In the morning I woke up to messages of hope and happiness as is usual on India’s (71st) Independence Day. Family groups were full of photographs of our younger children dressed in saffron and green, as they went to their schools to celebrate Independence Day.
We watched the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the Red Fort, and posted messages and stirring poems on Twitter and Facebook. There was so much happiness and bonhomie, when suddenly I got a link to a tweet from a friend:
A bunch of people waving the flag in Delhi’s iconic Jama Masjid is hardly anything I should be upset about. In fact, the national flag on the historic Jama Masjid instills pride in me.
Why then, was I upset?
I was upset at the words that were deliberately aimed at hurting and demonising the community that prays in that mosque.
“71 साल बाद जामा मस्जिद दिल्ली की छाती पर चढ़कर हमने कार्यकर्ताओं के साथ राष्ट्रीय ध्वज फहराया, वन्दे मातरम”
“After 71 years, along with karyakartas (workers) I have climbed onto the ‘chest’ of Jama Masjid, and waved the national flag. Vande Mataram.”
Inherent to his speech is the message that the mosque, and by extension Muslims, have never hoisted the tricolour.
By the way, the call Madar e Watan Bharat ki Jai was given by Azimullah Khan in 1857, while fighting in the first war of Indian Independence. Honoring our motherland is not new to us. Perhaps Mr Singh (who tweeted the message) had missed this tweet by Sumer about flag hoisting at the Jama Masjid.
How Jama Masjid Area Celebrates I-Day
Mr Singh and his companions were 71 years too late, as the Indian Flag has been flying proudly in the hearts of every Indian, regardless of their religion. But yes, we fly the flag with love and respect, because we are Indians, not because we want to ‘otherise’ Indians.
Many flag-hoisting ceremonies were held in the Walled City. Flags were hoisted in homes, offices and public areas on 15 August.
As Abu Sufiyan, a resident of Old Delhi says, they came at noon, hoisted the flag, and left. No one objected or opposed them as flags were being hoisted everywhere. But he adds, “the enthusiasm with which Independence Day is celebrated in Old Delhi, where Red Fort is located, would be difficult to find anywhere else. They (Mr Singh and companions) may have climbed onto the steps of Jama Masjid after 71 years, but we have been hoisting the flag every year, in and around Jama Masjid.”
Sheeba Aslam Fehmi who runs the Walled City Café and Lounge at a little distance from the Jama Masjid, posted on her Facebook page this 15 August:
“We, living in and around Jama Masjid area, are used to several hoisting of the Tricolor on 15th August each year. Not only at the public spots like Azad Hind Hotel, right behind the main Gumbad of the Historic Jama Masjid, we have flags of all sizes on full mast at various establishments including all the schools, hotels, shops etc.
I just spoke to the local MLA Asim Ahmad Khan who has hoisted the Indian Flag at various spots in his constituency where Jama Masjid is located.
The celebrations and merry making is on since the day of full dress rehearsal only. Patriotic songs are played loudly in the narrow alleys of Jama Masjid.
If you want to witness the people's celebration of the Independence day, come, take a stroll in the Jama Masjid bylanes.”
Ashok Mathur says, “I have been celebrating Independence Day since 11 AM today, and hanging over not one but many roof tops in the Pahari Imli and Matia Mahal area of my Muslim friends flying kites, with music and fanfare, which started with the whole group singing the national anthem at the beginning... since I was a vegetarian among all others, someone quickly got kaddu ki sabji and chana from his home nearby... it was the tastiest kaddu that I have ever had... this is the spirit with which we live here.”
Role of Jama Masjid in India’s Freedom Struggle
Today, let’s examine the role of Jama Masjid in India’s Freedom Struggle.
As Hilal Ahmed, Assistant Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies says, “The Red Fort and Jama Masjid have always been the symbols of political inspiration for Indian masses, irrespective of religion or caste, during the colonial period. Leaders from different backgrounds and ideologies used the mimbar (pulpit) of the mosque to deliver political messages. From Swami Shradhanand of the Arya Samaj to Gandhi, Nehru and Azad – leaders of all sects delivered speeches here.”
