Muslim Freedom Fighters and India's Freedom

by Soumya Basu

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About the project :

To love ones country is also a part of one’s Iman. “ The History of India’s Freedom Struggle shall remain incomplete without the mention of the great Muslim Freedom Fighters. In a particularly politically conscious state like Bengal there were numerous Muslim Freedom fighters who fought, courted arrest, died and suffered for the emancipation of the country, just like their Hindu brethren. This proposed project thus opens a window to the invaluable contribution the Bengali Muslims made to the freedom struggle. The idea is to bring back the memory of those freedom fighters who are no more remembered not only by the public in general but also by the Muslim community.

Interestingly there were a number of Muslim Women as well who broke the shackles of purdah, came forward and valiantly fought against the oppressive Colonial Regime. For instance, no one talks about Razia Khatoon , the first Muslim lady of Bengal who stood up against the British. She was arrested and sent to Kalapani where she took her last breath. Or that of Akbari Begum, the mother of  Barrister Asif Ali. She inspired Muslim women through her speeches to join the non-cooperation movement. In May 1920 she delivered a historic speech in which she said, "We should hold our religion firm and socially boycott the people who oppose it."

 There were also several other educated Bengali Muslim women, who actively took part in the socio-political struggles in Bengal. Mrs. Samsunnesa Karim (Badshah), Mrs. Rabia Begum, Mrs. Maksuda Begum and Mrs. Najimunnesa Ahmed were quite well-known workers in the forties. Mrs. Asru Halim, wife of Abdul Halim, was a Bengali Christian. Mrs. Sakina Faruq Sultana Moaez Zada, who came from Bombay and became councilor of Calcutta Corporation as an Independent candidate with the support of the Communist Party in 1940, organised the scavengers of Calcutta as the President of Sramik Sangha and for that also courted jails. For her crusade against social injustice, obscurantism and separatist politics, the 'Scavenger Queen' had to face opposition from the orthodox ulamas and the Muslim League workers. 

 In Bengal, the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation Movement (1918 to 1924) became a mass movement in which both Muslims and Hindus participated. The Bengal movement benefited from coordinated action by and between the Central and Provincial Khilafat leaders. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad propagated Khilafat ideas in rural Bengal. In the initial stage, the movement was popularised by Bengali leaders such as Maulana Akram Khan, Maniruzzaman Islamabadi, Mujibur Rahman Khan, the brothers Maulana Abdullah Kafi and Maulana Abdullah Baqi, Ismail Hossain Shiraji, Abul Kasem and AK Fazlul Huq. Maulana Akram Khan and Maniruzzaman Islambadi toured Bengal and organised Khilafat meetings, particularly in Dhaka and Chittagong. In an article Asahojogita-o-Amader Kartabya, Maniruzzaman Islambadi declared that to protect Khilafat and to acquire Swaraj were the twin aims of the movement and that it was the sacred duty of every Indian to support these ideas.

 There were other stalwart Bengali Muslim such as Maulana Mujibur Rahman, editor of The Mussalman,  Maulana Akram Khan, editor of Aazad, Chand Mian of Noakhali who died fighting the British. As the Secretary of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee, Ashrafuddin Ahmed Chowdhury played a vital part in Bengal politics in 1938.He was made the General Secretary of Bengal Provincial Comgress Committee by none other than Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Two other prominent Congress leaders were Jahangir Kabir and Humayun Kabir. Humayun Kabir later on went to become the Secretary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azaad. Rezaul Karim of Birbhum, apart being a freedom fighter was a noted writer. He along with Qazi Abdul Wadud initiated a movement within the Bengali Muslim Community which stood for Social Reforms.


Relevance of the Project

Inspite of making a substantial amount of contribution to India’s emancipation, the tragedy of such brave fighters is that they have somehow been removed from the collective consciousness of the Nation. They are not present in the popular and ‘official’ narrative of our Freedom Struggle. But their sacrifice was not something to be demeaned. The present endeavor is to dig deep into the pages of history and showcase them with other numerous unknown fighters of freedom for the sake of posterity.

 There is another more relevant reason which needs to be pointed out. In the present socio-political scenario of our country, there is a motivated effort being made to ‘Demonize’ the entire Muslim community; as if they did not have any positive and constructive role in our country’s History. Thus it is absolutely necessary for all those who adhere to the principles of secularism that positive efforts are made to counter this vicious ploy of Majority Fundamentalism and bring forward the true picture.

The idea is to reach out to as many successors of these freedom fighters as possible and record their family history and oral/visual testimony and stitch it together in a narrative form. Efforts shall also be made to talk to the common man in order to find out how and why these fighters lost their place from the collective memory. The idea is to enumerate and record these forgotten freedom fighters.

Risks and Challenges :

The probable risk involved is the time factor. But if I get the funding in time I am confident of winding my book within 90 days.

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