Tag Archives: resistance

Decolonisation and the Nadvatul Ulema


Shahid Siddiqui

The post-1857 period was a depressing era for the Indians. A large number of freedom fighters were either killed in the War of Independence of 1857 or imprisoned and hanged to death. The voices of freedom were stifled through brutal state power. These times were conducive for Christian missionaries.

A number of Indians who belonged to lower socio-economic backgrounds were lured into converting to Christianity. There were deliberate attacks on Islam and the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) by Western writers. The doors of government jobs were closed for Muslims. This situation forced the proponents of freedom to revisit their strategy of direct confrontation.

People like Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, who actually took part in the 1857 war, repositioned themselves and found an alternative means of resistance by setting up the Darul Uloom Deoband in 1867. They, however, pledged not to accept any funds from the British government. Their major emphasis was on religious education and inculcating the passion for freedom among their pupils. On the contrary, Sir Syed’s Aligarh Movement, initiated in 1875, believed that Muslims need to be empowered through modern education – including science, technology and English.

Unlike the Darul Uloom Deoband, Aligarh – which was viewed as secular in the government’s outlook – accepted funds from the government and employed a foreign principal and faculty members. Aligarh and Deoband were thus seen as two extremes which, despite their sincerity of purpose, were diametrically opposite in their approach. It is important to note that both Qasim Nanotvi and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – pioneers of the Darul Uloom Deoband and the Aligarh Movement, respectively – were students of the Delhi College and were taught by the same teacher, Maulvi Mamluk Ali. A section of Muslims felt the need for a more balanced and moderate approach that would blend the strong points of the Darul Uloom Deoband and the Aligarh Movement, ie blending conservatism with modernity.

In 1893, during the convocation of Madressah Faiz-e-Aam at Kanpur, a number of religious leaders – including Maulana Mohammad Ali Mungeri, Maulana Lutfullah and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi – got together and proposed to form a group of religious scholars. This group was called the Nadvatul Ulema. The first convention of the Nadvatul Ulema was held between April 22 and April 24, 1894. Maulana Shibli Nomani played an important role in preparing the guidelines of Nadva. Shibli Nomani had taught at Sir Syed’s Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College for 16 years and was well-versed in the modern system of education. In addition to his exposure to modern education, Shibli Nomani was a religious scholar.

Some important recommendations were made during the Nadvatul Ulema meeting. The formation of a confederation of madressahs belonging to different sects was emphasised. It was also recommended that major reforms were required in the prevailing educational system. A major recommendation of the Nadvatul Ulema gathering was to set up a ‘darul uloom’ to realise the required changes in the educational system. The major objective of the Nadvatul Uloom included producing more balanced graduates who would have a deep knowledge of Islam with a modern outlook. To realise these objectives, a madressah was established in 1898 which was upgraded to the Darul Uloom Nadvatul Ulema.

The Nadvatul Uloom was not just a traditional madressah but was envisioned by its pioneers as a movement of social reformation. To influence a broader circle of people, it was necessary to publish a journal to influence the minds with scholarly articles. In 1904, the first issue of Al-Nadva, a scholarly journal of the Nadvatul Uloom was published. The pioneer editors were of Al-Nadva were Maulana Habibur Rahman Khan Shirwani and Maulana Shibli Nomani. The journal, like Darul Uloom, aimed to challenge some of the conservative beliefs with logical analysis.

In 1905, Maulana Muhammad Ali Mungeri resigned and Maulana Khalilur Rahman became the Muatamid-e-Aaliya and Maulana Shibli Nomani was appointed as the Muatamid-e-Ta’alimat. Shibli Nomani – with his long association with Aligarh and his exposure of foreign systems of education during his visit to various countries – took up his job with enthusiasm and brought some major changes in the educational practices of the Nadva. He tried to improve the existing curriculum of the Nadva and laid special emphasis on the teaching of languages, including modern Arabic, English, Hindi and Sanskrit. The induction of the English language in a madressah was a bold step as there was initial resistance from conservative quarters.

