Forgotten Martyrs of Kala Pani

After the failed uprising against British Empire in 1857, Muslim Ulema were butchered en masse. Historians write ‘From Kabul to Delhi’ charred bodies and dead corpses were found hanging from trees. Not one of them begged for mercy.

After the failed uprising against British Empire in 1857, Muslim Ulema were butchered en masse. Historians write ‘From Kabul to Delhi’ charred bodies and handed corpses were found hanging from trees. Not one of them begged for mercy.

It was only an accident through which I ended up reading this book. I had heard of many heart-wrenching narrations of ferocious battles, often times from those who survived to tell the story. In whose memory the days and nights of exile and starvation still, reigns with trauma and lacerations.

Yet their sagas skim through slaughter and tyranny with mundane aloofness. Their firmness and conviction in the nobility of their cause won them enemies among foes and kin. This all seemed to be of trivial importance to them.

This book written by such an unsung hero to whom and many others like him, we owe our gratitude for saving us the faith in Islam. The rock wall that took the blows of missionary indoctrination, colonizing oppression and treason of traitors to themselves and saved us from becoming South America. A force that spared us the atheism that was forced upon Japan after its subjugation. Legions of the pious who shielded us from the spiritual emptiness of indigenous tribes of Maori, Cherokee, and Zulu, their faith lost to ‘civilizing’ white invaders.

1863 was a deadly year for English forces in India. Battle in Ambela turned out to be a quagmire for English troops. With all the resources it had at its disposal, the circle was tightening against the raiding forces in the border region of Punjab and Afghanistan where the battle was being fought.

Women, children, and civilians wore shrouds and attacked the English. Outnumbered, hungry and untrained they fought with hysteric valor and courage. For two months they competed with one another over English heads. 7000 died in these battles leaving General Chamberlain himself badly injured. The English were defeated.

What little these patriotic warriors had, came from many who were well off. Among them was the writer of this book ‘Kala Pani’, Maulana Jafar Thaniseeri. Man in his blooming youth exuded charismat and stunning wisdom. Known for his wealth, beauty, and erudition, it was his money that funneled to these fighters whose only hope was aid from outside. It was only a matter of time when a turncoat ratted him out and he was arrested for treason. With handcuffs on his wrists, as he arrived at the court hall, people rose up to honor him, every white and brown soul present.

Although, severely beaten he stood firm. His brother was forced, in a Nazi fashion, to testify against him, which he did as tears brimmed in his eyes, recounted by Maulana Jafar as tears from a man stricken by guilt and grief.

He held him in no contempt for that. This had to be done, not for him but for many innocent women and children who would be victimized otherwise. A sacrifice had to be made. One of the foster children he was feeding was beaten to death anyways for not agreeing to testify against his surrogate father.

Capital punishment was decreed. Hall went silent as the Judge spoke. ‘You are known for your jurisprudence, wisdom, and strength. You are the learned among gentiles. You possess wealth and yet you choose to renegade against this Empire that brought you civilization, fed your children and draped the finest of the clothes over you. Don’t you feel ashamed’?

Kala Pani Martyrs

Many weak-hearted changed loyalties in the face of persecution but he wasn’t among them. He accepted death and was narrated it with the joy, for the unholy and lowly, it was delirious. As police took him to prison they noticed he was ecstatic. His estates were usurped, wealth dispossessed and family displaced. Nothing mattered.

English and locals flooded the street to catch a glimpse of this fearless youth stepping into jaws of mortality.

Time had more tests for him, however. He was to be exiled instead because his death would sow the seeds of revolution in a weakening nation again. His blood would rejuvenate the campaign. Brutally tortured in the jail, women folk harassed, and impoverished to extinction he took all with amazing grace.

Clad in iron and steel, he was driven hundreds of mile to Karachi where many freedom fighters would board a ship to the Andaman Islands, known as Kala Pani, a penal colony of the British Empire in the Bay of Bengal. Notorious for its remoteness and hardships.

He recounts, “It took us, 11 months from after being convicted to finish the long sea journey. Some died on-board, others would never see their children and country again.”

As he chronicled his interactions with indigenous tribes on the Island, their religion, customs and the weather his gratitude for a new life is startling. A 27-year old heroic man separated from all the amenities in the world was dressed in tatters and made to do clerical work for his colonizers in an Island. from where only God knows he’d come out or not, thanked for a new life and bounties of Allah.

He married again, begot children, remained chaste amidst English Bacchanalia and corrupt officers and sent money back home. He learned to speak fluent English and was held in high esteem even among his captives.

Andaman Islands

He had to fight the Hindus to slaughter the cow for Eid, survived the conniving schemes of his jealous colleagues and defended the tag of ‘Wahabbism’, a doctrine with literally no precedence in Islamic tradition, coined by the English to identify people who had deep affiliations with Islam.

Time went on as his eventual release was ordered. His last wish was not hoarding all the wealth he could use back home to build a better life for him, at least as good as this one but to make a mosque for the ones who remained behind. Commissioner wouldn’t have it and intervened the process. He boarded the ship home in wistful sadness.

On 13th 1883, 20 years later, he arrived in his home town, Thaniseer, after a long and wearing travel. His town was devastated by the English. The population remained one-seventh of what it was. He stood and stared at the house he built with much love and attachment, now belonging to someone else.

He begged the current owner to let him have a look at something that belonged to him once. The man burst into tears and took him inside. Tides of tempestuous memories misted everyone’s eyes.

English hated him. He was to be observed regularly. It was hard to find him a job when hiring him clearly meant the wrath of English. Help came from an unexpected place. An English colonel, Temple would fight his case in court for years and eventually get him a good job in another state. He ends his story in these words:

“Do not take my account, for a narrative of a civil disobedience proceeding, but a sign from the tidings of Allah and lesson for the wise as it goes in Quran. لَقَدْ كَانَ فِي قَصَصِهِمْ عِبْرَةٌ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَاب


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Lahore Times.

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