Role of Muslims in Anti-British Freedom Struggles

Special Booklet, April 2019


Throughout mainstream Indian historiography, we observe a trend of considering Muslims as foreign invaders and betrayers of freedom struggle against British. The reasons are mainly twofold. Firstly, the credit goes to the colonial influence in interpreting Indian history, due to which even historians like Dr. Jadunath Sarkar and Dr. R. C. Mazumdar considered Muslims as separate cultural entity and served the cause of the British imperialism in dividing people based on their religion. Secondly, the post-independence ruling class of India realized that an honest retrospect of Muslim’s contribution in national freedom struggle would definitely bring forth several anti-British armed struggles, which in turn would expose their real class-characteristics. That is why even the Congress discusses only that much of Muslims’ contribution in Indian freedom struggle which satisfy their own agenda of showcasing themselves as the guardian of India’s secular fabric. Such perception grossly undermines the role of Muslims in anti-British struggles, mostly armed peasant and mass struggles that predate the birth of the Congress even by more than a century.


After winning the Battle of Buxar in 1764, the British East India Company (BEIC) gained the revenue collection rights (diwani) of Bengal, Bihar and Odissa, and started devastating loot in these areas. In fact, the indiscriminate loot and plunder of the BEIC started since 1757, when they treacherously won the Battle of Plassey. Taking advantage of the decaying Mughal rule, the BEIC started the process of dismantling the old village-economy. Earlier, tax was collected from village society. However, after 1764, the BEIC started the more repressive system of tax collection from individual peasants and that also in the form of currency in place of crops. For smooth functioning of this tax collection system, several layers of exploiters such as nazims, zamindars, talukdars, and most importantly the blood-sucking money-lenders were created in between the BEIC and the peasants, i.e., the topmost and the bottommost layers of this pyramid of hierarchical exploitation. The concept of private ownership of land was strengthened by declaring the zamindars as the owners of land and entrusting them the task of looting the poor mass (mostly peasants and artisans) indiscriminately and handing over a fixed amount from it to the British as tax. In 1765-66, i.e. in the first year of tax collection by the BEIC, it collected a tax of Rs. 220 lakhs which was nearly the double of the previous year’s figure [1]. The lives of these poor people were totally ruined in this new exploitative structure, which soon caused the devastating Bengal famine of 1769-73. Nearly 10 million people of Bengal and Bihar starved to death. According to the nineteenth century Scottish historian W. W. Hunter – “The husbandmen sold their cattle; they sold their implements of agriculture; they devoured their seed-grain; they sold their sons and daughters, till at length no buyer of children could be found; they ate the leaves of trees and the grass of the field; and in June 1770 the Resident at the Durbar affirmed that the living were feeding on the dead” [2]. Warren Hastings (the Governor General of British India from 1773-1785) shamelessly announced in a letter written to the Directors of the Company that – “… withstanding the loss of at-least one-third of the inhabitants of the Province, and the consequent decrease of the Cultivation, the net collections of the year 1771 exceeded even those of 1768 …” [2].

Only two ways were there in front of the peasant mass of Bengal and Bihar, i.e., either succumbed to death or revolt against the tyranny. They chose the second path. A chain of armed peasant uprisings broke out in the period of 1763-1800. These uprisings are popularly and collectively known as Sannyasi-Fakir revolt, due to the participation of different such Hindu and Muslim religious sects in this revolt. However, in reality, three different forces gathered together in these uprisings such as – 1) the peasants and the artisans of Bengal and Bihar, 2) the scattered and unemployed armies of decaying Mughal Emperor, and 3) sannyasis and fakirs, who were permanently settled in Bengal and Bihar as peasants and artisans, and were furious against the intervention of British rulers on their religious matters (such as imposing tax) [1]. Most of the brave leaders and organizers of this revolt, some of whom even sacrificed their lives in armed confrontations with the British forces, were Muslims by religion. For example – Majnu Shah, Musa Shah, Feragul Shah, Cherag Ali, Nurul Mohammed, Ramjani Shah, Jahuri Shah, Sovan Ali, Amudi Shah, Neagu Shah, Budhu Shah, Iman Shah etc. Along with them, several non-Muslim leaders such as Bhabani Pathak, Debi Choudhurani, Ramananda Gosai, Hajari Singh, Fatik Barua etc. also contributed notably in this revolt [1,3]. Throughout these four decades, in various places of Bengal (Dinajpur, Bogura, Jalpaiguri, Rangpur) and Bihar (Sarengi, Purnia), the rebel army groups attacked numerous British Kuthis and local zamindars, looted their wealth, which was actually produced by the peasants and artisans. Even they bravely fought with the armed British forces. Religion was not at all an issue in this prolonged revolt where peasants and artisans, irrespective of their religions and sects, jointly fought against the tremendous exploitation of feudal zamindars and the British imperialist.

