Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie
Maulana Ali Hussain “Aasim Bihari” was born on April 15, 1890, in Mohalla Khas Ganj, Bihar Sharif, Nalanda district, Bihar, in a devout but poor Pasmanda weaver family. In 1906, at the young age of 16, he started his career in the Usha organization in Kolkata. While working, he pursued interests in studies and reading. He was active in many types of movements. He quit his job as it was getting restrictive, and for his livelihood he started the work of making beedis. He prepared a team of his beedi worker colleagues who would discuss issues that concerned nation and society. There would also be sharing of writings.
In 1908-09, Maulana Haji Abdul Jabbar of Sheikhpur tried to create a Pasmanda organization which wasn’t successful. He felt a deep sense of grief about this. In 1911, after reading “Tarikh-e-Minwal wa Alahu” (History of Weavers), he was prepared completely for the movement. At the age of 22, he started a five year shceme (1912-1917) for educating adults. During this time, whenever he went to his native Bihar Sharif, he would keep make people aware by organising small gatherings.
In 1914 , at the young age of 24 years old, he started a Society called “Bazm-E-Adab”(Chamber of Literature) that started a library under its aegis, in his native location of Khasganj, Bihar Sharif in Nalanda district. In 1918, a study centre called “Darul Muzakra”(House of Conversation) was established in Kolkata, where labourers and others used to gather in the evening to discuss writings and contemporary issues – these meetings would sometimes go on all through the night.
In 1919, after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Maulana Azad were arrested. Aasim Bihari then started a nationwide postal protest for the release of those leaders, in which people from all the districts, towns in the entire country sent about 1.5 lakh letters and telegrams to the Viceroy and Queen Victoria. This campaign was eventually successful, and all the freedom fighters were freed from jail.
In 1920, in Tanti Bagh, Kolkata, he created the organisation “Jamiatul Mominin” (Party of the Righteous), whose first conference was held on March 10, 1920, in which Maulana Azad also delivered a speech.
In April 1921, he started the tradition of the wall written newspaper “Al-Momin” (The Righteous) in which text was written on large sheet of paper and stuck on a wall, so that more people could read. This style became very famous.
On 10 December 1921, a convention was held in Tanti Bagh, Kolkata, in which Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Jauhar, Maulana Azad etc., participated. In this convention, about 20 thousand people took part.
Gandhiji on behalf of the Congress party proposed to donate a huge amount of one lakh rupees to the organization, with some conditions. But Aasim Bihari, at the very beginning of the agitation, considering it better to keep the organization away from any kind of political compulsion and surrender, refused to accept the amount of one lakh, a big financial assistance, which was highly needed by the organization.
From 1923, the wall newspaper Diwari Momin began to be published as a magazine Al-Momin.
In the beginning of 1922, with the intention of giving an all-India look to the organization, he started a tour of villages and towns, beginning from Bihar.
On July 9, 1923, a local meeting of the organization (Jamiatul Mominin) was held at Madrasa Moinul Islam, Sohdih, Bihar Sharif, in Nalanda district, Bihar. On the same day his son Kamruddin, whose age was only 6 months and 19 days, died. But the passion of bringing society into the mainstream was such that he reached the venue on time and delivered a powerful speech for one hour.
In these constant struggles and travels, he had to face many troubles as well as financial difficulties. Many of the times had to deal with hunger issues too. At the same time, his daughter Baarka was born in the house, but the whole family was drowning in debt and hunger for long.
During this time in Patna, Arya Samajis defeated the Muslim Ulemas (Clerics) in debate as nobody was able to answer their questions. When this was reported to the Maulana, he then took a loan from a friend for travel fare. He carried roasted corn in his bag and reached Patna. There he defeated the Arya Samajis in such a manner, by his logic and arguments, that they had to flee. A regional level conference was convened in Bihar Sharif on 3-4 June 1922, after nearly six months of rigorous travel.
It was difficult to arrange for the expenditure of the conference and the funds collected were not sufficient. The date of the conference was getting closer. In such a situation, Maulana requested his mother to lend the money and jewellery that he had kept aside for his younger brother’s wedding. He hoped that more funds would be arranged as the date of the Conference got closer. Unfortunately, not enough funds could be collected. He felt despair and even after being invited for the wedding, he didn’t attend it and left the house, out of guilt. He could not even dare to be a part of it.
In the will of God, I have surrendered my being
His wish is my wish, what He wills shall happen
All such setbacks, however never affected his passion.
In spite of all the troubles, anxieties and frequent travels, he never missed studying newspapers, magazines and books in addition to writing articles and daily diaries. This study was not limited to education, or knowledge of only social or political activities, but he wanted to research science, literature and historical facts and reach their roots. In certain instances, he would not hesitate to write letters to the writers of famous newspapers and magazines of that time.
In August, 1924, the foundation of a core committee called ‘Majlis-e-Misak’ (Chamber of Covenant), was laid down for the solidarity of selected, dedicated people.
