Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan

The Test of Time - my life and days


The life and times of Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan coincide with the rise of the Muslims of India from their centuries-long political and economic decline to their attainment of nationhood. After surrendering their empire to the British, the Muslims of India became demoralized and withdrew into their shell. They regarded the British and anything of British, such as English education, with the same kind of passive hostility with which the Hindu majority had regarded their Muslim rulers earlier. The British, on the otherhand were deeply suspicious of the motives of the Muslims, and to neutralize the Muslim threat, undertook a deliberate policy of patronizing the Hindus.

The repressive measures against the Muslims intensified after the abortive First War of Independence in 1857, in which the Muslims took a leading part. While the Hindus in general progressed under the British rule, the Muslims, with the possible exception of the northern elite continued to fall behind. Things got so bad that Reverend J. Long (1) in 1869 warned that the Muslims of Bengal “have degenerated, are degenerating and will sink to a still lower depth unless steps are taken. . .”. “Their fall from political power and the English Government making a book career a test for office, had left numbers, poor and proud, without any resources, swelling the torrent of discontent”, the Reverend concluded. Two years later in 1871, Sir William Wilson Hunter (2) sounded the alarm of a different kind. He saw signs of “overt sedition” from “fanatical Musalmans” and warned that “the whole Muhammedan community has been openly deliberating their obligation to rebel.”

Out of favour with the rulers, steadily losing ground to the Hindus both literally and figuratively, the disheartened Muslims of India desperately needed some good news. They received some, a year later in 1872. The first ever census of Bengal in 1872 revealed that contrary to the expectation  that the area was predominantly Hindu, 48% of the population of Bengal proper was Muslim. A few districts of Eastern Bengal, namely Bogra, Rajshahi, Pabna, Mymensingh, Tipperah, Noakhali, Backergunj and Chittagong had Muslim population of over 70%. The remaining districts of present day Bangladesh (except Chittagong Hilltracts as well as Nadia, Murshidabad and Malda had Muslim population of between 50 and 60%. The concentration in one geographical area of these predominantly rural and uneducated Muslims, under the domination of the Hindu Zeminder, proved to be a very significant factor in the growth of separatist politics along sectarian lines.

Against the backdrop of these intensifying socio-religious polarizations, Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan was born in a Faridpur village in 1889. His was a unique life. He lived and experienced the village life first hand at Khankhanapur, (Chapters I and II), before venturing out to Faridpur, Cooch Bihar and Calcutta in pursuit of higher education, and eventually finding himself at the forefront of Indian Independence Movement. After Ibn Maazuddin Ahmad (3), his is probably the first detailed account of the rural Muslim society in Bengal in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Chapter I makes fascinating reading. Social historians should be able to feast on the wealth of information provided there. Apart from such standard fare as Hindu-Muslim relations within the purview of which association was considered acceptable, but social visits or intermarriages definitely not, Maulvi Khan gives vivid details of such diverse subjects as the various techniques of catching fish (eg. With “Palo”), the Hindu Pujas and their effect on otherwise austere Muslim celebrations, festivities during Hindu marriages including “Jatra” and “Kavi”, and the rather dangerous Muslim pasttimes such as Cattle races, Lathi-play and Boat races.

Maulvi Khan developed a taste for the all-night “Jatra” shows (indigenous operatic dramas), was awestruck by the extempore brilliance of the practitioners of “Kavi” and “Jari” and learnt from his father the art of “Puthi” reading. (“Puthis”, normally written by Mullahs abounded with Arabic and Persian words and usually described stories of ordinary people and Islamic history. “Puthis” kept the spirits of the Muslims up during the darkest days of British rule. See reference (4) for details on “Puthis”).

The powerful oratory of Ambica Charan Majumder, later to become the President of Indian National Congress, in denouncing the “evil” of the Partition of Bengal had a hypnotic effect on Maulvi Khan. Mr. Majumder asked the students of Faridpur in 1905 to boycott the British goods in protest and join the movement as volunteers. Maulvi Khan did¾ that was his initiation into politics. He vigorously demonstrated against the partition of Bengal and even made his first political speech in its condemnation, a year before he appeared at the Entrance Examination of 1906. Only later did he learn that the Partition was meant to help the Muslims and that the recognized Muslim leaders, including Nawab Salimullah were in favour of it. Under Hindu pressure, the partition was annulled by King George V in 1911.