The role of Majnu Shah in this series of armed conflicts was particularly significant. He was an efficient organizer and a commander-in-chief with remarkable military ability. Under his leadership, the rebel peasants defeated the joint force of Captain Mackenzi and Commander Lt. Keith in a battle at Morang, near the Nepal border on December 1769. Commander Keith died in this battle [4]. In February 1771, Majnu Shah eluded the army of Lt. Taylor and entrenched his fortress in Mahasthangarh, from where he later slipped to Bihar to organize peasants and artisans there [1,3]. In another heroic fight on 14th November 1776, he and his peasant army snatched victory. In this battle, hundreds of Englishmen died and Commander Lt. Robertson was badly injured [5]. It was true that sometimes lack of unity emerged among different groups of sannyasi and fakir peasants. However, Majnu Shah tried his best to create a united struggle against the British and always re-organized the groups when they faced severe setbacks. Majnu Shah – the most heroic figure of this revolt died in 1786, due to severe injury in a battle with Lt. Brenan’s army in Mungra village of Bagura district [6]. After his death, his brother and disciple Musa Shah led the struggle, but the overall impact of the revolt got reduced. Bhabani Pathak and Debi Choudhurani’s heroic struggle in 1787 was also aided by Majnu Shah’s other disciples Feragul Shah and Cherag Ali. Another group led by Ramjani Shah and Zahuri Shah went to Assam, where they were defeated in an armed conflict with the British army. During the last phase of the revolt (1793-1800), Sovan Ali and his associates attempted multiple uprisings in North Bengal, but finally they could not achieve any further success in front of the ruthless crack-down of the British army [1,3].

Warren Hastings referred this revolt as mere incidents of banditry perpetrated by some ‘vagabonds of Hindustan’. Following the master’s path, the Indian ruling class also tried to deny this revolt as peasants’ armed uprisings, and thus, denied the significant role of Muslims in such real freedom struggle. Bankim Chandra’s novels ‘Anandamath’ (1882) and ‘Debi Chaudhurany’ (1884), created in the backdrop of this revolt, added further Hindu religious and nationalistic sentiments to cover up the real class-struggle between two antagonistic classes.


The last half of the eighteenth century witnessed several experiments in land settlement and revenue collection system. These experiments took the final shape in an agreement between the Company and the Bengali landlords – popularly known as Permanent Settlement of 1793. According to this settlement, the zamindars were recognized as the permanent and hereditary owners of the land and they were also allowed to sell and purchase lands. However, the zamindars were supposed to pay 89% of the annual revenue to the British and were permitted to enjoy the rest 11% of the revenue as their share. Failure to pay the revenue would allow the Company to sell the land to the highest bidder. Again, the tax demand of Company was inflexible and the officials were not even ready to consider extreme situations such as drought, flood or other natural disasters. As a result, many zamindars immediately started losing their ownership over lands, which by then became their private properties and a way to their own survival with lavish lifestyle. Thus, in order to save lands, the zamindars started tremendous torture on the peasant mass or the ‘ryots’. Moreover, to guarantee the revenue, with the influence from the British officials, they gradually inclined towards cultivating cash crops such as cotton, indigo, opium (which was under direct control of the British) rather than rice and wheat. This was a cause of many of the worst famines of the 19th century. Many zamindars, whose conditions were comparatively stable, moved to the city of Calcutta and started new businesses with the British partners. They entrusted the duty of tax collection to the intermediate oppressive machineries,who were only interested in increasing their share of profit from the tax collection and thus unleashed inhumane oppression on the poor peasant mass.

