One-day national webinar on Maulvi Mohammad Baqir: Literature, Culture and Revolt of 1857 in Historical Perspective
New Delhi: A one-day national webinar on “Maulvi Mohammad Baqir: Literature, culture and journalism in Delhi and the revolt of 1857 in historical perspective”, was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies, here on November 21, 2020. Chaired by former professor of history, Aligarh Muslim University, Prof. Shireen Moosvi, the inaugural session began with the recitation of a verse from the Quran by Hafiz Athar Husain Nadwi.
In his welcome address, the Secretary General, IOS, Prof. ZM Khan, underlined the importance of the webinar that it offered an opportunity to recall the supreme sacrifice made by earlier generations that valiantly fought against the British Empire. He described the struggle against the British as a movement in which people from every section participated. In later decades, Gandhiji believed that a movement without people’s participation could not be called a popular movement.
Maulvi Baqir was one amongst those who wanted to throw off the foreign yoke. Gandhiji and other leaders mobilised lakhs of Indians to become a part of the national movement, the seeds of which were sown in 1857 and culminated in 1947. This long period assumed importance because it also strengthened democratic values, national unity and integrity.
Maulvi Baqir was executed by the British government. He deserved the status of a martyr. This was the reason why IOS planned to hold a seminar on him to acquaint the younger generation with his contribution to the cause of freedom. He said that several aspects of the period required more research. He assured that the webinar of similar nature would be organised in future too.
In his introductory remarks, director of historical projects, IOS, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin, said that currently one seminar each on a national and international personality was being organised by the institute every year. Referring to the contribution of Maulvi Baqir, he observed that he (Maulvi Baqir) was an eye witness to the happenings of that period. He connected journalism with the life of common people and raised voice against under weighing and malpractices of traders through his newspaper. He also enthused people with the urge for freedom that was taking shape of a struggle in which Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs equally participated. In later decades, Bal Ganga Dhar Tilak, Gandhiji and many other leaders jumped into the fray, but the status of those who sacrificed their life was much higher. He called for understanding citizen’s rights and duties, and doing everything possible to preserve the hard-won freedom. It was also the time to account for successes and failures. The quest for maintaining Delhi’s identity with majaalis and mushairas, which were part and parcel of its vibrant life must continue, he added.
Dr. Jagmohan Singh, a nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, said that 1857 was an important landmark in the history of freedom struggle. It was a war against the East India Company which led to the end of its control over the country. Referring to the contributions of freedom fighters like Azimullah and Ajit Singh, who made a call to fight against the British Raj in 1907, he said that it was Bhagat Singh’s grandfather who asked the countrymen to shun lust for land and property. He held that Maulvi Baqir did his bit to fight the British through journalism. While Jalianwalla Bagh massacre and events of 1857 were a source of inspiration to Indians, they created fear among the British. Hindu-Muslim unity was strengthened and demonstrated by the “Lucknow Pact”.
This unity was displayed in Amritsar where Dr Bashir led the Ramnaumi procession. Similarly, a langar was started at the site of Jalianwallah Bagh. He said that poems written by Brij Narayan ‘Chakbast’ and Dr Iqbal were on lips of many Indians. So were the inspiring couplets of Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan. Commenting on the common usage of Persian and Urdu during that period of time, he said that his maternal grandfather was taught Gulistan and Bostan of Sheikh Saadi. He suggested that a seminar on sufi Amba Prasad, who was a friend of Ajit Singh and was executed in 1917, be organised. He said that there used to be a centre in Delhi where science was taught in Urdu medium. It was shifted to Lahore later. Science was taught in Urdu before 1857, he said.
Ashfaqullah Khan, the grandfather of martyred revolutionary, Shahid Ashfaqullah Khan observed that the martyr used his pen as a sword against the British government. Maulvi Baqir also used his pen to express the anger of the crores of people against the Raj. He said that he was living in the same house where Ashfaqullah Khan lived. The lesson of nationalism was taught to him at his home which was visited by revolutionaries regularly.
Some people opposed to Hindu-Muslim unity, instigated Ram Prasad Bismil against Ashfaqullah Khan. They insisted that the fight against the British was the fight of the people belonging to a particular religion. But this did not cut much ice with the revolutionaries and both Hindus and Muslims unitedly fought against the British government’s repressive policies. Before his death, Ashfaqullah Khan wrote to his mother, who was an educated woman, reminding her that the life of a man was in the hands of God. That conviction stood him in good stead. He said that the war of independence was not only for the sake of attaining freedom but also for uniting people. His message should be headed by the new generation, he added.
In his keynote address, ex-head of the department of history and culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, Prof. Rizwan Qaiser, observed that the seminar had been encapsulated to make a three-day event into one. He felt that Urdu journalism did not receive as much attention as it could have been given. Masoom Moradabadi, editor of the Urdu daily Khabardar did make some effort in that direction. Describing print culture as a part of Delhi culture, he said that during the 150th anniversary celebrations of 1857, the name of Maulvi Baqir emerged as a journalist and editor of Dilli Akhbar. Urdu lithography was introduced in 1830 and Maulvi Baqir started an Urdu press. That period was also remembered for the promotion of knowledge as books on Greek and European philosophy were translated into Urdu. Delhi College took a lead in such translation as hundreds of books were published during the period. The number of readers of books swelled because they cost less and were affordable.
