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Qaumi Hafta: Jamia’s Tribute to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

On 13 April 1919, nearly one and a half-year before the establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia, the infamous Jallianwala Bagh Massacre took place in an open ground in Amritsar wherein British General Dyer open-fired on a gathering of unarmed Indians, killing hundreds. On first glimpse this incident appears unrelated to Jamia. However, upon flipping through the pages of history, one might come across the chapter where this bloodshed is written as a major section in the making of the university.

The foundation of this strange yet vital relation was laid 500km from the present campus of Jamia in the city of Amritsar where, following the massacre, both Congress and The Muslim League held their sessions dedicated to those who were killed in the bloodshed. These sessions were attended by the galaxy of national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, the Ali Brothers and Hakim Ajmal Khan, the associates of recently established Pan-Islamic Khilafat Movement.

Gandhi saw this moment as an opportunity to bring the National Freedom Struggle and Khilafat Movement together for both had one common enemy: the British. Thus, soon after, the representatives of both ideologies promised to work and fight together for the causes of Khilafat and Swaraj, and in the wake of these experiments Jamia Millia Islamia was born in the town of Aligarh.

Jamia students constructing a well.
Credits: Jamia’s Premchand Archives and Literary Centre.

In 1921, the infant Jamia decided to dedicate the entire week from 6 April to 13 April, the anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh to be celebrated as ‘Qaumi Hafta’ or National Week which saw the faculty and the guest speakers draw upon their own experiences and communicate the same through emotionally charged speeches and imageries. The students were enthusiastic, they stayed late in the evening to listen to the speakers and many were even motivated to write articles and poems which were published in the May issue of Hamdard-i-Jamia, the monthly magazine of the university.

This event was subsequently organized every year at Jamia. Even after the end of Non-Cooperation and Khilafat in 1922 and 1924 respectively, and the relocation of Jamia from Aligarh to Delhi’s Karol Bagh in 1925, the university continued the legacy of remembering the Jallianwala Massacre through the event.

Moreover, in 1927, under the guidance of Jamia’s faculty member, Prof. G Ramachandran, the commemoration was re-imagined beyond simple remembrance and speech-making, to teach students to be more independent than ever. This meant to carry forward Jamia’s agenda of ‘Nai Taleem’ or life education, similar to Gandhi’s concept of the national basic education program to teach that when necessary one can and should perform the so-called menial chores oneself. During the week, students and faculty did all their chores themselves– cleaning, sweeping, washing clothes, scrubbing dishes, filling water and buying groceries- without relying on the housekeeping staff and servants. The students were also encouraged to undertake voluntary work to earn enough to pay their fees without family support. This included sweeping the streets of Karol Bagh to filling water to spinning.

Jamia students spinning charkha.
Credits: Jamia’s Premchand Archives and Literary Centre.

Not only students, but the scheme of Qaumi Hafta helped unemployed people of Karol Bagh to earn their livelihoods. It involved setting up widows and old women with charkhas (spinning wheels) and raw cotton that was to be then processed into bundles of sut (cotton yarn). The students also prearranged public awareness programs on health and hygiene and outreach projects in adult learning and poverty alleviation programs for the neighborhood’s marginalized communities.

During this week, the memory of the tragic Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was made the basis of several educationally creative curricular programs, such as the student-led ‘Ek Din ka Madarsa’ (one day school) wherein one day was slotted for students to take over the teaching and administration of the school while the teachers and the administrative staff went out for a picnic. Such programs also helped Jamia to draw up a curriculum that sensitized young students to important social issues.

The Qaumi Hafta event of 1930 coincided with the Civil Disobedience Movement, in which Jamia’s famous faculty members Prof. Shafiq Ur Rahman Kidwai and Maulvi Saaduddin Ansari resigned from their positions to join Gandhi’s Satyagraha. Dr Zakir Husain, who was then the chairperson of Jamia, while bidding farewell to professors, summed up how Qaumi Hafta kept alive the memory of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and resuscitated the national spirit and said, “Qaumi-Hafta in a manner that your predisposition to serve the community and the nation is not wasted in a momentary upsurge of emotions but turn it into a lasting habit that draws upon labor and diligence”.

With the expansion of Jamia and its allocation to its present location in Okhla, Qaumi Hafta has become a thing of the past. But its essence continues to motivate the Jamia Biradari, which has always stood to serve the nation and society.

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

Edited by: Nidhi

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Aashish Kochhar

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