As the world celebrates his 150th birth anniversary, the community with whom he enjoyed great relations, and eventually his life was cut short by an extremist for this very reason, seems to have forgotten him. There is no trace of him in Urdu newspapers and no one is showering praise on the prophet of peace.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had a longstanding relationship with Muslims much before he eventually became Mahatma in the second decade of the twentieth century. He was invited to practice in South Africa by a Gujarati Muslim, Dada Abdulla, settled in South Africa. While writing about how this all happened, Mahatma Gandhi says, “I was fond of novel experiences. I loved to see fresh fields and pastures new. It was disgusting to have to give commission to those who brought me work. The atmosphere of intrigue in Saurashtra was choking to me. The engagement was only for one year. I did not see any objection to my accepting it. I had nothing to lose as Messrs Dada Abdulla expressed their willingness to pay my travelling expenses, as well as the expenses that would be incurred in South Africa and a fee of one hundred and five pounds. So I reached Durban in May 1893.”
It would have been unthinkable for anyone to believe that Muslims will forget their benefactor and protector in a divided India. Mahatma had close friendship with great Muslim leaders and renowned freedom fighters like Hakim Ajmal khan, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Shaukat Ali, Mahmud Hasan, Dr Mukhtar Ansari, Maulana Azad et all. Shaikhul Hind Mahmud Hasan, the man behind Reshmir Rumal Tehrik following his release from Malta, asked Muslims to follow Gandhi and accept him as their leader. Now his name doesn’t even reverberate any sense of affinity among Muslims. They have forgotten the fact that he was gunned down by Godse for being sympathetic towards Muslims.
Bapu’s fast unto death
Mahatma Gandhi’s health had become rather very frail even before he went on his Maran Barant ( fast unto death) that followed the ghastly post Independence riots culminating in the death of hundreds of thousands of people and uprooting of millions of people from their home and hearth. The partition of the country had shaken the Mahatma beyond belief.
The post independence riots in the country especially in Punjab and Delhi, where Muslims were slaughtered like sheep and similar treatment to Hindus and Sikhs meted out in the newly carved out state of Pakistan had further weakened Mahatma’s health. He was especially shaken by the fate of Muslims in Delhi, a city where Muslims made half of the population at the time of Partition. The city was almost completely emptied of Muslims, who were herded in three massive camps and would have been forced to Pakistan or put to swords had Mahatma not intervened in his inimitable way. He observed fast unto death from 12th January to 18th January, 1948 at Birla House in New Delhi. This was apparently the last fast of his life, and came immediately after a similar fast in Kolkata, where he had fasted to restore normalcy following the horrifying post partition riots.
Despite being weakened physically due to natural process of ageing, frugal lifestyle and more than anything by the communal divide that had engulfed the nation, he was unable to fathom the killings of innocent people across the region. Had he not gone on his fast unto death, the communal strife in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Western UP would have only widened and many more innocent people would have certainly been consumed by the unending killings, rapine and destruction. He was particularly moved by the plight of Muslims in Delhi who were segregated in three massive refugee camps –refugees in their own place of birth - who used to come to him day after day with their tales of woes. There is no denying that his decision to go on fast unto death was out of the depth of his anguish over their plight whom he thought a part of his own.
What is rather more surprising is the fact that during his fast unto death, Bapu never raised any demand from the government of India or to the marauding mobs. His silence spoke louder than words and both the government and the mobs, on prowl across Delhi and Punjab, instantly recognized as to why the messiah had put his life at stake and brought back semblance of normalcy. It is said that the people behind rioting would come and beg him to break his fast. It was during this fast that the rioters who had destroyed Bakhtiyar Kaki dargah not just assured him to reconstruct it, but they actually kept their words.
Reconstruction of Bakhtiyar Kaki dargah
13th century saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki’s dargah in Mehrauli was ransacked and destroyed following the Partition when anti-Muslim riots spread across the region like wildfire. 1173 AD born Bakhtiyar Kaki was the most renowned Sufi mystic, saint and scholar of the Chishti order in the Indian subcontinent. His mausoleum was the first dargah of a leading sufi in Delhi.
In the course of the horrific riots that had engulfed the nation, not just Bakhtiyar Kaki dargag, many other mausoleums were destroyed across Delhi. Dargah Shahe Mardan, a large cemetery that also included the shrine of Hazrat Ali had also suffered major destruction following the encroachment that the cemetery underwent. This was done both by government and private land grabbers.
The dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, One of the most prominent dargahs in Northern India, was badly damaged by rioters who had pulled down its boundary walls and had even damaged the actual mausoleum building that was one of the most beautiful dargahs in the region. The place, like now, not just attracted Muslims to it, but a large number of Hindus and Sikhs were also attracted towards it. They thronged in their thousands due to their belief that their prayers will be rewarded. Nonetheless, in the thick of communal hatred, the matters of belief were torn to shred and the rioters ran away with everything that they could besides badly destroying the structure.
Following the large scale destruction, Bapu felt anguished and despite his deteriorating health he came visiting the site merely three days before he was shot death by a fanatic in Birla House on 27 January 1948. After visiting the shrine, Mahatma requested the government to do everything possible to restore this magnificent building to its former beauty, so that it would be available for the Urs celebrations slated to be held a few months later.
More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:
Bhagwat, Madani meet: End of the maddening divide
Ahmadullah Shah: Hero whose head and body are buried
Muslim women's entry in mosques: What is the truth?
Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October