The educational practices in Nadvatul Uloom were not just confined to the lectures that were held within its four walls but were also reflected through special talks that were arranged where eminent scholars would share their ideas with students. There was a special emphasis on the art of rhetoric and regular debating activities were organised for students. Similarly, there was a strong focus on writing skills and students were trained on how to write a fatwa. At the Nadvatul Uloom, student went through scientific grooming to enhance their life skills.

The Nadvatul Uloom was close to Aligarh in terms of their approach to the British government. Instead of an upfront confrontation, the Nadvatul Uloom had a cordial relationship with the government and received grant from the government. Their whole focus was the empowerment of Muslims by providing them religious knowledge and a modern outlook. The Nadvatul Uloom also resembled the Darul Uloom Deoband in terms of their emphasis on religious education and the development of religious scholars. The Nadvatul Uloom manifested the mild version of nationalism and special effort was made to inculcate the passion of patriotism. This component of education was significant for its role in the process of decolonisation.

The Nadvatul Uloom thus proved to be an effective component of the movement initiated by the Nadvatul Ulema that impacted a large number of Muslims through its enlightened approach in teaching and non-conservative approach in writing through Al-Nadva. The Nadvatul Uloom modernised the concept of madressahs by incorporating the scientific approach of training into writing and speaking skills, exposing students to English and other languages and empowering students with a classical and modern view of religion. The Nadvatul Ulema played an important role in the process of decolonisation by producing enlightened religious scholars who were patriotic to the core and would take pride in their religion, culture, and languages.

Resistance through education

Shahid Siddiqui

The history of imperialism is ridden with treachery, guile and coercion. To control the colonised, all possible methods are used, ranging from persuasion to coercion. India, under the British rule, was no exception. The colonisers suppressed the voices of dissent by using oppressive methods and imposing biased education and language policies.

Education, in a conservative paradigm, was considered passive, neutral, fixed and apolitical. This myth was debunked by Antonio Gramsci who in his seminal book, ‘Prison Notebooks’, elaborates on the powerful role of the civil society, including educational institutions, suggesting that education is a vibrant, highly political and ever-changing phenomenon.

The politics of education and language can be seen at its best in the Minute by Lord Macaulay. It is important to analyse the vision of education proposed by a British representative for the colonised. Macaulay proposes: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and intellect.”

With this vision, a new education system came into being, which is still in vogue in mainstream schools of Pakistan. The essential purpose of this system was to produce a class of obedient servants who would conform to authority and never think of challenging it.

In ‘Culture and Imperialism’, Edward Said says that imperialism always found resistance in different parts of the world. The nature of resistance could be varied from place to place. Nationalism in British India flourished in the mid 19th century when the people of India came together as a nation. The British Raj and its despotic policies made Indians conscious of the worth of their country.

The economic policies of the East India Company (EIA) levied huge taxes on peasants. Similarly, local artisans were made jobless as finished products were made in the factories and India was used as a rich source of raw material. A number of peasants were forced to give up their professions and look for other ways of earning of their sustenance. Besides the repressive economic policies of the EIC, the Indians were also cornered because of the cruel political structure of the British rulers.

The British also introduced a new system of education which was quite different from the indigenous education system. Persian, the language of the courts, was targeted by the British rulers and the English language was introduced with lots of perks in terms of government jobs and social status. The British used the familiar imperialist technique of glorifying their own culture, language, literature, education system and way of life, and stigmatising the culture, language, literature, and way of life of the colonised. The ultimate objective of this approach is that the colonised internalise the ‘fact’ that the colonisers are superiors and the colonised are inferior.

As I discussed in my previous articles on these pages, different modes of resistance were adopted by the Indians to combat British imperialism. These modes were guided by two major paradigms of resistance – coercive paradigm and discursive paradigm. The coercive paradigm would allow use of force to resist whereas the discursive paradigm would use discourse as resistance.