On July 6, 1925, ‘Majlis-e-Misak’ (Chamber of Covenant), started publishing a fortnightly magazine named Al-Ikram (The Respect), so that the movement could be further strengthened.
The “Bihar Weavers’ Association” was formed to organize and strengthen the weaving work, and its branches were opened in other cities of the country, including Kolkata. After creating an organization in Bihar in 1927, Maulana turned to Uttar Pradesh. He visited Gorakhpur, Banaras, Allahabad, Moradabad, Lakhimpur-Kheri and other districts and created quite a stir. After UP, the organization was set up in Delhi, Punjab area too.
On April 18, 1928, the first All India level grand conference was held in Kolkata, in which thousands of people participated. In March 1929, the second All India Conference was held in Allahabad, third in October 1931 in Delhi, fourth in Lahore, and fifth on November 5, 1932, in Gaya. In the Gaya conference, the Women’s Wing of the organization also came into existence.
Similarly in Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Delhi, Nagpur and Patna, State Conferences were organized.
In this way, the organization was established in places like Mumbai, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Chennai, and even in countries like Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Burma and hence Jamiautul Mominin (Momin Conference) became an international organization. In 1938, there were nearly 2000 branches of the organization in India as well as abroad.
A weekly magazine called ‘Momin Gazette’ from Kanpur also started to be published. Keeping himself behind the scenes in the organization and pushing others forward, Aasim Bihari never made himself the President of the organization. Only after many requests of the people, he kept himself confined to the post of General Secretary only.
When the organization’s work increased a lot, and the Maulana did not have the opportunity of doing hard labor to raise his livelihood and family — in such a situation, the organization fixed a very modest amount to be paid to him every month, but unfortunately that was also not paid to him many times.
Wherever the branches of Momin Conference were opened, small meetings were held continuously, and education and employment counseling centres and libraries wwere also established.
From the beginning, Maulana tried to ensure that Pasmanda castes other than the Ansari caste, were also made aware, active and organized. For this, he used to include people, leaders and organizations of other Pasmanda castes in every conference, their contributions in the Momin Gazette were also given equal space.
Meanwhile, the news of his brother’s severe illness reached him and he was told “Come soon, he can die anytime”. But the Maulana couldn’t go home due to frequent tours. Even when his brother died, he could not even go for the funeral.
In the election of the Interim Government in 1935-36, the candidates of the Momin Conference also won a good number of votes across the entire country. As a result, a large number people also realized the power of the Pasmanda movement. This is where the movement began to witness opposition.
Already in the mainstream politics, the upper caste Ashraf Muslim class started defaming the Momin Conference and its leaders, by employing different types of allegations, religious fatwas, writings, magazines. In fact, they even made a song called ‘Zulaah Naama’, that indulged in the character assassination of the weaver caste as a whole and was also published.
During the campaign in Kanpur, a Pasmanda activist named Abdullah was murdered. Usually, Maulana’s speech used to be about two to three hours. But on September 13, 1938, his five hour speech in Kannauj and the speech in Kolkata in October 25, 1934, that lasted a whole night became landmarks in human history, setting an unprecedented record.
The Maulana played an active role in the Quit India Movement. In the year 1940, he organized a protest in Delhi against the partition of the country, in which about forty thousand Pasmanda people participated.
In the elections of 1946, some candidates of the Jamiatul Momin (Momin Conference) were successful and many of them won against candidates of the Muslim League.
In 1947, after the storm of the partition of the country, he revived the Pasmanda movement with full rigor. The Momin Gazette was republished in Allahabad and Bihar Sharif.
The failng health of the Maulana started influencing his untiring hard work, travels. But he was determined to revive the tradition of Hazrat Ayyub Ansari (the Companion of Prophet Muhammad) . When he reached Allahabad, he did not have the strength to even walk a step. Even in such a condition, he was busy in the preparations for the Conference of the Jamiatul Momineen in UP State, and kept guiding people.
But Allah had taken from him whatever work he could. On the evening of December 5,1953, he suffered a sudden heart stroke and there was trouble in breathing; the pain and uneasiness of the heart grew, his face became sweaty, he fainted. Around two o’clock at night, he found himself in the lap of his son, Haroon AAasim. With a gesture he indicated his head be rested on the ground so that he could offer himself to Allah’s favor and demand forgiveness for his sins. In these circumstances, on Dec 6, 1953, on a Saturday, in Haji Kamruddin’s house, in Atala, Allahabad, he breathed his last.
In his forty years of vigorous and active life, the Maulana did nothing for himself, and where was the opportunity to do it? But if he wanted, he could have gathered many material things for himself and his family. But he never gave attention to this aspect. The Maulana kept lighting the homes of others throughout his life but he did not try to illuminate his own house with a small lamp.
Faiyaz Ahmed Fyzie is a freelance author and is working as a Research Associate in the Ministry of AYUSH. The English translation is done by Vinay Shende, who is an Ambedkarite working in the Corporate Sector.
The original Hindi article was published in RTI-Hindi here.