This changed scenario under the aegis of Permanent Settlement, along with the regular brutal torture of the British indigo planters, put forth the question of mere survival in front of the poor peasants. Within two decades they broke out in several armed uprisings against the zamindars, mahajans, indigo planters and the backbone of the British armed forces (in short – the exploiting classes). These uprisings, led by Muslim leaders such as Syed Ahmad Barlevi (1786-1831), Mir Nisar Ali (1782-1831), Haji Shariatulla (1781-1840) and his son Dudu Miyan (1819-1862), covered a span of half-century, i.e., from 1820-70. These leaders, during their haj in Mecca, got influenced by ‘Wahhabism’ – an Islamic doctrine preached by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who was a religious leader from Najd in central Arabia. That is why many scholars consider these uprisings as “Wahhabi movements in India”. However, such gross generalization is questionable. The negative propaganda surrounding this doctrine of ‘Wahhabism’, created by the imperialist powers influenced and still influences many historians in portraying these uprisings as religious wars, undermining their intrinsic anti-imperialist and anti-feudal spirits. It is true that the movements were started with religious reforms, which were against the interest of the exploiting classes, and thus, immediately faced the wrath of local zamindars. However, very soon the exploited peasants, irrespective of their religion, joined these movements in huge numbers and turned these into united armed struggles against the repression of the exploiting classes.

Syed Ahmad Barlevi, a revolutionary leader from Raebareli, was the first person “to realize the necessity of a movement which was at the same time religious, military and political” [7]. To achieve this he quickly created efficient leaders, a proper organization, and a safe territory in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) from where he attempted to launch his jihad against the British rule. He had a countrywide organization with strong bases at Sithana in the North-Western tribal belt and at Patna in Bihar. He appointed local chiefs, also known as khalifas, each of whom was assisted by a committee of counselors, a minister of war, finance etc. [3]. However, soon he realized that without defeating the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh and liberating the oppressed Muslim peasantry of Sindh he cannot proceed further. Thus, he arrived in Peshawar valley in 1826, along with his one thousand followers, and tried to organize the local Pashtun tribes. In December 1826, he and his followers clashed with Sikh army at Akora. However, the result was not decisive. With his consistent efforts of ‘jihad’, Syed Ahmad and his army finally captured Peshawar in 1830, but in the battle of Balakot against the Sikhs (1831), he was killed and beheaded. His numerous followers also lost their lives in this battle.

After the death of Syed Ahmad Barlevi, the movement faced a temporary setback, until it found its new leadership in Ali brothers (Enayet Ali and Wilayet Ali) of the Sadiquepur family of Patna [8]. Both of them were disciples of Syed Ahmad, who entrusted them to look after their activities in Patna. The unfinished movement of Syed Ahmad gained fresh momentum under the secret and subversive anti-British activities of Enayet Ali, Wilayet Ali, Keramat Ali, Zainuddin and many others. Throughout the eastern-most districts of Sylhet, Tripura and various other districts of Bengal and cities like Patna, Varanasi, Kanpur, Delhi, Thaneswar, Ambala, Amritsar, Jhelum, Rawalpindi, Attock, and Peshawar, active centers were established by them [3]. In Hyderabad, Mubarijuddaulah – the brother of the nawab, conspired to wage war against the British Empire. In 1839-40, he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in the Golkonda fort as a martyr. After the Anglo-Sikh wars (1845-46, 1848-49), Wilayet Ali acted as the unquestionable leader of the movement in NWFP when the whole of Punjab went to the direct control of the British rule. After his death, Enayet Ali took charge in 1852 and with Keramat Ali he attempted to invade British territory in NWFP on the eve of the great 1857 uprising. Even during this great revolt, in many places, “the local leadership came invariably from the wahhabis” [3]. They provided local leadership at many places such as Delhi, Agra, Hyderabad, and Patna. From 1850 to 1857, the British tried to capture Sithana 16 times and deployed 35,000 troops along with NWFP border but failed each time. After 1863, the impact of this movement got reduced due to heavy crackdown of the British forces. The period of 1863-65, witnessed a series of trials by which all the principal leaders of the movement were arrested. In all the subsequent trials such as Ambala trial (1864), Patna trial (1865), Maldah trial (1870), Rajmahal trial (1870), and wahabi trial (1870-71), the main charge against the rebels was “to conspire and wage war against the queen empress” [3]. Ishree Prasad, an intelligence officer expert in tackling wahhabis, reported that even after the trials the revolutionaries tried to reorganize revolts in Bhopal, Patna, Rangoon, and Shahabad, and also tried to sow disaffection amongst the fauj and government officials as late as 1881 [9]. Even famous revolutionaries such as Bipinchandra Pal and Sri Trailokya Chakraborty admitted the influence of these uprisings on their anti-British activities in early twentieth century. Sri Trailokya Chakraborty, who got in touch with the wahhabi rebels in Andaman’s Cellular Jail, stated – “the wahhabi revolutionary brothers gave us practical lessons of unbending audacity and unflexible will and also advice to learn from their mistakes” [3]. Thus, the anti-imperialist spirit of this movement is evident.