One important mode of resistance paradigm is education. In India, education was used as a powerful tool of resistance against the British Raj. How education can be used to resist hegemonic forces can be better understood through the Gramscian concept of hegemony which talks about two major approaches to hegemony –through the political society and through civil society. The political society uses coercion by using army, police and bureaucracy, whereas the civil society relies on discourse, and uses social institution.

It is through the civil society that the process of hegemony takes place in a subtle way and minds are controlled in such a way that the colonised group give ‘spontaneous consent’ to be colonised. Education, thus, becomes a potent tool to control minds and is frequently used by the colonisers.  Interestingly education has also been used by marginalised groups to put up resistance.

In British India a number of nationalist leaders used education to resist British imperialism. A number of educational initiatives converged on the idea of national education. Sir Syed’s Aligarh initiative was essentially driven by the passion of nationalism. This was a mild version of nationalism as a number of faculty members were British. Then we see a chain of educational institutions run by tnational leaders who believed in liberating India from foreign rule through education.

Darul aloom Deoband was established in 1867 by Qasim Nanotvi and his comrades. In Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia was established by the Johar brothers. Gandhi established a number of schools and popularised the concept of Nai Taleem. In Bengal, Tagore established the Shantiniketan School. In Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai set up the National College. In the (then) Frontier province, Haji Tonag Zai and Khan Abul Ghaffar Khan established a number of schools.

There were certain traits which were common among these institutions. The distinguishing features were their curricula, faculty, pedagogy and aim of education. All of these schools at aimed at inculcating love for the country, indigenous civilisation, local languages and the desire and confidence to liberate India from foreign rule. In the forthcoming articles I shall be writing in detail about each of these initiatives, which produced students who were proud of their own culture and country and who contributed to the freedom of India.


The writer is an educationist.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com

Bhagat Singh and Freedom Struggle


Shahid Siddiqui

In the story of the struggle for the liberation of India from the British Raj, Bhagat Singh and his friends deserve a prominent mention. Bhagat was born in a small village of Lyalpur (now Faisalabad) in 1907 in a family of freedom fighters – which became his first source of inspiration. He was also stimulated by the brave stance of the Ghadar party. Though the Ghadar party was crushed in India through the brutal force of the British Raj, it inspired a large number of Indian freedom fighters, including Bhagat Singh.

Bhagat was only twelve years old when, on the order of Brigadier-General Dyer about 400 innocent people were killed in Jalianwala Bagh, Amritser. Young Bhagat missed his school and went to the massacre site the next day. This incident remained with him for the rest of his life.

Bhagat, imbued with patriotism, could not have gone to a better place for the development of political intellectualism than National College in Lahore which was established by Lala Lajpat Rai and Bhai Parmanand. It was here that Bhagat met Jay Chandra Vidyalankar who acted as his mentor. It was also in National College that Bhagat met Sukhdev. Here Bhagat, along with his friends, established Naujwan Bharat Sabha, a militant organisation, to intensify the struggle for freedom. Bhagat also joined the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in 1924.

Bhagat and his friends wanted to play an active role at the national level. The opportunity came soon when the Simon Commission announced a visit to Lahore on October 30, 1928. Thousands of people gathered at the Lahore Railway Station to protest. The procession was led by Lala Lajpat Rai an eminent leader of the Congress. The charged crowd was baton-charged by the police. Superintendent Scott ensured a physical attack on Lala Lajpat Rai until Rai started bleeding and fell on the ground. This humiliating incident provoked young Bhagat and his friends.

Following the provocative incident of torture on Lala Lajpat Rai the members of HRA held a meeting where two important decisions were made. First, on the recommendation of Bhagat Singh the name of the organisation was changed to the Hindustan Socialistic Republic Association (HSRA). Second, the meeting unanimously decided that Scott must be killed. Lala Lajpat Rai sustained inner wounds and finally succumbed to death on November, 17 1928.

