The Test of Time - my life and days
The British Governments’ declaration of policy with regard to the future status of India made in August, 1917 was followed by a visit of Mr. Monotague, the Secretary of state to India in November of the same year and by the publication of the joint recommendations to the Secretary of state and the Viceroy on July 8, 1918. The First World War ended in November and in December the Congress and the Muslim League met in Delhi to consider the joint recommendations. Although some of the recommendations were of a far-reaching character they fell far short of popular expectations and a resolution was carried at Delhi condemning the proposed Montague-Chelmsford Reforms inspite of the opposition of the moderate section of the delegates, who supported the recommendations.
This resolution created a stir throughout the entire length and breadth of the country and there were hot controversies everywhere as to the adequacy of the proposed reforms. Certain alarming events soon followed which precipitated a crisis.
The Rawlatt Bill, which sought to give certain extraordinary powers to the Government including the power of arrest and detention without trial, apparently to deal with seditious activities, but in reality to suppress the nationalist movement, came before the Indian Legislative Council in January, 1919 and inspite of vehement Indian protest and the great uproar raised against it, the bill became an Act the following March. Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah took this so much to heart that he resigned from the Indian Legislative Council in protest. Mr. Gandhi took a far more serious step. He called upon the people to join a “Satyagraha” movement of non-violent civil disobedience, which required those who joined the movement to disobey the Rawlatt Act if applied to them. The movement received widespread support, but it gave rise to serious disturbances, mainly in the Panjab. Mr. Gandhi who was at the time in Bombay wanted to go to the Punjab to deal with the situation but on April 7 he was forbidden entry and the police escorted him back to Bombay. On the 9th two Hindu Congress leaders were arrested for deputation and for making inflammatory speeches. These activities of the Government gave rise to formidable rioting in the city, in the course of which certain European bank officials were killed and an attempt was made to set fire to the railway station. On the 11th, the British Commander of the Jullander Brigade, Brigadier General R.E.H. Dyer was directed to deal with the disturbed situation. An order was promulgated prohibiting public meetings. But the people were not in a mood to obey this order. On the 13th April a vast crowd of several thousand people, both Hindus and Muslims, including a large number of children assembled at a place called Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab, which was an enclosed area with only two narrow ways of entrance and exit. To uphold the supremacy of law and to make a demonstration of British might and above all, to curb forever the increasing spirit of defiance amongst the people, General Dyer ordered the troops under his command to open fire. Within seconds Jullianwalla Bagh became a lake of blood. About 400 were killed and 1200 wounded. Martial law was proclaimed in the Punjab and for enforcing it the people were subjected to the most inhuman humiliation. As the news spread, it created countrywide feelings of outrage. Mr. Gandhi felt impelled to cut off the passive resistance movement, but taking advantage of the feelings roused by the Punjab atrocities he started a mire subtle and effective movement. He had only one obstacle in his way. He was par-excellence a Hindu and his saintly qualities coupled with his championship of the ‘cow’ made him almost an “Abatar” (Incarnation of God) in the eyes of his co-religionists. But he had hitherto no hold upon the Muslim masses. Now an international event helped him in this regard also and almost overnight he became a hero also to millions of Muslims in the subcontinent.
The Sultan of Turkey was the ‘Khalifa’ of the entire Muslim world and the Indian Muslims, probably as a psychological offset to the loss of their empire, but mainly motivated by their deep religious convictions they looked upon the Khalifa with particular veneration as a symbol of Muslim unity. Turkey was an ally of defeated Germany in the First World War (1914-18). In violation of the assurances given to the Indian Muslims by Mr. Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, Turkey was compelled to sign the humiliating Treaty of Severs on August 10, 1920 whereby the Sultan’s empire was to be dismembered and largely distributed amongst the victorious nations and powers as Caliph almost extinguished. This infuriated the Muslims against the British. A movement known as the Khilafat Movement was started by them under the leadership of personalities like the Ali Brothers, Hikakim Ajmal Khan and Moulana Abul Kalam Azad. They held a conference in May, 1920 in which a resolution was passed adopting a policy of ‘ tark-i-mujalat’ or non-co-operation with the Government. The sagacious and astute Mr. Gandhi at once saw the potentiality of this movement and assumed the championship of this Muslim cause. In a letter to the Viceroy he deprecated the ‘unscrupulous, immoral and unjust’ treatment meted out to the Caliphate. He also gave vent to his scant regard for a Government that did not care to punish the officials responsible for the Punjab atrocities and announced his decision to start a movement of non-cooperation with such a Government. This was a master stroke on the part of Mr. Gandhi. In taking this step he even forestalled Muhammad Ali Jinnah who made his first public protest against the affront to the ‘Khilafat’ (Caliphate) a few weeks later. Mr. Gandhi was till now a leader of the Hindus. This one action at once made him a leader of the Muslims too and for a considerable time thenceforward he enjoyed the unique position of being the unquestioned leader of the vast majority of both the Hindus and the Muslims of the subcontinent not to speak of other smaller communities. The Muslim divines (Ulema) and most other Muslim political leaders including Mowlana Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali rallied round Mr. Gandhi. The All-India Khilafat Committee already formed, was the first to adopt the Non-cooperation (Tark-i-mujlat) program. Although the Congress had not yet considered the question, Mr. Gandhi on the basis of the decision taken by the Khilafat Committee, fixed the first of August for the inauguration of the movement of non-violent non-cooperation, otherwise known as the Congress-Khilafat movement, which demanded the renunciation of titles conferred by the British Government, of offices and appointments under Government, boycott of British goods as well as educational institutions sponsored or patronised by the Government. Mr. Gandhi announced that if his programme was faithfully followed, not only the Khilafat wrong would be righted but Swaraj also (Self-Government) would also be attained by the 30th of September, 1921. This proved to be a most inspiring lead both to the Hindus and Muslims.
All these events created an upheaval in me . I was overpowered with a sense of shame and anger and fired with a zeal to do something. Since the disillusionment following the anti-partition agitation and the eventual annulment of the partition of Bengal, my faith in any joint Hindu-Muslim venture under the garb of so-called nationalism, as well as in British justice in any dispute between the politically strong Hindu and the comparatively weak Muslim had been badly shaken. It was evident that the British were playing the time-honoured game of ‘divide and rule’ to perpetuate their hold on ‘the brightest jewel’ in the British Crown. Though experience had made me suspicious of any joint Hindu-muslim political venture, I could not be oblivious of the fact that no substantial political advance, far less the liberation of the country was possible without a joint effort on the basis of a programme agreed to by the two communities. So in the larger interests to the country the question of joint endeavour could not be altogether ruled out.
It appeared to me that the situation in the country was now ripe for such a joint endeavour. Here was a cause or combination of causes that was dear to both Hindus and Muslims. Both were equally interested in the attainment of ’Swaraj’ and in avenging the Punjab atrocities. Muslims were vitally interested in the rectification of the Khilafat wrongs and the Hindus also had at least a secondary interest in the matter as a major oriental cause. Orthodox Hindus also expected that with Mahatma Gandhi, par-excellence a Hindu saint and a pledged protector of ‘mother cow’ (gomata) as the leader of the movement, and with a friendly Muslim community grateful on account of the Hindu support to the Khilafat cause, the movement would also lead to their cherished goal of cow-protection. In fact a number of Muslim ulema whole-heartedly espoused the cause of cow-protection. The non-cooperation movement created the greatest enthusiasm both amongst Hindus and Muslims and it appeared that as if by a touch of magic the two warring peoples were overnight, welded into one composite nation. The impact of the movement was so overpowering on me that I hardly gave any thought to the difficult question of a political settlement between Hindus and Muslims. There was a vague assumption that the brotherly relations between the two communities would endure for ever and no harm could conceivably be done by any one of them to the other.
As regards the effectiveness of the movement I had no doubt that if the programme set before the people was carried out, in all probability the goal aimed at could be achieved. The question was whether such an ambitions programme could actually be carried out by the people. Inspite of some doubt in this regard, the enthusiasm shown by the people at large gave me hope that there was a fair chance of the programme being worked out. In any case I felt that it was my duty to respond to the call whatever might be the result. I owed it to my country, to my religion and to myself. It did not take me long to come to a decision. I joined the movement and became a member of the Congress.
The post-independence new generation of Pakistanis and Indians cannot possibly realise the poignancy of the pain and sense of humiliation which weighed down the hearts of these who lived in a state of slavery under foreign rule. To regain our lost freedom was an objective for which no sacrifice was too great. Any feasible course of action calculated to lead to that coveted goal had a prior claim on me. Strongly entrenched as the British Government was, and, disorganised and disarmed as the people were, ouster of the British by force appeared to be absolutely impracticable and till the enunciation of the non-cooperation movement we had no idea about any practical means to liberate the country. The non-cooperation programme showed a way out of the blind alley and it could not but attract ardent souls burning with the desire for freedom.
Mr. Gandhi made ‘non-violence’ an essential ingredient of the movement. To him it was a creed. It was akin to, if not identical with, the Hindu doctrine of “Ahimsa” and as such it proved to be a most potent source of inspiration to Hindus in general, though some of Mr. Gandhi’s most prominent lieutenants like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru did not accept it as a creed. Muslims joining the movement, no doubt accepted non-violence as one of its essential elements but they accepted it only as a policy and not as a creed. Whether taken as a creed or as a policy, non-violence was a master-stroke. There might be a good deal or atleast something, in Mr. Gandhi’s theory of non-violence of soul force and in his conviction that it could achieve its ends by change of heart. Not many of his followers were convinced about this. But there was no doubt that ‘non-violence’ provided the movement with a great tactical advantage since it was difficult to counter non-violence with violence. It placed the Government possessing every means to use force, almost on an equal footing with the people who had no means of using force. It also engendered in the non-cooperator a rare moral courage for nobler ends than the brute courage that prompts the use of force. It was this ‘non-violence’ that kept the authorities non-plussed for a long time and they did not know how to deal with such a novel movement. Without ‘non-violence’ it could never attain the success that it did.
The Indian people, both Hindus and Muslims were deeply religious. The religious background given to the movement was also largely responsible for its immense popularity. Mr. Gandhi in his scanty ascetic robe, in his speech and demeanour, as well as in his outlook on life was a prototype of the ancient Hindu ‘rishi’. He was already given the surname of “Mahatma” (Great soul) and was also regarded by many Hindus as an ‘avatar’ (incarnation of God). The lead he gave was therefore regarded by the Hindus not merely as a political maneuver but as inspired religious guidance. Muslims too, for a different reason, were equally or perhaps more intensely fired by a religious zeal. The ‘Khilafat’ was a most outstanding institution of Islam. Although it was divested of its original position as the repository of all power over the world of Islam, it was still the symbol of universal Islamic unity and was still regarded though somewhat vaguely, as the only authority entitled to declare a holy war (‘jihad’) for the defense of the faith. The affront done to the ‘Khilafat’ infuriated the Indian Muslims. This afferent revived in their memories all the grave wrongs done to the Muslims in the past in the name of Christianity particularly in-Spain and during the Crusades not to speak of the ruthless suppression of Indian Muslims by the Britishers after the Sepoy Mutiny. Muslim resentment against the Britishers thus rose to a boiling point. They were, therefore, greatly attracted to this anti-British movement of non-cooperation.
In my own district there was a spectacular Muslim towards this movement many Faridpur Muslims drew additional inspiration from the lead given by Pir Badsha Mia (Aba-Khaled Muhammad Rashid-uddin) of Bahadurpur (Faridpur) who was a descendant of the celebrated Hajee Shariatullah, who was connected with the historic Wahabi struggle. My own example also probably served as a stimulating factor. As a successful young Muslim lawyer and particularly as the Secretary of the reorganised and popularised Anjuman-i-Islamia of the district. I was fortunate to win the confidence of a large section in my community.
- Non-Cooperation Movement
Shortly after I joined the movement I was elected as the General Secretary of the Faridpur District Congress Committee and as the Vice-President of the District Khilafat Committee. Khilafat Committees were set up throughout the country and these worked conjointly with the Congress Organisation. I discarded my costume made of foreign textiles except the lawyer’s gown which had to be compulsorily put on when appearing before a Court of law, and donned ‘khaddar’ (coarse cloth made of home-spun yarn). Spinning also was enjoined upon all non-cooperators. I procured a ’charka’ and took to occasional spinning. I had to attend innumerable public meetings both in the town and in the villages and my practice as a lawyer began to suffer. Volunteers were recruited in large numbers and the atmosphere everywhere reverberated with their full-throated slogans of “band-e-Mataram”, “Allaho-Akbar”, “Gandigi-ki jai”, “Ali Bhaiynu-ki jai”, “Hindu-Mussalman ki jai” and so on and so forth. It appeared that the face of the country changed over night. Nothing like this enthusiasm was repeated except during the agitation for Pakistan during the forties, though it was of a different complexion and was confined to Muslims only.
This sudden flood of enthusiasm threw the previously existing Muslim and Hindu organisations into the background. The Anjuman-i-Islamia in the various districts became dormant. Muslim League activities also came to a standstill. I had become a member of the All India Muslim League in 1915. For financial reasons I could hardly attend its meetings except when held in Calcutta. All that I used to do, as, in fact many other members of the Muslim League did, was to send written opinions regarding proposed resolutions which were then regarded as votes, and to remit my annual subscription. At that time there was no rule debarring members of the Muslim League from joining other political organisations or viceversa and so my joining the Congress did not affect my membership of the Muslim league. For several years Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Mowlana Muhammad Ali and many other leaders were both members of the Muslim League as well as of the Congress. Mr. Jinnah joined the Muslim League as a member in 1913 while he was a leading figure in the Congress. Subsequently he was simultaneously members of three political organisations, the Muslim League, the Congress and the Home Rule league.