In the Bengali villages, as in the rest of India, the Hindus and the Muslims were two different communities. Class distinction was rigorously enforced even among the spectators enjoying drama and “Jatra” shows¾ the Muslims were invariably assigned the worst seats. The Hindu revivalists used the “Jatras” as a propaganda tool in their campaign against the partition of Bengal. The same revivalists started a literary offensive that took the Bengali language, which had flourished under the patronage of Muslim rulers, to the Sanskrit traditions, lionized the British and Hindu characters while slandering the Muslim heroes and tightened up laws against inter-marriage and commensality. The Muslims continued to be charged exorbitant interest by the Hindu Zeminders. The Muslim tenants continued to suffer humiliation in the Zeminder’s house. They had to sit on a low “piri” (very low wooden stool) while the Hindu tenant sat on an elevated “farsh” and “satranj”. Muslims could not share the same “Hukkas” with the Hindus, and had either to smoke from an inferior “hukka” or from a “chillim”. Limits of commensality were clearly defined. Even during the earthquake of 1897, when Maulvi Khan was eight and playing near a Hindu friend’s house, he knew instantly that it would be improper to enter the inner compounds of a Hindu house, and although trembling with fear, nevertheless ran towards his own house!

Maulvi Khan passed his Entrance Examination in 1906. For his College education (Chapter II) he first went to Victoria College in Cooch Bihar from where he passed his First Arts examination in 1908 and then transferred to first the Scottish Churches College, and then the premier institution of the province, Presidency College in Calcutta. Mr. Khan passed his honours examination in English in 1911 and thus became the first Muslim graduate of Faridpur. He studied for his Masters degree at Presidency College and Law degree at Ripon College simultaneously and passed the examinations in 1913 and 1914 respectively.

When he decided to join the Faridpur Bar in 1915, he found out how difficult it was for a Muslim lawyer to start practice. There were hardly any Muslim lawyers available as Seniors, and the numerous established Hindu lawyers were not keen on taking Muslims as proteges. Eversince his school days. Maulvi Khan had kept an eye on the political developments in the country. Although the Muslim League was established at Dacca in 1906, the Indian National Congress Party was the only political party of any consequence in India. Ironically, in Sir Syed Ahmed’s book, “The causes of Indian Revolt”, which gave inspiration to the founders of Indian National Congress, he had said that the Hindus and the Muslims were separate nations, and to rule India jointly “one would need to conquer the other”. Sir Syed had successfully asked the Muslims to keep away from the Congress. Mr. Khan shared these misgivings from the very outset. The annulment of the partition of Bengal convinced even the “Ambassador of Hindu¾Muslim Unity”, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, then an out and out Congressman, that the future of the Indian Muslims depended on self-help. And that a certain degree of cooperation with the Congress was essential to achieve the Muslim objectives. Mr. Jinnah joined the Muslim League in 1913, when he was still a leading member of the Congress. Maulvi Khan joined the Muslim League in 1915, and for the same sort of reasons he joined the Congress in 1921.

In any endeavour in life, Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan always did more than his share. Although a budding Muslim lawyer with family responsibilities was not expected to give up his practice under any circumstances, responding to Mr. Gandhi’s call for non-violent, non-cooperation with the British. Maulvi Khan threw his weight behind the movement and gave up his law practice. Not only that, he even took his younger brother out of the Government school he was studying in¾unfortunately, his brother never regained his enthusiasm for school again. The Non-Cooperation Movement took the country by storm and threw the British off-guard. The Hindus and the Muslims forgot their differences for the time being and worked shoulder to shoulder for its success. And succeed it did, beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. The British had no idea how to counter such a novel approach of protest. Surely, they could not oppose non-violence with violence ! Mr. Jinnah remained opposed to the non-cooperation movement because of the hardship it would cause to the masses, especially the Muslim masses. Even Mr. Jinnah conceded later that the movement came within an inch of success, and would have succeeded if the movement was in the hands of the “real politician !”.

