How many people from this part of South Asia know the name of
Soomru Allah Bux, (1900-1943) a legendary leader from pre-partition
India, who fought against the communal politics of Muslim league,
was popular enough to defeat it's candidate to the state assembly
and wielded so much support among the masses that he could even
become Chief Minister of Sindh in early 40s. As a chief minister
he was opposed to the British war efforts in 1941 and openly
supported Gandhiji's Quit India resolution. History records the
tragic fact that he was assasinated by an hireling of the British
imperialists (14 th May 1943) who was close to the communal
politics of the League. Or for that matter how many people have
heard about Mayzada Hashina Begum, a leader of Calcutta scavengers
and sewerage cleaners, who fought for their rights, courted jail
during second world war, 'fought against police oppression, social
injustice and obscurantist ideas of mullahs and confronted boldly
rabid communal approach of Muslim Leaguers !'
The book 'Freedom Movement and Indian Muslims' written by late
Santimoy Ray, (1914-1999) - a renowned freedom fighter,
educationist and crusader for communal harmony, who had been part
of the historic Jugantar revolutionary party since his young age
and faced a decade of imprisonment - not only provides many such
important details , which have remained largely hidden from the
eyes of concerned people but also brings forth the role of Indian
Muslims on a broader canvas of anti-imperialist struggle. His
contention is that "[t]he main reason to exclude struggles of 18
th and 19 th centuries by conventional luminaries is a conscious
or (may be) an unconscious endeavour to blackout the role of the
peasantry - both Hindus and Muslims - and of the tribals, more
particularly of the heroic and positive role of the Muslim
community in India to end the British rule in India."
The book 'dedicated to those martyrs of Pakistan and India who
laid down their lives in protecting the minorities' was first
published by People's Publishing House in 1979, and has been
reprinted by National Book Trust, should be translated in all
Indian languages as it can help millions of people to get out of
the stereotypes they are still carrying about the 'other'
Divided into six chapters the book covers around two centuries of
British rule and the militant struggles which arose against it.
Starting from the 'Revolt of Sannyasis and Fakirs (1763-1800), and
Wahabi Revolt (1820-70) the book moves on to 'Phase of Emerging
Nationalism' (1857-1905) , Epoch of Armed Struggle (1900-34) , and
ends by discussing 'National Mass Struggle and Indian Muslims'
(1919-34 , 1934-47). A significant part of the Appendix which
comprises of an extract from Prof Sumit Sarkar's work , and
Sedition Committee Report on Muslim participation in the
revolutionary movement before 1 st world war is the 'incomplete
list of Muslim martyrs in the freedom movement''. The fourty plus
page list of martyrs belonging to Muslim religion has been culled
from various sources which starts from the martyrs of the Wahabi
movement like Abdullah (hanged 1871), Ahmadullah (born 1808, death
in Andaman Jail 1881) and proceeds with revolutionaries of 'Agniyug"
(the phase of what has been popularly known as 'revolutionary
terrorism') ; Anti-Rowlatt Act movement and Jalianwala bagh
tragedy and concludes at the Royal Indian Navy revolt of 1946. It
also includes martyrs of the Kisan and workers movement and a
supplementary list of martyrs of 1857 war has also been included.
At one place elsewhere in the book the author expresses regret
that he has to 'name these revolutionaries ..as Muslims' (Page 79)
but he explains the rationale behind it as to 'expose the
illogicality and baselessness of the anti-Muslim attitude of the
Hindu pundits of history' and expresses the hope that the reader
would appreciate the purpose.
What prompted the author to take up this work is worth
emphasising. In the Preface itself the author elaborates on the
'perversion of history in school and college textbooks' and the
manner in which Muslims are stigmatised at various levels -
ranging from them being considered 'foreigners' or a 'separate
cultural identiy' and 'betrayers of the national struggle' - and
how it had been 'the deliberate policy of the British rulers
during post-mutiny period' to generate more acrimony and strifes
amongst various communities and groups . The discipline of history
writing - on the framework drawn by James Mill - became an
important tool here, which led to depiction of Muslim tyranny over
subject people - the Hindus - and the resistance of Rajputs etc
became their postwar themes. For a layperson it may be told that
Mill periodised Indian history into three periods – Hindu
civilisation, Muslim civilisation and the British period which was
largely accepted largely without question and this understanding
has stayed with us for almost two hundred years. According to Prof
Romilla Thapar : "
Mill argued that the Hindu civilisation was stagnant and backward,
the Muslim only marginally better and the British colonial power
was an agency of progress because it could legislate change for
improvement in India . In the Hindutva version this periodisation
remains, only the colours have changed: the Hindu period is the
golden age, the Muslim period the black, dark age of tyranny and
oppression, and the colonial period is a grey age almost of
marginal importance compared to the earlier two.
There is no doubt that colonialists succeeded in
influencing/impacting Indian histiriography so much so that when
(according to author) India witnessed stirring phases of
Hindu-Muslim unity one witnessed knighthood for Dr Jadunath Sarkar
whose four volume study on 'The Falll of Mughal Empire' well
served the cause of British imperialism. The author cannot hide
his derision for one of the leading light of this 'school' - the
'eminent historian Dr R. C. Mazumdar ' who had explained his
philosophy in the 1968 Diwali number of the 'Organiser' in such
words -' that all the Muslims should go to Pakistan to solve the
knotty problem of communalism'.
