Syed Ahmou , im n.h- - Preface to the second edition
Syed Ahmou , im n.h- .
SYED AHMED KHAN
SYED AHMED KHAN
ON 30 May 1871, Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, who was getting a little concerned about the continuous, violent manifestations of Muslim discontent with the British rule, asked a distinguished civil servant to study the problem, analyse the causes of the discontent and suggest remedies. That was the genesis of Dr Sir William Hunter’s The Indian Musalmans: are they bound in conscience to rebel against the Queen ?
Hunter’s book was limited in its objective, and written from an obviously imperialistic angle. It is, however, a mine of illuminative information on the position which Muslim India had reached within fourteen years of the unsuccessful War of Independence, and as this was also the time when Syed Ahmed returned from England, with his ambitious schemes for the uplift of his people, it would be useful to consider in detail some of its facts and figures. Dr Hunter’s thesis was that if Government wished to avoid the endless repetition of ”Wahabi murders,” and the enormous expenditure of annual military campaigns against the ”Fanatics’ Colony” on the Frontier, it must remove that ”chronic sense of wrong, which has grown up in the hearts of the Musalmans under British rule”.
That this ”chronic sense of wrong” had a solid basis, was shown by Dr Hunter with an array of facts and figures regarding Bengal, which he knew intimately. First he dealt with the Muslim landowning classes of the Eastern Bengal. He wrote :
At Murshidabad a Muhammadan Court still plays its farce of mimic state, and in every District the descendant of some line
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of princes sullenly and proudly eats his heart out among roofless palaces and weed-choked tanks. Of such families I have personally known several. Their houses swarm with grown-up sons and daughters, with grandchildren and nephews and nieces, and not one of the hungry crowd has a chance of doing anything for himself in life. They drag on a listless existence in patched-up verandahs or leaky outhouses, sinking deeper and deeper into a hopeless abyss of debt, till the neighbouring Hindu money-lender fixes a quarrel on them, and then in a moment a host of mortgagesforeclose, and the ancient Musalman family is suddenly swallowed up and disappears for ever.1
After describing very vividly and at great length the ruin of the Muslim landed aristocracy. Hunter tersely remarks :
If any statesman wishes to make a sensation in the House of Commons, he has only to truly narrate the history of these Muhammadan families of Bengal.2
Next, Hunter considers the position of Muslims in public services, which ever since the Muslims came to India (and either neglected trade and industry or found themselves powerless against the all-powerful Hindu caste-guilds) had been the principal means of livelihood for the educated Muslims. Of course, the higher posts in the Army-formerly a close preserve of the Muslims-were now denied to all Indians but even in other spheres of public employment, the share of Muslims bore norelation either to their population or their historical traditions. Hunter first deals with the proportion of the Muslims in the Judicial and the Revenue services, which in different grades varied from one-fourth to one-tenth and goes on to say :
It is, however, in the less conspicuous Departments, in which the distribution of patronage is less keenly watched by the political parties in Bengal, that we may read the fate of the Musalmans. In 1869 these Departments were filled thus :-In the three grades of Assistant Government Engineers there were fourteen Hindus and not one Musalman ; among the apprentices there were four Hindus and two Englishmen, and not one Musalman. Among the sub-Engineers,... there were twenty-four Hindus to one Musalman; among the Overseers, two Musalmans to sixty-three Hindus. In the Offices of Account there were fifty names of Hindus, and not one Musalman; and in the Upper Subordinate Department, there were twenty-two Hindus, and again not one Musalman.3
He similarly surveyed the professions of Law and Medicine,
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which revealed an equally depressing position, and after giving a table showing ”Distribution of State Patronage in Bengal” in April
1871, he went on to say :
In one extensive Department the other day it was discovered that there was not a single employe who could read the Musalman dialect; and, in fact, there is now scarcely a Government office in Calcutta in which a Muhammadan can hope for any post above the rank of porter, messenger, filler of ink-pots, and mender of pens.4
Hunter next deals with the causes of this state of affairs. He pays a high tribute to the Hindu intellect, but adds that ”an universal and immeasurable superiority on the part of the Hindus, such as would be required to explain their monopoly of official preferment,. is unknown at the present day, and is in direct contradiction totheir past history”.5 As a matter of fact, he adds, ”The truth is, that when the country passed under our rule, the Musalmans were the superior race, and superior not only in stoutness of heart and strength of arm, but in power of political organization, and in the science of political government.”6 Muslims held their own even in the intellectual sphere. ”Before the country passed to us, they werenot only the political but the intellectual power in India.”71 Muslim backwardness was, therefore, not due to any inherent inferiority of the community but could be traced to historical, causes, which had blocked their progress. Hunter described them all, including their neglect of modern education-”Some years ago. . . out of three hundred boys in the English CollegeCalcutta), not one per cent were Muslim”-but he also pointed out, as clearly as a Government servant could do with propriety, that the policy, which the British Government had followed towards the Muslims, was one of the principal causes of turning the scales against them. He gives a quotation from a Persian newspaper of Calcutta, which would be a revelation to those who criticise the principle of reservation of posts for Muslims :
