Uploaded on June 06, 2014
THE ROLE OF MUSLIMS IN INDIAN FREEDOM STRUGGLE 1857-1947
(The following is the Preface of the 3-volume book with the above title. The Preface is written by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam, Chairman of IOS)
The contribution of Muslims to the freedom struggle is second to none. As a matter of fact, in some respects and at various places, it was brightest and highest but a particular school of historians in India is leaving no stone unturned to minimize their role in the freedom struggle. Concerted attempts are being made to identify the entire community with Muslim League of pre-partition days and to brand them as communalist and separatists. The positive role of Muslims in all major events in all regions of India where they were in majority or in minority is either being ignored or diluted.
Muslims had played a significant role in the formation and establishment of various national forums and parties in undivided India for the freedom of the country like Indian National Congress, peasants’ and workers’ unions and cultural and literary groups. They also founded their own organizations for the same purpose. Important among them with an all-India base was Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind, founded in 1919. Others being Majlis-i-Ahrar-i-Islam (1929), Anjuman-i-Watan-i-Baluchistan (1932), All India Momin Conference (1925), Praja Karshak-Bengal (1934), Khudai Khidmatgar, NWFP (l924), Muslim Majlis (1940) and Jamiat-uI-Ansar (1909). Many others like Muslim Independent Party (Bihar), National Conference (Kashmir), Shia Political Conference, and Anjuman-i-Khuddam-i-Ka’ba also emerged in the early decades of the 20th century.
Indian struggle for freedom was a part of the fight against the world colonialism. Its operation therefore was all over the world. Several Indians had settled abroad or migrated to other countries for the cause of freedom. In this endeavour for freedom Muslims were equal partners. Lala Hardyal founded a Ghadar Party which led a violent campaign against British colonialism in USA and other countries in the West and Asia. Dr. Barkatullah Bhopali, a scholar and journalist first published an anti-British paper in Japan and later migrated to USA and joined Lala Hardyal. He published an anti-British paper on 1.11.1913. The Ghadar Party organized anti-colonial secret organizations in USA, Canada, Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Egypt, Germany, Turkey and Afghanistan with the support of the states of Germany and Turkey. Muslim participation in these organizations was significant. Among journalists besides Barkatullah Bhopali, there was a Punjabi Muslim, Abu Saeed who edited the Urdu section of a paper, Jahan-i-Islam from Constantinople. This anti-British paper, Jahan-i-lslam, which started its publication in 1914 was published in English, Arabic, Turkish and Urdu. An organization, Anjuman-i-Inqilab-i-Hind was founded in 1905 at Berlin by Muslims to attract foreign support to India’s struggle for freedom. Though academic in the beginning it, like many other organizations led by Indians, became a secret quasi-military set-up to supply arms and money to Indian militants in 1915 as a part of German offensive against the Allied forces. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were equally active in all such secret organizations. Important Muslim members of Anjuman-i-lnqilab-i-Hind were Syed Mujtaba Husain, Ali Ahmad Siddiqi, Hakim Fahm Ali and Hasan Khan.
Participation of Indians in anti-colonial activities in foreign countries was not less hazardous than those of Indians at home, particularly for those who were in the defence services posted abroad. Thousands of them, many of them Muslims, were hanged or killed by firing squads during the First and Second World Wars. In the First World War the Indian soldiers were inspired by Ghadar Party and in the Second World War by Indian National Army led by Subhash Chandra Bose. Contribution of Muslim soldiers against the British forces outside India was singular. For example, the Indian officers and men in the 5th Light Infantry, Singapore, under the guidance of the Ghadar Party, revolted in 1915. All of them were Muslims. As many as 43 of the Muslim rebels were killed by firing squad and 62 were imprisoned for life. The number of Muslims in other battalions and brigades who suffered punishment for revolts was substantial. As a matter of fact, national opposition to the British, violent or non-violent, which began in Meerut in 1857, continued uninterrupted till Royal Navy revolt in 1946, and in each revolt or protest the Muslim participation was outstanding.
Muslims never reconciled to the British rule in India. They had opposed them before the first War of Independence, 1857-58. Led by ulema, they carried on the opposition in various ways, including militancy. The freedom loving, life-sacrificing Muslim patriots were both civilians and sepoys. They took up arms against the British and many of them died in encounters or suffered death as punishment. The armed resistance, which continued till 1947, is only one side of the story of Muslim sacrifices in the freedom movement. They were also motivated by Indian National Congress, which was founded in 1885. They were actively engaged in the activities of the Congress. The ulema, led by Maulana Qasim Nanautavi of Deoband, supported the Congress. Muslim leaders like Badruddin Tayyabji, Rahmatullah Mohammad Sayani, Nuruddin Wakil, Maulana Abu Syed, Maulavi Mansoor Ali Khan, Hamid Ali Khan, Mir Musharraf Husain and Syed Abdul Aziz had joined the Congress in the very beginning. As early as 1888, Hindus numbering 965 attended the annual session of the Congress whereas the number of Muslims was also quite large, 221. The Muslims attended the Congress sessions in spite of the opposition of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. He could not stop delegates from attending the Congress sessions even from Aligarh where he had settled. Sir Syed’s opposition to the Congress cannot be termed as Muslim opposition to this organization.