The British took a long time to decide how to respond to the non-cooperation movement. When the decision was made, it meant mass imprisonment for the participants. Maulvi Khan was thrown into the lice-infested Faridpur Jail (Chapter IV). The conditions inside the jail were atrocious. They were treated like common criminals, provided with intolerable sleeping quarters, inedible food and unhygienic sanitary facilities, whereas in most other places, including Dacca, the non-cooperation prisoners enjoyed the status of political prisoners. Even inside the jail confines the protest continued. Anytime the Warden or the Superintendent of the jail entered the prison, the prisoners were expected to spring to attention at the usherer’s command of “Sarker”, and salute the visitor at the command of “salaam”. Maulvi Khan and colleagues refused, saying that they could not honour the representative of a “satanic” government that they were not cooperating with and that had thrown them into jail.  The District Magistrate of Faridpur and ex-officio Superintendent of jail Mr. G.P. Hogg, ICS, was incensed and chose three of the protesters including Maulvi Khan for public lashing. Maulvi Khan discusses the intriguing and possibly dubious role played by Khan Bahadur Abdul Ghani and his son, Mr. Abul Karim during this episode. Although the non-cooperators had lost a battle to Mr. Hogg, it was Mr. Hogg who lost the war. The non-cooperators never had saluted the “Sarkar”, and when the higher authorities heard about the incident, they exempted the non-cooperators from the “Salaam.”

After this incident, Maulvi Khan was transferred to the Dacca Central Jail, where they were treated much better. Cut off from any news from the home or the political fronts by the overzealous jail censors, Mr. Khan took this opportunity to devote himself to studying the holy Quran in detail. The prison food continued to plague his health¾ some damage, especially to his stomach, was permanent. After serving over 14 months of a 2-year rigorous imprisonment sentence, Maulvi Khan was suddenly released in early 1923. He never forgot the humiliating treatment in the jail. When the British Government tried to honour him with the title of Khan Bahadur later, he refused.

On his release from prison, he found that the political climate in the country had changed for the worse. After Mr. Gandhi ended the non-cooperation movement in 1922, the Hindu-Muslim divisions and communal riots resurfaced. Maulvi Khan was still barred from practicing law, and had to do something else to support his family. He headed for Calcutta, where his friend and fellow non-cooperator Mr. C.R. Das was the Mayor. In a move that typifies, Maulvi Khan’s disregard for self-interest, he made no effort to contact Mr. Das, who could easily have rewarded him with a lucrative job. Instead, he worked long, hard and gut-wrenching hours as a “Bapari” or petty cloth merchant in Calcutta to support his family. Maulvi Khan admired Mr. C.R. Das like few other man. He believed that Mr. Das was well ahead of his time and was a true wellwisher of the Muslims, and that had he lived beyond the 1920s, the history of the Indian subcontinent could have been different.

Things were moving fast, especially in the Hindu-Muslim front. Maulvi Khan was alarmed by the “Suddhi Movement”, that attempted to reconvert the Muslims to Hindus. He made up his mind to leave the Hindu-dominated Congress. Before he did that he wanted to show everyone how communal the Congress and the Hindus were. He stood for election as a Congress member to the Faridpur Municipality from a Hindu Constituency. Although he was a renowned member and the secretary of the Faridpur Congress Party, and was the darling of the Hindus during the non-cooperation movement, the constituents elected a far inferior Hindu candidate instead. Maulvi Khan made this stark communalism a reason for leaving the Congress in 1926. His troubles with the Hindus were not yet over. Encouraged by the revivalist Hindu Mahashabha, now inhabited by his erstwhile congress colleagues the Hindus began disregarding the age old tradition of not playing music as they passed by the Chawk Bazar Mosque in Faridpur. When the Muslims challenged them, the Hindus instituted a criminal case in which Maulvi Khan was falsely implicated, although he was no where near the site and had no knowledge of the episode. What was worse is that the Hindus won the case, basically because the Muslim’s lawyer, Bar-at-Law Mr. H.S. Suhrawardy was more interested in insulting the Hindus than in presenting the merit of his case.

Maulvi Khan ran for a seat in the Bengal Legislative Council from Sadar and Goalando sub-divisions of Faridpur in 1926. In an interesting battle with Mr. Lal Miah, in which Maulvi Khan had to overcome an attempt to buy him off, the people’s spontaneous enthusiasm for his candidacy prevailed. He won again in 1930, and in 1937 he defeated the formidable congress candidate Mr. Humayun Kabir, Maulvi Khan contesting as a Muslim League candidate. Maulvi Khan played a leading part in enacting the Bengal Tenancy Amendment Act and fought vigorously for the tenant’s right to transfer land, and against the landlord’s right of preemption. From 1937 until the partition of India in 1947, Maulvi Khan held the portfolios of the Ministers of Health, Agriculture and Industry, and Education in the Bengal Cabinet.