Stressing the need for focusing on newspaper readership during the period, he said that Delhi had a culture of its own before 1857. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s book Asar–us–Sanadid (The Remnants of Ancient Heroes) played a significant role in promoting journalism. Before 1857, the tone and tenor of Dilli Akhbar was different. It changed post-1857. Before 1857, there was no press freedom, but post-1857, a number of newspapers were brought out and became the vehicle of free thought. He observed that Maulvi Baqir had opportunities to side with the Raj, but he preferred to remain with Bahadurshah Zafar. Repeating his plea for holding a three-day seminar on the subject, he said that the work being done in the field must also be noticed.
Presiding over the session, Prof. Shireen Moosvi pointed out that the need for holding a seminar on the subject had been felt for a long time. Maulvi Baqir was misquoted as having spoken for the Muslims only. But the fact was that the maulvi called Hindu brothers and the British mushrik (polytheists) He used to call Hindus Aadiputra (sons of Hazrat Adam), who did not fall in the category of Mushriks.
She described Urdu as a symbol of national integration and the language of those who fought unitedly in the war of independence. She warned against the misguided insistence on writing Urdu in nagri script. This was being done in a bid to deal a death a blow to Urdu by calling it a language spoken by soldiers of the Muslim period who came from onside (Lashkari zabaan) she concluded.
Presided over by Prof. Shireen Moosvi, the first technical session was devoted to Maulvi Baqir’s life and his journalism. Presenting his profile, Shah Ajmal Farooque Nadwi, in-charge of Urdu section, IOS, said that Maulvi Baqir set up his press in 1857 and brought out Dehli Akhbar which carried important national and international news. It also carried poems of Urdu poets. He was charged with the murder of an Englishman and awarded the death sentence. Senior Urdu journalist and correspondent of Voice of America Urdu service, based in Delhi, Suhail Anjum observed that Dehli Akhbar was published from Delhi after the Urdu daily Jaane Jahaanuma brought out from Calcutta. Later on, Dehli Akhbar was renamed as Dehli Urdu Akhbar. It was Maulvi Baqir who started Urdu journalism in Delhi, he said.
Dr Asad Faisal Farooqi from AMU, held that though the revolt 1857 failed, it demonstrated Hindu-Muslim unity. Founded in 1857, Dehli Urdu Akhbar was the first Urdu newspaper in north India. The newspaper was unique in several respects–it wrote on case of theft in Delhi and criticised the police for inaction. This newspaper carried news from different parts of the country. Maulvi Baqir was the first journalist who laid down his life for the cause of freedom, he observed.
Dr. Saifuddin Ahmed, assistant professor at Delhi university spoke on “Moulvi Mohammad Baqir and his Delhi Urdu Akhbar in the revolt of 1857: Some considerations”. He said that Maulvi Baqir was the son of a prominent Shia cleric of Delhi. He went to Delhi College and later joined the revenue department. He set up a little press and started criticising the British empire. He said that the revolt in Meerut was reported in Delhi Urdu Akhbar for the first time. According to Baqir, it was a religious duty to revolt against the British Empire and unquestionably accept Bahadur Shah Zafar as the emperor of Delhi, he added.
The second technical session focused on literature, culture and the Revolt of 1857. Dr. Gulfishan Khan, associate professor of history, AMU, was the first speaker of the session who presented her paper on “The city of Shahjahanabad: Views of pre-1857 life as represented in Asar-us-Sanadid by Sir Syed. She said that Asar-us-Sanadid, a classic was published in 1878. In order to record the features of the buildings of medieval period, an archaeological society was set up in Delhi with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as one of its members. His book was translated into French and he was made a member of Royal Academy in recognition of his services to the study of the buildings of Delhi.
Jahangirnama was first translated by Sir Syed. He collected several books in Persian, Arabic and English and was liberal in approach. This was exemplified by his conclusion that Qutub Minar was first built by Rai Pithora.
Sir Syed reproduced the Ashoka Pillar emerging, and got them translated into Urdu. He wrote the original history of Shahjahanabad, as Delhi was known at that time.
Dr Abdul Aziz, ex-associate professor of Zakir Husain College, spoke on “Muslim institutions: Jama Masjid, Dargah Mehrauli Sharif, Dargah Nizamuddin Auliya”. He said that there were two madarsas, namely, Darul Baqa and Darul Shafa, near Jama Masjid. The Revolt of 1857 left a trail of mausoleums, mazars and fairs. Jama Masjid was a big cultural unit. A number of sufi saints left Delhi for other places after 1857. He said that fairs and urs celebrations generated and supported a micro-economy.
Former professor of Urdu, AMU, Prof. Tariq Chhatari, held that history had a close relationship with literature and it was the latter that became history. History was the mirror of its period and one could peep into it today. Prof. Chhatari is also an Urdu novelist whose novel Name plate was well received.