’All sorts of employment, great and small, are being gradually snatched away from the Muhammadans, and bestowed on men of other races, particularly the Hindus. The Government is bound to look upon all classes of its subjects with an equal e>e, yet thetime has now come when it publicly singles out the Muhammadansin its Gazettes for exclusion from official posts. Recently, when
] 6 ] Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan
several vacancies occurred in the office of the Sunderbans cornmissioner, that official, in advertising them in the Government •Gazette, stated that the appointments would be given to none but the Hindus.’8
Hunter’s facts and figures were mainly for Bengal, but the position in many other parts of the country was similar. He, himself, quotes from a petition submitted by Muslims of Orissa to the Commissioner of the Division, which, though worded in stilted phraseology, gave an indication of the Muslim position in that part of the country :
’Truly speaking, the Orissa Muhammadans have been levelled -down and down, with no hopes of rising again. Born of noble parentage, poor by profession, and destitute of patrons, we find ourselves in the position of a fish out of water. . . . We would travel into the remotest corners of the earth, ascend the snowy peaks of Himalayas, wander the forlorn regions of Siberia, could we be convinced that by so travelling we would be blessed with a •Government appointment of ten shillings a weeks.’9
The Communal Triangle in India written by the Indian socialist leaders, Asoka Mehta and Achyut Patwardhan, throws further light on the status enjoyed by Muslims in public offices at this time. We quote a paragraph, on which comment will be futile:
Not only were the Muslims economically crushed, but educationally and socially also their position was deliberately depressed by the Government. In 1870, the Muhammadan pleaders presented two memorials to the High Court pointing out that while -closed days allowed to the Christians were sixty-two, and those to Hindus fifty-two, only eleven were granted to the Muhammadans. The petition was called forth by an order that the ”Native holidays” observed by the High Court should be the same as allowed in the Government offices. In the Government offices, no Muhammadan holiday was sanctioned at all.10
Syed Ahmed Khan, who faced the situation of which we get a glimpse in Hunter’s book, was born in 1817. His forefathers, like so many other statesmen and warriors, who gave stability and grandeur to the edifice of Islam in India, came from Iran. Some of his ancestors distinguished themselves on the battlefield, but having descended from the Holy Prophet, they had claims to
Syed Ahmed Khan
spiritual sanctity also. Syed Ahmed’s grandfather, who originally held a military command, was later on given a quasi-religiousquasi-judicial appointment by the Mughal emperor.
Syed Ahmed’s father, Mir Muttaqi, was a religious recluse but, on account of his noble descent, wielded considerable influence and was held in particular esteem by the contemporary Mughal king, Akbar Shah II. Of him, very little is known, except that he was a carefree, outspoken individual, well versed in archery and swimming, and very intimate with Shah Ghulam Ali Naqshbandi Mujaddidi, a local saint of great eminence. When, on his father’s death, Mir Muttaqi was offered the ancestral rank and titles, he politely declined them as being nothing more than an empty show in the existing state of the Mughal decay.
Shah Ghulam Ah, with whom Syed Ahmed’s father was \ery friendly, was at the time the principal saint of the Mujaddidi order. This religious order, which is an Indian offshoot of the main sect of the Naqshbandis, originated with Sheikh Ahmed of Sirhind, who in the seventeenth century led the orthodox reaction against religious innovations of the Mughal emperor, Akbar, and who is known by his followers as the great Mujaddid (the Reviver of Faith). The Mujaddidis, from the very nature of their origin, have been strict Muslims, and until Wahabism from Arabia gained currency were the puritans of Indian Islam. Shah Ghulam Ali, who was at the head of this order in Syed Ahmed’s infancy, was deeply attached to Mir Muttaqi and his family. As a matter of fact, the saint, who had no children, used to say that Mir Muttaqi’s sons were like his own children and they also addressed him as ”Dada Hazrat” (Grandfather Saint). When Syed Ahmed was born, his father took him to the saint, who named him Ahmed, and when the child grew to school-going age, he was first brought to Shah Ghulam Ali, who taught him the Arabic alphabet. In his childhood, Syed Ahmed was frequently taken by his father to the saint, who showed great fondness for the boy and cheerfully put up with all the childish pranks of the exuberant child.