The ulema of Deoband and Farangi Mahl and other leaders like Shaukat Ali, Mohammad Ali and Abul Kalam Azad stood as one block against the British rule and joined other Indians in the struggle for freedom, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, with the help of Raja Mahendra Pratap, set up a Provisional Government of Free India in Exile in Afghanistan in 1915. Quite a large number of Muslims participated in the Swadeshi Movement to signal their support to the opposition of the partition of Bengal, 1905. Politically, Abdul Rasul, President Barisal Conference (April 1906) and culturally, the poet Syed Abu Mohammad became moving spirits to all kind of nationalists. In Delhi, the Swadeshi Movement was led by Syed Haider Raza. Other prominent Muslim leaders who opposed partition were Abul Qasim, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, Liaqat Husain. A representative body of Muslims of Bengal, the Central Mohammedan Association also opposed the partition.
Muslims also supported the national movement outside India as far as South Africa. Gandhiji had a large Muslim following in Africa. They aided Ghandhiji’s ‘Tolstoy Ashram’ there. The Nizam of Hyderabad and the Muslim League also contributed money to the Ashram.
The massive participation of Muslims in the Non-Cooperation Movement, and maintenance of communal harmony was in itself no mean an achievement. There is hardly any doubt that Muslims’ enthusiastic involvement gave it a truly mass character. In many areas, and at some places, two-third of those arrested were Muslims. Large number of Muslim volunteers picketed shops and set foreign cloth on fire. The number of young and enthusiastic Muslim volunteers was very large. It gave a strong base to the future leadership of the Muslims.
After the successful Russian Revolution of 1917 the communists and the socialists led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose formed a powerful wing within the Congress and several other mass organizations. Muslims were in the forefront of such organizations. Muzaffar Ahmad was one of the founders of the Communist Party of India. Qutbuddin Ahmad, Mohammad Abdul Ali were senior communist leaders. In the early thirties of the twentieth century many young communist activists like K.M. Ashraf, Z.A. Ahmad, Begum Hajra, Sajjad Zaheer, Miyan Iftikharuddin and Faridul Haq Ansari gave a revolutionary spirit to the national movement. They got enthusiastic support by large number of Muslim writers and poets like Ghulam Quddus, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azami, Shorish Kashmiri and Makhdum Mohiuddin. Poets and writers were working on popular fronts through literary and cultural organizations. Muslim leaders were equally involved in peasants’ and workers’ unions. Important among them were Liaqat Husain, Shaukat Usmani, Syed Shaheedulla, Syed Habibullah, Abdul Momin and Shamsul Huda. Among the young Muslim students, Ansar Harwani and Abdul Haque worked for the freedom of the country through All India Students Federation. We have the record for three generations of Muslim activists who struggled for the freedom from both, the political and cultural forums.
Muslim patriots were equally involved with revolutionary movements. The freedom-loving terrorists took care that no innocent civilian was killed. The white imperialists and their brown supporters were their targets. For killing or for an attempt to kill British officers several Muslims were hanged. Some of them were: (1) Ashfaqullah Khan (19.12.1927), (2) Abdul Ghani (28.10.1928), (3) Habib Nur (22.2.1931, (4) Abdul Rashid (1.9.1932). There were many more cases of Muslim participation in the revolutionary movements which were not necessarily non-violent in Punjab, U.P., Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh (Jabalpur) and other states. The struggle was particularly widespread in Bengal where the Muslims as a community supported the revolutionary leader, Surya Sen. The Revolutionary Provisional Government in 1930 survived for three years because of Muslim support.
One reason for massive participation by Muslims in the Non-Cooperation Movement was its integration with Khilafat Movement, which to some historians was exclusively a Muslim issue. However, no such external considerations could be associated with the Civil Disobedience Movement, and yet the Muslim participation was substantial in it, which was extraordinarily high in North West Frontier Province, practically a Muslim province. It had a population of only three million but could account for 5,557 convictions whereas in the larger province, Punjab with a mixed population, five times higher (1932), the convictions were only 1,620. Muslim participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement, 1930, in the British Indian Empire was also higher than their proportional population. Ninety thousand Indians defied law and courted arrest, and 29,000 among them were Muslims. Presence of Muslims was noticed everywhere throughout India, including the native kingdoms. They were active in north, central and south India. In the east, Muslims of middle class participated in a big way in Senhatta, Tripura, Gaibanda, Bagura and Noakhali. In Dhaka, Muslims belonging to the marginalized communities joined the movement. Muslim women from the middle and upper classes also participated. Weavers and the families associated with them were actively involved in the national struggle. Their participation in Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience Movements in U.P., Bihar and Maharashtra was enthusiastic. Many Muslims thought that facing bullets and meeting death was better than a life in slavery. The British opened fire on unarmed Pathans in Peshawar. They refused to budge and heroically faced the bullets. Dozens of them died till the Hindu soldiers of Garhwal Regiment refused to fire on the innocent unarmed civilians. According to one estimate fifty four civilian Muslims lost their lives in 1931-32. Ashfaqullah Khan of the famous Kakori case, while being hanged requested the jailor to put a handful of soil of his homeland into his coffin for which he staked his life. No wonder, because of this patriotic sentiment the series of killing of Muslims, which began in 1857 continued till 1947.
