The struggle for Independence after 200 years of British rule in India is one of its kind; with no parallel in the world. It was owned, led, driven by people encompassing broad spectrum of ethnic, caste, linguistic, religious diversities.
The struggle was mostly non violent in nature led by likes of M.K. Gandhi, Pt. Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
The genesis of the Muslim role in Indian Freedom Struggle date back to Sultan Haider Ali (1733) of Mysore.
The ‘First Freedom Fighter’ of India who was a great military tactical genius who used iron cased rockets for the first time and fought against the British Raj in Carnatic wars before being betrayed by his own General, Khande Rao, who sided with the Britishers.
The ‘Mysorean Rockets’ amazed the Britishers. His secular credentials overshadow his military prowess as he was an ardent supporter of Hindu-Muslim Unity.
‘The Missile Man’, Tipu Sultan, the son of Haider Ali was a valiant soldier and a general par excellence. During the second Mysore War he defeated Col. John Braithwaite on the banks of the Kollidam (Coleroon) River.
Tipu pioneered the iron cased rockets and used them against the Britishers to keep them at bay for almost 20 years before being martyred as his capital was stormed by British-led forces on May 4, 1799, and Tipu died leading his troops in the breach.
‘The Tiger of Mysore’ was an epitome of bravery and laid the foundations for a unified and long entrenched struggle for freedom.
The art of war and bravery of Muslims with resounding resolve to fight would be incomplete without the mention of Nawazadi Azizan (Lucknow 1832). She was great spy and trained women in handling arms. She collected and passed important information the leaders like Nana Sahib. She was captured by General Havelock and was given an option to corroborate with the Britishers, but she chose the path of martyrdom over treason.
Nawab Siraj ud Daulah, the last Nawab of Bengal fought against British imperialism and even chased them out of Bengal before being betrayed by Mir Jaffer in the Battle of Plasey in 1757 which led to the start of British Imperial rule of India, later solidified when Britishers got the ‘Diwani’ of Bengal and Bihar after the Battle of Buxar in 1765.
The first documented fatwa for Jihad against British Raj was given by Fazal e Haq Kahirabadi in 1857. He was a great philosopher, religious scholar and a poet. The Britishers sent him for life imprisonment in Kalapani prison. ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, the clarion call for revolution was coined by Hasrat Mohani (1875), who was a fierce antagonist of colonial rule and his furious Urdu speeches made Indians hostile towards the British rule; he was arrested and jailed for dissent.
General Bakht Khanwas commander-in-chief of the Indian independent forces in the region of Delhi during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the East India Company also fought against them in Shahjehan Pur and Lucknow under last Mughal Prince Mirza Zahiruddin. In 1859 he was mortally wounded and died in action when fighting against the Britishers.
Apart from Muslim warriors who fought and laid down their lives for the freedom of this nation, there were other reformers who tried to reform the society especially the Muslims and worked hard for their educational, social and political alleviation.
The Muslims post the revolt of 1857 had been ostracised by the Britishers and were considered the sole reason for the revolt. Further the policy of ‘divide and rule’ along with other decisive methods had created fragmentation in the social fabric of India compounded by the backwardness of orthodoxy of certain religious scholars and their aversion for Modern Education had let Muslims remain backward in every aspect of their lives.
Among the reformists Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) led the reform movement which instilled the notions of patriotism and zeal of nationalism among every section of society apart from Muslims alone.
He yearned for reconciliation of western scientific teachings with the teachings of Holy Quran which were to be interpreted in the light of contemporary rationalism.
He started Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (Later, the Aligarh Muslim University) in 1875. His progressive ideas were spread through his magazine Tahzib-ul-Akhlaq.
The towering figure who stands tall among all the Muslim Leaders during the freedom struggle was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (11 Nov 1888-1958). He was an Islamic theologian, writer and a senior leader of the Indian National Congress. His contributions in the field of education are recognized by celebration of his birthday as ‘National Education Day’.
He became the First Minister of Education in the Indian government of Free India. He rose to prominence through his work as a journalist, publishing works critical of the British Raj and espousing the causes of Indian nationalism.
He opened Urdu weekly to attack the systematic embellishment of ‘white man’s burden’ theory and also the power structures that supported the imperialist program. He attacked the colonial mindset of British Raj and advocated for educational uplifment of the masses.
Azad became the leader of the Khilafat Movement, during which he came into close contact with the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. Azad became an enthusiastic supporter of Gandhi’s ideas of non-violent civil disobedience, and worked to organise the non-co-operation movement in protest of the 1919 Rowlatt Acts.
Azad committed himself to Gandhi’s ideals, including promoting the Swadeshi Movement and the cause of Swaraj (Self-rule) for India. In 1923, at an age of 35, he became the youngest person to serve as the President of the Indian National Congress.
Many celebrated and unsung heroes of Indian Freedom Movement like Ashfaqullah Khan, Vaiqom Majeed, Titu Mir, Ali Brothers, Syed Ahmad Bareilvi, Baddurdin Tayabji, Magfoor Ahmad Ajazi and Hussain Ahmad Madni along with Barrister Saifuddin Kitchlew, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan worked selflessly for the cause of freedom from the imperial British rule.
These leaders and many other who have been forgotten in the annals of history due to ‘Two Nation Theory’ divide still remind us of our plural ethos wherein Hindu-Muslim bonhomie worked as catalyst for fight to free India from the shackles of British Imperial rule.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.