However, it is unfortunate that a prolonged armed anti-British struggle like this never received the attention that it deserves. Rather it became a victim of false sectarian propaganda. Those who want to view this struggle under the leadership of Syed Ahmad Barlevi and his followers with religious bias, they must note that “such a widespread movement could not have been sustained for long without the active support of wider non-wahabi masses” [8]. Even historian W. W. Hunter admitted the “admirable sagacity” of this widely spread struggles. According to him – “Indeed the working of the scheme had been planned with great ingenuity; the genuine and bonafide work was so cunningly mixed with the antigovernment activity that it was very difficult for the authorities to determine the two” [8]. It is unfortunate that the experts of mainstream Indian historiography do not realize this. Their responses towards the contemporary movements under the leadership of Mir Nisar Ali, Haji Shariatulla and his son Dudu Miyan were also the same. Till date, consistent attempts are made by the ruling class to discredit these remarkable armed class struggles between the oppressed peasant mass and the exploitative classes (zamindars, mahajans, indigo planters and the British forces).

When Syed Ahmad Barlevi and his brave followers were fighting Sikh troops in Peshawar as a precursor of their jihad against the British rule, another important figure Mir Nisar Ali, popularly known as Titumir, was leading heroic struggles in Bengal against the exploiting classes. In 1827, Titumir returned from Mecca and started a socio-religious reform, which very soon transformed into a socio-economic struggle on the side of rural poor, both Hindus and Muslims. Within no time, Titumir and his followers faced the rage of local zamindar Krishna Dev Roy in various means. The shameless Hindu zamindar even started the infamous ‘beard-tax’ to curb the influence of wahhabi Muslims who were used to keep beard as their religious edict. Naturally, this angered the local Muslim peasantry. Initially, Titumir legally tried to get administrative intervention against these events. However, he did not get any positive response, rather, the torture against his peasant followers increased. Thus, finally he took direct measures such as armed uprising against the local zamindar and mahajans. To protect the peasants from indiscriminate torture of indigo planters, he also attacked and looted several Neel-Kuthis. Even he did not spare rich Muslims who tried to obstruct this uprising. Gradually the reactionary exploiting classes joined hands to suppress it. However, fearless Titumir built a bamboo fort (famously known as Bansher Kella in Bengali) in the village of Narkelberia, and formed a militia with peasant youths, belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities, to confront the ensuing attacks. A detachment of Calcutta militia was defeated twice by Titumir’s army. Realizing the growing power of this peasant uprising, the British India then sent a detachment consisting of ten regiments of native infantry, a troop of horse artillery with few guns and two cannons. Finally, after a heroic fight with the British detachment at Narkelberia, Titumir died on 19th November 1831. British cannons destroyed the historic bamboo fort. Titumir’s Commander Golum Masum and 350 followers were imprisoned. Masum died at gallows and the others were sentenced to transportation for life. Titumir and his heroic contribution in India’s freedom struggle are still remembered in Bengali ballads and folk songs [1,3].