Although a large number of Hindus and Muslims of Faridpur joined the non-cooperation movement the veteran Congress leader Ambica Charan Majumdar like most other elder politicians in the Congress throughout the country, who were styled as moderates kept aloof. Ambica Babu had no faith in the movement and he had once tauntingly called it a “political hungerstrike”. Conviction kept him away from the movement. There were others who were mere stooges of the Government and deliberately kept aloof. Khan Bahadur Abdul Ghani was the most prominent amongst the Muslims of this group and he exploited his loyalty to the Government in the fulest measure for his personal gain.
A special session of the Indian National Congress was held in Calcutta in September, 1920 to consider the principle and programme of the movement. Mahatma Gandhi was never very particular about the letter of the Congress Constitution. He had already inaugurated the programme probably in anticipation of the sanction of the Congress. He was no doubt an adept in correctly reading the pulse of the people, but if the programme had been rejected by the Congress a very awkward situation would have arisen. The session was presided over by Lala Lajpat Rai who had recently returned to India after a long stay in the United States. Almost all old veterans of the Congress including the President himself opposed the resolution of non-cooperation moved by Mahatma Gandhi, except Pundit Motilal Nehru. Mr. C.R. Das would have wholeheartedly supported the resolution but for the fact that the resolution contained a clause calling upon the boycott of the Legislatures to which he was opposed. I do not remember whether Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah spoke on the resolution, which however was passed by an overwhelming majority inspite of the strong opposition. As this was only a special session the decision was considered to be tentative and was placed before the regular session to be held at Nagpur for final adoption.
A session of the All-India Muslim League also held at the same time in Calcutta was presided over by Mr. Jinnah. In his presidential address he did not express himself either in favour or against non-cooperation. He was as vehement in his condemnation of the post-war reforms, the Rowlatt Act, the Punjab atrocities and the affront to the Khilafat, as any speaker in the Congress session, but with regard to non-cooperation he was non-committal. He said “It is now for you to consider whether or not you approve of the principle, and, approving of its principle, whether or not, you approve of its details. The operations of this scheme will strike at the individual in each one of you, and, therefore it rests with you alone to measure your strength and to weigh the pros and cons of the question before you arrive at a decision. But once you have decided to march, let there be no retreat in any circumstances”. It appears his mind was still open, but later on he made up his mind and opposed the programme of non-cooperation, not because of any disagreement with its main objectives about which he was as keen as anybody else in the Congress, but because he considered it impracticable, and harmful to the people, particularly to Muslims. He disagreed about the methods proposed to be applied.
On my return to Faridpur from the Calcutta session of the Congress I resumed local activities with renewed vigour. I had till now no intention of giving up my practice as a lawyer and in fact no one expected it . Towards the end of the year candidates for election to the Provincial Legislature were filing nomination papers. Verbal information reached Faridpur that there was no bar to Congressmen contesting the elections. We thought that an informal decision to this effect was probably taken in deference to the views of Mr. C.R. Das and other prominent Congress leaders. As no written instruction had come the question was not free from doubt. In a doubting dubious mood I filed my nomination paper intending to withdraw later on if necessary. On account of this uncertainty, as an alternative step to prevent the seat being captured by a pro-government candidate, we also setup a cartman named Birbal, a Muslim with a Hindu name, as a candidature, to contest the seat in the event of the withdrawal of my candidature. Moulvi Abdul Karim, son of ultra-loyalist Khan Bahadur Abdul Ghani was the other candidate. A few days later verbal message came from Calcutta instructing Congress candidates to withdraw from the contest. I came to know later on that Mr. C. R. Das, the leader of Bengal, who felt so strongly in favour of Council entry, was himself in a dubious mood on the question of actually contesting the elections, and at first instructed Congress men to file their nomination papers. But later on indifference to the Congress resolution he asked congress candidates to withdraw. Accordingly I withdrew my candidature and we were preparing to fall back on the alternative of supporting Birbal the carter. The idea was to make a mockery of the new reforms and also not to allow unpopular Government stooges to get elected unopposed and pose as the people’s representatives. But the shrewd Khan Bahadur Abdul Ghani father of Moulvi Abdul Karim baffled us by secretly buying up Birbal and making him withdraw. The result was that Moulvi Abdul Karim was elected unopposed. The popular support to the Congress Khilafat movement was so pronounced that in the event of a contest even with Birbal, Moulvi Abdul Karim would have been in all probability defeated. In many other districts where persons considered low in the social scale including one or two sweepers were set up, they defeated the loyalist candidates. This tendency to set up lowly persons against loyalist high-ups continued till the election held in 1926 in which a sweeper, named Hosseni Rahut, who was an untouchable Hindu, got elected to the Bengal Legislative Council !
The regular annual session of the Congress in 1920, was held at Nagpur in the month of December. The non-cooperation programme had to be finally adopted at the regular session. The contingent of delegates from Bengal was probably the largest, because Mr. C.R. Das who was still opposed to the programme as a whole was determined to win at Nagpur and mobilised all the available forces from Bengal. Most of the delegates got their traveling expenses from somewhere. Amongst the delegates were many opposed to Mr. Gandhi among whom Mr. Srish Chandra Chattopadhyaya was probably the most prominent. He had no faith in the cult of non-violence and this was more than evident not only from his talks but also from the very expression of his face, which according to a companion delegate was itself a symbol of violence. There were many who thought like him and they were out for a fight. The bone of contention, however, was only one item in the non-cooperation programme, namely, boycott of the Legislatures. But a great surprise was in store for the delegates. To avoid an open conflict, Mahatama Gandhi invited Mr. Das for a heart-to-heart talk on the subject. Mowlana Muhammad Ali moved heaven and earth to effect a compromise between the two leaders. In describing the part he played Mr. Ali said that he “moved like a shuttle-cock between these two mighty persons”. The parleys ended in a happy compromise. The compromise resolution was drafted and moved by Das himself. The clause regarding the boycott of Councils was omitted from the resolution, but a new clause was added calling upon the moderates who had been returned unopposed to resign. While moving the resolution Mr. Das announced that he would give up his legal practice. The announcement electrified the entire audience. Mr. Das’s sacrifice gave a unique impetus to the movement.
The vast concourse of delegates in Nagpur was almost in a frenzy. They were not prepared even to give a hearing to an exponent of the opposite view. It required a rare courage indeed, to stand up before such a maddened and hostile crowd to give expression to a contrary view. The only person who did so was Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Perfectly composed and in forceful, clear language he advanced his arguments against the non-cooperation programme, even though he was occasionally heckled. There was no question of his opposition being successful. The resolution on non-cooperation was almost unanimously adopted. But Col. Wedgood Benn, who along with Holford Knight and Ben Spoor attended the session on behalf of the British Labour Party complemented Mohammad Ali Jinnah on the courage of his conviction and said that a country which could produce such leaders was bound to regain its freedom.
The Session was presided over by Vijaya Raghab Achari. An unprecedented feature of the session was the presence of a very large proportion of Muslim delegates including many turbanned and long robed Mowlanas, and of a big contingent of lady delegates. The presence on the dias, amongst others, of old Pandit Matilal Nehru in a typical costume generally dormed by Muslims of U.P., his son Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in similar dress, and a Kamla Nehru, wife of the younger Nehru with her daughter Indira who was then about 4 years old, introduced in idyllic touch to the scene, which was heightened by the pranks of Indira who was often seen to play a merry-go-round between mother, father and grandfather !
Amongst the other prominent leaders, Mowlana Mohammad Ali was in a light vein and diverted the audience with his witty remarks and short speeches full of sparkling humour. I was greatly impressed by the clear, analytical and forceful speech delivered by Mr. Rajagopalachari.
The All-India Khilafat Conference as well as the annual Muslim League session were also held at Nagpur at the same time. The main attraction however was the Congress session. The Khilafat conference was also a very impressive show but it was more or less an adjunct to the Congress. There was no novelty now in the Muslim League and its session at Nagpur did hardly anything more than repeat the resolutions adopted at the Khilafat Conference. For several years henceforward the Muslim League was more or less dormant.
After attending the Nagpur meeting I took a short holiday and visited Ajmeer and Delhi before I returned to Faridpur. I resumed my Congress activities with renewed vigour. After Nagpur the Congress movement began to spread like a wild fire. As already stated, Mr. C.R. Das’s renunciation of a princely practice at the Calcutta High Court Bar made a profound impression on the people. The Government stood stunned and did not know how to deal with this novel situation. Many students were leaving schools and colleges. There were also some resignations from Government services, one significant instance being the resignation of Mr. Prafulla Ghosh, later on, the first premier of post-partition Province of West Bengal. He was a poor man and it was a great sacrifice for him to give up his lucrative appointment as the first Indian Deputy Anoy master in the Mint in Calcutta.
I began to feel uneasy in my own mind. So far it was rather easy sailing for me. I did not feel unhappy about the great-strain I was going through or the austere life that I had adopted. My practice no doubt suffered, but my popularity also greatly enhanced. Now the question arose of going the whole hog. My younger and only brother Abu Ahmed Khan, 18 years junior to me, was then a student of class IV in the Faridpur Zilla School, a Government Institution. He was as a matter of course putting up with me at Faridpur. With trepidation of heart I withdrew him from the School. I did this at the call of what I considered to be afar higher duty. I was hoping that this suspension of studies would be a temporary affair and no irreparable harm would be done to my brothers’ career. But events proved otherwise, and this act of mine has been an abiding regret to me throughout my life. Later on when I was in jail and received news of the movement being suspended I decided to send word to my father to get Abu admitted at our village High School at Khankhanapur. Some of my jail mates came to know about it and dissuaded me from taking that course. After my release from prison Abu was sent back to school, but he could not rekindle any of his previous enthusiasm. I then sent him to a Homeopathic Institution in Calcutta where he studied for about three years and got a diploma from that Institute. Ever since, he has been practicing at Faridpur and on account of his indifferent health has been living a life of great struggle inspite of the assistance I have been giving him according to my capacity.
The next problem was for me to decide whether I should give up my practice. This was the hardest problem for me. Inspite of a fairly good practice as a young junior pleader I neither had or could possibly have a favourable bank balance. My father also had no money to spare and was himself in need of help. Then there was my wife with her baby daughter. What would happen to them ? I felt puzzled and took some time in pondering over the situation. Although lawyers here and there were suspending practice, no one from the Faridpur Bar was coming forward to do the same, although the Hindu lawyers who had joined the movement, were each one of them, far better equipped than me to give up practice. So if I chose not to give up practice there would have been hardly any one to blame me. In fact no one expected that a rising Muslim pleader with family responsibilities like those of mine would risk his career by taking a jump into the dark. But I felt very uneasy within myself. The inconsistency of my position of being a soldier in the cause of my religion and my country and yet not following in full the directions of the organisations that sponsored the movement, began constantly to harass my mind. It was mainly concern for my family that made me hesitate for some time. Early in 1921, while in the throes of this dilemma I saw a streak of light in the dark horizen. Students were leaving schools and colleges in large numbers and there were sporadic efforts to set up alternative national institutions to cater for them. I read in the papers that a national college was being established in Calcutta for which a number of professors were wanted. I though I might possibly he selected as one of them in which case the little remuneration that such a job might bring would go some way towards meeting my personal expenses and also sparing something for my family. In this expectation I made up mind and it was a great surprise to everybody at Faridpur when I announced my decision. It gave a great momentum to the movement in my own district.
I gave up my rented house at Faridpur, sent my younger brother home and sent wife, child and a brother-in-law Abdul Quader, a school student who was putting up with me, to my father-in-law’s house. I myself removed to Nasir’s rented house. Nasir also had joined the movement, but he was not in a position to give up practice. After sometime I was selected as a Professor of English in the National College. I was given a great send-off when I left for Calcutta to take up my new job. A Hindu lawyer remarked, “Tamizuddin, you will be a great man”. Though it sounded too much like a platitude, seriously I felt an inner satisfaction that I was doing the right thing.
The National College was named “Gandiya Sarba Vidyaayatana” and was located in a big house called ‘Forbes Mansion’ in Wellington Square. The name given to the college indicates the Hindu Revivalist trend in the movement. I did not like the name and the Muslim generally did not understand the meaning it carried. The main initiative in the establishment of the College was that of Mr. C.R. Das. Though he was not himself a revivalist and was perhaps the most broadminded and farsighted amongst the Hindu leaders, he could not ignore the general revivalist tendency which was responsible for the invention of this queer Sanskrit name for the institution.
When I joined the College shortly after its establishment, I found it in a somewhat chaotic condition which was not unexpected. Although it was supposed to be a national College no corresponding courses of studies could yet be evolved. The same curriculum as in vogue in the institutions left by the students was being followed in a haphazard way. The boys did not at all appear to be enthusiastic about all that was being done in the College. Inside the College there was nothing like the electrified atmosphere that prevailed outside through the country. However I took to my duties seriously and tried to do my best as permitted by the circumstances. Mr. J.L. Banerjee was the acting Principal of the College at the time. It had already been decided that Mr. Subhas Chandra Bose, who had resigned his newly high appointment in the Indian Civil Service on his brilliant success at the I.C.S (Indian Civil Service) Examination held in England, with a view to joining he national movement and was still in Europe, would join the College as its principal, on his return. All major decisions on policy were being postponed in expectation of his arrival. It was however quite a long time before he came and joined the College in July, 1921.
