"If Swaraj is delayed, it is the loss to India, but if Hindu-Muslim Unity is lost, it is the loss to humanity." The man who worked for a modern India with secular credentials, a cosmopolitan character and international outlook. He stood for a learning society through liberal, modern and universal education combining the humanism of Indian arts, a society where the strong are just and the weak secure, where the youth is disciplined and the women lead a life of dignity - a non-violent, non-exploiting social and economic order. A man like Maulana Azad is born rarely.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was born on November 11, 1888 in Mecca. He belonged to an orthodox Muslim scholar family. The original name of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin. His ancestors came to India from Afghanistan. His mother was an Arab and his father Maulana Khairuddin, was a Bengali Muslim of Afghan origin. She died when he was only 11 years old.
Azad mastered several languages, including Urdu, Arabic, Hindko, Persian and Hindi. He was also trained in the subjects of shariat , mathematics, philosophy, world history and science by reputed tutors hired by his family. He also acquired huge knowledge in English & politics. A unique quality about him was that he always remained much ahead of his age, in years, in many fields. An avid and determined student, the precocious Azad was running a library, a reading room, a debating society before he was twelve, wanted to write on the life of Ghazali at twelve, was contributing learned articles to Makhzan (the best known literary magazine of the day) at fourteen, was teaching a class of students, most of whom were twice his age, when he was merely fifteen and succeeded in completing the traditional course of study at the young age of sixteen, nine years ahead of his contemporaries, and brought out a magazine at the same age. In fact, in the field of journalism, he was publishing a poetical journal (Nairang-e-Aalam) and was already an editor of a weekly (Al-Misbah), at the age of twelve and, in 1903, brought out a monthly journal, Lissan-us-Sidq, which soon gained popularity. At the age of thirteen, he was married to a young Muslim girl, Zuleikha Begum.
Revolutionary & Journalist
Azad developed political views considered radical for most Muslims of the time and became a full-fledged Indian nationalist. He fiercely criticized the British for racial discrimination and ignoring the needs of common people across India. He also criticized Muslim politicians for focusing on communal issues before the national interest and rejected the All India Muslim League's communal separatism. He became increasingly active in revolutionary activities, to which he was introduced by the prominent Hindu revolutionaries Sri Aurobindo and Shyam Sundar Chakravarthy.
Azad established an Urdu weekly newspaper in 1912 called Al-Hilal and openly attacked British policies while exploring the challenges facing common people. Azad's publications were aimed at encouraging young Muslims into fighting for independence and Hindu-Muslim unity. Azad started a new journal, the Al-Balagh, which increased its active support for nationalist causes and communal unity. With his popularity increasing across India, the government outlawed Azad's second publication and he was incarcerated until January 1, 1920.
Upon his release, Azad returned to a political atmosphere which was charged with sentiments of outrage and rebellion against British rule due to passage of the Rowlatt & the killing of unarmed civilians at Jallianwala Bagh. He organised the people of the region and pioneered the art of Satyagraha - combining mass civil disobedience with complete non-violence and self-reliance. Non-violence and Hindu-Muslim unity were universally emphasized.
Azad entered the Indian National Congress in 1920. In 1923, he became the youngest man to be elected Congress President. In the following years, Azad travelled across India, working extensively to promote Gandhi's vision, education and social reform. When Gandhi embarked on the Dandi Salt March that inaugurated the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, Azad organized and led the nationalist raid. The biggest nationalist upheaval in a decade, Azad was imprisoned along with millions of people, and would frequently be jailed from 1930 to 1934 for long periods of time. In 1942, Congress President Azad inaugurated the struggle with a vociferous speech exhorting Indians into action. Just two days later, the British arrested Azad and the entire Congress leadership.
Independence & Partition
With the end of the war, the British agreed to transfer power to Indian hands. All political prisoners were released in 1946. India's partition and independence on August 15, 1947 brought with it a scourge of violence that swept the all of India. Azad took up responsibility for the safety of Muslims in India, touring affected areas in Bengal, Bihar, Assam and the Punjab, guiding the organization of refugee camps, supplies and security. Azad gave speeches to large crowds encouraging peace and calm in the border areas and encouraging Muslims across the country to remain in India and not fear for their safety and security. He was free India's first Education Minister and guided the destinies of the Nation for eleven years. He served in the Constituent Assembly to draft India's constitution. In 1956, he served as president of the UNESCO General Conference held in Delhi.
Azad spent the final years of his life focusing on writing his book India Wins Freedom, an exhaustive account of India's freedom struggle and its leaders, which was published in 1957. This great leader passed away on February 22, 1958 due to a stroke. For his invaluable contribution to the nation, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was posthumously awarded India's highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna in 1992.
The Long Legacy
Azad is remembered amongst the leading Indian nationalists of his time. His firm belief in Hindu-Muslim unity created a niche in the hearts of all patriotic Indians. He still remain one of the most important symbols of communal harmony in modern India. Azad was the staunchest opponent of partition of India into India and Pakistan. Partition shattered his dream of a unified nation where the Hindu and Muslim faiths would learn to co-exist in harmony. His work for education and social uplift in India made him an important influence in guiding India's economic and social development. He adopted the pen name "Azad" to signify his freedom from traditional Muslim ways.
Packed with several achievements, Maulana Azad oversaw the establishment of a national education system with free primary education and modern institutions of higher learning. The very recent decision of the Union Ministry of HRD, Government of India to declare his birthday as National Education Day is a treatise on the life, struggle, and contribution of the great educationist of the country. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was the first to raise the issue of the National System of Education which believed in all students, irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex have access to education of a comparable quality
The wealth of the nation, according to Maulana Azad, was not in the country's banks but in primary schools. He is one of those rare personalities through whom the distinctions of the 20th century can be recognized and possibilities of the 21st century determined. He established National Academies viz the Sangeet Natak Academy (1953), Sahitya Academy (1954) and Lalit Kala Academy (1954), the Indian Council for Cultural Relations(1950) & also the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 1956. His greatest contribution, however, is that in spite of being an eminent scholar of Urdu, Persian and Arabic he stood for the retention of English language for educational advantages and national and international needs. On the technical education side, he strengthened the All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT-K) was established in 1951 followed by a chain of IIT's at Bombay, Madras and Kanpur and Delhi.
The National Education day is a goodwill gesture for our policy makers to re-think of change in India's present system of education which is not at par with the desires of its children.