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Jamia, Partition, and Independence

Although 15th August 1947 holds its significance in the national context, for Jamia the story takes a different route as it was a struggle against communal violence, which is still ongoing. The Partition of India is a painful reminder of the consequences of communal violence and its aftermath. Jamia Millia Islamia overcame this obstacle in its journey and retained through yet another hardship by standing firm on its ideals.

The Partition of India is a painful yet important chapter in the history of Jamia Millia Islamia. This institution which was itself a victim of the partition retaliated back to the forces of hatred in a remarkable way that defined its ideals over what it was built on and thrived.

Caption: Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his sister Fatima Jinnah arriving at Jamia.
Credits: Jamia’s Premchand Archives and Literary Centre.

Although the spark of this communal hatred was kindled ages ago, by the 1940s it had turned large enough to engulf the entire country in its flame. Every riot which happened in the country enlarged the gap between the communities against each other. Although Jamia had no role in the production of narratives on the partition, its response to the accompanying tragedy was an unequivocal call for Hindu-Muslim cooperation.

Jamia’s Sermon of Peace

It must be noted that the Silver Jubilee year of the Jamia came in 1946 amidst the pre-Partition disturbances and was to be belatedly celebrated from 15 to 18 November 1946. Jamia’s then Vice-Chancellor Dr. Zakir Husain found this auspicious occasion as the opportunity to mitigate the differences among the opposing groups by bringing together several prominent leaders of the Muslim League like Muhammad Ali Jinnah, his sister Fatima Jinnah, and Liaquat Ali Khan, along with Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Aruna Asaf Ali and C Rajagopalachari of Indian National Congress on the same dais.

Mahatma Gandhi, who was a major figure in Jamia’s history couldn’t be present on the occasion, as he was engaged in calming the riots situation in Noakhali district of Bengal but he sent his wishes to Dr. Husain and Jamia through a letter which said, “The goodness of a good man is itself his true jubilee. Dr. Zakir Husain’s great work itself is his true greatness.”

Caption: Muslim League leaders including Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan seated in ‘Dal Badal’ tent at Jamia’s Silver Jubilee Celebrations.
Credits: Jamia’s Premchand Archives and Literary Centre.

Dr. Zakir Husain too was determined to his task of peacemaking, for which he appealed to the politicians present by conveying to them his sorrow of being engaged in the educational work. In his historic address on the function, he begins his address by pointing that “the fire of mutual hatred which is ablaze in this country makes our work of laying out and tending gardens appear as sheer madness…

Dr. Husain pointed that when “the level of [men’s] conduct was lower than that of beasts and save culture when barbarism holds sway everywhere, how would they trainman for its service.” He concluded his address by requesting everyone for “God’s sake, put your heads together and anguish this fire… For God’s sake do not allow the very foundation of civilized life in this country to be destroyed as they are being destroyed now.” This speech by Dr. Husain was very powerful, yet, at the ground level the situation continued to turn from bad to worse, and India was set to be divided into two dominions.

Facing Scars of Partition

It must be learned that even after India got freedom on 15 August 1947, the atmosphere of Delhi, the capital of then-new dominion was highly charged with communal sentiments which resulted in unthought-of bloodshed in the national capital all through September and after. Jamia, despite being a stalwart of the freedom struggle had to face communal violence owing to its Muslim identity.

Caption: Jamia’s Silver Jubilee Memorabilia.
Credits: Archival Cell, Dr. Zakir Husain Library, JMI.