The men had joined the College had done so in a spirit of sacrifice. I was getting Rs. 100 as my remuneration. The salary given to the teachers was called “dakshmina” in conformity with the revivalist trend. While serving in the College I took up residence in the office room of an association of Ulema of which the head was Hazrat Mowlana Abu Baker the renowned Pir Saheb of Furfura. The office was located in Machhuabazar street. Mowlana Afsaruddin of the district of Faridpur, a leading disciple of the Pir Saheb, was incharge of the office. He was probably the Secretary of the association. My previous acquaintance with Mowlana Afsaruddin enabled me to find accommodation there. There were several other similar occupants of the room. We used to spread our beds on the matted floor of the room at night and fold them up during the day time. I used to take my meals in one of the numerous Muslim restaurants in that predominantly Muslim area. The offices of the Provincial and the Calcutta Khilafat Committees were also situated in the locality and as such I could easily keep myself in touch with their activities.
The All-India Congress Committee and the Central Khilafat Committee met in Bombay form the 28th of July to the 3rd of August, 1921. I went to Bombay to attend the session. According to a previous resolution of the All-India Congress Committee held at Bezwada in March, a sum of ten million (one crore) rupees was to be collected for the Congress fund which was named the Tilak Swaraj Fund. The collection was now complete and at the Bombay meeting a resolution was adopted congratulating the country on the fulfilment of the Bezwada programme. Shortly before the meeting the fund was short of the target by eighteen lakhs and Mr. Omar Sobhani contributed the entire amount to fulfil the target. The meeting by another resolution asked the people to abstain from extending a welcome to the Prince of Wales who was due to visit India. It was also decided to intensify the boycott of foreign cloth, and in this connection it was recommended that foreign cloth should be collected and publicly burnt. Shortly afterwards in the Parell area of Bombay there was a spectacular demonstration of this. After a mammoth public meeting there was a huge bonfire of foreign cloth.
While in Bombay I had occasion to come into close touch with some top ranking leaders, particularly Mowlana Mohammad Ali and Mowlana Shawkat Ali. The former was a most genial and identifatigable table talker and it was a treat to listen to him. He had the rare gift of being able to make fun of almost everything and we roared with laughter when he made fun of his bulky elder brother, Mowlana Shaukat Ali.
Besides seeing many other places of interest I paid a visit to the celebrated Elephanta Caves situated in the tiny harbour island of the same name. Along with several other Bengali members I was staying in the office buildings of he Central Khilafat Committee. When I informed the officer in charge of the premises about our intention to visit the Elephanta, he asked us by what means we were going. I replied that we wanted to go by country boat. Then he gravely asked us to leave our names and home addressed with him. We asked him why he wanted our address. He said “your belongings will have to be sent back to your home”. When we realised the import of this grim humour we burst into laughter and abandoning our intention to go by country boat in that rough season went instead by the ferry steam launch.
Returning to Calcutta I resumed my duties in the college. The tempo of the movement was now greatly increasing. The Ali Brothers were arrested in August and this infuriated the entire country, particularly, the Muslims. Congress work at Faridpur received a set back after my departure for Calcutta. I had not resigned my office as Secretary of the District Congress Committee as everybody was against my resignation and my duties were being performed by the Assistant Secretaries. This arrangement did not prove satisfactory and workbegan to suffer. Consequently there was a demand for my return to Faridpur. Though that would mean the loss of the remuneration that I was drawing from the College, small as it was, I felt I should go back to my more arduous work at Faridpur and with the permission of the new Principal, Mr. Subhas Bose and of Mr. C.R. Das, the leader of the movement in Bengal, I went back to Faridpur.
As I had no house now at Faridpur I began to put up with Nasir. I used to sleep in his outhouse and take my meals with him. This arrangement continued for about a month or so. Then I removed to a private rest house adjacent to Nasir’s house, which was built by the common landlord Moulvi Wahidunnabi of Kaijuri. He had given this small establishment the attractive name of “Aram Manzil” or the ‘Abode of Comfort’. I really enjoyed my stay here till about the end of the year. During this period I could not give any pecuniary help to my father or spend a pice for my wife and daughter who were living with my father-in-law. He, however, was in fairly affluent circumstances and did not at all consider this as a burden. It would hardly have been different even if he was a poor man. According to the tradition of our country such things are taken to be the normal exigencies of family life. I often discussed the political situation with my father-in-law. He was from the start doubtful about the success of the movement. My wife was in full sympathy with me and bore her lot with stoic forbearance. She took to spinning and soon acquired considerable skill in the art.
My father never expressed his disapproval of my joining the non-cooperation movement and giving up of my practice. Whenever I met him he used to ask me numerous questions about the progress of the movement and seemed to be eager about its ultimate success. He was in evident financial difficulties, but never spoke to me a world about his worries. His forbearance made me feel all the more guilty. My mother and younger aunt had full faith in me and always hoped for the best. My younger brother, in the absence of any schooling during this period, began to take active interest in our small agricultural firm.
The new item in the non-operation programme, viz., the burning of foreign cloth added a dramatic touch to the movement. I had already burnt mine. At the conclusion of every public meeting there was a bonfire of foreign cloth and it was really amazing that so many people, almost in a mad frenzy threw their valuable articles of dress into the fire. For sometime I was working in constant collaboration with Dr. Suresh Chandra Banerjee, subsequently a renowned labour leader in Calcutta, and became very friendly with him. Amongst the leaders of the district, Peer Badsha Mea and Dr. Banerjee were the first to be arrested. Dr. Banerjee was arrested at Faridpur. In the evening of his arrest there was big protest meeting at Faridpur. I became particularly warm while addressing that meeting and the result was probably the biggest bonfire of foreign cloth at Faridpur.
The Government resorted to repressive measures after great hesitation. For quite a long time there was evident embarrassment in Government circles. They did not know how to deal with a novel movement of non-violent non-cooperation. Mahatma Gandhi was an enigmatic personality like his prototypes of old, the ancient Hindu Rishis. In inaugurating the movement he had promised that if his programme was followed Swaraj would be achieved by the 30th of September, 1921. The fixing of a definite dead line mystified many. Millions of his unsophisticated Hindu followers seemed to entertain a vague belief that the Mahatma had a premonition of what the future held for them. I personally thought that it was a mere device to rouse the enthusiasm of the people to a white heat. It was however unfortunate that such a scheme was resorted to. It not only gave rise to confusion but also acted as a damper when the dead line approached and passed without the promise being fulfilled. As regards my own mental attitude, after the first flush of enthusiasm had passed away. I felt convinced that the struggle was going to be a protracted one. Naturally, therefore, my thoughts turned to the question of a provision for myself and my family. Towards the end of the year I started a small “ Khaddar” shop at Chawkbazar, Faridpur in a rented hut jointly with my friend Moulvi Habibur Rahman, a close co-worker. There was a great demand for ‘Khaddar’ in those days and the shop had a very promising start. But soon afterwards I had to be out of Bengal to attend meetings of the All India Congress Committee and the Central Khilafat Committee and I took Moulvi Habibur Rahman as I intended to make some purchases for our shop during the trip. After attending the meetings we went to the Punjab and visited certain Khaddar centres, but could not make any appreciable purchase. On our way back we made a more substantial purchase in Calcutta. Meanwhile in the wake of the visit of the Prince of Wales, which Congress had decided to boycott, the Government intensified its repressive measures. The Prince, who had already arrived in India, was due to come to Calcutta on the 24th December, 1921. To save the Prince from the dishonour of a boycott, which promised to be of a specially spectacular nature in Calcutta in view of the unique success of the hartal that was held in Calcutta on the 17th November, the day on which the Prince landed in Bombay, the Government made a last minute attempt to come to an understanding with the Congress. We heard that there was some discussion between certain Government representatives and Mr. C.R. Das, then in the Alipur Central jail as under trial prisoner, after his arrest on the 10th December. But the move failed since Mahatma Gandhi insisted that Congress and Khilafat leaders in prison, particularly Mowlana Mohammad Ali, must be released before any negotiations could take place. To that the Government did not agree. On his release, Mr. Das openly criticised Mahatma Gandhi for taking this stand. However after the failure of this conciliatory move, mass arrests began. Congress volunteer organisations had already been declared illegal. It was in this situation that I had reached Calcutta with Moulvi Habibur Rahman from the Punjab. I heard a rumour that there was a warrant of arrest against me and that I would be arrested on my return to Faridpur. On our way back to Faridpur I stopped over at Rajbari and went to my father-in-law’s house to take leave of my wife. From there I hurried back to Faridpur, but for two or three days the expected arrest did not take place. This respite enabled me to arrange for the running of the shop during my absence.
- Imprisonment: Faridpur Jail
One December afternoon while I was returning to my place of residence in the compound of Nasir’s house and was on the road in front of the house I saw an Inspector of Police, well known to me, who was coming towards me from the opposite direction. My instinct told me that he was coming to arrest me and I asked him forthwith, “Are you the person to do the job?” He replied “I am the unfortunate man” and his countenance gave evidence his unhappiness. We both came to the ‘baitak khana’ (waiting room) of Nasir (I told him that I would get prepared very soon) and later left the baitak-khana for the Jail. The news spread like wild fire in the town and a large number of people assembled in the compound of the house. I was taken to the district jail.
I had never before seen the inside of the jail and almost every time that I passed by the jail during my stay at Faridpur there was a mysterious curiosity,ľ almost a hankering to see how things went on within. That curiosity was now satisfied in a manner which I could not then visualise even in my wildest imagination. On bowing through the window sized entrance of the massive iron-gate and looking at the new panorama unfolded to my curious eyes, the first impression was that of an entirely new world far more clean and orderly, though far more subdued. I was taken to a small walled compound which contained a few cells meant for, as I heard, condemned prisoners or those punished with solitary imprisonment. I found there a small batch of about half a dozen non-cooperators from the Madaripur Subdivision, who had been brought under arrest into the jail only a few minutes before me. The sun had just set and those of us who were Muslims told the jailor, who also happened to be a Muslim, that we wanted to offer our “maghreb” prayer and were in need of water for ablutions. He showed us a nearby tin watertap and a few shallow iron cups lying closeby and said we might take water from the tap into the iron cups and perform our ablutions for the prayers. We found it a most awkward job to do our ablutions with the help of these shallow cups, though later on we became adepts in using those cups in the most economical way possible. After we had offered our prayers on the bare floor of the compound we were put into the cells, two in each cell, about 4˘ ´ 10˘ in dimension hardly spacious enough for a single person. My cell companion happened to be Moulvi Khalilur Rahman nick named Moulvi Bakhar Ali of Nagerpara in the Madaripur Subdivision. I found him to be a charming personality, vastly learned in Islamic lore, having a keen sense of humour and courageous like a lion in keeping with his commanding appearance. We were given several rough blankets, one for lying on, one to be folded up for a pillow and one to cover the body. Two plastered cane baskets were placed in the cell for holding urine. No water was supplied and since Muslims, almost without exception in those days used to observe the Islamic sanitary directive of a wash after every urination, we restrained ourselves and had no occasion to use the baskets during the night.
We were locked up at nightfall and next morning after being unlocked were taken to another ward where we were kept with other under-trials and convicts. The batch that had come from Madaripur had already been tried and convicted at Madaripur. As we had been taken to the jail the previous evening after meal time, we were not given any food that evening and as for myself I had no inclination to have anything. So I had my first experience of jail food at breakfast time next morning. We were taken to the compound in front of our ward, made to squat on the bare ground and were served with ‘labsi’ in iron plates. ‘Labsi’ is a kind of rice gruel which is served with salt for breakfast to ordinary prisoners. The rice used for the gruel contained a high percentage of impurities and I could eat very little of it indeed. Although the grueld was nothing but rice and water, a jail official, on our complaint, said that it was very nutritious. Lunch was given under similar conditions at about 12 noon. It consisted of coarse boiled rice, coarse boiled pulse and a kind of vegetable curry. I could hardly take more than a quarter of the quantity served. Dinner which was in no respect different from the lunch was served at about 6 p.m. Dinner was to be finished before sunset when we were locked up. During night no sound sleep was possible. The rough blanket bed was very uncomfortable. Moreover the constant vigil and the perpetual inspection of the prisoners and giving accounts by warders to supervising staff in accentuated loud voice, were to us almost an unbearable nuisance which kept us almost constantly awake for the first few weeks of our jail life. During day time the regimentation for collective use of the almost unscreened latrines seemed to be most degrading and sub-human. I do not know whether such arrangements were deliberately made to dehumanise the prisoners or to facilitate the keeping of constant watch on convicts under all conditions. There was similar regimentation for bathing. We were taken to a cemented yard through which ran a row of narrow channels about 11/2 feet wide and 1/4 feet deep in which water was made to flow and prisoners were required to wash themselves with the help of those typical shallow iron cups and to finish the whole business in about five minutes.