The struggle for freedom was a continuous process. Muslims’ enthusiastic involvement in the whole process remained unabated till 1947. They were also passionately involved in the Individual Satayagrah and Quit India Movement as much as they were in the Non-Cooperation or Civil Disobedience movements, with one difference. Earlier movements were absolutely non-violent, but in the Quit India Movement violence had crept in and at a few places the satayagrahis overpowered the police and established governing councils for the region under their control for a few days. Muslims were a party to both, the violent and the non-violent struggle. Naturally, the British reaction was equally severe. All the Congress leaders, including the Muslims were arrested, the organisation was banned and severe punishments were inflicted upon the satayagrahis. More than thirty Muslims belonging to Allahabad, Darbhanga, Azamgarh, Wardha, Champaran, Nagpur, Munger and many other places laid their lives and several thousand suffered imprisonment. Aggressive and forceful people’s mobilisation was on against the British all over the country. For example, in Delhi the people, especially the Muslims, were strongly involved in it. They had taken Gandhiji’s call ‘Do or Die’ to their heart. On a single day, 11 August, 1942, the satayagrahis organised hartals all over Delhi. Muslims, as compared to other communities, were larger in number among those who were convicted for burning the post office in Sadr Bazar, destruction of A.R.P. office, attack on Ganesh Floor Mill, killing of a sub-inspector of police and burning and destruction of Income Tax Office. The satyagrahis belonged to all sections of Muslim society. They were washermen, fruit and vegetable sellers, gardeners and professionals like mechanics (watch repair), tongawalas and painters. Sacrificing life for the country had become a tradition for the Muslims. They had lost many lives in demonstrations against Rowlatt Act, 1919, Non-Cooperation, Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements. The number of Muslims killed at Jallianwala Bagh, 1919, was fairly high. Muslims were equally involved in the struggle for political rights in native states whose rulers had been supporting the British. In Kashmir alone more than a hundred Muslim demonstrators were killed and many hundred wounded and imprisoned by the maharaja’s police. This happened during the non-violent Civil Disobedience Movement in India. Similarly, Muslim freedom fighters lost their lives in the princely states of Mysore and Hyderabad. The Muslim tradition of sacrifice of life for a just cause continued till India got its independence and, even thereafter, in the struggle for the freedom of Goa. Several thousand Muslim officers and men in the British Indian army had joined the Indian National Army under the command of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. Quite a large number of Muslim officers worked in commanding positions in the Indian Government in Exile at Singapore. They fought against the British army. More than 150 Muslim fighters lost their lives in the eastern campaigns 1943-45. In 1946, there was a revolt in the Royal Indian Navy. Muslims were partners in the revolt and also in the punishment they suffered. The naval revolt had no political support of the Indian National Congress, but got widespread popular urban support from all communities. The civilian support was mercilessly suppressed. In Kolkata, 36 civilians were killed. In Mumbai, 228 civilians were killed and 1046 wounded. The number of Muslims killed or wounded was very high.
The sacrifices of Indian Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other communities did not go in vain. India won its freedom on 15 August, 1947 and the ruthless exploiters and brutal suppressors, the British imperialists, left India unharmed with honour and dignity, leaving behind a divided country and a divided people in a state of bloody civil war. The brutal killings, rape and plunder on both sides of the border after independence was far greater than during the British rule in India. AICC in its meeting on 14 June, 1947 accepted the partition plan to solve the deadly crisis. One member of the Committee, Maulana Hifzur Rahman, warned that the partition of the country would inflict far greater misery than it would solve. Nobody listened to him, because they believed, including Maulana Azad, that there was no other alternative but to accept the partition.
Who was responsible for the great divide? Not the British alone. The hangover of pre-partition hatred among communities continues even today. That Muslims were solely responsible for the partition is an accusation. None alone–community or individual–was responsible for it. Maulana Azad expressed his unhappiness on the attitude of both the major communities. He thought that it was foolish on the part of Muslims to demand security provisions for themselves in the future political set-up, and it was a greater folly on the part of the Hindus to deny the same. Gandhiji also thought that the Muslims alone were not responsible for it. The day after the declaration of Mountbatten Plan, 3 June, 1947, formally giving a shape to Pakistan, Gandhiji said in his prayer meeting on 4 June, 1947 that the demand (for Pakistan) “has been granted because you asked for it. Congress never asked for it….But the Congress can feel the pulse of the people. It realised that the Khalsa as also the Hindus desired it”.