It is worth noting that Jinnah never delivered any speech inside the Jama Masjid, though he participated in a procession of the League in 1946. Unfortunately the Hindu right-wing want to convert everything into ‘Hindu and Muslim’. Making Jama Masjid an anti Hindu/India symbol is part of this political campaign.Hilal Ahmed, Assistant Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
The Jama Masjid has not only been a place for congregational prayers since the time it was built in 1650, but also a witness to India’s history. Since it had been such a symbol of togetherness and rebellion against British power in 1857, after the uprising, the British occupied the mosque and stopped people from offering prayers within its premises. Its gateways were guarded by British Indian troops to prevent entry.
The Jama Masjid was used as a mess, with horses tied along its corridors, with alcohol being freely consumed by the troops.
In the months of May-September, the sepoys and natives of India rose up against the East India Company, under the banner of Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Fierce battles were fought in the summer and monsoon months of 1857, in and around the walled city of Shahjahanabad. Jama Masjid, as the centre of Shahjahanabad, was also central to this fight.
The mosque was the focal point for gatherings during the siege of Delhi in the 1857 Uprising.
It was on the walls of Jama Masjid that posters were put up by the forces who were trying to create a communal divide among India's people. These were immediately taken down upon the then Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s orders. Maulvi Mohammad Baqar countered these posters in his newspaper The Delhi Urdu Akhbar, in which he said that Hindus and Muslims were ahl e watan (compatriots), and had been living together for a thousand years.
It was as a result of this that the British confiscated Jama Masjid and planned its demolition. It was only in 1862, following innumerable petitions by Muslims, that the British government returned the mosque to the original inhabitants.
Secular Nature of Jama Masjid
The nationalist movement and Hindu-Muslim unity took giant steps forward after World War I during the agitation against the Rowlatt Acts, and the Khilafat and the Non-Cooperation Movements. As if to declare before the world the principle of Hindu-Muslim unity in political action, Swami Shradhanand, a staunch Arya Samajist, was asked by Muslims to preach from the pulpit of the Jama Masjid at Delhi, while Dr Saifuddin Kitchlu, a Muslim, was given the keys to the Golden Temple, the Sikh shrine at Amritsar.
The entire country resounded with the cry of ‘Hindu-Muslim ki Jai’.
It was this mosque where, on 4 April 1919, Swami Shraddhanand, dressed in saffron robes, addressed the people gathered there, asking them to unite, saying that the need of the hour was Hindu-Muslim unity, against the common enemy, the British.
He started his speech with a Vedic mantra to which the congregation replied ‘Ameen’. He went on to exhort all Indians to purify their hearts with the ‘water of love’ of the motherland in ‘this national temple’, and become brothers and sisters.
I wish he would come back and again deliver a speech on unity only this time the common enemy is hatred and those who preach hatred.
It was in this mosque that Maulana Abul Kalam Azad delivered his historic speech in October 1947, which reminded them of their sacrifices for India, and exhorted them not to leave their motherland since the Prophet had said, ‘Allah had made the whole world a mosque’, and so the question of pure (Pak) and impure land does not arise.
In fact it was contrary to the ideals of Islam:
“Musalmano’n, my brothers,
Today you want to leave your motherland. Have you thought of the result of this step? ... Close the door from which communalism has entered...”
(24 min onwards)
“Where are you going? And why are you going? Behold, the towers of this historic Masjid bend to ask you: lift up your gaze and see. The dome of this Shahjahani mosque asks you where you have lost the pages of your history. The sacred relics of your ancestors ask you, in whose care you are leaving them?”
“The sounds of ‘Allahu Akbar’ echoing from this mosque, ask you, on whose mercy are you leaving them? The walls and doorways of this mosque call out to you, again and again. O! those who are leaving, a time may come when you could lose your identity...
Don’t you remember that it was only yesterday that your caravans had performed ‘Wuzu; (Ablutions) on the banks of Jamuna. And today you are afraid to live here.
Remember that you have nourished Delhi with your blood.”
A simple study of literature written about the Freedom Struggle in the 19th and 20th centuries, will reveal that indeed not only Delhi, but India has been and is being nourished by the blood of Muslims. They are as much Indian as anyone else. 71 years ago, India was divided. I was not born then, but I am living now, and I will fight bigotry and hatred.
This Independence Day, let’s pledge to get freedom from hatred, bigotry and attempts to divide Indians on religious and sectarian lines.
Hindi hain hum watan hai Hindustan hamara.
(Rana Safvi is the founder and moderator of the popular #shair platform on Twitter, which is credited for reviving popular interest in Urdu poetry. She tweets @iamrana. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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