Political history of Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857

Book: Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur Since 1857
Author: Mohammad Sajjad
Publisher: Primus Books
Year:  2014
Pages: xviii + 266 H/b
ISBN: 978-93-84082-04-8
Price: Rs. 1,195  


History should not be merely recounting of exploits of famous people or important conflicts. It should also be about changes happening at the grassroots level and how these local changes shape the course of communities and nations. Mohammad Sajjad’s “Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur Since 1857” falls into the latter category of history narration.

Muzaffarpur in Bihar “is neither a seat of power nor a place arguably having nationally known history-makers” admits Sajjad in his preface to the book. Mohammad Sajjad who is Assistant Professor at the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, digs deep to find the “largely untold” stories of “lesser-known nation-makers of Muzaffarpur.”

Beginning with a brief history of Muzaffarpur region, the book, divided in 11 chapters, explores the socio-political history of Muzaffarpur and the neighbouring areas since 1857.

The failure of 1857 resulted in a new thinking among Muslims. Muzaffarpur Muslims were ahead of Syed Ahmed Khan in starting a movement for modern education. Syed Imdad Ali and Syed Mohammad Taqi were successful in getting non-Muslims also to join their cause. Muslims joined hands with Hindus to set up schools and colleges that benefitted all, not exclusively any one community. The Hindu-Muslim cooperation extended to politics as well. The movement for separation of Bihar from the Bengal presidency was the first such movement where both Hindus and Muslims participated.

British administrators devised a rift between Hindus and Muslims by removing Urdu from school instructions and official business and restricting teaching of Urdu to only Muslims.

As the movement for Hindi turned communal, Muslims responded by establishing Urdu Sahitiyik Sabha to bridge the gap between the two languages. But the movement for Hindi was not for the development of Hindi as much as an attempt to shrink public space for Urdu. The

1937 Madras session of Hindi Sahitya Sammelan (HSS) was presided over by Jamnalal Bajaj rather than the Hindi poet Maithili Sharan Gupt, making it clear that HSS was a political group rather than a literary body.

By 1920s, parts of India were reeling under communal violence. Muslims feared that the Congress was being converted into a Hindu organization and Muslim leaders were pushed to the margins. In 1923, Hindu Sabha’s Gaya session was presided over by Dr. Rajendra Prasad which gave credence to Muslim views that Hindu leaders of Congress are encouraging the communal elements.

The electoral defeat of Muslim leaders like Shafi Daudi and Mazharul Haque, who considered themselves as Indian leaders and not just leaders for Muslims, came as a shock. Muslims believed that communal elements in the Congress conspired to ensure their defeat.

In spite of the rising anti-Muslim feeling which had engulfed even the Congress, Muslims continued to actively participate in the freedom struggle. They also vehemently opposed the Muslim League and its two-nation theory.

'Sajjad writes “Muslim political leadership (of Muzaffarpur) has displayed progressive outlook… Yet, it is quite intriguing that their share in political power has undergone a noticeable decline.”

Muslims of Muzaffarpur didn’t fare well in independent India either. The situation turned so bad that even such a big Congress leader like Maghfur Aijazi quit the party to contest the

1962 parliamentary elections on Swantatra Party ticket.

Read this book carefully and you will see that Muslims of Muzaffarpur despite putting emphasis on modern education and not only being part of political movements but leading it for most part still end up being marginalized in the political processes and governance institutions. Even their history is on the verge of being wiped out if not for historians like Sajjad who are ready to invest their time in researching and writing about people who are largely forgotten.

Mohammad Sajjad shines through as a modern historian in the last chapter which is 100-year long history of the village Turkauliya (population 6,500). It’s a wonderful reading of how outside political and economic forces affected the lives in this predominately Muslim village. It is a fascinating read and highlight of this brilliantly-researched book. (

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 March 2015 on page no. 21

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