In the deeply religious atmosphere surrounding his father and the ”Grandfather Saint,” Shah Ghulam Ali, the child developed that deep devotion to religion which marked him throughout his life. For his insight into the affairs of the state and first contacts
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with Western learning and civilisation he was indebted to his maternal grandfather, Khwaja Farid-ud-Din, who was, for eight >ears, Prime Minister at the Mughal Court. Khwaja Farid, whose influence during the formathe years of Syed Ahmed can hardly be over-emphasised, was a remarkable man in many ways. He was the foremost mathematician amongst Indian Muslims of his day and was equally at home in practical affairs of the state. Born at Delhi, he completed his education at Lucknow and soon thereafter was appointed as Superintendent of the Madrasah (College),, established by Warren Hastings in Calcutta. Later he was selected for responsible political offices by the East India Company. In
1799, he accompanied, as an Attache, the embassy sent by Lord Wellesly to Persia and was later Political Officer and Agent at the Court of the Burmese king. In 1815, he left Calcutta to take ur> the Ministership,- offered to him by Akbar Shah II. He brought to the service of the titular Mughal emperor all the experience he had gathered in the service of the East India Company, and worked assiduously to reorganise the finances of the royal household. Unluckily the economies which he effected were unpopular and, after some time, he had to relinquish his office. He was, however, recalled to service, and had another spell of office for more than three years.
Khwaja Farid died during Syed Ahmed’s childhood, but the influence which he exercised in moulding the habits and character of his illustrious grandson was far from meagre. As Syed Ahmed’s father was a religious recluse, he and his mother lived at the house of his maternal grandfather, and the observant child saw, from very close quarters, the daily life and social and political background of a Mughal minister. He later wrote a biography of Khwaja Farid, which not only shows the profound regard which he felt for his grandfather, but gives a glimpse of the happy but disciplined and catholic atmosphere in which Syed Ahmed spent his early days.
Details of Syed Ahmed’s childhood have not been preserved, but from what is on record it is easy to see that his intellectual powers developed very slowly, and in his childhood and youth, he was more marked for a robust physique and an active outdoor life than for any intellectual precocity. When his grandfather saw
Syed Ahmed Khan
him sometime after his birth and noticed his unusually large hands and feet, he remarked, ”A Jat [burly rustic] has been born in our family !” The many games in which Syed Ahmed took an .active part in his early days strengthened his physique, but luckily his education was not altogether neglected. The education which Syed Ahmed received in his early days was not very thorough or systematic, but under the guidance of a wise mother, he received an adequate knowledge of the rudiments of subjects taught at Muslim madrasas of the day. What is more, he developed that real love of learning which enabled him to supplement so fully the knowledge which he had gained in early days, and became, in the course of time, not only the political but also the intellectual leader of his people.
Syed Ahmed’s early days were spent in comfort, but, with the death of his grandfather, the family’s fortunes began to decline, and when, in 1838, his father died, and the stipends and Jagirs, which were allotted to him by his royal patron, either lapsed or were reduced, the young Syed had to seek his livelihood. At first he had to content himself with a minor clerical appointment, but he soon qualified himself for the post of a Munsif (Sub-Judge) and in 1841 was posted in that capacity at the historic town of Fatehpur Sikri.
In 1846, Syed Ahmed’s elder brother died and, in order to be able to look after the family affairs, he asked for a transfer to Delhi, where he remained from 1846 to early 1855. These nine years are of great importance in his life. For one thing, he was able to complete his education and, for another, he saw, not through the misty hues of childhood, but with the mature vision of a grownup youth, the Indian summer of old Delhi. At that time the Mughal rule had ceased to exist, except in name, but the Mughal capital was even now attracting the most gifted Muslims of India. In the tawdry court of a titular king, Ghalib sang verses, which easily excelled everything written by the poet laureates of Akbar and Shah Jahan, and on the steps of the Jami’ Masjid, the successors of Shah Wali Ullah and Shah Ismail Shaheed kept aloft the torch
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of religious learning and social reform. Even in houses of unemployed and decaying nobility could be found administrators like Nawab Ahmed Bakhsh and Nawab Amin-ud-Din of Loharu’and cultured philanthropists like Hakim Mahmud Khan and Nawab Mustafa Khan, who in more prosperous times could have easily steered the ship of a powerful state. Syed Ahmed moved amongst them-he was one of them in every way-and the affection which he inspired amongst his elders may be judged from a remark of Ghahb who, after praising Syed Ahmed’s sagacity and abilities, adds: ”To me, he is like one of my own kith and kin.”