Another unsung hero Hazi Shariatulla from village Bahadurpur in Faridpur district of the then undivided Bengal province (now in Bangladesh) started the farazia movement in 1820s. During his extensive tour in the remote villages of East Bengal, vast masses of oppressed peasantry were attracted to his appeal of Islamic justice and equality to all. His simple life and his dedication to the cause of the oppressed made him the beloved idol of the poor “who looked upon him as their father” [3]. Due to his growing popularity, both Hindu and Muslim oppressive zamindars and mahajans reacted sharply against him and started religious propaganda with the help of British officials. After his death, his son Mohamed Mahasin Dudu Miyan followed the footsteps of his father. Dudu Miyan attacked the very root of feudal exploitation and fearlessly announced that “land is given to us by Allah; no one has the right to capture it through multiple generations, to use it for private purpose and to impose tax on it” [1]. He organized an army armed with indigenous weapons, and led many armed struggles against the exploiting classes. In 1846, the peasant army under his leadership destroyed the Neel-Kuthi of Panchchar. British police arrested him several times to weaken this movement. For example, he was implicated in false charges in 1838 (house theft), 1841 (murder), 1844 (holding a public meeting without permission), 1846 (kidnapping and murder). Each time he was released and declared innocent. Even, due to his tremendous popularity among the vast peasantry, he was again confined during the great uprising of 1857, for the last time. He was released in 1859, but because of his shattered health he died on 24th September 1860. Taking advantage of his frequent confinement, the exploiting classes were able to weaken this movement, which was finally suppressed after his death [1,3].

The Permanent Settlement of 1793 devastated the lives of rural peasant mass and broadened the path of armed peasant struggles against the exploiting classes. This can be seen in continuation with the earlier peasant uprisings, as class struggle is inevitable with the presence of two antagonistic classes. However, at the cost of uncountable peasant lives, a city-based new elite land-owning class emerged as a by-product of Permanent Settlement. The leaders of so-called “Bengali Renaissance” such as Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833), Dwarakanath Thakur (1794-1846), and their successors were the foremost representatives of this newly emerged class. It is an irony that when brave Titumir and his peasant army were standing fearlessly in front of British cannon, this newly emerged elite class was busy in establishing new businesses along with their British partners. At one hand, lakhs of poor peasants in rural areas were starving to deaths, and on the other hand, to satisfy their own class-interest, these city-based elites were inviting the British government to set up its full phased colony in India with an excuse that India’s happiness is best secured with her connection with England. However, the mainstream intellectuals of our country always glorify the Hindu-reformist activities of this elite class as “Bengali Renaissance” and discredit the revolutionary significance of the contemporary class struggles. This is not only unfortunate but also a shameless perspective that still dominates the mainstream Indian historiography.


The great uprising of 1857 witnessed the unity among different communities while fighting against the British Empire. The particular contribution of the Muslims is also a well-known chapter. However, the uprising also witnessed an adverse reaction from the newly emerged elite class among both Hindus and Muslims. Initially, the Hindu elites, educated in the Macaulay’s education system, were aloof from any kind of seditious activities, until a section emerged from them in the last decade of nineteenth century and indulged into serious revolutionary activities. However, among the Muslim educated class, there was a fraction, which had a staunch anti-imperialist outlook from the very beginning and did not choose the path of expressing loyalty to the British Empire, as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and some other Muslim elites like him did. Rather, it chose the path of organized armed revolt against British tyranny. However, their contributions are never acknowledged properly due to the underlying religious influence. Though, the mainstream historians never hesitate to glorify the spiritual influence in anti-British activities led by Aurobindo Ghosh and his comrades in the early twentieth century. This is not only a biased treatment of the period, but also a hypocritical attitude to purposefully sideline the contributions of the Muslims in national freedom struggle. In this regard, it will be a gross injustice if we do not mention the tremendous contribution of the Deoband Ulemas in armed anti-British struggles.

The great uprising of 1857 was brutally crushed by the British force; however, it gave birth to a new phase of armed anti-British struggles where Maulana Qasim Nanautavi (1833-1880), Mahmud al-Hasan (1851-1920), Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi (1872-1944) and many other brave Muslim leaders contributed significantly. During the 1857 uprising, Maulana Qasim Nanautavi, along with numerous other Maulanas, played a key role in the Battle of Shamli [10]. After the defeat of the revolutionaries at Shamli, the British forces launched a severe crackdown on the Muslims, and even confiscated the endowments of Muslim educational institutions [11]. In this background, Qasim Nanautavi founded Darul Uloom (house of learning) at Deoband on 30th May 1866. The journey of this institute began with its first student Mahmud al-Hasan, who later became the great hero of ‘Silk Letter Conspiracy’ [12]. After completing his study in 1877, Mahmud al-Hasan set up a revolutionary organization named ‘Samarat-ul-Tarbiyat’ (results of the training). The primary aim of this secret organization was to prepare for armed insurrection against the British. After decades of hard work Mahmud al-Hasan was finally able to give it a proper organizational shape in 1909 with the formation of ‘Jamiat-ul-Ansar’. He called his most trusted disciple Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi in Deoband to take the charge of secretariat of Jamiat. In 1912 and 1913, the Jamiat organized mass gatherings and successful public agitations in which thousands of people from Meerut and Shimla took active part. As a tactical move, another organization ‘Nazzaarat-ul-Maarif’ was established by him in Delhi, to rouse nationalistic sentiment among the mass [10,12].