The treatment of ordinary prisoners by the warders was staggeringly inhuman. The warders hardly spoke to the prisoners except in the language of abuse. Even the slightest error or amissness on the part of a prisoner would often invite not only most filthy abuses but also slaps and kicks. They were treated even worse than a herd of cattle. The most offensive person in this respect was the ‘Jamadar’, the head of the wardens at the Faridpur jail at that time. Later on in the Dacca Central Jail I found such officers somewhat better behaved. Wardens and officers, however, were, on the whole, well-behaved towards political prisoners even in the Faridpur Jail, within the limits of jail regulations, though some of then were over-zealous.
The Court precincts were only about two furlongs off from the Jail gate and I was taken on foot to the court of a first class Deputy magistrate on the date fixed for my trial. I was handcuffed and escorted first of all to the office of the Court police. While I was seated on a chair in the office room, Khan Bahadur Abul Ghani, who was the Secretary of the Faridpur Sadar Central Cooperative Bank of which I had also been a Director, came to see me from his office situated within the court compound. He burst into tears while talking to me. I do not know whether the tears were really sincere. My personal relations which him were quite cordial though he was an avowed enemy of our movement. Other persons who gathered round the place were not allowed to enter the office room. From there I was taken to the Court. A large throng of people assembled in and about the court room. I was charged under a section, probably section 17(2) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act. The specific offense alleged against me was the maintenance of a crops of volunteers defying Government orders declaring the volunteer organisation illegal. For some technical reason the case was adjourned. On the next date early in January, 1922, according to the policy that was being pursued by the Congress, I did not defend myself. I handed in a written statement defying the authority of a court established by a foreign power to try me. I was convicted of the offence I was charged with and awarded rigorous imprisonment for two years, the maximum penalty provided under the section.
G.P. Hogg, I.C.S. was then the District Magistrate of Faridpur and ex-officio Superintendent of the Jail. He was good looking and of polished demeanor, but very ruthless and I think also un-scrupulous. He visited the jail a few days after my conviction. While we were squatting on the ground for our typical breakfast we found him amongst us. He approached me and exultingly said, “so you are all convicts now. Do you now realise how misguided you are?” I replied that it was yet too early for them to exult and that Government would have ultimately to yield as we would make administration impossible for them. In reply to his question as to how we could do it, I said that, apart from other things Government would find it impossible to accommodate the thousands of people who were volunteering arrest. Non-cooperators, young and old were then pouring into the jail which was already more than full. Hogg replied that the British Government, which had dealt with millions of war prisoners could certainly deal with those convicts. His reply set me thinking, but he was not entirely right. The movement had almost succeeded and one official report was said to have admitted that it was “Within an inch of success”. Later on, even Mr. Jinnah, who had not joined the movement, said that the movement would have succeeded if its leadership was in the hands of a real politician.
Amongst the political prisoners there were a large number of young lads. The majority of these prisoners hailed from the Madaripur Subdivision which was not only the largest Subdivision of the Faridpur district but was also perhaps more politically conscious. It was almost an impossible task for the authorities to keep these enthusiastic lads under discipline. Almost constantly they shouted the usual Congress slogans in batches. Mixing of political prisoners with ordinary convicts was prohibited, but such mixing became quite frequent. The jail assumed the aspect of a mad house. I thought this to be quite unbecoming of non-violent non-cooperators who were required by the very creed of the movement to keep themselves under the strictest discipline. I conferred with other leaders on the matter and we decided that the lads should be advised to observe the discipline of the jail except in one respect. We found in the jail an established practice which, we felt, we should on no account, submit to. Whenever the Superintendent or any other official visited the jail, he was escorted by an impressive army of junior officers, policemen and wardens. On his stepping in, the usherer shouted in a thundering voice “Sarkar” and after a short pause, “Salam”. As soon as ‘Sarkar’ was shouted all prisoners within view had to stand at attention, and when ‘Salam’ was shouted, they were to salute by raising the up-turned right palm upto the forehead. This we considered to be a humiliating practice, particularly militating with our defiance of the “Sarker”, which Mahatma Gandhi had described as a ‘satanic Government which must be mended or ended’. Political prisoners at the Fardipur Jail from the start had never conformed to this practice. We decided that this jail injunction we must continue to defy. Though our instructions to the young volunteers made a marked improvement in discipline in other respects, the vain G.P. Hogg whom the volunteers in their hatred used to call ‘the great peninsular hog’ in conformity with the initials of his name, could not bear this affront and he decided to teach the delinquents a good lesson.
One morning at about 10 A.M. he came to the jail like a general leading an invading army. There was a large number of armed policemen in his procession. Just before his arrival, under orders of the jailor, the political prisoners, who were then scattered hether and thether, were assembled inside their ward and stood in four long rows. The jailor then directed them to salute the District Magistrate in the appropriate manner on his entering the ward. It was a very tense situation. The District Magistrate entered in triumph. The usherer thundered ‘Sarkar’, and after a second’s pause, “Salam”. I felt a sudden sting of shame and surprise to find that a large proportion about 30 percent of our men almost involuntarily raised their hands in salute. However that was no satisfaction to the Magistrate because the majority defied the order and so the drama could not end there. Those who defied had to be punished. But for some reason the authorities did not seem disposed to punish so many men and decided to pick and choose. A Deputy Magistrate who was quite intimate with me began to go round the rows and to pick up persons for punishment. When he approached me I was surprised that I was passed over and the man standing next to me, Nibaran Chandra Pal was selected. I at once burst out,ľ “Why are you leaving me off, have I saluted?” He repliedľ “Alright, then come up”. The selectees were then taken to a grassy yard and made to squat on the ground. At some distance arrangements were made for whipping the culprits. The first person to be so treated was Surendra Nath Sinha, Headmaster of a High English School. He was uttering Congress slogans while being whipped. The next person was Panchanan Benarjee, a volunteer. He had a fine physique indicating enormous bodily strength, and also a stout heart. When he was released from the whipping board after receiving the stripes he wore a smile of defiance and contempt on his face. While this was going on we thought all of us would be whipped in turn. Although all the rest were not as plucky as Panchanan, no one seemed cowed down with fear. I was, were, weighed down with a sense of ignominy on account of the degrading manner in which whipping is administered. The victim is stripped and tied up with his chest on the whipping board and flogged on his bare buttocks. It was this stripping that I was dreading and how earnestly I was desiring that I might be spared this unbearable ignominy, although I was, like all the rest, otherwise prepared and even anxious for a chastisement to which some of my comrades were subjected. It was really a great relief to me when I found that no third man was taken to the whipping board. I heard later on that the reason for not whipping the rest was that there was a jail regulation prohibiting the whipping of more than two convicts in a week. I had no occasion to verify if actually there was any such regulation. However, after the whipping Mr. Hogg approached the rest of us who were then squatting in the burning sun. As a reaction to the feat of brutality he had just indulged in, there was probably a touch of the opposite emotion of human compassion in his heart and he asked us to move away from the sun to the shade cast by a nearby building. Various other punishments were then awarded to the rest of us. I had the distinction of being the only person who was given “standing handcuffed for two days”. The rest were given “bar-fetters” or some sort of hand work in addition to the normal labour that rigorous imprisonment entails. Some of the hardest of these were driving the oiled press, pedaling the paddy husking pedal and operating the grindstone or the water wheel.
I was handcuffed and taken to the oil-press shed called “Ghanighar” where my handcuff was attached to an iron-string which was pegged to a pillar making me keep in a standing position with raised arms and hands. The warder in charge used to unlock me at meal times. Probably I would have been similarly unlocked if requested to do so, at prayer times. But resentment and pride prevented me from doing so. I used to offer my prayers in the imposed standing position, touching the pillar with my forehead in lieu of the regular ‘sijda’ or prostration.
I heard after my release that the news of the inhuman treatment mated out to us created a great sensation in the town. A complete ‘hartal’ was observed and there was resentment and sorrow almost in every home. The situation in the town created an urge in the local members of the Legislative Council to pay a visit to the jail. The visitor was no other person than Moulvi Abdul Karim whom I would have certainly defeated in the 1920 election if I did not withdraw from the contest in accordance with Congress mandate and whom, in all likelihood, Birbal, the cartman candidate set up by us, would also have defeated had he not been ultimately bought up and made to withdraw. On the second day of my punishment while I was standing in that awkward position in the oil-press, I heard with great consternation that Moulvi Abdul Karim had come to visit the jail. The very idea of being seen in that position by a person who was an enemy of our movement and who probably had me arrested exult in his heart seeing me so humiliated, became unbearable to me. But I was providentially saved. Moulvi Abdul Karim, who had probably seen me from a distance in that position and may have himself wanted to avoid an awkward encounter did not approach me and passed by the oil shed as if without noticing me.
It took me sometime to recover form the psychological effect of this punishment. I could not help constantly brooding on the humiliation inflicted on us. In that morbid state of mind I began a hunger strike. The stand I took was that I would not take the food offered by an insulting hand. My comrades grew anxious and off and on they saw me in batches and tried to induce me to give up the strike. Moulvi Khalilar Rahman confronted me with irrefutable religious arguments. He said it was unislamic to commit suicide, a doctrine which I took knew as well. But I told him that my purpose was not suicide at all and that I had no objection to take food coming from any other source. He replied that as any other source was unthinkable under the circumstances, refusal to take food if pressed to the bitter and would mean suicide. In my obstinacy I kept on arguing with him, but he was equally tenacious and kept on arguing from all possible angles. Ultimately I yielded and gave up the fast.
We had been punished, but it was Mr. G.P. Hogg who was defeated. The refusal of political prisoners to salute the “Sarkar” continued as before. Even those who had almost involuntarily raised their hands in salute on that sombre occasion, never again saluted the ‘Sarkar’. Later on, we had the satisfaction to learn that the stand taken by us in the Faridpur Jail in this respect opened the eyes of the higher authorities and political prisoners were exempted from saluting the ‘Sarkar’. This exemption however was not secured before Sir Abdur Rahim who was then the member of the Bengal Governor’s Executive Council, in-charge of the Home Department had either resigned or threatened to resign his port-folio in protest in case his proposal to exempt political prisoners from such saluting was not accepted, as I heard after my release.
When I had been arrested I found that political prisoners had been pouring in from all over the district. The influx rapidly increased and the situation very soon assumed unmanageable proportions for the authorities concerned. A new policy was therefore adopted by the Government. Mass arrests were slowed down. In many cases after arrest the men were taken in police vans to a great distance and released. Inside the jail treatment of political prisoners, particularly of the volunteer class became more harsh than before so that new comers might be discouraged and those who were already in and who were given the option of release on signing bonds might be cowed down and induced to sign such tends. This policy succeeded to some extent and many youngsters, some of them quite illiterate and innocent about the objectives of the movement signed bonds to secure release. We felt greatly mortified and humiliated.
Our lads were given all kinds of hard work whereas the leaders were more lightly treated. We saw through this game, and voluntary imposed on ourselves the same hard work as was given to the volunteers. I thus joined the volunteers in turning the water wheel. While thus engaged I committed an act of boyish indiscretion. While the wheel was being turned by one of my comrades I found a rod in a piston, pressing upon a socket at spilt second intervals. I felt curious whether I could insert my finger between the rod and the socket during the split second and draw it out safe. Thinking I would succeed I inserted my right forefinger and got it crashed. I was in agony for several hours and what annoyed me all the more was the suppressed amusement of some of my comrades at my childish prank. It was surprising that ultimately the wound perfectly healed leaving no trace whatsoever of the injury.
Within a short time of my imprisonment my health considerably deteriorated. My intestines had already a colitic tendency. My stomach did not take kindly to the ordinary jail food and I had one or two attacks of colitis. During such attacks I was removed to the hospital which flanked the Jessore Road, the main road passing through the town of Faridpur. I was given a bed on the first floor near a window through which I could look on the traffic along the busy road.
While at Faridpur Jail I also became a victim to a pest about which I had no previous knowledge at all. One day I felt the pinching bite of something on my back and asked a comrade to see what it was. He picked it up, placed it on the ground and said it was a white lice. We then discovered that the blankets were lice-infected. While the hairy head is the exclusive habitat of ordinary lice, the white ones infests the body and are, therefore more obnoxious. I conceived a peculiar horror of these vermins.
I had another revealing experience in Faridpur Jail. Ordinary prisoners do not get any sugar with their diet and the body becomes sugar starved. Ordinarily sugar starvation does not manifest itself and a victim of such starvation has hardly any suspicion about it. In my case I detected it in a peculiar way. One day I saw some volunteers consuming ‘chapati’ with midasses apparently smuggled into the jail. One of them, Pramatha who had been a pupil of mine, while I was a teacher at the Faridpur Zilla School, offered some of the staff to me. As such behaviour was irregular I declined the offer, but within myself I felt almost an uncontrollable hawkering for the molasses. This was obviously due to sugar starvation. In jail I became very friendly with Babu Surendra Nath Biswas, a fellow prisoner. He had also been awarded like me two year’s rigorous imprisonment. He had been a leading lawyer at the Madaripur Subdivisional Bar and probably the President of the Subdivisional Congress Committee. Even in jail the political prisoners were often presented with problems which had to be tackled by the leaders and Suren Babu was one of the most prominent amongst these leaders. The jail authorities were often frustrated in their designs on account of concerted action being taken by the political prisoners under the guidance of their leaders. After their failure to make the prisoners salute the ‘Sarkar’, they hit upon the plan of separating the leaders from the rest. Sometime after the flogging incident in the month of March or April, Suren Babu and myself were told at dead of night one day that we were going to be transferred to the Dacca Central Jail. Shortly afterwards at about 3 A.M. we were taken in a hackney carriage to the Faridpur Railway station and then by rail and steamer to Dacca.
