We talk about Jallianwala Bagh, but forget to remember Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew. Who always stood firmly on the principles of freedom, religious unity, non-violence and unity of India. Kitchlew was at the forefront of the protests against the Rowlatt Act. He was uniting people of all religions against the harsh law in Amritsar, due to which he had to go to jail. It was because of his arrest that people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh. Today this hero of freedom struggle is lost somewhere in the pages of history.
Dr. Kitchlew, a barrister by profession, was greatly influenced by one of his fellow freedom fighters, Dr. Satya Pal. At his behest, he agreed to take part in a strike. The idea of doing something for the country had already flourished in his mind, but the real beginning of implementing that thinking started from here. He called upon the people to put aside their business and participate in non-violent satyagraha against the colonial rulers.
His appeal against the Act created an enthusiasm among the people of Punjab. When a public meeting was held on 30 March 1919, it was attended by about 30,000 people. In this public meeting, he had said, “I am reading and narrating the message of Mahatma Gandhi to you. All citizens have to be ready to oppose this law. It does not mean that this holy city or the country should be covered in blood. Resistance should be done in a peaceful manner and with patience. Do not use bitter words in relation to any policeman or anti-national, which is likely to hurt them or disturb the peace.
The Rowlatt Act, passed by the Imperial Legislative Council, gave the colonial administration the power to censor the press at will, arrest people without warrants, and detain them without evidence.
Dr. Kitchlu and Dr. Satya Pal were opposing this act. During the protests, both of them were engaged in promoting the spirit of religious unity among the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of Amritsar. During an anti-government procession in Amritsar on 9 April 1919, slogans of ‘Kitchlu ji ki jai’ and ‘Satyapal ji ki jai’ were raised. Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew became the face of that protest. People from different religious communities had gathered here to celebrate Ram Navami.
Punjabi poet Nanak Singh was a direct witness to the public meetings in Amritsar and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He mentioned in his poem ‘Khooni Vaisakhi’ how Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were celebrating the same festival together, drinking water from the same glass and eating food on the same plate. After this massacre, he writes of how Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs walked side by side, describing the funeral processions.
Bullets fired on people opposing the arrest
The Ram Navami celebrations showed the people of Amritsar that if these communities put aside their differences, it would not be difficult to challenge the British rule. Communal harmony had emerged in the country and at the same time the anger of the people against the implementation of Rowlatt Act was increasing. In view of this, the British arrested Kitchlu and Satya Pal on 10 April and sent them to Dharamsala.
Because of their arrest, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim protesters came together to start a mass meeting at Jallianwala Bagh. In order to “disperse” the crowd at this gathering, General Reginald Dyer and his soldiers massacred hundreds of protesters on 13 April 1919. It was the same incident, which is known today as the ‘Jallianwala Bagh Massacre’. Dr Kitchlew was finally released from prison in December 1919.
Dr. Kitchlew’s grandson, F. Z. Kitchloo, in his book Freedom Fighter – The Story of Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew, mentions that day, “As soon as Kitchloo came out of jail, a huge crowd gathered in Amritsar. People took out a historic procession across the city, carrying Kitchlu on their shoulders.
were greatly influenced by the French Revolution
Dr. Kitchlew was born on 15 January 1888 in Amritsar, Punjab to Azizuddin Kitchlew, a Kashmiri businessman. His mother’s name was Dan Bibi. Kitchlew was brought up with great pride. His father used to do business of embroidered pashmina shawls and saffron.
He did his studies from the University of Cambridge, England. Then went to Germany to do PhD. After his studies, he returned to Amritsar to practice law. But the spirit of patriotism started smoldering in him during his Cambridge days. He started contemplating on the issues that India was facing due to the colonial rule.
He also joined the Majlis, a debate club in Cambridge. Indian students had gathered here to discuss the many evils of British rule. It was through this debate club that he met fellow freedom fighters and future Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
F. Z. Kitchlew writes, “It was Cambridge where socialist ideas began to take place within Kitchlew… He was greatly influenced by the French Revolution. He read many books on these subjects. There was a kind of enthusiasm in them for nationalism and freedom movements.
After returning to India, Kitchlew became deeply involved in the ideology of Gandhi and his rapidly growing freedom struggle. For this he also gave up his law practice.
Kitchlew’s Declaration laid the foundation for the ‘Civil Disobedience Movement’
Apart from participation in the freedom struggle, Kitchlew also played an important role in the Khilafat Movement. He was made the head of the ‘All India Khilafat Committee’. He was a supporter of Pan-Islamism and engaged in spreading this ideology. Pan-Islamism wanted all Muslims of India to recognize the Caliph of Turkey as their leader. But once Turkey formed a government on secular lines, the movement collapsed in India and was followed by communal riots across the country.
Recognizing the outcome of the Khilafat movement, Kitchlew once again devoted himself entirely to nationalism inspired by religious unity. This was the time when religious discrimination was increasing in the country. He believed that Hindus, Muslims and people of other religions would have to come together if India was to get rid of colonial rule.
Dr. Kitchloo, a supporter of Poorna Swaraj, was the chairman of the reception committee of the Indian National Congress session in Lahore. There, he declared complete independence from the British (Purna Swaraj) on 26 January 1930. Later this declaration laid the foundation of the Civil Disobedience Movement and furthered the freedom struggle.
was refused to go to Pakistan
F. Z. Kitchlew writes, “He was of the view that Indian independence could be achieved only through India’s own efforts. According to him, the history of the countries that became independent tells us that self-reliance, self-sacrifice and suffering are the only way to freedom.
Only a country that is not divided on communal lines can walk on this “road of freedom”. For this reason he strongly opposed the partition. He felt that such a move would harm Muslims both politically and economically. He called Partition “the surrender of nationalism to communalism”.
During Partition communal tension was at its peak, even during that time Dr. Kitchlew continued to play an active role in spreading goodwill in the country. He had to pay a heavy price for this work. When other Muslims left for Pakistan, they refused to go there and decided to stay back in Amritsar. But in 1947, rioters burnt down his four-storey house in the city and the family-owned Kitchlew Hosiery Factory and he was forced to move to Delhi with his family.
Spent 14 years of life in prison
A few years after partition and independence, he left the Indian National Congress and joined the Communist Party of India. He spent his last years in Delhi establishing close relations between the Government of India and the USSR. For his efforts, the USSR awarded him the Stalin Peace Prize (later to be called the Lenin Peace Prize) in 1952 and the Government of India inducted him into the ‘Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust’.
He spent a total of 14 years in jail in the Indian freedom struggle. He was also an educationist. He played an important role in the establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia University. He was one of the few prominent Congressmen to lend his support to the ‘Naujawan Bharat Sabha’, an organization of great freedom fighter Bhagat Singh in 1926.
He died on 9 October 1963. After his death, Nehru had said, “I have lost a very dear friend, who was a brave and determined captain in the struggle for India’s independence.”
Dr. Kichlu remained on the ideology of Akhand Bharat and his principles till his last time.
Original article: Rinchen Norbu Wangchuck
Editing: Archana Dubey
Also read: Bipin Chandra Pal: Know about the warrior who did not hesitate to criticize Gandhiji
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