On the occassion of the 39th death anniversery of Hamid Dalwai, a look at his life, work, and legacy
It is quite unfortunate that the revolutionary thinking of Hamid Dalwai, a man of letters, journalist and social reformer, was not given its due to a great extent by the society he worked for. However, recognised writers, historians and thinkers have paid attention to his short-lived but lasting contribution. Only three examples are enough to prove it.
A celebrated Indian historian, Ramachandra Guha, in his book Makers of Modern India (2010) has mentioned 21 persons as ‘Architects of modern India.’ He includes Hamid Dalwai’s name amongst stalwarts like Jyotirao Phule, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Tarabai Shinde and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. In addition to Dalwai, Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan and Jinnah, no Muslim thinker finds a place in that list.
The second proof comes from the celebrated Marathi author P. L. Deshpande who writes, “When I say that I was a friend of Hamid, I feel it might amount to self praise. He was so great. It was no exaggeration to say that meeting him was like embracing a great man because of the way he was fighting with injustice.”
Poet and painter Dilip Chitre recognised the quality of Hamid Dalwai’s writings. In order to place his social and human commitment before a wider readership, Chitre translated his writings in English. Hamid Dalwai’s Muslim Politics in Secular India includes Chitre’s English translation of his small treatise Muslim Jatiyteche Swaroop: Karane ani Upay. He also translated Dalwai’s novel Indhan as Fuel in English.
Hamidbhai was born at Mirjoli in Ratnagiri District on 29 September 1932. He got his secondary school education at Chiplun. After his matriculation in 1951, he studied up to intermediate in Ismail Yusuf College and Ruparel Collge in Mumbai. He had to do odd jobs owing to his poor financial condition during 1954-1963. During that period, he was introduced to the working of Rashtra Seva Dal, the political and cultural wing of Samajwadi Party.
He simultaneously started writing his short stories in magazines like Mauj, Satyakatha and Vasudha. A collection of these stories was published under the title Laat by Sadhana Prakashan. In 1966, Mauj brought out his only novel Indhan which went on to obtain the Maharashtra State award. He portrayed in this autobiographical novel how the atmosphere in a Konkan village changed after Independence. He presented a sensitive but realistic picture of the tension between Hindus and Muslims that had changed the total atmosphere in the village. This controversial novel was translated into Hindi as well.
Due to this novel, Dalwai had to face the wrath of the people in Chiplun. His famous short story “Kafanchor” too raised a controversy. It is about a poverty-ridden Muslim who survives on stealing ‘kafan’ or shrouds from the graveyard. The story also describes how he is sexually aroused looking at the dead body of a young girl brought there for burial.
Even P. K. Atre liked Hamid Dalwai’s literary writing and social commitment. When Dalwai was facing financial problems, Atre gave him a job in the office of the daily ‘Maratha.’ He worked as a journalist there from 1963 to 68. In order to give his analytical and interpretative skills a broader and realistic base, Atre gave him a chance to travel all over the country, meet well known thinkers and discuss important issues with them. On the basis of that experience, Dalwai later left the job and became a full time worker for the welfare of Muslim community. He got so involved and busy in social welfare work for the Muslims that his literary writing virtually came to a standstill.
The reason for his sincere devotion to Muslim social welfare work was Dalwai’s poor family conditions. The factors of poverty, lack of health, ignorance, casteism and polygamy of Mulsim men were all reflected in his own family. For example, at the age of eleven when he entered the Sevadal on the background of India’s independence, Muslim League was established in his town under the leadership of his father. In those days, he personally experienced the agony of hardships like his father beating him for singing ‘Vandemataram,’ the suffering he had to face due to four marriages of his father and tuberculosis claiming the lives of his family members.