Imprisonment: Dacca Central Jail
We were taken into the Dacca Central Jail in the afternoon and rather unexpectedly found a somewhat holiday atmosphere in the ward allotted to political prisoners, We were warmly greeted by several of them, amongst whom was Master Mainuddin, very old, plump, toothless and sporting a flowing snow white beard. He greeted me as an old acquaintance although I had never seen him before. The ward was more or less like a student’s hostel with a large number of single seated rooms furnished with iron cots which were covered with thick mattresses. Although there was the usual locking up at night fall each room was provided with a “hurricane” lantern and so the inmates could read at night. The food was much better. There was no longer ‘labsi’ for the breakfast. There was instead, bread, butter or ghee and tea. Rice or chapati and meat for dinner. The fact was that the jail regulations were altered according to which political prisoners were to be treated as special class prisoners. The amended regulation had probably a delayed application to the Faridpur Jail, because we found that it was already in place in the Dacca Central Jail for some time. I heard after my release that from the start the political prisoners, in the Alipur Central jail, amongst whom were personalities like Mr. C.R. Das and Mowlana Abul Kalam Azad were given far better treatment than the special class prisoners at Dacca. Though all politicals were awarded rigorous imprisonment the work allotted in the Dacca Jail to then was very light. The task given to me was to wind up millwoven cotton yarn in a ‘natai’ and make it into a small roll. One hour in the morning was enough for this work.
Jail is an ideal place for meditation and religious devotion. Almost all Muslim prisoners regularly offered their daily prayers at stated times. I was particular about this even before my imprisonment. But my prayers then were more or less formal as I understood very little of the Arabic test in which the prayers are couched. I had never before learnt as a language although I know the meanings of a large number of words occurring in the holy Quran on account of extensive reading of ‘Puthis’ by Muslim scholars of the old school, which abounded in Arabic and Persian words. While I was at the Faridpur jail I had my copy of the holy book sent to me by Nasir, and begun to study it more seriously. At Dacca I found a better opportunity and a more congenial atmosphere to do so. My copy contained line by line urdu translation of the Arabic text, but it was not of much use to me as I did not then know Urdu well enough to follow the translation. At Dacca I did two things about my study of the Quran. Moulvi Syedul Huq of Mymensingh, an undergraduate, was a good ‘Quari’, (one well versed in reading the holy book in a melodious intonation) . Such reading is a difficult but a very fascinating art coveted by Muslims. I became initiated in reading the quran in this artistic way under the guidance of Moulvi Syedul Huq with whom I became very friendly. The other thing I did was to borrow from another friend of the same district, Mr. Shamsul Huq, his copy of the Holy Quran with English translation and commentaries by the famous Mowlana Muhammed Ali of Lahore. This proved to be of immense assistance to me in understanding the meaning of the great book and also in learning its language to some extent. I am deeply indebted to these two friends for what I consider to be almost a turning point in my religious life. I have always regarded my imprisonment as an asset in my life not only because it symbolised the little sacrifice that I could make for the cause of my country and my religion but also on account of the reorientation of my religious life referred to above.
Col. Simpson was then the Superintendent of the Central Jail. He used to seek my advice and assistance as well as those of other leading politician regarding questions of discipline amongst the rank and file of our men. I found that the youngsters misused the privileges that were given to them as political prisoners. There was no restriction regarding water for bathing. They could bathe to their hearts’ content in the water channels which were more ample in size here and flowing with more water than in Faridpur Jail, or under the water taps. Not content with this the lads unloosed the sockets of the hydrants making the water, pour out most wastefully. Col. Simpson’s attention was drawn to this when the water bill had to be paid. He complained to me that on account of this gross abuse he had to pay a huge amount as extra charge. At our intervention this abuse was brought under control.
But the Superintendent did not accept our advice in full with regard to one important development which had far-reaching repercussions. The Government was making desperate attempts to stop further influx of political prisoners. But there was a continuous flow though at a diminished rate. The courts now began to convict most of them under the ordinary law and so the were treated as ordinary convicts. This was a clever device to create dissension amongst political prisoners as well as to discourage further influx. But this was intolerable to us. Our representation for equal treatment for them was turned down. So we offered to take the inferior food given to ordinary convicts to obviate the invidious distinction and said if this was not conceded we would go on hunger strike. This was ultimately agreed to and the special class of political prisoners with one or two exceptions began to take the ordinary food. This continued for about a couple of months after which Col. Simpson reluctantly accepted another modified proposal. It was to amalgamate the rations of the ordinary political prisoners with those of the special class prisoners and cook and serve them to all of us together. As the proportion of ordinary political prisoners was very small, the resultant food was not much inferior to the special food we used to have before.
On being transferred to the Dacca Jail although I was getting far better food I had in or two attacks of colitis and was removed to hospital during such attacks. It was in this weakened sate that I had to take to the coarse ordinary food in the circumstances described above. This was too much for me to stand and I had a very severe attack. I was removed to hospital. Treatment there was ineffective. Before imprisonment I used to get rid of colitis by taking ‘chhana’ solid part of milk separated by action of acid. When Col. Simpson came to see me I told him that I would be easily cured if he could give me ‘chhana’. He turned down my request with a smile ,apparently because I failed to explain to him what ‘chhana’ was, and he took it for ‘chhana’ which means gram seed which if taken in that condition would certainly have aggravated the malady. He prescribed instead a saline mixture to be taken several times during the day. This induced severe purging and I had about sixteen motions in a day. Ultimately I began to purge blood and I believed that the disease had developed into dysentery. Col. Simpson prescribed some other medicine next day and gradually the virulence of the disease abated. I was, however, not cured and passing of mucus on varying degrees continued. After a long time I was discharged from hospital only half cured. The condition persisted not only during the rest of my stay in jail but for a long time afterwards. It was discovered later on that the purging of blood was not on account of dysentery, but the wall of the rectum near the anus burst and emitted blood. This developed into piles which became a permanent companion. Seeing my emaciated condition Col. Simpson recorded a direction in my convict card or history sheet, to give me half a pound of milk every day with sugar. This continued till my release. The milk was very good and I really enjoyed it. I have already mentioned about my sugar starvation at Faridpur Jail. When I first tasted sugar at the Dacca jail after a long interval I was surprised at its indescribable deliciousness. This showed how sugar-hungry my system had become.
When I was first transferred to the Dacca Central Jail all the political prisoners appeared to be concentrated in the hostel-like ward I have already described. But they were soon distributed into different words. A large number of us were accommodated for a long time on the first floor of a big two storied building. There were no cots there. Our beds were spread on mattresses on the floor. Luckily Suren Babu and myself were kept together throughout. While in this ward the month of Ramzan arrived. Almost all the Muslim political prisoners observed the fast. At our request arrangements for “Sahri” (early dawn meal) and for ‘Iftar’ (breakfast taken after sunset) were made. We offered Tarabi prayers (special night prayers during the month of Ramzan) in congregation led by Hafez Hakim Fazlur Rahman, a very sound, devout and learned man who afterwards became a ‘Pir’ with a large following in the district of Chittagong. He was also a very powerful speaker in Bengali. “Juma prayers” were also offered in congregation every Friday.
Although ordinary prisoners were not allowed to mix with politicals, the very presence of the latter affected the psychology of the former who conceived a vague idea of spectacular political changes which might bring about their early release. They all became anti-British in mentality. One curious instance of this was found in an intimate conversation between two B class prisoners convicted for theft. They had taken up the duties of ‘mehtar’ or latrine cleaners. To induce prisoners to take up such work, which has a stigma attached to it according to our social custom, they are offered certain special privilege such as enough leisure, use of mustard oil, soap, etc. which are denied to other convicts. We were then in an Association Ward on the first floor of a large building. At about dusk one of us, named Ajit Ghose went down stairs to ease himself. While in the latrine he heard the aforesaid conversation. The two convict sweepers who were squatting comfortably at a corner of the latrine compound were exchanging notes about their thieving exploits. Ajit Babu became interested in their conversation and waited in the latrine to hear them out. At the conclusion of the talk the man who had the last say observedľ ”Brother, whatever may happen I am not going to give up stealing as long as the British Raj is there”.
There was another interesting episode with a different moral, throwing light note temperamental difference between Hindus and Muslims. There was amongst us a prisoner named Satya Babu who was a lawyer. One morning Satya Babu, myself and one or two others had been taken to the office building in connection with our interviews or something else. We saw several new arrivals transferred from some other jail handcuffed to the veranda wall of the building. They were ordinary convicts. One of them had a long deep ghastly cut mark across his cheek eye corner and side of the forehead. Satya Babu became curious asked him as to how he had come by that injury. The convict replied that he got it because he had violated a precept of his master. Satya Babu then asked him what the precept was and the man replied `it was not to commit theft at the house of a Muslim’. Mystified, Satya Babu again asked, ‘how could that make a difference?. The mad said, ‘Babu, the Hindus are gentlemen, they do not do us any harm even when they see us, but Muslims are savages, they attack !
I recall another curious matter and am relating it for the sake of the humour involved. For lack of proper facilities in the jail for cleansing the teeth many of us had warts at the base of our teeth. Some of us had it before imprisonment. But in jail these rapidly extended. One of us showed his teeth to Col. Simpson who prescribed lemon juice for it. That proved to be of no effect. One day I read in a treatise about stone being formed at the base of the human teeth. Before I read it I had no knowledge about this. I put my new knowledge forthwith into practice. We were not allowed the use of knives in the jail. So we used to take small pieces of iron tapes from broken iron cots and make them into knives by sharpening them by prolonged grinding on stone. I attacked my warts with my improvised knife and became amazingly successful. Looking at Suren Babu’s teeth I found them even worse affected by warts. I at once told Suren Babu of the successful treatment I had given to my own teeth. Suren Babu also began similar operation on his teeth and in the course of his endeavour badly cut a corner of his mouth which began to bleed profusely. He looked into his tiny hand mirror and notwithstanding the pain caused by the cut gave a broad smile. Seeing me surprised he said with blood smeared tongue and lips that his pleasure at the sight of his stunning teeth cleared of warts was symbolic of the ecstasy of the blood-bathed new mother at the sight of her baby inspite of the pangs of childbirth! We had a hearty laugh over this joke.
During the last few months of our imprisonment Suren Babu and myself were kept in Ward No. 6, a small ward with about half a dozen rooms somewhat bigger than the rooms I found in the much larger ward where we had been first accommodated. Here I felt more comfortable than anywhere else. Amongst others I found here, Babu Sris Chandra Chattapadhyaya whom I had first come to know while going to the Nagpur Congress. Here I got opportunity to know him more intimately and became impressed with his qualities of head and heart. He was treated with great respect by the Jail staff.
We were given no newspapers and I spent most of my time in studying the Holy Quran. As I began to understand it more and more I got a glimpse of its powerful influence and fascination. In the afternoon we used to have walks on the big lawn in front of our ward. Competitive kite flying was in those days a popular sport at Dacca. Paper kites cut off in such competitions very often came into the jail compound and some young political prisoners had a hobby of catching and collecting them. In the grim jail atmosphere this provided a good deal of fun and excitement. Some of the prisoners were very good singers and quite frequent performance by them was to us a source of genuine pleasure. Political and other discussions were naturally almost interminable. We all felt convinced that Swaraj which at one time seemed to be almost within our grasp had receded to the dim distant future. Sris Babu who never believed in non-violence now seemed to be all the more convinced that the Gandhian methods were bound to fail. But no one could suggest a feasible alternative method, and the faith of the rank and file in Mahatma Gandhi, though somewhat diminished still continued. Purna Das of Faridpur of terrorist reputation, who figured in several daring ‘Swadeshi’ dacoities and who was a Security Prisoner was also with us for some time. His polished gentle demeanour and his ready broad smile disclosed little of the terrorist within him.
We were allowed to write probably one letter every month. The letters we got from relatives and friends were badly mutilated and disfigured by the censors. From the trend of the remnants that escaped their ravages it appeared that even most innocent matters were also affected. The interviews we were allowed were also few and far between. The female members of my family including my wife observed parda and they did not come to see me. The interviews were held under such object surveillance that I was glad that our womenfolk did not come to see me although I felt so eager to see them. However many male relatives and friends paid visits. They could convey nothing about the political situation because that was not allowed. It was apparent however that the phase of the struggle that found us in prison was at an end. With the decline of the movement my anxieties for my family increased. Information percolated to us that many lawyers who had suspended practice were resuming the same. But I thought it would be difficult for me to make up my mind to do so. I learnt with regret from my interviewers that the ‘Khaddar’ shop I had started was in a bad way.