In 1914, the First World War began. Support from the enemies of the British, i.e., the Central Powers, was expected in overthrowing the British colonial rule in India. A small independent principality on the North-West Frontier Province was chosen as the center of activity, where the followers of Syed Ahmed Barlevi were still continuing the legacy of jihad against the British Empire. Armed insurrections against the British forces were planned. With an expectation that the amir of Afghanistan would lend his support, Mahmud al-Hasan sent Obaidullah Sindhi to Kabul and he himself left for Makkah to gather active military support from the Muslim countries. The Governor of Ottoman Caliphate assured him of extending support against the British. Within India, the mission had its headquarters at Deoband and branches in Delhi, Dinapur, Amrot. In December 1915, Obaidullah Sindhi met an Indo-German-Turkish mission, which was a diplomatic mission sent by the Central Powers and was a part of Indo-German Conspiracy to encourage Afghanistan in attacking British India after entering the war on the side of the Central Powers. Though, it could not obtain any overt support from the amir of Afghanistan, a Provincial Government of India was formed in Kabul in 1916 with the support of amir’s deputy Nasrullah Khan. The government had Raja Mahendra Pratap as President, Maulana Barkatullah as Prime Minister, Obaidullah Sindhi as the Minister for India, Maulavi Bashir as War Minister and Champakaran Pillai as Foreign Minister. An international organization ‘Junoodur Rabbaniyah’ (army of God) was formed to garner international support against the colonial rule. In this context, Obaidullah Sindhi sent a letter to Mahmud al-Hasan in Mecca, with details of his activities in Kabul and the future plan. The letter was written on a piece of cloth made of silk. Maulana Mohammad Mian Ansari also enclosed a long letter detailing office bearer’s name of the Government in Exile and Junoodur Rabbaniyah’s future action plan. Unfortunately, these letters were intercepted by the British [3,10,12]. According to the Sedition Committee Report of 1918 – “This army [Junoodur Rabbaniyah] was to draw recruits from India and to bring about an alliance among Islamic rulers. … Its headquarters were to be at Medina, and Mahmud Hasan himself was to be general-in-chief. Secondary headquarters under local generals were to be established at Constantinople, Tehran and Kabul. The general at Kabul would be Obaidullah himself”. [13]

The British Empire ordered a thorough enquiry of this whole event which is famously known as ‘Silk Letter Conspiracy’ of 1916. The enquiry named 220 persons, mostly Ulemas, involved in the conspiracy from all over the country. All of them were arrested and convicted to long-term rigorous imprisonment. Mahmud al-Hasan, Obaidullah Sindhi, Maulana Ansari and many other prominent comrades of the movement were also arrested. The Central Powers were defeated in the First World War. More than 200 rebel Muslim soldiers were shot in Basra [3,12]. However, in spite of the failure, such a large network of the brave revolutionaries involved in the series of events certainly shows their dedicated effort to liberate India from the shackle of British colonial rule.


Starting from the battle of Plassey, the British rule had faced consistent armed resistances by native peasant mass. The discontent of common mass against the colonial oppression took a giant shape in the great uprising of 1857. However, a parallel and opposite development was also taking place in this time. It was the emergence of a new city-based elite land-owning class in the first half of nineteenth century as a by-product of Permanent Settlement (1793), followed by the introduction of Macaulay-ian education system, due to which a native educated class was emerged. This class was devoted to serve the British administration, and thus, by default was against armed mass uprisings. Fearing “a sudden violent outbreak” and “a National revolt”, British politician Allan Octavian Hume, under the patronage of Lord Dufferin, formed a political party – Indian National Congress (INC) – with the members of this newly emerged educated class. His aim of channelizing severe mass-discontent towards negotiations within constitutional framework was achieved up to a certain extent. However, very soon a revolutionary fraction of this educated class became disillusioned with their expectations from INC, and initiated secret armed revolutionary activities.