Thinking that laws had to be modified if terrible conditions of Muslim women had to be altered, he led a Muslim women’s morcha to the Council Hall in Mumbai on 18 April 1966. This event proved the beginning of the Muslim movement that prospered later on. Dalwai sincerely believed that the poor conditions of Muslim women could improve if man-woman equality was brought about in the community. The focal point of his ideology was the analysis in worldly terms of Islam and historical traditions of Islam. He analysed and interpreted the experience of his extensive tour of India and presented his well-crafted ideology before the people.
Though Hamid Dalwai was influenced by Ram Manohar Lohia, Jaiprakash Narayan and Mahatma Gandhi, he had an independent personality of his own. From time to time, he earnestly appealed to political parties in India not to make humble appeals to Muslims. According to him, it indirectly fostered emphasis on communal separatism in Muslims.
He believed that religion and politics have been confused amongst Indian Muslims. He wanted to attack it and expected to separate the two. He used his life, speech and writing for that purpose. He believed in the value of secularism that went beyond the concept of religion and accepted the equality of all religions and belief in this life. This was as important to him as were modern and international principles of freedom, equality, brotherhood, justice and faith in rational and scientific attitude. He insisted that secularism should become a part and parcel of social and cultural life of Muslim community.
In order that his role and attitude should take root in the society, he established Indian Secular Society along with Prof. A.B. Shah in 1968. He worked under its auspices for two years. However, he got disillusioned because no other Muslim turned to embrace it. Yet, without getting disheartened, he continued to appeal to people through lectures and writings in newspapers and magazines. Able to muster support from some Muslims, he established the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal in Pune on 22 March 1970.
In order to help him get workers, he got support from contemporary social reformers like Bhai Vaidya, Dr. Baba Adhav, Yadunath Thatte and Prof. G.P. Pradhan. In order to foster the movement, he organised the All India Forward looking Muslim Conference at New Delhi, Maharashtra Rajya Muslim Mahila Parishad at Pune, Muslim Samajik Parishad at Mumbai and the Muslim Shikshan Parishad at Kolhapur.
In this connection, he wrote extensively in Marathi and English newspapers like Secularist, Quest, Times of India, Indian Express, Maharashtra Times, Maratha and Sadhana. In addition, he also wrote books on the subject titled Muslim Jatiyteche Swarup: Karane ani Upay, Islamche Bhartiya Chitra and Muslim Politics in Secular India. The last mentioned title was translated into Marathi as Rashtriya Ekatmata ani Bhartiya Musalman and was published by Sadhana. He was able to devote hardly 11 years for the Muslim Satyashodhak Movement.
Even during those 11 years, he suffered from serious kidney trouble. When he was a little better, he travelled in Europe and America. He was able to understand the Muslim mind at the international level. After his return, his health deteriorated further. A convict named Phiroz Daruwala, who had received capital punishment, gave him his kidney. That helped Dalwai work for social cause again. However, the same ailment took his life on 3 May 1977 when he was hardly 45.
He was an atheist. Owing to his role as a non-believer, he wanted his body to be cremated, not buried, after his death. This declaration turned out to be controversial in that some people from his community refused to accept him as a Muslim. Really speaking, he had just expressed a personal choice. Being a true believer in democracy, he always respected the faith and multiculturalism of other people.
His criticism of Muslim politics had angered the narrow minded community leaders. They started a campaign to damage his reputation by calling him an enemy of Islam, kafir and agent of the Hindus. Not only was he threatened but he was physically attacked. After his death, when municipalities and corporations in Maharashtra arranged meetings to pay homage to him, the Muslim councillors opposed it.
The analysis and interpretation of Islam and the politics of Muslim community by Hamid Dalwai was revolutionary. In this sense, he was the first revolutionary social thinker in the Muslim world. His social analysis and work for the transformation of his people has given a new dimension to the subject. His thought-provoking writing has emphasized modern, secular and democratic values. His earlier literary writing has reflected the poverty, ignorance, casteism, gender disparity of society and the serious issues it had created.
This piece was first published in www.uniquefeatures.in and has been republished here with permission.
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