Jamia Millia’s role in the freedom struggle
By Abdul Rashid Agwan,MM
Jamia Millia Islamia is one of the few educational institutions which came into being in response to the nationalist call of freedom struggle to boycott educational institutions supported or run by the British colonial rule. It became a dream project of such stalwart national leaders as Mehmud-ul-Hasan, Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Mahatma Gandhi, Hakim Ajmal Khan and the like; and its mentors, teachers and students played a vital role during the Indian struggle for independence.
The British interference in the Muslim world in the first decade of the twentieth century, particularly in Turkey the seat of Ottoman Empire, triggered agitations the world over including India and brought the concept of caliphate into manistream debates of the time. An alumnus and teacher of Darul Uloom Deoband, Maulana Mehmud-ul-Hasan attempted during 1904-14 to organize a national war of independence against Britain with help from the Ottoman Empire. However, he was arrested in Makkah during his support campaign and exiled to Malta for a while.
In the wake of the Turkish War of Independence, a large number of Muslim religious leaders in India began working together around 1919 to campaign for Caliphate. Khilafat Movement was launched in 1919 by an alumnus of Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College Aligarh and also of Oxford University, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who returned to his homeland from South Africa in 1915, became active with both the Congress and Khilafat Movement around that time. He participated in discussions on the importance of ‘non-cooperation’ with the British government in the meetings of Khilafat Committee which thought to be essential in the wake of Jallianwala Bagh massacre and imposition of Rowlatt Act. Gandhi supported it while persuading its leaders to keep it non-violent. The Committee’s June 1920 meeting, also attended by several non-Muslim leaders including Gandhi, finally approved the launch of non-cooperation movement programme of surrender of titles, the boycott of schools, courts and councils, the boycott of foreign goods, the promotion of Hindu-Muslim unity and strict non-violence struggle was taken up.
S.N. Sen mentioned in his book, History of the Freedom Movement in India (1857-1947), about the August 1, 1920 letter of Gandhi to the Viceroy, “Gandhi pointed out that the scheme of non-cooperation inaugurated today was essentially in connection with the Khilafat movement and that the Punjab question had merely given and ‘additional’ cause.”
In the Calcutta session of Indian National Congress in September 1920, the issue of non-cooperation against the British Raj was debated on the insistence of Mahatma Gandhi but without any conclusion. Five months later, in the Nagpur session of Congress in December, the resolution of non-cooperation was again discussed and finally approved in spite of opposition of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Madan Mohan Malviya and some others.
Thus, the two leading national political platforms of the country, Khilafat Movement and the Congress, jointly spearheaded the non-cooperation movement, which was called Tark-e-Mawalat in Urdu and Asahyog Andolan in Hindi and gave a decisive twist to the struggle for independence.
The freedom fighter and eminent Hindi poet, Rambriksh Benipuri, wrote about the non-cooperation movement in these words, “I can assert that no other movement upturned the foundations of Indian society to the extent that the Non-Cooperation Movement did. From the most humble huts to the high places, from villages to cities, everywhere there was a ferment, a loud echo.”
As a consequence of the call, many Indians left the British supported educational institutions and established nationalist institutions to provide education in a native perspective. Jamia Millia Islamia was the first nationalist institution that came into existence as a product of non-cooperation movement. Some other similar institutions that followed its establishment comprise Gujarat Vidyapith, Bihar Vidyapith, Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapith, Kasi Vidyapith and the Bengal National University. They all depended on public donations and played a great role in strengthening the struggle. Nationalist schools and colleges had reportedly enrolled 100,000 students by 1922.
When the British government conferred Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College Aligarh the status of a university, i.e. Aligarh Muslim University, in September 1920 many of its teachers, alumni and students left it seeing an unchallengeable control on its affairs by the colonial powers. They subsequently founded Jamia Millia Islamia at Aligarh itself within the next two months.
Jamia Millia Islamia was founded by 18 members of a self-dedicated group of Muslim intellectuals and religious elite called the Founding Committee. All eminent leaders of the non-cooperation movement were in the committee or they supported it even otherwise. Its proposal was agreed upon on 29 October and it was formally inaugurated on 22 November 1920 by Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan who had just returned on release from Malta. Hakim Ajmal Khan was elected as the first chancellor of the Jamia and Mohammad Ali Jauhar the first vice-chancellor. Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari and A.M. Khwaja were other important national leaders in the Founding Committee who tirelessly worked for its progress.
With the decline of Khilafat Movement after 1924 due to abolition of Khilafat in Turkey itself, Jamia Millia’s public appeal also suffered to some extent, as many of its sponsors were ardent champions of the cause, and the institution faced an acute financial crisis. Hakim Ajmal Khan, who was also a major donor to the Congress, increased his contributions towards the institution. The situation of Jamia Millia Islamia was challenging as compared to many of its contemporaries like Aligarh Muslim University or Banaras Hindu University, which received financial support from the government or the princely states. It was entirely depended on anti-government public donors. In order to overcome the adverse time, Abdul Majeed Khwaja and Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari traveled to various parts of India especially to use contacts of Mahatma Gandhi. They also embarked on a few foreign tours to mobilize funds. Gradually, the situation improved which also led to shifting of the institution to Karol Bagh in Delhi in 1925.
After some time, many founders of the Jamia got imprisoned by the British government in the wake of Simon Commission’s boycott by the Congress in 1927, which again affected its function to some extent. The death of Hakim Ajmal Khan in 1928 gave another major jolt to its survival and a new leadership of Dr Zakir Husain, Dr Abid Husain and Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari emerged to carry on its nationalist mission.
One major event of the time was the peasants’ revolt in Surat district of Gujarat in 1928. In the entire region, farmers were facing a lot of hardships due to flood and unbearable increase of revenue tax. Gandhiji used his South African contacts with the people of Bardoli Taluk of the area and encouraged farmers to protest. His veteran friends Abbas Tayebji and Imam Abdul Qadir Bavazir of the Satyagrah Ashram of South Africa fame helped him much, apart from many others of his followers from Gujarat and Bombay. The Congress activist Vallabhbhai Patel from Ahmadabad spearheaded the stir which went in history as the Bardoli Satyagrah, an anti-tax movement in Gujarat led by Vallabhbhai Patel. The success of the agitation led to the conferring of the title of ‘Sardar’ to him by a common woman.
In spite of the fact that several leaders associated with Jamia Millia Islamia were in jail at that time, many students of the institution volunteered themselves for the Bardoli Satyagrah and assured support of Muslim farmers of the area towards its success. At that time, public meetings and
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