Syed Ahmed drank deeply of this elevating atmosphere and his first sizable literary effort was a tribute to Delhi-Asar-ulSanadid or the ”Antiquities of Delhi”-which he brought out in
1847. In this book, after patient and laborious research carried on not so much in the cool comfort of a library, as amidst the mosscovered, illegible inscriptions of half-ruined structures (which at that time had no Archaeological Department to look after them), Syed Ahmed prepared an account of the principal buildings in and around Delhi. The young author was no trained archaeologist and, after the lapse of a century, his work has been naturally superseded by more systematic accounts, but even now the historian turns with gratitude to his pioneer effort, especially as some of the ”buildings described in the book were destroyed during and after the Revolt of 1857, and we only know them through the description left by Syed Ahmed. Of special interest is the chapter on ”Celebrities of Contemporary Delhi” which, though written in the stilted, verbose style, popular amongst Persian and Urdu writers of the day, is probably the best account of literary, religious and artistic life during the Indian summer of the Mughal Delhi.
Syed Ahmed’s other literary efforts during his stay at Delhi were of a polemic nature. At this time a fierce controversy was raging between the new sect of Wahabis and the orthodox Muslims. Syed Ahmed, who was brought up in circles close to the puntanical Shah Ghulam Ali, took part in these controversies and wrote a number of pamphlets in support of the Wahabi cause His interest in bigger religious questions increased in course of time, but luckily he soon got out of the petty sectarian polemicsfor the time being to worship again at the shrine of the Muse of
Syed Ahmed Khan
History. In 1855, he was transferred to Bijnore and here he commenced the editing and publication of the principal works on the history of Muslim rule in India. The first book he edited and published was Ain-i-Akbari, by Abul Fazl, the secretary and ”friend, philosopher and guide” of Emperor Akbar. To this he later added the autobiography of Jahangir and Zia-ud-Din Barani’s history of the early Muslim rulers of Delhi. Syed Ahmed’s work as a historian suffers from the slips which are inevitable in the work of a busy Government official, who tries to do another wholetime job, but it was well planned and generally of a high level. In course of time, its worth was recognised by foreign scholars. M. Garcin de Tassy published, in 1861, a French translation of the book on the archaeological history of Delhi and, three years later, Syed Ahmed was elected an honorary Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of London.
In 1857, Syed Ahmed Khan was forty. He had spent nearly twenty years in judicial service, was known as a just, competent Government official, who was interested in the general welfare of the people, and who spent his leisure in scholarly pursuits. In
1857, however, a new facet of his many-sided personality was revealed. This year a great political conflagration, which began with the mutiny of some units of the Indian Army and later spread to the civil population, started and it became inevitable even for ordinary law-abiding citizens to take sides in a sanguinary conflict.
Syed Ahmed Khan was at that time a Sub-Judge at Bijnore, but, owing to his general versatility and competence, he wielded much bigger influence than is normally the share of a subordinate judicial officer. The Collector and Magistrate of the district, Shakespeare, thought very highly of him, and in view of his general interest in public welfare had entrusted to him the supervision of those activities, like public health, which later came to be entrusted to city municipalities.
When the news of the Revolt (and massacre of Europeans) at Delhi reached Bijnore, the local European officers and their families were naturally perturbed. Syed Ahmed Khan, however
22] Modern Muslim India and tli _ ..
reassured them and promised to look after them even at the risk of his life. Soon this promise-and all the capacity he possessed for handling men-was to be put to a test. Before long a big mob, headed by Nawab Mahmud Khan, began to assemble and threaten the Europeans, who had taken refuge in the Collector’s bungalow, and it appeared likely that the refugees would suffer the same fate which Europeans had met in many other places in Northern India. Seeing the position deteriorate, Syed Ahmed decided to beard the lion in his den. Unarmed and without any escort, he faced the angry mob and approached their leader. Using all the influence which he could command, as a Syed, as a writer on religious subjects and as a trusted and esteemed public servant, he tried to convince Nawab Mahmud Khan that it was in his interest to allow the Europeans to evacuate unmolested. He was so successful in his plucky mission that the Nawab accompanied him to the Collector’s bungalow, and a document was drawn up according to which the Europeans left the place in safety and the territory was taken over by the Nawab. Later the local Hindu zamindars rose against the Nawab and when the situation became confused, the Commissioner of Meerut Division asked Syed Ahmed to take over as the Administrator of the district. He played this role for some time, but ultimately the situation became too disturbed for peaceful administration and he had to leave the place and take shelter at Meerut.
The events at Bijnore gave Syed Ahmed Khan an opportunity to show his capacity for handling men but the bigger Revolt in the whole country first gave him the scope for showing those qualities of statesmanship, fearlessness and supreme political wisdom which he had inherited from his maternal grandfather. As soon as order was restored after the Great Revolt, and ever before its embers had fully died down, he wrote a book on The Causes of the Indian Revolt, which occupies a unique place in Indian political literature. During the last fifty years, literature on Indian question has grown enormously and some able and courageous books have been written on the subject. In most cases, however, they are the work of those who have had full access to the political literature in English and have been largely inspired by the doctrines of Mill, Burke, Karl Marx and other Western thinkers. S\ed Ahmed’s
Syed Ahmed Khan
book offers home-brewed vintage. He was ignorr, it of English or any other Western language and his book is noteworthy as embodying the political wisdom of a well-informed Muslim who was unacquainted with the modern political thought but who was a true heir to the traditions of Mughal statesmanship.