It was in the same sequence of incidents, on 21 August 1947, Dr. Zakir Husain, en route to Kashmir, was assaulted by a mob at Jalandhar Railway Station in Punjab and would have been killed by the mob if a railway official had not recognized him and locked him up in a room. It was this incident, after which he would often say, “I have been living on borrowed time.” Jamia’s property in Karol Bagh was either ransacked or destroyed. Makhtaba Jamia, the official printing press of the institution was set ablaze. It was later in 1951 when during the Question Hour in Lok Sabha MP Dr. Ram Subhag Singh asked about the damage to Jamia in 1947, the then education minister of India Maulana Abul Kalam Azad replied, “Books and furniture lying in the building of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, were damaged and looted during the disturbances in 1947… According to the Jamia Millia authorities, the damage amounted to nearly Rs 5 lakhs.” The minister also informed the house that the government had not compensated the damages, as its authorities had not applied for it.

Not only the physical properties, but the partition riots left a scar even in the minds of the Jamia Biradari. During those days, the ration availability of institutions had depleted gradually. For many days the people from the nearby villages would turn to Okhla at night, with suspicious intentions. It was Dr. Zakir Husain who took the whole Okhla village under his wings, and students fearing for their lives turned off their lamps and stood guard and would be on guard throughout the night, till the villagers went back in the morning.

Caption: Jamia’s Silver Jubilee Memorabilia.
Credits: Archival Cell, Dr. Zakir Husain Library, JMI.

One September night the situation turned tense. British historian Alex von Tunzelmann informs in her book, Indian Summer (2007) that an aggressive mob who had recently chased the Muslims of nearby villages into the Yamuna river was heading towards Jamia. It was only after Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Vicereine of India Edwina Mountbatten appeared to pacify the would-be raiders, they returned.

However, incidents like this continued to haunt Jamia and its well-wishers. Jamia alumnus and journalist Afroz Alam Sahil mentioned in his book Jamia Aur Gandhi (2019) that upon Gandhi’s return to Delhi from Nohakhali on 9 September 1947, the first thing that he had reportedly asked on Delhi Railway Station is, “Is Zakir Husain fine? Is Jamia Millia safe?” And the next morning he visited Jamia’s Okhla campus to assure if everything is fine and inspire confidence.

Although Jamia’s influential professor Mohammad Mujeeb was getting to the authorities to take control of the mobs, it was Gandhi’s visit that compelled the government to ensure stronger security of the institution. Soon the Madras Regiment was posted around the campus after which Jamia would be relieved from its perpetuating fears.

An Oasis of Peace in Sahara

Once the situation in Jamia pacified, it took over the initiative to serve the other sufferers of the partition. The lakhs of Muslims before leaving for Pakistan and later the Hindu and Sikh refugees that came from Pakistan to Delhi were stationed in the camps of Purana Qila and Humayun’s Tomb complex.

Caption: Muslims taking shelter in Purana Qila before leaving for Pakistan in September 1947.
Credits: Australian Associated Press.

Some refugee families were welcomed in Jamia itself and its teachers educated numerous wandering children. When the whole subcontinent was burning in the fire of communal hatred, Jamia’s this initiative compelled Gandhi to call it “an oasis of peace in Sahara.”

A team of Jamia’s volunteers was prepared which would serve in relief work at the refugee camps. The team would leave for Humayun Tomb peddling on bicycles in the morning and return just before the sunset. Dr. Zakir Husain knew the importance of the humanitarian services for which he told to the group of volunteers on 10 January 1948, “Those among you who are working at the Humayun’s Tomb are doing very valuable work. If you can save Humayun’s Tomb, you will be able to save Delhi, which would further save India…

Likewise, he even exhorted Jamia’s women by asking them to “share the burden with the men…You must reduce your own needs. Try to give as many of your quilts, pillows, and blankets as you can, and darn and mend your old clothes to make them fit for use for those living in the Humayun Tomb’s camps…

Caption: Hindu and Sikh refuge’s camps at Humayun’s tomb in September 1947.
Credits: Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

It must be concluded that despite facing the wrath of the communal hatred in partition, Jamia didn’t turn into a quasi-communal institution. It remained a beacon of peace and unity, which is continued till today.

Aashish Kochhar is a student pursuing History at Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Reda Aamna

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Written by Aashish Kochhar

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