Elaborating on the exclusive approach of this conservative school
of history in the introduction he returns to Dr Mazumdar again and
tells how he refused to give any importance to the great uprising
of 1857 and who wanted us to go at least 700 years back - when
Bakhtiar Khilji first conquered pats of North India to write the
'history of India's freedom movement'.
Of course the author is happy that a 'new generation of historians
have cropped up' to meet the 'challenge of the pernicious
philosophy and cult of hatred - which creates thousands of
Nathuram Godses - and many of the earlier theories of Dr Jadunath
Sarkar and Dr Mazumdar 'have been mutilated and nearly demolished'
The first chapter 'Revolt of Sannyasis and Fakirs (1763-1800)
dwells upon the first flag of revolt against the establishment of
British rule in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa which was unfurled by
Majnusha, leader of a band of Fakirs along with Bhawani Pathak,
leader of a band of Sannyasis. These fakirs and sannyasis mainly
belonged to religious orders like madaria sect among Muslims and
saiba sect amongst Hindus. Although they were not properly
organised but 'could successfully inspire oppressed peasantry'.
Their forces could inflict series of defeats on the British
armies. By 1800 this 'first uprising against the firingis came to
an end' but left an indelible imprint upon future struggles like
the 'wahabis and revolutionaries of Agniyug - known as
terrorists'. The second chapter focuses on the 'Wahabi revolt'
(1820-70) which 'was one of the earliest, most consistent and
protracted and the "most remarkably anti-British" movements which
dominated the nineteenth century" (Page 4). It wielded influence
from Peshawar to Dhaka and also made inroads in southern states.
The sixties decade witnessed (1863-65) a series of trials by which
leaders of this "seditious community"" were arrested and sent to
jail or given capital punishment. But all such prisoners stood
valiantly on the face of the tremendous torture. IN 1872 one
Mohammed Sherali, a wahabi convict of Andaman Jail assassinated
Lord Mayo while he went to visit Portblair jail.
Chapters three deal with the phase of emerging nationalism and the
changes in the nature of resistance put up by the Indian masses
and the changed modus operandi of the Britishers as well. One
notices that the 'Muslim mind' cannot be considered a monolith now
and one can categorise the 'Muslim mind into modernist and
traditionalist' or 'pro-British and anti-British' The modernist or
pro-British Muslim leaders felt dismayed at the growing
frustration of Muslims, declining aristocracy and their retinue
including ulemas. They opposed the 'suicidal resistance of the
wahabis and particularly negative attitude of the ulemas.. They
wanted that Muslim masses accept British rule as salvation and
appealed the Muslim masses to educate themselves on western
lines.The traditionalist represented by the ulama continued in the
same vein and 'looked beyond the immediate communal gains to the
historical growth of India's national liberation struggle'. The
founders of Darul Ulema Deoband represented 'the rebellious spirit
of the disgruntled Muslims' since the days of the wahabi movement.
The author brings forth an important point that a significant
chunk of the Muslims from the then Bengal province had opposed the
partition of Bengal - which was supposed to be a smart move on
part of the British colonialists to divide the Hindus and Muslims.
According to him
"The documents in government archives pertaining to the movement
against partition of Bengal ..prove that throughout East Bengal in
different districts a good number of mass meetings were held.
(Page 30)" He discusses a mammoth gathering in Calcutta on 7 th
August 1905 where the main resolution was seconded by Maulvi
Chapter four starts with the advent of agniyug, 'an age of
militant nationalism' the birth of various secret revolutionary
societies in India Mitramela in Tamil Nadu, Abhinav Bharat in
Maharashtra , Atmaunnati Anushilan. Suhrid, Sadhana, Brati, Sadesh
Bandhab Samities in Bengal, Bharatmata Samiti in Punjab and ends
with the sacrifices by revolutionaries under the leadership of
Surya Sen. While discussing the martyrdom of Khudiram Bose at the
age of eighteen who belonged to the Jugantar group of the
Anushilan Samiti (11 August 1908) it mentions the role of an
'unnamed Muslim lady who had given him shelter before his arrest'
who was known to be the sister of Moulvi Abdul Waheed.
The author narrates an experience when Dr Alam, a leader from
Punjab who toured Muslim majority provinces preaching against
communalism, had given his presidential address to the second
annual meeting of the Bengal provincial students' conference held
in August 1928 at Mymensingh town. He writes with candidness that
he still remembers his words "We must fight British imperialism
with all our might ; but before that we must fight communalism
everywhere and always. "
The last chapter discusses the trial of the INA prisoners Shah
Nawaz, Dhillon and Rashid Ali and how it electrified the whole
country from Kashmir to Cape Camorin . There were demonstrations
in major cities of undivided India when Rashid Ali Day was
observed by Muslim League, Congress, Communist Party, Forward
Bloc. A mighty demonstration of around 2 lakh people was held in
The author concludes his monograph with the words that while rise
of Muslim League and its ultimate triumph is being recognised as a
dominant negative feature the positive contribution of the Muslim
community in India went unrecognised among many knowledgeable
people. He ends with a note " This is a basic malady of the Indian
social situation which needs to be ruthlessly rooted out if India
wants to survive and prosper as a civilized community in the
Subhash Gatade is a Writer and social activist based in New delhi.
Subhash also edits a Hindi Journal Sandhan. His most recent book
is "Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India"Email :