I was imprisoned in December, 1921 and in the normal course my release was due in December 1923, but taking the usual remissions I earned I expected my release sometime in September or October 1923. I was behind prison bars during the entire year, 1922. One morning in February, 1923 a quite unexpected visitor came to see us. He was no other than Mr. G.P. Hogg, District Magistrate of Faridpur. Suren Babu and myself met him in a secluded place. He talked to us as if casually but he could hardly conceal the purpose of this visit. In the course of the talk he asked us if we would like to join the Bar after our release. I at once suspected that he was deputed by higher authorities to ascertain our views on the matter and if we gave an affirmative reply to his question this might be taken as an assurance to rejoin the Bar and that might be made a plea to release us prematurely. So my reply to him was that our release was yet far off, that we were absolutely in the dark about the conditions prevailing in the country and that only after our release and a study of the prevailing situation we could decide our course of action. Suren Babu did not add anything to that I said. Mr. Hogg left us, apparently disappointed. Suren Babu and myself later on discussed the matter and we though that if we had given him an affirmative reply we might probably have secured an early release. But it was unthinkable to secure such release even o the semblance of an “assurance”. Not that we were not hankering for release. Prolonged imprisonment had naturally created such a desire in all of us. After what had happened at the interview with Mr. Hogg we thought that no early release could be expected. But quite unexpectedly one morning towards the end of February after we had been in jail for 14 months Suren Babu and myself received orders for release. We changed over Khaddar dress in a room near the jail gate with mixed feelings of pleasure at our imminent release and of regret at leaving so many of our comrades behind, with whom we had become so friendly and most of whom we would probably never see again.
- Post-Imprisonment Years: Change in Political Atmosphere
On coming out of jail Suren Babu asked me to accompany him to the house of some of his relatives who lived at Dacca. It was the house of the father-in-law of Probhat Chandra Dutta, a pleader of Faridpur who was Suren Babu’s wife’s brother. We spent a pleasant day there and in the afternoon attended a public meeting at which an ex-professor who had been a prisoner with us, but had been previously released was the main speaker. I felt depressed to observe the comparative apathy of the small audience. The meeting appeared to be a faint shadow of political meetings held before our imprisonment. I sent a wire to Faridpur about our release and my expected arrival there. When I reached Tepakhola (Faridpur) steamer station next morning I found that a fairly large number of people, mostly Muslims came to receive me. I was taken in a procession to Nasir’s house. While in jail thought about my father’s financial difficulties greatly tormented me. I learnt from Nasir with surprise and a feeling of relief that the Provincial Congress had regularly given a monthly grant of Rs. 30 to my father during my imprisonment. To my question why Nasir did not give me this intimation while I was in jail Nasir said he had written to me about it. This letter never reached me and was most likely withheld or the relevant portion defaced by the censor. A day or two later I went home and to my father-in-law’s house where my wife and child were living. I found to my great pleasure that my wife had learnt spinning fairly well and had a sari prepared for her by a local weaver with the yarn spun by her.
I was naturally anxious to do something to earn a living. I felt a strong reluctance to rejoin the Bar. I found that the Khaddar shop I had started did not at all prosper after my imprisonment and my friend Moulvi Habibur Rahman whom I had left incharge of it amalgamated it with the shop of a youngman Khalilur Rahman, son of another devoted companion and friend of mine, Munshi Abdur Rashid of Kamarpur. I found that the assets I had left had vanished and the shop practically belonged to Khalilur Rahman. So nothing was to be expected from that source.
I spent about a couple of months at Faridpur at Nasir’s house studying the situation and thinking about future plans. During this time I went once to Calcutta and paid a visit to the ‘Howrah Hat’ a very renowned mart. During my observation of the activities in the market which assembled once a week I was attracted by a particular business which might be within my means to adopt. It was the businesses of purchasing hand spun lungies’ and saries’ from another famous market at Kumarkhali in the district of Nadia and retailing the same at a profit at the Howrah market. After some deliberation I decided to start this business if I could procure the little capital it needed. I had practically no money at my hand at this time and so I was in a fix. While at home I had a talk about this prospective business in presence of my aunt Sabja who surprisingly presented me which a sum of about Rs. 350 her life’s saving. It was a touching scene. This enabled me to become a ‘bepari’ (a petty dealer). When I purchased lungies at Kumerkhali ‘hat’ I was addressed as ‘bepari saheb’ and in the beginning I felt annoyed to be so addressed. I used to go to Kumarkhali the day previous to the market day, spend the night under great hardship and make my purchases the next morning either direct or through professional commissioned agents. Luckily I became friendly with a family of established dealers in the same line who had a godown of their own in the market and one of whom had a shed at Faridpur and was intimately acquainted with me. I used to have my meals with them. There was no latrine attached to the godown or in the market and people used to go to distant fields to ease themselves at early dawn. That was an ordeal which I shall never forget. After making purchases, I used to make them, with my own hand, into a big bundle which was carried to the railway station about half a mile off, and booked for despatch to Calcutta. Along with other ‘beparies’ I used to go to Calcutta by a slow passenger train reaching Sealdah station next morning, from where it was taken by coolie to the Howrah Hat. On one occasion while walking with the coolie who was carrying my bundle I lost track of him in the crowd near the Howrah Hat. I searched for him for a long time in vain and was suspecting foul play, when all of a sudden he appeared from a lane and began to accuse me for losing track of him. He said he had been searching for me for long and felt greatly worried. There could be no doubt that he was telling the truth.
This business demanded active work only for two days in the week, for purchasing at Kumarkhali hat and selling at Howrah hat. I felt very dull during the rest of the week. So I engaged a young lad who had passed the matriculation examination and did not yet succeed in getting a job to assist me in my business by working as a hawker in Calcutta during the rest of the week. But the profit that I was making was not encouraging. I found that established ‘baparies’ did hardly buy at the Kumarkhali Hat. They used to advance money to weavers and got the finished products direct from them at much cheaper rates. They could easily undersell men like me. The hawking part of the business hardly showed any better results. But I stuck on expecting to do better as I gathered more experience. But my business career was abruptly cut off under unexpected circumstances.
I have always been absurdly shy throughout my life. I am particularly so in all matters involving my self interest. When the question of livelihood drove me to become a petty cloth dealer, Mr. C.R. Das was the mayor of Calcutta. If I had approached him he could easily have provided me with a lucrative job. But both because I did not like to fade away from public life and of my shyness I did not even seen him after my release.
Even while in jail I had heard about the split in the Congress ranks on the issue of Council entry. The annual session of the Congress in 1922 was held at Gaya and Mr. Das was the President. He put forward a programme of Council entry to fight the Government from within to advance the cause of Swaraj. He was supported by Pandit Motilal Nehru and a large number of other delegates. But the majority of the delegates under the leadership of Mr. C. Rajagopalachari defeated the move. So there was a split and, Mr. Das formed the ‘Swaraj Party’ to give effect to his programme. His party men began to be called ‘swarajists’ as against the ‘no-changers’ led by Rajagopalachari. In the absence of any spectacular Congress activity the ‘Swarajit’ programme became very popular in several provinces, particularly amongst the Hindus. Eversince the calling off of the non-cooperation movement by Mahatma Gandhi early in 1922 the bond between Hindus and Muslims became loose. Communal differences again cropped up culminating in riots in many places. Mr. C.R. Das, no doubt, made a bold attempt to cut the very root of Hindu-Muslim differences and to wield them into a solid entity to fight for freedom. He realised that Hindu-Muslim difference were due both to political and economic causes and he formulated the Bengal Pact conceding to the Muslims seats in the Legislature and appointments under Government when Swaraj was attained, in full accordance with Muslim demands. In the Calcutta Corporation he conceded even unexpected privileges to Muslims in respect of new appointments with immediate effect. As Communalism had again raised its head many Hindus grumbled at these concessions, but Muslims who had joined the Non-cooperation movement became satisfied. The pact was placed before Conadu Congress in 1923, but was rejected by the Hindu majority which considered it to be too liberal to the Muslims. Mr. C.R. Das, however, whose leadership in Bengal was unrivaled got it accepted at the Provincial Conference at Faridpur it 1924. But his end was near and he died in the spring of 1925 at Darjeeling. There are many who think that if he lived for a few more years history of the sub-continent might have taken a different course. Hindu-Muslim differences were all the same of such a radical character that the influence of one single ma, however strong, could at best provide a temporary diversion of the natural course of history but it could hardly lead it to a different destiny unless some social upheaval uprooting the causes that divided the two peoples intervened.
The Congress passed through one of the worst periods in its history after the split at Gaya in 1922. The collapse of the Non-cooperation movement was in itself a shattering blow for the time being. The darkness of the picture was heightened by the unseemly and suicidal feuds between ‘No changers’ and the ‘Swarajits’. The situation was, however, greatly relived when in September, 1923 at a special session of the Congress at Delhi there was a compromise between the two factions and `Swarajits’ were allowed to pursue their own programme. I attended this special session presided over by Mowlana Abul Kalam Azad who was largely responsible for the compromise. Eventually the Swaraj Party became the Council Entry Wing of the Congress. The constructive programme followed by the ‘no-changers’ was after all, a tame affair.
The new elections were due in 1924. Mr. Das began his campaign well in time. He was anxious to find out suitable Muslim candidates. As regards Hindu candidates there was no dearth of them. He sent for me and asked me to help him in inducing good Muslim candidates to fight the elections on behalf of the Swaraj Party. I was reluctant but could not say ‘no’ to him. My humble business was wound up and for about a couple of months I visited different places and contacted various prospective candidates. During my tours I found a general warmness on the part of Muslims with regard to the Congress. My mission met with only a limited success and I concluded the task by submitting a report to Mr. Das. The months I had been in the cloth dealing business were parhaps the most gruelling period in my life, and although its abandonment made me jobless again I felt relieved when rescued from it by the fortuitous intervention of Mr. Das.
- Fathers’ Death
Some time after I had finished the work entrusted to me by Mr. Das I went home and found my father laid up with fever. It was the spring of 1924. Meghu, our domestic servant, had become a member of our family. In those days he had to do almost everything that a male member is required to do, under the supervision of my father. My father had a chronic stomach trouble for which he used to take whey. Meghu had brought a quantity of whey from the Fultala hat, after taking which he fell ill. I suspected that there was something wrong in the whey. At that time Dr. Banka Behari Kundoo was the best amongst the local doctors. His diagnosis was that father was suffering from a serious type of pneumonia. His treatment was of no beneficial effect and he said ultimately that he could not be of any further use. I then called a local homeopath who also was equally unsuccessful. After suffering for about 10 days he breathed his last one day at mid-night. The entire family was overpowered with grif. We spent the rest of the night by his bedside and most of the time I was reciting the Holy Quran a substantial portion of which I had learnt by heart while in jail. The heroic struggle of my father to maintain his family under tremendous odds and particularly his determination to have me educated, which was his life’s ambition, whatever might be the difficulties in his way, was a unique example of idealism and self-sacrifice the equal of which I have hardly seen amongst our people. It has been an abiding regret in my life that he passed away before I was capable of giving him real financial relief and before he had the satisfaction of seeing me prosper in life. He was however perfectly contented and I never found him grumbling on account of his poverty. He was quite happy that he had fulfilled his life’s mission by having me educated even beyond his early expectations.
The net morning I sent a wire to Nasir giving him the sad news. My father loved Nasir almost as dearly as the loved me and Nasir was also greatly devoted to him. Within a couple of hours or so Nasir came from Faridpur accompanied by the Imam Saheb of the Chawkbazar Mosque at Faridpur, Munshi Mohammad Osman Khan, Munshi Abed Mean and several other persons who were my close associates. The Imam Saheb led the funeral service. Father was laid to rest in the eastern outer compound of our homestead.
On the day of his fateha (Prayers invoking forgiveness and blessings for the departed soul customarily followed by a feast) besides the people of our locality, all our relatives from other places including my father-in-law and Nasir and many friends from Faridpur assembled at our house. They availed of this opportunity to have a discussion about my future. They were unanimously of the opinion that I should rejoin the Bar and insisted that I should do so. I had not yet been able to make up mind, but I did not disappoint them altogether and said that I could not but seriously consider their advice.
- Resumption of Practice
Sometime later I decided to rejoin the Bar. The house I lived in when I suspended practice was now in the occupation of some other lessee. So I rented another house consisting of a few tin-roofed structures from Kazi Faizuddin a retired Mukhtear. It was just opposite to the Thana Premises and within a stone’s throw from the house of Nasir. An unexpected difficulty in the way of my rejoining the Bar now intervened. I made an application to the District Judge to recommend to the High Court the renewal of my license to which I got a reply to the effect that my application could be considered only if I expressed regret for joining the anti-government non-cooperation movement. All my friends advised me to comply but I found it extremely difficult to induce myself to do so. Apart from the humiliation involved in such an apology I found that if I did so I would be guilty of a falsehood, because there was no regret whatsoever in my heart for having joined the movement. At one time it appeared that there was no way of crossing this hurdle. At length I wrote a somewhat ingenious letter to the District Judge to the effect that the very fact that by applying for license to practice I was going to surrender myself to the discipline of the Courts established by Government might well be taken as more than a mere expression of regret. The judge recommended my application and I got back by license. I rejoined the Bar about the middle of 1924.
It did not take me long to overcome the obvious difficulties created by suspension of practice. Babu Srish Chandra Banerjee, who had long been the Government Pleader of Faridpur made a remark one day before my suspension of practice to the effect that in all likelihood I would be the next Government Pleader. On my release from imprisonment I found that Srish Babu had died and in his place a prominent Criminal Lawyer, Babu Nalini Kanta Sen was appointed as the new Government Pleader. Had I not suspended my practice it was not unlikely that I would have succeeded Srish Babu.
