IT was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who used the word, ghadar, (deceitfulness, betrayal or treachery) first to describe what was — to many — the first war of independence of India (1857), says Dr Abu Salman Shahjahanpuri in the intro to the new book he has compiled. Disagreeing with the nomenclature in vogue, he says though it was our war of freedom and not ‘ghadar’, still it is much better to call it ‘mutiny’ instead as it tells at least half the truth, but the word ‘ghadar’ has gained such currency that all and sundry use it unknowingly or unmindfully.
“Maybe, the circumstances in Bijnor and Meerut etc were such that Sir Syed’s using the word ‘ghadar’ could be justified but the situation was much more different in Delhi, Saharanpur, Muradabad, Farrukhabad, Oudh, Bihar, Gwalior, Jhansi and elsewhere. But the use of the term ‘ghadar’ was so suitable for the British policy and intentions that the colonialists made it their shield.” But then Dr Sahib in a euphemistic way absolves Sir Syed of the responsibility when he says: “Sir Syed was not at all an enemy of his fellow countrymen but his style of politics worked as a shield for the British interests. With the changing environment when Sir Syed emerged as an advocate of the Muslims’ interests, it was not possible for him to change his style and ways so quickly. That’s the reason why he kept on using the same term [for the events of 1857 war].”
Dr Abu Salman further says that it is strange that even the opponents of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan did not give due consideration to the fact that Sir Syed, while describing the reasons of mutiny and its background, did not blame the proselytisation efforts of Christian missionaries, nor the East India Company’s support for such efforts, as is usually done. Neither did he blame the new cartridges introduced with a new kind of rifle (named Enfield). The cartridges were said to be smeared with the grease made from fats of cows and pigs and soldiers had to bite the cartridge at one end before use. The Indian soldiers, being Muslims and Hindus, were outraged. But Sir Syed pointed to the strict punishments, such as imprisonment and death penalty, awarded to soldiers for so-called misconduct or insubordination on the issue of these new cartridges. Dr Abu Salman goes on to say that it clearly proves that the British military authorities’ far too strict reaction pushed the soldiers on the path to insubordination and mutiny (open rebellion against the authorities) and it cannot be and should not be termed as ‘ghadar’, or betrayal. This is amply proven by the titles of the two books that Sir Syed penned on the issue as he used the words ‘sarkashi’ (disobedience, uprising) and ‘baghawat ’(rebellion).
He then describes how the British avenged the so-called betrayal and how severely they dealt with the Indians who joined hands, in any manner, with the forces fighting to get rid of a foreign power that had occupied their motherland. It is ironical that the colonial forces that had initially entered India on the pretext of trade overtook the country by betrayals and conspiracies and blamed those who were resisting their designs as ‘ghaddaar’ (betrayer, deceitful). In my opinion, it was the British that should have been charged with the mutiny, armed rebellion in an alien country and gross violation of human rights.
Though he is an author of over 100 books and an authority on the history of the subcontinent’s politico-religious movements— especially Islamic nationalism in British India — Dr Abu Salman Shahjahanpuri’s contribution is rarely acknowledged the way it deserves to be. The reason, perhaps, is that he first took keen interest and wrote extensively on the life and works of some politico-religious figures not seen with much favour in Pakistan; these figures include Abul Kalam Azad and Hussain Ahmed Madani.
But even those who disagree with Dr Abu Salman and his historical and ideological perspective have to admit that he does not put his pen on paper until he has gone through all the relevant info, including published and unpublished, rare and not-so-rare sources on the topic he intends to write about. His research methodology and his sources both are impeccable and he does not mince words while commenting on some bitter historical facts, albeit at the same time he pays respect where due and maintains a courteous tone that has become his hallmark.
Dr Abu Salman in this new work has compiled some important accounts on the history and culture of Shahjahanpur with a special emphasis on the 1857 freedom war. Titled ‘Shahjahanpur: tareekh-i-umoomo aur jang-i-azadi ’ is in fact not one book as it contains six portions each of which is a book unto itself. An appendix critically evaluates some sources on the history of Shahjahanpur. Dr Abu Salman had initially intended to write a book on the history of Shahjahanpur, his ancestral hometown in UP, India. But during his extensive research he ended, as usual, with so much rich and varied material that he had to include all that and as a result a voluminous study on the history of Shahjahanpur and Rohilkhand was compiled.
The book has been published recently by Majlis-i-Yadgar-i-Shaikh-ul-Islam, Karachi. Its first portion, titled ‘Shahjahanpur: tareekh-e-umoomo ke aaine mein’, describes when and how Shahjahanpur was inhabited and what made it flourish during the reigns of different rulers.
The second section brings together some important writings on the role of Rohilkhand and Barely in the 1857 war. It also includes a piece on the establishment of a revolutionary government in the historical town named Muhammadi by Ahmedullah Shah during the 1857 freedom war. Though accounts about Muhammadi seem a bit scanty, they provide the readers with some rare information as many of us have rarely heard of this town and its fight against the British. The remaining portions too have some vital information about Shahjahnpur’s history, especially its role in the 1857 freedom war.
The book includes some very informative articles by well-known authors such as Hafiz Muhammad Ismail Muradabadi, Maulvi Mutiullah Khan, Ghulam Rasool Mehr, Muhammad Ayoob Qadri, Mufti Intezamullah Shahabi, Imdad Sabri and some others. The book also includes some maps of district Shahjahanpur and Rohilkhand region.