By the 1940s, the socio-religious forces were pulling the Hindus and the Muslims apart with such ferocity that the Muslims, fearful of Hindu domination in an independent India, began a campaign for independence not only from the British, but from the Hindus as well. The Muslims especially resented the Hindu resistance during the purely religious activity of cow sacrifice during Eid-ul-Azha, and the fact that the Hindu Zeminders had banned cow sacrifice in two-thirds of the Bengali villages under their control. The polarization between the two communities was so extreme that the “Great Calcutta Killings” of Muslims took place in August, 1946, when they were observing a “Direct Action Day” for the achievement of Pakistan. There was an immediate retaliation in Noakhali, where the victims were Hindus. With these flashes of communal violence threatening to engulf the whole subcontinent, it was clear even to the Congress leaders, Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Nehru included, that the two communities had to separate to live in peace.

Thus Pakistan was achieved in 1947, but it was the shape and size of East Pakistan that appeared “truncated and moth-eaten.” Although the Muslims of Bengal had more to do with the creation of Pakistan than any other Muslim majority provinces of pre-partition India, it appeared as though in an independent Pakistan, the role of East Pakistan and its leaders had shrunk along with the size of their province. More important, although the majority of the Pakistanis spoke Bengali, there was an immediate attempt to impose Urdu as the only official language of Pakistan. This was the beginning of the end of Pakistan.

Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan was elected as the Deputy President of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly, with Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the nation’s founder, as its President. When Mr. Jinnah died in 1948, Maulvi Khan was unanimously elected as the President of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly.

Ominous clouds began gathering at the horizon for Pakistan’s nascent democracy. There was considerable foot-dragging at writing of a constitution for the new, geographically separated nation. Students at Dacca University were killed as they protested the imposition of Urdu, giving rise to the historic “language movement”, which had a lot to do with the annihilation of Muslim League in the 1954 provincial elections, as well as the creation of Bangladesh subsequently. What concerned Maulvi Khan directly is that in 1954, Pakistan’s first `dictator’, Governor General Ghulam Mohammad dissolved the Constituent Assembly of which Maulvi Khan was the President.

Maulvi Khan refused to be coerced or intimidated and challenged the illegal dissolution in the Sind Court in the landmark “Tamizuddin Khan versus Federation of Pakistan” case. He won ! However, on appeal, the Federal Court set aside the Judgement on the controversial doctrine of “State Necessity” (See the appendices). Maulvi Khan’s courage and integrity won him universal acclaim.

The decision, on the otherhand, took Pakistan slowly but surely towards dictatorship and military rule.

Inevitably, Martial law was declared in Pakistan in October, 1958 and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, General Ayub Khan took over. A new constitution was approved in 1962 that gave the country a Presidential form of Government. Elections were held under the new constitution in 1962. First the President, and then the National and Provincial Assemblies were elected. Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan sought election to the National Assembly from a Dacca-Faridpur constituency and won easily. He was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly in 1962. In the absence of the President, he acted as the President of the country.

Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan breathed his last in the morning of August 19, 1963 at the Combined Military Hospital, Dacca. In condolence messages, various national and international leaders called Maulvi Khan “a jewel”, “a saint”, and “not a man, but an institution”. Maulvi Khan was given a State Funeral and was buried near the proposed site of Pakistan’s second capital near Tejgaon (Chapter VII).

Maulvi Khan’s politics and imprisonment meant enormous financial and emotional hardships for his own and his father’s families. He meant to make it up to them. Even then, he consciously decided not to try and become the leading political personality of Muslim Bengal¾ he could never ask his family for that big a sacrifice. It was his abiding regret that his father passed away before he was able to give him real financial help, and before he had the satisfaction of seeing Maulvi Khan make his mark and really prosper in life. He nursed a lifelong remorse for it.

Unfortunately for Bengali Muslims, very few of their political stalwarts wrote their memoirs or shared their thoughts and vision of the future with their countrymen. The country is poorer for that. Although Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan could not finish his memoir, there is enough in it to whet the appetite of the social and political historians. He is vivid in his description of the village life, candid about the view of the Indian independence movement from his vantage point, and he does not mince his words commenting on the actions and motives of leading politicians.

One small incident in Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan’s life gives the measure of the man and his values. He was truthful to a fault, but describes in great detail the one occasion when he was not. As a child of 14, in a small business venture with some Hindu friends he made a profit of about 10 or 12 annas that he did not share with his partners. Years later, when he was known throughout India he decided to make amends. Brushing aside all considerations of prestige or consequences, he went to these two gentlemen of his village, persuaded them to accept one rupee each and begged their forgiveness. Not only did the two bewildered Hindu gentlemen forgive him, one of them made the prophetic statement” “Tamizuddin, you will be a great man !”.

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