I have already referred to the Council elections that were to be held in 1924, in connection with which I had been deputed by Mr. Das to find out suitable candidates. As regards my constituency (Faridpur North consisting of the Sadar and Goalundo Subdivisions) I was asked by Mr. Das whether I would like to stand from there. In my unsettled condition I did not like to stand and ultimately Khandkar Abdul Aziz of Kamarpur, a colleague and a close associate of mine in the non-cooperation movement stood from that Constituency on behalf of the Swaraj Party. He had not much schooling but he had a winning and forceful personality and forceful personality and was a very good speaker with a sparkling humour. The pro-government candidate who stood against him was Syed Muhammad Massih, Bar-at-Law, younger brother of the celebrated Syed Shamsul Huda who had been a prominent lawyer in the Calcutta High Court Bar, from where he rose to the position of a member of the Governors’ Executive Council and then of the President of the Bengal Legislative Council. Thus formidably opposed and financially handicapped Khandkar Abdul Aziz put up a heroic fight. I threw my self headlong in the election campaign. But the old Hindu-Muslim difference which had raised their heads after the suspension of the non-cooperation movement had an adverse effect on our struggle. Many Muslims who had been in the Congress Khilafat movement refused to support the Swaraj Party candidate who was supposed to be pro-Hindu. Moreover the difference between the two candidates in educational qualifications was a factor that weighed with many. Even my father-in-law lent his influential support to Mr. Mussih, on account of which there was a temporary estrangement between him and me. Our candidate polled a large proportion of the votes, but was defeated. In the entire Province the Swaraj Party did well, by winning most of the General (Hindu) seats and also a fair proportion of Muslim seats. Inspite of the growing communal atmosphere the success of the Swaraj Party in winning quite a good number of Muslim seats was due to the personal qualities of its leader Mr. Das, who in the face of strong opposition maintained a refreshingly liberal attitude towards Muslims in the larger interests of national unity and the ultimate goal of freedom of India.
The Book Business
The idea of carrying on some sort of trade was ever present in my mind. After resuming practice, while living at the house of Kazi Faizuddin I had a small book shop started renting a shed attached to the Chawkbazar Masque. My family at Faridpur now included not only my wife and daughter Champa who was now about 3 years old but also of my brother Abu and my nephew Nuruzzaman. I entrusted these two boys to run the shop. They proved a failure. While the shop was deteriorating a friend Moulvi Ghyasuddin intervened. He was a Sub-Registrar posted at Faridpur. Later on the became distantly related to me. He was a son-in-law of Moulvi Abdur Rashid Choudhury of Raipura, Dacca. Through Moulvi Ghyasuddin initiative my brother-in-law Abdul Quader was married to a daughter of Moulvi Harunar Rashid Choudhury who held a clerical post in the office of the Commissioner of the Dacca Division and who was a younger brother of Moulvi Abdur Rashid Choudhury. Moulvi Gyasuddin was a very active man and possessed a creative mind. He also had an acumen for business. He joined my small book-business and took charge of its management. The shop was renovated and enlarged under the name of “Faridpur Book Depot” and was shifted to a portion of my office building, which was separated by a partition from my office-room. Under his management the shop was flourishing, but after a few months disaster overtook it. One afternoon on my way back from Court some one gave me the shocking news that my house was on fire. I rushed back home only to see my home was no more. All the structures including the shop were reduced to ashes. I came to learn that the fire started at the cook-shed of a clerks’ mess to the contiguous west of my house most likely through the negligence of the cook maidservant Surati, a quarrelsome woman of an uncertain temperament. My wife had a narrow escape and was helped with her child to the house of Nasir. The few valuables we had were saved by the people assembled but I lost an object which I prized very much, a watch chain of gold, which was a wedding gift from my father-in-law. The accompanying watch was previously lost from Nasir’s house while I was jail.
After my house was burnt down I lived with my family at Nasir’s house for a few weeks. Luckily the house I previously lived in now became vacant and I rented it once again. I was very happy to go back to that house. My brother Abu who had already been brought back to Faridpur after my resumption of practice was admitted to the Maizuddin High Madrassah. I had also brought to my house at Faridpur my sister’s son Nuruzzaman and got him admitted in another High School. My daughter Champa was now about 4 years old. We were living happily when a terrible tragedy overtook the family.
One evening on return home from somewhere I saw Champa wreithing in pain on bed and bleeding profusely from her right wrist. She had a fall on the courtyard and a glass bangle on her wrist broke. She had a serious cut at the wrist caused by the broken bangle. A main blood vessel was pierced or severed. Dr. Kiran Roy, M.B. was called in. He bandaged the wound tying up the left arm with a plank. The bleeding however continued for several days.
She remained bed-ridden for a long time and eventually was attacked with “Kalazar.” This disease was then raging throughout the country. Thousands died of the fatal disease. A new injection named ‘Urea-stebamin’ if I remember correctly, by Dr. Brahmachari of Calcutta was considered to be an effective remedy. This injection was prescribed for Champa. Dr. Kiran Roy started to give the injections. Then I did an act for which my heart has been bleeding ever since. I was hard pressed for money and at the advice of a friend I engaged a cheaper hand to administer the injections. The latter had the reputation of being an expert in giving intravenous injections. But his academic achievements were of an inferior type and I was told later on by other doctors that the new man had given overdoses of the injection. Alarming symptoms ensued. Champa expired at 10 P.M. on Sunday the 28th Bhadra, 1332 corresponding to the 13th September, 1925.
During her illness I had a vivid dream of a scene ending in Champa’s death. At times during the last phase of her illness she used to say that her playmate Shajan who died earlier was asking her to come away. Long before her illness while she was at her maternal grandfather’s house with her mother there was an extraordinary happening. I was also there at the time. One morning I was alone with Champa, about 3 years old then, at the ‘Namajgher’ (prayer house), isolated from the main premises. While we were talking about trifles, strangely enough and all of a sudden Champa said “father, I shall die and there will be another Champa”. I felt a terrible shock, and asked her not to utter such words; she said nothing else.
My wife was in an advanced stage of pregnancy when Champa died. Seventeen days after her death, on Thursday the 15th Aswin, 1332 corresponding to the October, 1925 at 2 P.M. my next daughter Fatema was born. It so happened that Fatema’s birth date synchronized with the “Youmunnabi”, the birthday anniversary of the holy Prophet of Islam. As she came into the family so soon after Champa’s death she partly filled the void left by Champa, and was involuntarily referred to as Champa on occasions by the members of the family for several weeks uncannily verifying the mysterious prediction uttered by Champa.
- I leave Congress
As time went on communal tension in the subcontinent increased. Communal riots were started at the slightest pretexts. All hopes about Hindus and Muslims continuing to struggle jointly for liberation from foreign domination were vanishing into thin air. Muslim fears of domination and suppression by an intolerant Hindu majority in a liberated India once more pervaded the atmosphere. The Hindu Mahasabha was revived and envisaged a more aggressive and militant attitude towards Muslims. Though the Congress attitude in general was more tolerant, there were innumerable people in the Congress who covered their communalism under the cloak of nationalism. In such circumstances I naturally became greatly perturbed in my mind and though I was still in the Congress I became lukewarm and apathetic. What startled me the most was the conduct of a great Congress leader Swami Sreedhananda in starting the ‘Suddhi movement’. Time was when, during the heyday of the Congress-Khilafat movement he was a hero also to the Muslims, who had taken the most unprecedented step of inviting him to ascend the sacred pulpit of the Delhi Jamme Mosque to address the gathering. The Sudhi or Purification movement was aimed at purifying by re-conversion the Muslims of the sub-continent who, the Mahasabha claimed, had been originally Hindus and were converted to Islam. The movement resulted in mass conversions of certain classes of Muslims such as the Malkana Rajputs. This was a great shock to the Muslims of the sub-continent. I lost all faith in any joint struggle for the liberation of the country. It revealed to me the dangers that lay ahead for the Muslims of India and my old convictions that the Muslims must combine under their own separated flag to safeguard themselves from this danger which lay dormant for a time now revived and became a guiding force. I was no longer a Congressman by faith and was looking for a suitable opportunity to make an open exit from the organization. The Municipal elections that intervened provided such and opportunity. Although there was separate electorates for elections to the Legislative Councils both Central and Provincial, elections to municipal and other local self-governing bodies continued to be held under a system of joint electorate. To prove the Communalism of the local Hindus in general, I sought election to the Faridpur Municipality from a Constituency in which the Hindus were in a majority. As I expected and almost hoped, the majority of Hindus voted against me and in fervor of a candidate belonging to their own faith though no fair minded person could consider that candidate to be more deserving than me. I made this and excuse and left the Congress. This happened early in 1926 as far as I remember.
- Anjuman-I-Islam Revived
The Muslim League which lay dormant during the Non-co-operation movement was still hardly awake. After leaving the Congress I took steps to revive the Anjuman-i-Islamia which also lay dead during the Congress-Khilafat movement. I was again elected as the Secretary. My activities as Secretary of the Faridpur District Congress Committee had made me more widely known through-out the district and this enabled me to make the Anjuman more broad-based than before. It soon regained and even exceeded its former popularity. Since the main objective of the Anjuman was to promote and safeguard Muslim interests, particularly in respect of Government patronage it had naturally to cooperate with Government. In the initial stages after the revival of the Anjuman there was some difficulty in this respect on account of my being the Secretary of the body, because Government officers were prone to look at me askance on account of my past associations. As and instance of the attitude of Government officers towards me it may be quoted that some time after my release, in my absence and without my knowledge I was elected as a member of the Governing Body of a Government aided High English School named the Ishan Institution. The District Magistrate wrote to me quoting a rule that people in my position were disqualified to be members of such Governing Bodies and suggesting to me that I should resign. I had no intention to fight over this matter and resigned. This was of course before the revival of the Anjuman.
Amongst other activities of the Anjuman the Prophet’s Birth day Celebrations and the Annual General meeting during the month of Maharrum with its attendant meetings and functions began to be held with great enthusiasm. As Hindu-Muslim relations went on deteriorating the two communities were virtually converted into two warring camps prone to clash at the slightest cause. The Hindu Mahasabha was widely organized with branches all over the country. A strong branch was organised at Faridpur. Many of my erstwhile Hindu Colleagues in the Congress were now stalwarts of the Hindu Mahasabha. The Anjuman-i-Islamia was an eyesore to the Mahasabha.
One of the main causes of Hindu-Muslim friction was the issue of playing of music before mosque. There was a time when Hindu-Muslim relations were better and a custom grew up for Hindu processions to stop music while proceeding past mosques just as they did so near hospitals. But as tension between the two communities developed Hindus began to assert their civic right not to stop music in front of mosques, Muslims objected to such practice on the ground that it disturbs Muslims in their daily prayers and other devotional practices and wanted Hindus to respect the time honoured custom of stopping music before mosques. Hindus turned a deaf ear to such objections and there were frequent and some times bloody clashes over it all over the country.
At Faridpur the Chawk-bazar Mosque is situated near the junction of two main roads. Within a stone’s throw there stood a Hindu temple. In 1925 or 1926 there was great tension between the two communities over the question of the tolling of bells in the temple just at the time of congregational prayers at the mosque at dusk. It was a most difficult issue as both sides based their claims on their respective religions. On night some miscreant hung the leg of a dead cow on the temple and the whole town was aflame when the discovery was made in the morning. Local Muslims denied all knowledge about the perpetrator and rather suggested that some irreverent Hindu had committed the sacriledge to malign the Muslim community. The Anjuman-i-Islamia, at my initiative rejected such insinuation and assuming that the act had been committed by a mischievous Muslim fanatic, held a public meeting and adopted a resolution condemning the act. This had only a temporary soothing effect, and tension very soon reappeared in a more virulent form. A Hindu religious ceremony came off and a big procession was to proceed past the Chawk-bazar mosque. As it was obvious that the procession was not going to stop music while passing the mosque, the Muslims in the vicinity of the mosque made preparations to offer opposition. Eventually there was a minor clash and the Hindus instituted a criminal case in the court of a Magistrate who was a Hindu. I was also made and accused although I had no knowledge about the incident. This shows how deep was the distrust and hostility between the two communities. One who had been in the recent past an idol of the entire people of Faridpur could now be falsely charged with a criminal offense on no other than communal considerations. However I was one of the large number of accused persons who were not summoned by the Magistrate. Only about 10 persons were summoned to answer the charges.
There were only a few Muslim lawyers at Faridpur. Moulvi Abdur Rahman, the seniormost, able and experienced was crippled. He had to be carried by two men to the courts and back from the Bar Association premises. No Hindu lawyer was available or could be trusted to represent the Muslim accused persons. Moulvi Abdur Rahman assisted by me and the only other Muslim lawyer Moulvi Harunar Rashid had to defend the accused. In consideration of Moulvi Abdur Rahman’s physical condition the main burden fell on me. The first act I was to perform was to move the District Magistrate for transfer of the case from the court of the Hindu Deputy Magistrate. This was a tricky business as there was no Magistrate who was neither a Hindu nor Muslim. So I had to suggest that the District Magistrate himself who was an Englishman should try the case. The District Magistrate asked an intriguing and significant question, “ how can you be sure that I have no bias and will you have confidence in me ?” I replied that on the question of bias he had to search his own mind and if after doing that he decided to take on the case himself the Muslims would certainly have full confidence in him. The District Magistrate eventually took the case to his own file.