Even more remarkable is the courage and fearlessness of the author. The book was written when the greater part of the country was yet under the Martial Law. The Anglo-Indian press was advocating ”a very firm line” and the public opinion in England and in official circles in India had been deeply aroused. To criticise •Government at a time like this was to play with fire. Syed Ahmed’s book is, however, a scathing criticism of the previous pattern of administration and offers a full explanation, if not a vindication, of the Indian Revolt.
According to Syed Ahmed Khan, the basic cause, which ultimately led to the Great Revolt, was the absence of any Indian representing the Indian point of view in the upper councils governing the country. He said :
Most men agree . . . that it is highly conducive to the welfare and prosperity of Government-indeed, it is essential to its stability-that the people should have a voice in its councils.11
He waxed eloquent over the evils which resulted from the exclusion of Indians from the Legislative Council of India, and the ignorance of that body from the true Indian point of view. He wrote :
[In the period preceding the Indian Revolt] Government could never know the inadvisability of the laws and regulations which it passed. It could never hear as it ought to have heard the voice •of the people on such a subject. The people had no means of protesting against what they might feel to be a foolish measure, or of giving public expression to their own wishes.12
Next he referred to official interference in religion :
There is not the smallest doubt that all men, whether ignorant or well-informed, whether high or low, felt a firm conviction that the English Government was bent on interfering with their religion, and with their old-established customs.’3
Recounting the many causes which led to this belief he stated : [It was thought] that Government, and the officers of Government throughout the country, were in the habit of giving large
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sums of money to these missionaries, with the intention of covering their expenses, enabling them to distribute books, and in every way aiding them. Many covenanted officers and many military men have been in the habit of talking to their subordinates about religion; some of them would bid their servants come to their houses and listen to the preaching of missionaries.14
Syed Ahmed strongly criticised the laws providing for the resumption of revenue-free lands granted by the previous Governments, as ”most obnoxious”. He said : ”The people said that Government not only did nothing for them itself, but undid what former Governments had done.”15
He also complained about the lack of social intercourse between the British and the Indian sections of the public. ”There was no real communication between the governors and the governed, no living together or near one another, as has always been the custom of the Mohammedans in countries which they subjected to their rule.”56 He made it clear that ”it was ... for Government to try and win the friendship of its subjects, not for the subjects to try and win that of the Government.”17 He added : ”Now the EnglishGovernment has been in existence upwards of a century, and up to the present hour has not secured the affections of the people.”18
He even criticised the handling of the mutineers at Meerut. They were brave people who had served the East India Company loyally, had won medals and decorations, and refused to bite thecartridges (the biting of which would have ”destroyed their castes”), because they thought that this ”was no crime at all”. They were, however, ”punished in a manner which thinking men know to have been most wrong, and most inopportune”.19 He further adds :
The prisoners, on seeing their hands and feet manacled, looked at their medals and wept. They remembered their services, and thought how they had been recompensed 20
Syed Ahmed Khan had written a fearless-almost a dangerous-book, but the political sagacity which enabled him to put his finger on the defects of the administration also saved him from the consequences of his act. When the book was translated into English and discussed in the Viceroy’s Council, Cecil Beadon, the Foreign Secretary, characterised it as ”highly seditious,” and recommended that the author should be duly punished. As, however, the
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Viceroy and other members were convinced of the bona fides of Syed Ahmed Khan, no action was taken but what really silenced Beadon’s fears was the knowledge that not a single copy of the book had been sold to the public in India ! It was written, -not to incite the people against the Government, but to acquaint the authoritieswith the hardships which people were suffering, and so with the exception of a few copies which he retained himself, Syed Ahmed Khan sent all other copies to the Secretary of State for India, Members of Parliament, and high officials at Delhi and Calcutta. The first published English translation of the book was prepared in 1873 by Sir Auckland Colvin (later Lieutenant-Governor of U.P.) and Major-General Graham, but, of course, English versions had been prepared for official use much earlier. In the India Office, the book was translated, noted upon, discussed and became the starting point for many reforms, e.g. the appointment of Indians to the Legislative Council, which began almost within a year of the
publication of the book.
An interesting anecdote about the book has been narrated by Sahibzada Aftab Ahmed Khan, later a member of the Council of Secretary of State for India. When he was studying in England, he met Allan Octavian Hume, the founder of the Indian National Congress, who was a great admirer of Syed Ahmed Khan, but was puzzled by his opposition to the Congress.
