The missing page

by Tauqeer Abbas

Shafaqna Pakistan: On April 1908, an anonymous article was published in one of the most prestigious Urdu journal of its time ‘Urdu-e-Mualla headed by one of the most celebrated literary giant, then a towering leader of the freedom struggle in India, Maulana Fazlul Hassan commonly known as Hasrat Mohani.

The article was abrasively critical to the British policies in India in general and the British occupation of Egypt in Particular. In this the author most blatantly highlighted the deceitful and cunning tactics of the British Crown in waging proxy wars in the name of alleviation of poverty and liberation of humanity to subdue and invade weaker and under privileged countries.

This was the time when Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College in Aligarh (M.A.O later Aligarh Muslim University) had started to turn into a honey pot of freedom struggle. ‘Urdu-e- Mualla’ which he started in 1904 from Aligarh was no ordinary journal but was the best literary-cum- political weekly to which celebrated writers of the country used to contribute. The said article proved to be a catalyst in the already irate situation. The stir created by the article drew the attention of the British authorities who found it illegal and seditious, and therefore approached the owner of the journal. Maulana was asked by the Indian Government to either disclose the name of the author or face charges of instigating revolt. The Maulana, despite all intimidation and an imminent prosecution refused to divulge the name of the author. Resultantly he was convicted and put to prison for two years. The Maulana was perhaps the first political prisoner in British India convicted under the Press laws. Instead of being treated as ‘A’ Class prisoner, he had to undergo a rigorous imprisonment with scanty miserable clothes – a khaki shirt and knickers, a cap, a piece of jute cloth and a rough dirt-laden blanket as his bedding. During the initial period of his stay in the jail he was repeatedly cajoled to give away the name of the author as the British authorities felt uncomfortable having had a man roaming around freely, capable of producing rancorous literature that could help trigger yet another storm of freedom struggle they had been so ruthlessly keeping under the watch.

However, the Maulana did not budge an inch from his stance. The British authorities then, in an effort to squeeze the name of the author turned more precise in their tactics, brutish enough to break any man, let alone a man of letters. He was then slapped a massive fine. When he couldn’t pay the fine, the magistrate confiscated his most treasured possession – his books and rare manuscripts and auctioned them for a paltry sum. He was shifted into a solitary confinement and was made to grind daily one mound of wheat on a stone hand mill which required extraordinary labour to which Maulana was obviously not accustomed. Maulana, in later years wrote in his Urdu-e-Mualla that in the beginning he was much perturbed and distressed by the rigour of jail life, miserable clothing, and lack of water to perform ablution for prayers. But by and by he became habitual to this sort of life. Nevertheless in spite of his trials and tribulations, the Maulana remained steadfast and never revealed the name of the author. A great deal of his literary work, specially the Ghazals, he owes to his imprisonment.

Source: The Nation (Writer: Lt. Col Muhammad Arslan Qadeer (Rtd))

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