Keeping chained to the past discourses

Nobody can dare question as to why the shower of enlightenment and education not crossed the railway lines and reach Aligarh town in 142 years? Yet we keep singing: “jo abar yahan se utthe ga, wah saare jahan par barse ga.”

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (L) and Bahadur Shah Zafar with Aligarh Muslim University in its backdrop

-Soroor Ahmed

Patna (Bihar), 25 NovemberWhen I wrote an article more than a fortnight back on how Muslims of sub-continent failed to recall 150th year of The First War of Independence in 1857 in 2007 but celebrated in a very big way across the world the bi-centenary of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO) on October 17 this year some of the readers, mostly having links with Aligarh Muslim University asked as to what is wrong in such commemorations.

Yes, there is nothing wrong in it. What is alarming is that we celebrate the birthday of a person, but not remember the great upheavel of whose by-product Sir Syed was.

Not only that, what are we going to achieve today by just parroting the old interpretation of those pre- and post-1857 years made by Sir Syed and several others. It is not the issue of agreeing or disagreeing with him. But the need of the hour is to re-visit history and see things in new light in 21st century democratic India. Instead of recalling the same old stories of the late 19th century the need of the hour is to tell the coming generation what they should do.

There is absolutely no scope whatsoever to be nostalgic about  the pre- and post-1857 days. One can learn a lot from history and not commit the mistakes made in the past. Every year on October 17 Aligarhians all over the world assemble, have parties, a few words of praise for Sir Syed. And then they close their mind for full one year only to return to the same party again.

Nobody can dare question as to why the shower of enlightenment and education not crossed the railway lines and reach Aligarh town in 142 years? Yet we keep singing: “jo abar yahan se utthe ga, wah saare jahan par barse ga.

If not serving teachers, why not the whole army of retired professors and alumni settled on the campus side spreading the light of education when Muslims of Aligarh town are among the least educated?

Whom do we address when we talk about the importance of education in five-star hotels and conference halls? Do we want to educate the educated elite and keep the entire lot of sub-alterns unattended?

Whether you deliver speech or not, or whether you launch a campaign or not the elite would teach their children. But unfortunately we have hardly approached the sub-alterns  in the last 142 years.

Neither the elite Muslims of 19th century nor of today understand what the masses are. Take one example: in the first quarter century of MAO’s existence, that is between 1875 and 1900 at least 2.60 crore––yes 2.6 crore––Indians had died of artificially created famines by the British rulers. This is being taught in Class-X Social Science book of the CBSE. In all 8.50 crore people died of famines during the 190 years of British rule––1757 to 1947. Such devastating famines never struck India before 1760 or after 1947. Mind it the toll was so high when the population of undivided India then was not even one-fifth of now.

Of the 2.60 crore human beings who perished in the early years of MAO at least 60 lakhs would have been Muslims. Though death is the best leveller and one must not distinguish between different religions yet since the community in question is Muslim may one ask as to why this repeated ‘genocide’ by the British failed to become the popular discourse of the time? This is simply because the elite were not affected.

So the truth is that we are more interested in blindly––and not objectively––praising a personality rather than the whole chain of events.

For example, between my last article on Sir Syed and now three centenaries have passed––Balfour Declaration was passed on November 2, 1917. Five days later in the same year Communist revolution took place in Russia and on November 19 Indira Gandhi was born.

Incidentally, 1917 is the centenary year of the launch of Satyagrah by Gandhiji and abolition of the practice of indentured labour. Muslims were no doubt affected by all these five events which took place a century back. But of course the Balfour Declaration had the greatest impact as it finally led to the creation of Israel.

Yet the Muslim world remained totally oblivious of this date, though every day our clerics and community leaders would talk of “Yehudi Sazish” (Jewish conspiracy). There were just small protests in Gaza and West Bank.

Israel obviously celebrated the event with much fanfare.

However, one thing is common in this 100 years. If Sharif of Mecca, Husain Bin Ali, betrayed the Ottoman Empire and helped British and French armies occupy Palestine and Syria––which ultimately led to the creation of Israel on May 14, 1948, today too the relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia is extremely cordial.

But we do not have time to teach our upcoming generations about all this. Just keep them involved in the past debates, recite ‘ashaar’ (poetry) or circulate ‘duas’ on WhatsApp.

Also read: Celebrating Sir Syed’s bi-centenary, ignoring 1857

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