Recalling this, Aftab Ahmed Khan said in the course of his Presidential Address at the All-India Muslim Educational Conference held at Aligarh in 1933, ”I also wish to mention that when, in 1892,1 had an occasion to meet in London late Mr A.O. Hume, the founder of the Indian National Congress, he said to me that it was the influence of Sir Syed’s book, The Causes of the Indian Revolt* which led him to think of establishing an organisation like the Indian National Congress”21 (translated from Urdu). The Aligarh Institute Gazette gives a more elaborate account of the interview which is of considerable interest to the historian of the Indian National Congress as well as the biographers of Syed Ahmed Khan. According to this version, Hume said to Sahibzada Sahib, ”It wasafter reading Syed Ahmed’s book on the Causes of the Indian Revolt that I first felt the need for having a forum of public opinion in India, and eventually the Indian National Congress came into-
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existence. But the amazing thing is that when it was started, Syed was the first to oppose it”22 (translated from Urdu).
Events of 1857-8 constituted a great national tragedy, but to judge by all appearances, Syed Ahmed himself had not fared badly. He emerged out of the conflict without doing anything which could cause him remorse, either as a loyal Government servant or as a patriotic Indian. The Revolt had also provided him with an opportunity to write a book, which at once brought him into the front rank of the leaders of Indian opinion. Apparently, Syed Ahmed himself had not been affected adversely by the course of events, but if one studies his speeches and writings of this period, one feels that this was the greatest blow he ever suffered. His sorrow and anguish was unlimited. The grief turned his hair prematurely grey, and completely changed the course of his life.
The reasons for this intense and sharp reaction were twofold -both personal and national. Syed Ahmed himself was unhurt, but his near and dear ones had suffered terribly during the reprisals, which the British encouraged or countenanced after the fall of Delhi. His mother was at the Mughal capital during the disturbances, and when he went to visit her after the British •occupation of the city, heart-breaking sight met his eyes :
On reaching his house, he heard that his mother had taken refuge in one of her syce’s [horse-attendant’s] houses and he followed her there. On his calling out to her she opened the door, •crying out, ”Why have you come here? All are being killed. You will be killed also,” He told her not to be afraid, as he had a special pass. He then found out that for five days she had been living on the horses’ grain, and was very weak. For three days she had had no water.2^
He took his mother back with him to Meerut, but what she had undergone was too much for her and, in spite of the best medical assistance, she died within a month. ”Syed Ahmed’s uncle and cousin, whose house adjoined his at Delhi, were slain unarmed by the infuriated Sikhs three days after the assault.” Ghaham who has recorded all this adds: ”They were as loyal as Syed Ahmed himself; but at that dreadful time many innocent men, I grieve to say, suffered for the sins of the guilty.”
Syed Ahmed’s personal loss was heavy, but when he saw what ihe Muslim community had suffered, his grief was inconsolable.
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In the indiscriminate massacre, arson and loot, which followed the British occupation of the city, Delhi, which Syed Ahmed had Icnpwn so well and loved so tenderly, simply ceased to exist. The British quarrel was really with the mutineers and their comrades in arms, but partly to strike terror in the minds of Indians in general, and partly out of anger at the mad massacre of European women and children at the hands of the mutineers, the authorities unleashed the dogs of war on the vast civil population of the city. Besides, in order to enlist the support of the Sikh soldiery, the Punjab officials had, by narrating legendary tales, stirred their religious zeal to the white heat of fanaticism and, in this hypnotised state, the Sikh soldiers committed atrocities which were more revolting than even those committed by the angry British soldiers. What Delhi suffered in these conditions is hard to describe but easy to imagine. Not a house was safe; not a human being was secure. For several days after the British occupation of Delhi civilians were shot at sight and when this was over, trials under the Martial Law started and any wretch, who had a grievance against another or who wanted to win the favour of the victors, •would come forward with accusation of complicity against the best and the noblest, and was readily believed. All the celebrities of Delhi, whom Syed Ahmed had described in his Asar-ul-Sanadid, •were dead or were hiding to save their lives. The vast quarter of the city between the Fort and the grand mosque, which housed the Mughal aristocracy, was completely razed to the ground and ploughed up. The grand mosque of Shah Jahan was taken over by the army, and the Anglo-Indian press was freely debating whether It should be destroyed or converted into a church!
Syed Ahmed’s grief at what he saw was boundless. He felt that India was no place for a self-respecting Muslim and wanted to retire from service and migrate to Egypt. About this time, Shakespeare, whose life he had saved at Bijnore, wanted to recommend him for the grant of the taluka of Chandpur. Syed Ahmed, however, refused to be enriched by the grant of a taluka which had been forfeited as punishment to a Muslim talukdar, and informed Shakespeare that he did not want to stay in India. Recalling those fearful days he later stated in a public speech :
At that time I did not believe that my people would regain
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even something of their prosperity, and I could not bear to see the condition in which they were at that time.,... Believe me, this grief aged me and my hair turned grey.
