A day when students of Jamia Millia Islamia were on their way to pay homage to the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, a man brandishing a gun in front of a large posse of police personnel fired at peaceful students, injuring one of them. Protesters at Jamia Millia Islamia, a central university in Delhi, had made elaborate arrangements to honour the Mahatma on a day he was shot dead by Nathuram Godse, in what would be remembered as the first act of terrorism in the independent India. The day is remembered as Shaheed Divas.
The students at Jamia had made elaborate arrangements to remember Bapu on 30th January, the day he was assassinated by a fanatic, Godse. As the clock stuck 12 in the night, the screening of the film, Gandhi, by Richard Attenborough, began in front of Gate No. 7 of the central university. Several thousand students were in attendance and the 3.5 hour long film was watched with pin-drop silence. At the end of the screening, a choir sung, ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, Patita Pavan Sitaram’.
When, at the end of the film screening and the beautiful rendition of a song that Mahatma loved, no one had any inkling as to what the fate had in store for very same audience. The students had planned to march to Rajghat, spend some time at the Gandhi Samadhi and pay tribute to him. Their plan to march to Rajghat was thwarted and a youth not just came armed with a pistol, but fired and injured a mass communication student of the Jamia while the police remained mute spectator.
However, what was the most amazing aspect of the entire episode was the amazing restraint showed by Jamia students in the face of instigation and aggression. They didn’t charge at the shooter and made no effort to snatch him from the police. This is what many actually expected from the protesting students. But this university has Gandhi in its genes and yesterday, the thousands of Jamia students proved, beyond any iota of doubt, that they actually believe in the Gandhian philosophy from the core of their hearts.
Jamia was formed on Mahatma’s call
Jamia Millia Islamia had a very humble beginning when a few hundred students of Aligarh Muslim University, along with some faculty members of the University, walked out of the college and established an institution that denounced government funding. It happened when Mahatma launched his non co-operation movement and asked students from across the country to boycott government schools and colleges. The largest support for the call came from Muslim community and from the students of Aligarh who despite threat to their academic career, intimidation from administration and the colonial masters, defied every threat and went along with Mahatma. During this period, Mahatma Gandhi went on to visit a number of colleges and schools throughout the country, in order to prepare the ground for nationalist institutions throughout the country. While many students from across the country supported the call by Gandhiji and got inspired by him, the biggest group of students that unanimously supported his call was from Aligarh Muslim University. 300 students and many faculty members left an institution that could have ensured exceptional academic and professional career to them just a few years down the line.
However, the students, before coming out of the college did their best to persuade the college and asked it to stop accepting the funding by the government. They sent an appeal to the University Court. But as the court didn’t respond positively, an appeal was finally made to the students. When the students supporting Khilafat movement invited national leaders on behalf of the Union Club, Mahatama Gandhi, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Ali Brothers and Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad came to Aligarh. They talked to students on their arrival in Aligarh. What followed the meet and the students’ interaction with Mahatma and other nationalist Muslims is history.
Leadership role in freedom movement
Jamia was first established in Aligarh and was shifted to Delhi five years later in the year 1925. The founding ceremony of the college, on 29 October 1920, was attended by the most renowned leaders of the freedom movement including Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Abdul Majeed Khwaja, and Dr Zakir Hussain. All of them are among the top leaders of the freedom movement and played central roles in getting rid of the British occupation. Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmud Hasan, the founder of the Reshmi Rumal Tehrik, who had just been released from Kala Pani in Malta was there despite his poor health. The three year long incarceration at Malta, in most trying circumstances, had left him very weak and he could barely walk. However, the importance of the occasion prompted him to forget everything and come to Aligarh to launch an institution that would become one of the best educational institutions in the country. Mahmud Hasan passed away merely a month after the launch of Jamia Millia, on November 30 1920.
Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar was the first vice chancellor of the fledgling institution, while a legendary freedom fighter Hakim Ajmal Khan was elected the first chancellor of the Jamia. The Jamia was shifted to Delhi in 1925, first in Karol Bagh, before being eventually shifted to Okhla in 1935.
Rabindranath Tagore felt that Jamia could shape the lives of hundreds and thousands of students on the basis of a shared culture and worldview. He went on to call it “one of the most progressive educational institutions of India”. Dr Zakir Hussain, who served as the third President of India acted as the vice chancellor of the Jamia till the year 1948, well after the independence of the country. Jamia also played a prominent role in the post independence rehabilitation. Begum Anees Kidwai has documented in her book, ‘Azadi Ki Chaon Mein’ as to how Jamia students took care of different camps prepared for refugee and internally displaced people, ran part time schools for refugees coming from Pakistan and how they provided help to Muslims being hounded in the post independence riots.
Nationalism is in its genes
Dr. Laurence Gautier, while writing about nationalist nature of Jamia called it a laboratory for composite India. He goes on to add, “This institution, born under the dual influence of the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation movements, constituted for its members a ‘laboratory’ for the nation. Through their educational experiments and constructive work à la Gandhi, Jamia teachers and students sought to lay the ground for an independence that would be ‘meaningful’ not only for Muslims but for the entire nation. In so doing, Jamia members claimed the right for Muslims to be recognised as ‘unhyphenated Indians’, able to speak for the nation.”
On the other hand Gandhi called Jamia a home for him. When the Jamia was facing severe financial crisis a few years after its foundation, Gandhi appealed all the nationalist Indians to come out and support the fledgling institution. “The Jamia has to run. If you are worried about its finances, I will go about with a begging bowl…When I come to Jamia, I feel I have come home”, Mahatma said.
Apparently the students have not forgotten the very idea behind the foundation of the Jamia. If they are fighting for upholding of Constitution, this is nothing new to them, they have fought for the nationalist cause and stood for it firmly even before.
More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:
Indian Muslim women breaking the shackles
Despite muted denials, NRC will target Muslims
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