At the hearing I had to cross-examine most of the prosecution witnesses and Moulvi Abdul Aziz Choudhury who was a very able and leading Mukhtear cross-examined the rest. It was decided that Mr. H.S. Suhrawardy, Bar-at-Law should be engaged to argue the case on behalf of the accused. I went to Calcutta for the purpose. Time for preparation was very short but curiously enough he did not utilise the time available to study the brief and one occasion he said he would give them hell. On the morning of the argument he had a sitting with Moulvi Abdur Rahman and other defence lawyers. A very subtle point was brought out in cross-examination under the guidance of Moulvi Abdur Rahman, which if properly placed might induce the court to hold that the acts alleged against the accused did not constitute any offense. Moulvi Abdur Rahman explained the point to Mr. Suhrawardy. At the time of argument the latter did not at all refer to the point and it was clear that he did not catch the point at all. Babu Mathura Nath Maitra on behalf of the prosecution very ably argued the case citing a large number of authorities and Mr. Suhrawardy, true to his promise hurled innumerable volleys of pungent abuse against the prosecution lawyers and the Hindu community in excellent English and his superb style. He hardly referred to the merits of the case. Many Muslim spectators heartily enjoyed the abuse. In the verdict however, the accused persons were convicted and fined Rs. 10 each. It was a bad defeat for the Muslim Community.
The result of the case made Hindus jubilant and more aggressive. The Muslims sobered down for a time, but the tension continued. Matters came to a head again when the Hindus fantastically laid a claim to the historic mosque at Satoir in the Sadar Subdivision of the Faridpur District, alleging that the ancient unique structure was a Hindu temple and not a mosque. This happened while Mr. L.B. Burrows was the District Magistrate. The Hindus eventually took the matter to court but the Anjuman successfully resisted their claim, which was rejected. Mr. Burrows was an officer of great initiative and drive. He took up the issue of music before mosques with the leaders of the two communities and after protracted parleys the question was amicably settled. The terms of the settlement were recorded in a document, which was signed by the District Magistrate, myself on behalf of the Muslim community and a representative of the Hindu community. The gist of the agreement was that processions might not play music while proceeding past mosques at stated times during the five congregational prayers including the “Juma” prayers.
- Elected to the Bengal Legislative Council
Too soon after resumption of practice I was faced with a piquant situation and I had to make a decision which had a most important bearing on my career. The new elections to the Bengal Legislative Council were due at the end of 1926. When the notification calling for the elections was issued I naturally felt impelled to stand as a candidate. But I had absolutely no money to run an election. Though I was earning more than the average lawyer at Faridpur it was not possible to save anything as I had a fairly large family to maintain. Moreover, I was rather too liberal in entertaining guests. Many of my clients, particularly those belonging to the gentry were my guests. Any other man of my financial status would perhaps have never thought of offering himself as a candidate for election to the Legislature of the Province. In my case however ambition far outstripped prudence. After consulting Nasir and a few other friends I decided to stand as a candidate.
Besides myself two other persons filed nomination papers. One was young Choudhury Moazzam Hossain alias Lal Miah, Son of Khansaheb Choudhury Maizuddin, a local landholder wielding great influence and the other was Moulvi Abdul Karim who had previously been elected uncontested as already mentioned elsewhere. The latter was not prepared either by temperament or on the score of popularity to contest an election. His only chance lay in being able to induce the Returning Officer, the District Magistrate, to reject the nomination papers of his rivals at the time of scrutiny. His attack on my nomination was rather feeble as it had no legs to stand upon, but he almost succeeded in having Lal Miah’s nomination paper canceled. His plea was that Lal Miah had not attained the requisite age of 25. I believe his plea was correct. Lal Miah’s School admission register was requisitioned by the Returning Officer for inspection but probably the influence and resourcefulness of his father came into play behind the scene and the register that was produced did not bear out Moulvi Abdul Karim’s contention. Lal Miah’s nomination paper as also mine was declared valid and Moulvi Abdul Karim discreetly withdrew from the contest. So the fight was between a wealthy and influential landlord and a penniless young lawyer whose only asset was his past activities and readiness to serve the poor, particularly the suppressed and impoverished peasantry.
Several things helped me in my election campaign. More than 90 percent of the population were peasants who were despised and exploited by the landlords and as such were not well disposed towards the latter. I had taken a leading part in the peasant movement against landlords. My work as the Secretary of the Anjuman-i-Islamia made me generally popular amongst all classes of Muslims. Above all my incarceration in connection with the Congressľ Khilafat movement established for me a place in the heart of the people. Muslims were glad to find that though I had joined the Hindu dominated Congress to fight for religion and liberation of the country from foreign domination, I left the Congress when I found that Muslim interests were no longer safe in the hands of that body. My supporters also made pointed references to my academic qualifications vis-a-vis my rival’s lack of it.
Lal Miah though lacking in academic attainments is a man of keen intelligence, tact and foresight, He is also a very good speaker. Two things went heavily against him. One was his position as a landlord and the other his adherence to the Hindu dominated Congress. His influence as a zemindar did not help him at all and most of his tenants secretly gave their support to me. What I was most afraid of was his wealth as against my pennilessness.
Feeling the pulse of the constituency, Lal Miah made a desperate bid to purchase me. He made tempting offers to me through one of his trusted supporters, Shah Abdul Mannan alias Chand Meah of Laskardia, Police Station, Nagarkanda, when I went to Laskardia in the course of my election campaign. Chand Meah posed as a sincere wellwisher to me and advised me to establish my practice, build a house of my own at Faridpur and have a bank balance before going in for costly and illusory parliamentary politics. On behalf of Lal Miah he offered to pay me a substantial amount of money to help me build a house if I withdrew my candidature. The offer was of course forthwith rejected.
Except the Swaraj Party there was no other organized party in those days to run elections. So, barring Swarajits, other candidates stood as independent. Independent candidates after election attached themselves to certain leading members. Sir Abdur Rahim, who had retired from Government service shortly before, decided to enter politics and stood as a candidate for the Bengal Legislatures. His talents and reputation made a deep impression on me and I was thinking of joining his group if I was elected. I had no idea then that certain other leaders, at least one, was already canvassing support from candidates with an eye to Ministership. One day I was surprised when an emissary of such a leader visited me at my house and offered to pay me some money, to help me in my campaign in case I agreed to support Sir A.K. Ghaznavi for Ministership. Though penniless I rejected the offer as I had far greater regard for Sir Abdur Rahim than Sir Ghaznavi. I knew them only by reputation and had not seen either till then.
My Constituency consisted of the two entire northern Subdivisions of the district, namely Sadar and Goalundo. The remaining two Subdivisions of Madaripur and Gopalganj formed another Constituency. It was a gigantic task to carry on a campaign over this vast area, particularly without financial resources. Luckily my candidature had created such wild enthusiasm that hundreds of people, knowing I had no money, taxed their own pockets to canvas for me and never mentioned to me that they did so. When the little money I had was exhausted I took recourse to borrowing. Nasir gave me small sums and through the good offices of a common friend Mr. Mujaffar Ahmed, who though then serving as a Sub-Inspector of Schools, became very popular on account of his public spirit and sociableness, I got a loan in secret from Babu Indu Bhusan Sarkar, a local Zeminder. Indu Babu wanted to keep the transaction a secret as like all other zemindars, he was ‘supporting’ Lal Miah. I was also equally anxious to keep it a secret as I was all out in support of the tenantry as against the zemindars. I really felt awkward to accept such a loan, but seeing my plight Moulvi Mujaffar arranged it almost inspite of me. On the polling day I found myself in a very embarrassing predicament as I had not money enough to send out my workers to the various polling centres with small sums to meet expenses for the customary ‘pan’ and ‘biri’ with which voters are entertained. Knowing about my difficulty a man of very moderate means, Ainuddin Ahmed rushed to me with a sum of Rs. 200 as a most timely loan. I was deeply moved at this generous gesture from a man whom I hardly knew before. These loans I gradually repaid after my election, but I had no opportunity to repay the moneys spent by enthusiastic supporters who never disclosed such expenditure to me.
The influence of Pirs was an important factor in elections in those day. I secured the support of the Pir Saheb of Furfura who had countless disciples almost throughout the province and also the most valuable active support of Pir Badsha Meah who had a great influence in certain parts of the district of Faridppur and also in several other districts. Curiously enough, at the fag end of the campaign Lal Miah also succeeded in getting in his support a pamphlet though in milder terms than mine, signed by the Pir Saheb of Furfura. Lal Miah also got an appeal in his support signed by unpredictable Mr. A.K. Fazlul Huq, who, as one of the very few leading Muslims in the province in those days, enjoyed a great popularity. I was surprised to see his support for Lal Miah as I though he had great liking for me and was a genuine friend of the poor. I did not know then that he is the slave of the present, forgetful of the past unmindful of the future. The appeal of the present in whatever direction is irresistible to him.
In the election struggle Nasir was a tower of strength to me. He had already become a leading Mukhtear and was very popular with his wide circle of clientele. He was also a very effective, perspicuous and convincing speaker. His unsparing efforts were of tremendous help to me. His talented clerk Mohd. Abdul Quader Sardar who had become very devoted to me was also of great assistance. It would be invidious to mention names. If I am mentioning the names of a few immediate associates this should not mean that I am oblivious of the debt of gratitude that I owe to innumerable other friends for giving their valuable and selfless support to me. Khandkar Abdul Aziz and Munshi Abdur Rashid of Kamarpur, my constant associates Moulvi Habibur Rahman and Khandkar Abul Quasem, alias Nawsha Meah of Gotli, Munshi Osman Khan, Abdul Jabbar Khan and Basir Meah of Kamarpur, Mushi Messer Ali Bhuiya, Abed Meah, Abdin Meah of Chawk-bazar, Hafez Mohd Ibrahim and Rahmat Pal of Madhabdia, Moulvi Abdul Hamid Mallick, pleader and other Muslim lawyers of Faridpur, Moulvi Ahmed Ali Mirdah, pleader, Rajbari, Khan Bahadur Alimuzzaman Choudhury, Munshi Ghyasuddin of Pangsa, Munshi Madan Mollah were some of the gentlemen who gave me most active support. It is needless to mention that my father-in-law gave to me his most influential support as a matter of course. I shudder to remember the tremendous strain that my wife was to go through during the entire campaign in looking after the meals and accommodation of so many supporters who thronged my house during the period.
Elections to my mind are a necessary evil. Their devastating ill-effects are particularly lethal to social relations in an uneducated country like ours. Lal Miah however was a large hearted opponent. Even during the campaign his courtesy towards me evinced no sign of setback when we happened to meet accidentally on rare occasions, though he was naturally sparing no means whatsoever to defeat me. His younger brother Yusuf Ali Choudhury, who later on became a most prominent figure in the political arena of the country had admiration for me and though he had to work for Lal Miah to the best of his ability, did not seem to be happy over his brother contesting me. I may have to say a good deal more about these brothers lather on.
Throughout the campaign the indications were that I would be successful. But I was never free from grave apprehensions on account of the lavish expenditure of money by my rival and his influence as a zemindar. On the election day I was dismayed by the array of Lal Miah’s grand and gaily coloured posters displayed at all strategic points at and near the polling station as well as the heap of ‘pan’ and ‘biris’ piled on mats in his camps at the booths. But to my great relief I found very few voters going to his camp and partaking of his pan and biri and even many of those who visited his camp, mostly his tenants, to keep up appearances, actually voted for me. I could however visit the town polling station and a few other neighbouring stations on a hired car. The polling took place during two days. On the second day when I visited some of the stations I was astonished and unnerved to learn that Lal Miah had sent telegrams overnight to his agents stating that on the first day he was leading by an overwhelming majority and that I could not even secure two annas (one-eighth of a rupee of the votes polled on that day. But all these tactics were of little avail and when the result was declared it was found that I had Won by an overwhelming majority and Lal Miah saved his deposit by a very thin margin.
Shortly after the declaration of the result, I received a telegraphic message from Lal Miah congratulating me on my success. Since then my relations with Lal Miah grew progressively warmer and far from there being another conflict with him there has been perfect amity and collaboration eversince.
- I Attend the First Session of Legislative Council
On being summoned to the first session, I was preparing to go to Calcutta for attending the same when Moulvi Ghyasuddin Ahmed told me that he was also going to Calcutta and suggested that I might conveniently put up in Calcutta along with him at the house of his relative Mr. Rezaur Rahman Khan of Dacca district, who had also been elected as a member of the Council. I agreed and we both went to Calcutta together and took up residence at Mr. Razaur Rahman’s house. I felt very awkward when I found out in no time that Rezaur Rahman was the son-in-law of Mr. A. K. Ghaznavi who was contesting Sir Abdur Rahim for the leadership of the non-Congress Muslim section of the Council. I had already decided to join the group of sir Abdur Rahim unasked or un-influenced by anybody. It was now clear that Moulvi Ghyasudddin took me to the house of Rezaur Rahman according to a pre-arranged plan. I however made my attitude clear and on one occasion actually asked me to support sir Ghazanavi as against Sir Abdur Rahim. When the showdown came at a meting of the Muslim members I voted for Sir Abdur Rahim who won by a substantial margin.
The Council used to meet in these days on the second floor of the Calcutta Town Hall facing the Maidan. After oath taking, the first business was the election of the President of the Council. The Government had a dominant position in the house. Its natural supporters were the large European block and the nominated members. The support of the majority of the Muslim members was also counted upon. We were informed that the Government had decided that Raja Manmatha Nath Rai Choudhury, Zemindar of Santosh (Mymensingh) should be the President and were asked to support him.
The Test of Time – my life and days
MAULVI TAMIZUDDIN KHAN