Writer and chronicler, Rana Safvi, presented her talk on the Phoolwaon ki Sair as described in 19th century Urdu accounts. She said that Phoolwaon ki Sair, or Shan-e-Gulfishan, was the result of the policy of tolerance adopted by emperor Akbar. Though the Mughal Empire shrank by the 18th century, its grandeur continued. She said that Asar-us-Sanadid had detailed descriptions of several buildings of Delhi, but 100 monuments still remained untouched.
Dr. Irshad Niyazi, assistant professor of history, DU, discussed the decline of social values and trade. The coffers were already emptied in the loot by Nadir Shah. Employment became a big problem for Delhities. The government that took over after 1857 started committing excesses against its subjects, he said.
Former teacher of Islamic Studies, Dr Jabin Anjum referred to Khwaja Hasan Nizami’s book written in 1930 which recorded cultural and economic decline of the period. Nizami had a deep insight into the culture of Delhi, she observed.
The third technical session was devoted to the contribution of ulema, sufis, intellectuals and poets. Dr Waseem Raja, associate professor of history, AMU, initiated the discussion by focusing on “death, destruction and elimination of the House of Timur: Analysing the Revolt of 1857 from Muslim intellectuals’ perspective”. He described the revolt as a great landmark event of the 19th century. Various reports of collaborators of the British Empire needed to be gone through to understand the period. Roznamas, journalism, confidential reports, etc. were the main sources of the history of that time. Mirza Ghalib’s diaries and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s book, “Asbaab Baghawat-i-Hind, too threw light on the events that unfolded during the period, he observed.
Dr Pervez Nazir, associate professor of history AMU, spoke on “Maulvi Mohammad Baqir an eyewitness to 1857.” The session ended with a paper presented by Prof Syed Jamaluddin on “Haft Qulzum (the seven seas): Reflections on Delhi’s culture in the second half of nineteenth century.” He said that the Jama Masjid was not only a place of worship but also a part of Islamic culture. Delhi was not considered inferior to the heaven. He observed that informers played a major contributory role in the destruction of Delhi.
In his concluding remarks, former head of the department of history, DU, Prof. Syed Zaheer Husain Jafri, remarked that the British used to shiver with fear on hearing about the Revolt of 1857. He said that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan wrote nothing about revolutionaries. This could be due to his plan to present his book to British rulers. He especially referred to charters passed in 1813 and 1833. While the first charter barred the clergymen of the church from writing anything against the Prophet (PBUH) and Islam without permission, the second charter gave them freedom to write anything without seeking permission. But the journalists were not allowed the freedom of expression.
Maulvi Baqir was a mujtahid who believed that writing against the Raj was part of Tabligh. He said that the anti-colonial writers believed that the British were not invincible.
Presiding over the session ex-vice-chancellor MANUU University, Dr Mohammad Aslam Pervez, observed that he studied and taught at Delhi College, one of the oldest educational institutions of the walled city. He said that he was bringing out a science magazine in Urdu which had entered 27th year of its publication. Pleading for presenting papers in Urdu, he observed that the seminar should have been spread over three days. He felt concerned over the falling standards of research and urged the IOS to give some incentive to researchers working in the field of history.
While extending a vote of thanks, Prof. ZM Khan pointed out that the IOS tried to study diverse concerns. It was not possible to reschedule the two-year calendar. The institute had been working in several other areas, which included marginalised and weaker sections and the minorities. Research and methodology were other areas that could be taken up. He called upon researchers to come forward with their proposals assuring that the IOS would support them financially.
The webinar ended with a six-point resolution which was presented and read out by Shah Ajmal Forooque Nadwi, and approved by the secretary general.
The Institute of Objective Studies organised a one-day national webinar on “Maulvi Mohammad Baqir: Literature, Culture and Journalism and Revolt of 1857 in Historical Perspective”, on November 21, 2020. It is a matter of satisfaction and encouragement that the participants evinced keen interest and presented papers of high quality. In all, 16 papers, spread over three technical sessions, were presented. Besides, the inaugural and valedictory sessions were impressive. It is encouraging for us to note that the papers were valuable and the participation of the audience reassuring. While expressing our sense of happiness over the conclusion of the webinar, we fully commit ourselves to discharge our responsibilities for a better future.
On the conclusion of the webinar we present the following resolutions that emerged from the deliberations:
- Freedom is a fundamental human aspiration and right. That is the reason why every section of Indian society fought for the country’s freedom and rested only after attaining it. Every Indian has a duty to preserve this freedom.
- This session feels that the Institute of Objective Studies and other important academic and research institutions of the country should take up more and more research projects on culture.
- It was also felt that a webinar/seminar on contribution of sufis and rulers to the promotion of composite Indian culture be organised in the near future.
- Meaningful efforts should be made to ensure harmony, amity and good relations among different religious groups. Islam lays stress on the promotion of moderate approach to life and the world. This can be achieved by shunning the path of extremism and adopting a middle course. This is so because Islam believes in peace, amity and communal harmony.
- Both small and big programmes, especially on the freedom fighters, whose services are being forgotten, should be organised.
- The IOS will welcome with an open mind all suggestions on research relating to the issues that were discussed in the webinar. Those who are interested in it, may send in their suggestions to the IOS.