‘Biographical Encyclopedia of Indian Muslim Freedom Fighters’ is an exhaustive work that brings to the fore many unknown facets of the freedom movement beginning with Faraizi Movement to 1857 Mutiny and to later part of the freedom movement.
Syed Ubaidur Rahman
BE it 1857 Mutiny or the later freedom movements, Muslims have played leading role in all such efforts. British officials and historians have accused Muslims for the 1857 Ghadar. To be true, both British historians and officials have named Muslims as the most important rebels and termed the Mutiny as a sinister plot by Muslim ulema and mujahideen to reclaim their lost powerhouse in India.
Here are excerpts from a chapter on Imam Baksh Sahbai, a great scholar of his time:
Imam Bakhsh Sahbai was one of the most renowned scholars of the 19th century Mughal India. He was among the best scholars of the Persian language and had earned respect as poet and litterateur of the Persian language. At a time when Urdu had almost replaced Persian as lingua franca in much of north India, he was still one of the greatest supporters of the Persian language and spent all his resources in its propagation.
He authored more than thirty books on Persian and Urdu literature that includes three books that were part of the curriculum in the famed Delhi College. He was reportedly appointed a professor of the Persian language there. However, he had a tragic end when after the 1857 Mutiny he and his entire family, including his two sons, who were also renowned scholars in their respective fields, were hauled, taken to Yamuna and shot dead from point blank range. At least 21 members of his family were slaughtered in this most horrendous fashion.
Imam Bakhsh Sahbai was among the most respected scholars of the time and, therefore, every prince wanted to study under him. He was very close to Ghalib, Zauq, Mufti Sadruddin Azurdah, Fazle Haq Khairabadi and even the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Many top scholars of the time were taught by him not just at Delhi College but also at his home. However, the slaughter of his family members including his two sons, and digging of his home by the British thugs had shocked the people of Delhi even during the worst phase of brutality. This digging of his house and the complete destruction of his library also destroyed much of his work. The destruction of his massive library that he had built over a period of decades must have been a huge loss for academia and scholarship.
This is the reason that not much has survived on him.
Some twenty years after his macabre killing, when a Hindu disciple of Sahbai, Munshi Deen Dayal thought of collection and publication of his he couldn’t lay his hands on anything substantial. There was not much available on his life or work. Whatever he could gather, he published it in three volumes as Kulliyat-e-Sehbai.
Sahbai was born in the year 1805 in a respected family of Delhi. His father, Maulana Muhammad Bakhsh settled in Delhi from Thanesar, Punjab. Sahbai’s elder brother Hakim Peer Bakshi was a famed physician of his time. His early education was under Maulvi Abdullah Khan. Sehbai had two sons, Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Molwi Abdul Karim Soz. Both were accomplished scholars and well-known poets. Both were killed along with their father and other relatives after 1857 Mutiny.
While in the mid-19th century the power of Mughal Empire had diminished and its influence confined to the Old Delhi quarters, the capital of the Mughal empire still boasted a huge galaxy of scholars, poets and artists of all sorts. There is no denying the fact that the biggest draw of all were the poets and intellectuals. Altaf Husain Hali said that Ghalib, Zauq, Sahbai and Azurda made the capital one of the best places for the scholars and academics. “There gathered at this time in the capital, Delhi, a band of men so talented that their meetings and assemblies recalled the days of Akbar and Shah Jahan”, wrote Hali.
Hali, who had merely heard the stories of high standards of scholarship in Delhi, its great scholars and poets and great madrasas dotting the town, escaped Panipat and came on foot to Delhi. He eventually got admitted to one of the best madrasas of the town and started frequenting the classes of great scholars of his time before his family tracked him down eventually. However, much before that happened, he had got admission in ‘very spacious and beautiful’ madrasa of Husain Bakhsh and had begun his studies there. He says that he was witness to ‘this last brilliant glow of learning in Delhi, the thought of which now makes my heart crack with regret’.
William Dalrymple while describing the destruction and killing in Delhi in the aftermath of Mutiny says:
Worse still was the slaughter in Kucha Chelan, where an estimated 1,400 Delhiwallahs were cut down. Here Nawab Muhammad Ali Khan had attempted to resist the plundering and had shot dead three British soldiers who had climbed over his haveli wall and entered his zenana. Their companions went back to get the rest of their regiment, and returned with a field gun with which they blew the haveli apart.
Sahbai was respected by fellow scholars including Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who himself was a top of the line poet and whose respect for scholars and poets was legendary. While Sahbai is not known to have directly fought in the 1857 Mutiny, however, what is known is that he was with Bahadur Shah Zafar and supported his revolt. This was the reason that the rampaging British forces, full of feeling of retribution and revenge were led to his home and the homes of other supporters of Mutiny. These spies were paid Rs 2 for every such input.
When after relentless killing and rapine the British and their allies got tired of killing and bayoneting the inhabitants, they marched forty survivors out to the river Yamuna, lined them up below the walls of the Fort, and shot them. Among the dead were some of top of the line scholars who would have been the pride of the place for any world class capital. While writing about this ghastly massacre Mirza Zahir Dehlavi says, “They were well-known and well-off people, men who were the pride of Delhi…They had had no parallels in their own day, nor will we ever see their like again.’
Mirza Zahir Dehlavi in his Dastan-e-Ghadar writes:
“For example, there was Miyan Amir Panja-kash, the great calligrapher, who had no one comparable to him on this earth. Then there was one of our greatest poets, Maulvi Imam Bakhsh Sahbai and his two sons, and Mir Niyaz Ali, the celebrated story teller of Kucha Chelan. About fourteen hundred people of that Muhalla were killed. Some were arrested and taken through the Rajghat gate to the river side and there they were shot. The bodies were all thrown into the river. Meanwhile, many of their women were so disturbed by what they saw that they left their homes with their children and jumped into the wells. For months afterwards, all the wells of Kucha Chelan were stacked with dead bodies. My pen refuses to describe this further.
“One of the survivors of Sahbai’s family was his nephew Qadir Ali who apparently lived with him in Delhi. He is reported to have told his escape to the Delhi historian Rashid ul-Khairi. “Delhi resembled a place of Judgment. A huge number of prisoners were being shot as hanging them was ‘tiresome’ for their killers.
As the soldiers readied their guns a Muslim officer came forward and told us that ‘your death is imminent. You will be shot to death immediately, so those people who know swimming should immediately jump in the river to survive.’ I knew swimming and was good at it, but Mamun Sahib [Sahbai] and his son, Maulana Soz, didn’t know how to swim. I was not ready to abandon Mamun Sahib and my cousins but he forced me to do so. Ultimately, I jumped in the river and swam away. I kept looking back, and after I had gone fifty or sixty yards, I heard the gunshots and saw the line of people falling dead”.
Excerpted from: Biographical Encyclopedia of Indian Muslim Freedom Fighters by Syed Ubaidur Rahman; ISBN: 81-88869-51-1, PP 626 (Hard Bound), Price Rs 1195, Publisher: Global Media Publications, Tel: 9818327757