Luckily Syed Ahmed did not yield to the counsel of despair, and realising that ”it would be an act of cowardice and selfishness to seek a haven of peace when one’s people were in a desperate condition,” he gave up the idea of migration from India, and chose the stony path of a hard struggle and patient, assiduous labour.
He pondered over the tragedy which had overtaken his country and came to the conclusion that it was caused by ignorance. He, therefore, set himself to the task of educating both the ruler and the ruled, and removing the causes of possible friction and misunderstanding. The first task he had commenced with his Causes of the Indian Revolt, and ne continued it throughout his life by a courageous representation of the viewpoint of his countrymen.
For this purpose, in 1866, he organised a British India Association at Aligarh which an Indian political scientist has described as ”the forerunner of the Congress”.24 The object of this organisation was to make known the grievances and the point of view of Indians to the British people in general and the British Parliament in particular. It made several useful and effective representations. to Parliament and the Government of India regarding Indian grievances. The Association had, comparatively speaking, a short existence as in 1867 Syed Ahmed was transferred from Aligarh and at his new station he could barely attend to the affairs of the Scientific Society which had been started two years earlier. The attitude of the British India Association on political questions may, however, be seen from the extracts of Syed Ahmed’s addressto the Association on 10 May 1866. According to the extracts given by his biographer Graham and partly quoted by Honourable R. M. Sayani in his Presidential Address at the Twelfth Session of the All-India National Congress, Syed Ahmed said : ”It has been a matter of sincere regret to all thinking natives that since the assumption of the reins of Government of India by her most gracious Majesty Queen Victoria in person, the attention of her Parliament has not been more bestowed upon measures affecting the future welfare of the inhabitants of this portion of her dominions”.25
Syed Ahmed Khan
He referred to the apathy displayed by the Indian public and added : ”Is this state of things to continue or has time now come when the inteiests of this great dependency are to be properly represented in the governing body of the British nation ?” He continued, in course of his address, ”The actions and laws of every Government, even the wisest that ever existed, although done or indicated from the most upright and patriotic motives, have at times p:oved inconsistent with the requirements of the people, or opposed to real justice. The Indians have, at present, little or no voice in the management of the affairs of their country, and should any measure of Government prove obroxious to them, they brood over, appearing outwardly satisfied and happy, whilst discontent is rankling in their minds”.26
Syed Ahmed also saw that the unsuccessful War of Independence was being represented as a Muslim revolt, and the Muslims \vere being suppressed with a very heavy hand. He tried to correct the wrong impression of the British officials, and started a magazine, The Loyal Mohammedans of India, in which the faithful services of Muslim noblemen were recorded.
But his efforts were principally devoted to the general education of his own countrymen. He realised that unless they received adequate modern education, their condition could not improve and they could not occupy an honourable place amongst the nations of the world. Graham, his biographer, writes, ”Syed Ahmed’s [motto] was ’Educate, educate, educate.’ ’All the sociopolitical diseases of India may,’ he once said to me, ’be cured by this treatment. Cure the root, and the tree will flourish.’ ”*i So he started establishing schools, wherever he was posted. The first was started in 1858 at Moradabad, and the second at Ghazipur in 1863. Both these schools were established with the support of the Hindu and Muslim gentry and roused much more popular enthusiasm than the schools opened by the Christian missionaries, who had a virtual monopoly of modern education in those days.
Syed Ahmed’s principal measure for the spread of knowledge
realised that Indian languages lacked useful literature contained in the languages of the West. In a speech delivered in 1863 at Calcutta, he said : ”The reason, gentlemen, why we are all so backward nowadays, is that whilst we are learned in.and have benefited by the philosophy, sciences, and arts of antiquity, we are Almost entirely ignorant of those of modern times.”28 He tried, to supply this deficiency by organising a Society for getting useful books in English translated into Urdu. The Society published The Aligaih Institute Gazette which was devoted to the spread of knowledge and education, and was responsible for the translation in Urdu of a number of books-including Elphinstone’s History of India, Mill’s Political Economy, Malcolm’s History of Persia and many works on agriculture, chemistry, zoology, etc.
So far Syed Ahmed’s efforts were directed towards the advancement of all his countrymen-both Hindus and Muslims. The British Indian Association, as well as the school at Ghazipur, was started with the help of both the communities, and the Scientific Society was being managed by Syed Ahmed with the help of his lifelong Hindu friend-Raja Jai Kishen Dass. In 1876, however, when Syed Ahmed was at Benares, a development took place which diverted the course of his activities, and as this change has affected the history of this subcontinent, it may be worthwhile examining at length the causes which led to this development. Altaf Husain Hali, the biographer of Syed Ahmed, writes:
In 1867 some Hindu leaders of Benares resolved that, as far as possible, the use of the Urdu language, written in Persian script, should be discontinued in Government Courts and should be replaced by the Hindi language, written in Devnagri script.