Killing Scott would avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, and bring the HSRA into the limelight as a major force of resistance. The team that was assigned the task to kill Scott comprised Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Jai Paul. However, due to a case of mistaken identity another assistant superintendent of police, Saunders, got killed. Bhagat and his team managed to escape the murder scene and reached their hideout on Mozang road.

The killing of the British police officer rocked the whole province of Punjab and Lahore was besieged by police but Bhagat Singh and his friends managed to reach Calcutta with the help of Durga Devi, another revolutionary member of the HSRA. In Calcutta Bhagat met a number of revolutionaries including Jatinder Nath Das, a bomb expert.

The British government was cognizant of the growing restlessness among the masses together with the increasing voices of dissent and decided to bring two bills to the assembly – the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Dispute Bill. Both these bills were aimed at curtailing human rights. Bhagat Sing and B K Dutt volunteered to drop homemade desi bombs in order to draw the attention of the lawmakers to the excesses of the British Raj. It is important to note that bombs were of low intensity and were deliberately dropped at an unoccupied place to avoid any injury.

According to the planned programme, Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt volunteered their arrest. A few of their own party members, including Jai Paul and Hans Raj Vohra became approvers who shared the details of Saunders’ murder with the police. Bhagat Singh and his friends used the platform of the trial court to share their message with the masses as the court proceedings were carried by the newspapers.

The trial turned out to be a farce as the British Raj was determined to silence any voices that challenged its legitimacy. As a result of judicial politics Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were sentenced to death. This news stunned the people of India. Bhagat and his friends did not bow down and staged the longest hunger strike in jail against discriminatory treatment. The hunger strike lasted for 110 days. Again one important objective was to reveal the ugly face of imperialism to the outside world.

On a spring evening of March 23, 1931 Bhagat and his friends went to the gallows singing popular revolutionary lyrics. For the jail officers it was a rare site to see someone standing at the gallows kiss the hanging rope and raised the slogan ‘Inqilab zindabaad’ (Long live the Revolution) at the top of his voice.

Such commitment and conviction does not come with transitory emotional upheaval but is an outcome of total and sustained immersion in the ideology of revolution. Behind this commitment was a long journey. Some of the milestones of this journey included his revolutionary family, the impact of the Jalianwala Bagh incident, mentoring at National College, and interaction with revolutionary organisations.

Another factor that contributed in the formation of Bhagat’s personality was his habit of extensive reading. Bhagat was an avid reader. He could not live without books. His only request to his lawyer and his friends was for a regular supply of books in jail. Most of the books of a radical nature at Dwarka Das Library were read by him.

Bhagat was an intellectual who self taught himself contemporary revolutionary philosophies – like Communism and Marxism. Reading was an addiction that armed him with logical thinking, the power of argument and the skill of persuasion.

On the day he was to be hanged his lawyer brought a book at his request – ‘Revolutionary Lenin’. Besides extensive reading, Bhagat also wrote while in jail.

In the history of the struggle for freedom Bhagat and his friends’ role will always be remembered with respect and appreciation. His courage, intellect, dedication, commitment, sincerity, selflessness, patriotism, non-communal stance, and love for the downtrodden turned him into a symbol of freedom and a source of inspiration for freedom fighters for all times to come.

The writer is an educationist.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com

Post-1857 Resistance

Reference: The News, 27 June, 2016

The 1857 war led to the bloodshed of thousands of freedom fighters who, with meagre resources, outdated ammunition, insufficient training, and lack of central leadership and coordination managed to engage the forces of East India Company for a long period of time with their passion for freedom.

The defeat in the 1857 war came as a big blow to the forces of freedom as a large number of people were killed, or arrested and hanged to death, or sent to the Isles of Andaman as punishment. The British colonisers, who were shaken by the massive resistance war in 1857, made every effort to eliminate the chances of potential resistance in the future. Their oppressive acts, however, could not extinguish the flame of freedom – and violent resistance movements continued to emerge even after 1857.

War of independence

My OpEd writeup, “War of Independence” in The News on June 13, 2016. To read the article please click the link: