism as well. Maulana Azad used his pen against the British despite being prevented by the colonial powers a number of times. In fact, the first journalist to be martyred publically in the cause of India’s Freedom Struggle was also a Muslim - Maulana Baqar/Moulvi Muhammad Baqir. He was executed following the revolt of 1857.
Additionally, the history of the Indian national movement would be incomplete without mentioning the contribution of Muslim women. Asghari Begum (mother of Qazi Abdur Rahim, the revolutionary of Thana Bhawan, Muzaffarnagar) fought against the British and was burnt alive when defeated. It was estimated that about 225 Muslim women gave their lives in the revolt. Begum Hazrat Mahal, revolutionary Queen of Awadh, was the unsung heroine of the first war of Independence, who shot the British ruler, Sir Henry Lawrence and defeated the British army in a decisive Battle at Chinhat on 30thJune, 1857. Bi-Amma out of the hundreds of women who fought the battle of freedom along with their men folk against the British Raj. Abadi Begum (mother of Maulana Muhammad Ali), Amjadi Begum (wife of Maulana Muhammad Ali), Amina Tyabji (wife of Abbas Tyabji), Begum Sakina Luqmani (wife of Dr Luqmani and daughter of Badruddin Tyabji), Nishat-un-Nisa (Begum Hasrat Mohani), Saadat Bano Kitchlew (wife of Dr Saifuddin Kichlew), Zulekha Begum (wife of Maulana Azad), Mehr Taj (daughter of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan), Zubaida Begum Daoodi (wife of Shafi Daoodi, the reputed nationalist of Bihar) and many others. Aruna Asaf Ali popularly known as the 'Grand Old Lady' of the Independence Movement. She is known for hoisting the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Mumbai during the Quit India Movement. In 1932, she had gone on a hunger strike in Tihar Jail against the mistreatment of the political prisoners, which led to an improvement in their living. There are many many more of such brave souls who fought for their nation all along with the people of other religions of the Country.
“Quit India”, "Simon Go Back", "Inquilab Zindabad","Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna, Ab Hamare Dil Mein Hai", "Saare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara", the famous patriotic slogans commonly used during the Indian freedom struggle were coined by Muslim freedom fighters.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is the Principal (I/C) Abhedananda Home-Higher Secondary Institution for Specially-abled Children, Solina, Rambagh, Srinagar and can be reached at [email protected]
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