Sir Syed used to say that this was the first occasion when he felt that it was now impossible for the Hindus and Muslims to progress as a single nation and for anyone to work for both of them simulaneously. His words were:
”During these days when Hindi-Urdu controversy was going on in Benares, one day 1 met Mr Shakespeare who was posted there as the Divisional Commissioner. I was saying something about the education of the Muslims, and Mr Shakespeare was listening with an expression of amazement, when, at length he said, ’This is the first occasion when I have heard you speak about the pro-
Syed Ahmed Khan
gress of the Muslims alone. Before this you were always keen about the welfare for your countrymen in general.’ I said, ’Now I am convinced that both these communities [nations]29 will not join wholeheartedly in anything. At present, theie is no open hostility between the two communities, but on account of the so-called ”educated” people, it will increase immensely m future. He, who lives, will see.’
”Mr Shakespeare, thereupon, said, ’I would be sorry if your prophecy were to prove true.’ I said, ’I am also extremely sorry, but I am convinced about the accuracy of this prophecy.’ ”3° (Translated from Urdu.)
In one of his letters, which was written when Hindu members of the Scientific Society made a move to substitute Hindi for Urdu in its publications, Syed Ahmed repeated this gloomy forecast^ On 29 April 1870, he wrote to Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk in a letter, which admirably sums up the raison d’etre of Muslim separatism, its advantages-and its dangers :
I have learnt another news which has caused me so much grief and anxiety. At Babu Shiv Parshad’s instigation, Hindus have generally resolved to do away with the Urdu language and Persian script, which is a memento of the Muslim rule in this country. I have heard that they have moved the Hindu members of the Scientific Society to see that Hindi should replace Urdu in the newspapers as well as books published by the Society. This is a proposal which will make Hindu-Muslim unity impossible. Muslims will never agree to Hindi, and if Hindus, also following the new move, insist on Hindi, they also will not agree to Urdu. The result will be that the Hindus and Muslims will be completely separated.
So far there is no danger ; on the other hand, I think that if the Muslims start business separately from the Hindus, they will gain and the Hindus will lose, but there are two considerations against this course. One objection is from my own temperament, w-hich is keen for the welfare of all Indians-Hindus as well as Muslims-and the other fear is that at present the Muslims are under a cloud of ill-luck and adversity. They are under the influence of false and meaningless prejudices, and do not understand their own welfare. In addition, they are more jealous of each other and more vindictive than the Hindus and suffer much more from a sense of false pride. They are also poorer, and for these reasons, I fear that they may not be able to do much for themsehes.’3! (Translated from Urdu.)
32 ] Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan
In 1869, Sved Ahmed’s son S>ed Mahmud was awarded a scholarship for higher studies at Cambridge and Syed Ahmed decided to accompany him to England. He had, for long, toyed with the idea of visiting England and studying for himself the sources of England’s power, and his son’s visit seemed to offer a suitable occasion to carry out his plans. So, at the age of fifty-two, when most persons in India feel that they are entitled to a wellearned rest, he left his country on his long, expensive and (at that time) most unpopular journey.
He stayed in England for seventeen months and had a very
busy time. He had a number of friends amongst the retired British
officers and they showed him great courtesy and kindness. Lord
Lawrence, for example, used to call on him every month and
arranged for his visits to important institutions. He was elected
an honorary member of the Atheneum. He was received at the
India Office by the Duke of Argyle, the Secretary of State, who
was also Patron of the Scientific Society (of which Syed Ahmed
was founder-Secretary) and the insignia of C.S.I, was conferred
In England Syed Ahmed had numerous social and political •engagements, but his time was mainly taken up by two things. The first was the preparation of a reply to The Life of Mahomet by Sir William Muir. He had seen the book, some years back, in India, and one of the objects of his English journey was to collect material for the refutation of this unfair and warped biography of the Prophet. During his study of the subject in England, Syed Ahmed tried to help and encourage all efforts that were being made to do some justice to this much-maligned personality. He met Carlyle, who had been comparatively fair to the Holy Pjophet in his Heroes and Hero-Worship, and favourably impressed the •Sage of Chelsea. He also came to know John Davenport, who had written An Apology for Mohammed and the Koran, but was unable to find any publisher for his book. Syed Ahmed had the book published at his own expense and got it translated into Urdu. He, however, realised that a more elaborate and scholarly study of the life of the Prophet was necessary than was possible
Syed Ahmed Khan
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