Early twentieth century, in the pretext of Bengal Partition (1905) and Swadeshi Movement, witnessed a series of armed revolutionary activities, mainly under the banner of Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar. In spite of severe British crackdown, the secret revolutionary activities rose to a new height during the First World War. These brave revolutionaries, along with the Indian nationalists residing in foreign countries and associated with the Berlin Committee and the Ghadar Party, attempted a Pan-Indian rebellion by rallying the armed British Indian Army against the British Raj in a single day (21st February 1915, later changed to 19th February). Unfortunately, such an organized attempt failed at the eleventh hour. However, on 15th February 1915, the 5th Light Infantry revolted in Singapore in which approximately 800 soldiers took part. The revolt lasted for seven days, but finally was crushed brutally by the British. Nearly 200 soldiers tried at Singapore, 47 were shot in public execution, and the rest were deported for life or given jail terms between seven and twenty years. Most of these brave soldiers were Muslim by religion. The Ghadar leader who played a prominent role in this event was Mujteba Hussain [3,14]. Three army-men Rasullah Khan, Imtiaz Ali and Rukhnuddin were sentenced to death in March 1915. These brave men even declined to beg mercy for their lives. In the same month, 15 Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) revolted in Singapore. Among them Havildar Suleman, Naik Munshi Khan, Naik Jafar Ali Khan, Naik Abdul Rezzak, along with seven other Sikh colleagues courted death like true revolutionaries [13].

In October 1917, with the grand success of Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the Tsarist autocracy was overthrown by the working class people. This historic event brought a qualitative change in the trend of revolutionary activities in British-dominated India. Most of the secret revolutionary groups re-oriented their activities in socialist line. The transformation of Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) is a remarkable example of this. HRA was established in 1924 as a North India-based center to carry on the revolutionary activities of Anushilan Samiti in this area under a different banner. Among many, Ashfaquallah Khan of Shahjahanpur was one of the brave heroes of HRA. Along with Ram Prasad Bismil, Chandrasekhar Azad and many others, he carried out the train robbery at Kakori on 9th August 1925. Later he was arrested at Delhi and finally received death sentence in the Kakori Conspiracy Case along with three of his comrade-in-arms. Simple confession involving his other comrades would secure his release; however, Asfaqullah firmly rejected such lures. “If I am not allowed to observe the last ceremony of the noblest ordeal with all dignity and steadiness then the sanctity of the occasion will be tarnished. Today I feel myself worthy of honour with the hope that a sacred and great responsibility for the liberation of motherland has been entrusted to me. You should feel happy and proud that one of yours is fortunate enough to offer his life. You must remember that the Hindu community has dedicated his great souls like Khudiram and Kanailal. To me this is a good fortune that, belonging to the Muslim community, I have acquired the privilege of following the footsteps of those great martyrs.” [15] – these were the last words of Asfaqullah to his nephew, on the day before his hanging at the Faizabad jail. His revolutionary contribution towards the freedom of our country and his immense friendship with Ram Prasad Bismil was remembered in the past and will also be remembered throughout the next generations as a remarkable example of comradely relationship, which was far above their personal religious practices and was devoted to one and only one cause – the freedom of the motherland.

Among other prominent Muslim figures were Abdul Momin and Abdur Rezaq Khan. Both of them worked with Anushilan Samiti and were interested in the Bolshevik path of working class revolution. Abdul Momin later on became one of the active members of Communist Party. Serajul Haq and Hamidul Haq of Hooghly, Muksuddin Ahmed of Netrokona, Moulavi Gyashuddin Ahmed, Nasiruddin Ahmed, his daughter Rezia Khatun, and Abdul Kader of Jamalpur and many like them were associated with Jugantar Party. Many of them had suffered long term imprisonment in Andaman. Alimuddin (Master Sahib) played a key role in organizing revolutionary units on the outskirts of Dhaka city. Such units later on developed as a revolutionary party known as Bengal Volunteers. Another member of Anushilan Samiti – Dr. Fazlul Kader Chowdhury of Bogra – had spent long years in the cellular jail in Andaman. Apart from these, the brave revolutionary figures of Chittagong – Surya Sen (Masterda), Kalpana Dutta, Ambika Chakraborty, Ananta Singh and other comrades received shelter, food, and several other helps from the poor Muslim peasant families of Chittagong, on numerous occasions [3].


The mainstream Indian historiography is definitely affected with the problem of pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim biasness. The initial credit goes to the British rulers, who purposefully took the policy of history writing in a way such that it satisfies their agenda of divide and rule. It was aptly pointed out by Santimay Ray – “Depiction of Muslim tyranny over the subject people – the Hindus – and the resistance of Rajputs and Marathas became their favorite themes” [3]. Such framework, along with the intrinsic Brahminist outlook, shaped the overall perspective of important individuals with regard to Indian historiography, starting from novelist Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay to Indian historians such as Dr. Jadunath Sarkar, Dr. R. C. Mazumdar. In his novels ‘Anandamath’ (1882) and ‘Debi Chaudhurani’ (1884) Bankim Chandra (1838-1894) blatantly misused the real historical context of Sannyasi-Fakir rebellion to arouse a mythical Hindu nationalistic sentiment, which was not at all the purpose of that rebellion. Bhabani Pathak and Debi Chaudhurani – the two real heroic figures of this rebellion became icon of Hindu resistance against non-Hindu invasion in Bankim Chandra’s imagination, which had no place for Majnu Shah, Musa Shah and other prominent Muslim leaders of this rebellion. Certainly, their presence in his imagination would not satisfy his intention. After Bankim Chandra, the same tradition was carried out by historian Dr. Jadunath Sarkar (1870-1958), who even earned knighthood in 1921 for his contribution towards further propagating the colonial interpretation of Mughal rule, i.e. the Muslim tyranny over Hindu subjects. Similarly, we can take the example of another prominent Indian historian Dr. R. C. Mazumdar (1884-1980) who played equally significant role in interpreting Indian history with communal bias. Rather, he was so frank in his philosophy that in the 1969 Diwali number of the Organizer (a publication affiliated to RSS), he expressed his belief that all the Muslims should go to Pakistan to solve the knotty problem of communalism [3].

Today, we are still facing the consequences of such skewed view of our own history. To divide the working class in religious lines, the present BJP-led regime has undertaken a grand project of re-writing the history of India by various means, starting from sectarian interpretation to gross falsification of historical events. Thus, any such attempt must be challenged by upholding the less discussed aspects of our national history. The present article briefly attempted to point out the significant contributions of the Muslims in anti-British struggles. However, elaborated attempts must be made in future for comprehensive understanding of the subject.




[1] “Bharater Krishak-Bidroha O Ganatantrik Sangram” by Suprakash Roy, 1966.

[2] “The Annals of Rural Bengal” by W. W. Hunter, 1868.

[3] “Freedom Movement and Indian Muslims” by Santimay Ray, 1979.

[4] Rennel’s Journal, February 1766; cited in [1,2].

[5] Letter from Lt. Robertson to the collector of Bogra, 14th November 1776; cited in [1,2].

[6] “Sanyasi & Fakir Raiders of Bengal” by Jamini Mohan Ghose; cited in [1,2].

[7] “Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan” by Olivier Roy; 1985.

[8] “The Wahabi Movement in India” by Dr. Q. Ahmad; 1966.

[9] “Selections from Bengal Government records on Wahhabi trials 1863-1870” (ed.) by Muinuddin Ahmed; 1961.

[10] “Deoband Ulema’s Movement for the Freedom of India” by Farhat Tabassum; 2006.

[11] “History of the Dar al-Ulum, Deoband, Vol. 1” by Sayyid Mahbood Rizvi; 1980; cited in [3]

[12] “Darul Uloom Deoband: a heroic struggle against the British tyranny” by M. Burhanuddin Qasmi; 2001.

[13] Sedition Committee Report; 1918.

[14] “Secret Documents on Singapore Mutiny 1915” by T. R. Sareen; 1995.

[15] “They Lived Dangerously” by Manmath Nath Gupta; 1969.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s