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Not to be forgotten

A peek into the role of Urdu journalism in the freedom struggle

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1857 Revolt at the Red Fort

Pig’s fat was rubbed all over his body and then he was hanged till death. Mirza Bedaar Bakht, grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar, was punished for bringing out a newspaper in Urdu, Payaam-e-Azaadi. The British government was af raid of the rebellions Urdu newspapers had the potential to produce. And so the barbarism continued, claiming Maulvi Mohammad Baaqar, editor, Dehli Urdu Akhbar, who was shot dead on September 16, 1857. So, Baaqar was the first Indian journalist to sacrifice his life for the nation.

“And we don’t even acknowledge such freedom fighters, their sacrifices and the role of Urdu journalism in the freedom struggle, in particular the First War of Independence in 1857,” feels Masoom Moradabadi, Secretary, All India Urdu Editors’ Conference. This concern led him to carry out a yearlong painstaking research to write “Urdu Sahafat aur Jang-e-Azaadi 1857” which was released by the Vice-President, Hamid Ansari at his residence, recently.

Kuldip Nayar was the guest of honour. He recalled the times of Partition, talked of harmony and unity among the Hindus and Muslims, of journalism and objectivity. Professor Qamar Rais, Vice Chairman, Urdu Academy, who presided over the function, was all praise for the author for the revelations in his book and the depth of his research.

The Vice President said, “This book focuses on the emotional aspects. And in my personal opinion, it adds to the history of 1857 which I believe has not been completely written. Why Urdu journalism is unable to create the same impact today is a matter of concern and while newspapers in all other languages have a wider reach, what is it that the Urdu newspapers lack?”

The first one

The book is the first in the subcontinent that explores the role of Urdu newspapers in the freedom struggle. “I had personally gone and met relatives of Maulvi Baaqar for firsthand information and then of course referred to 45 other books, including the first ever book written on Urdu journalism by Akhtar Shahenshahi that was published in 1888.”

The author pointed out, “One interesting thing I found during my research and have included in the book, is the fatwa signed by 35 ulemas of the time which encouraged people to fight against the system saying ‘jihad (struggle) against the British empire is a part of our imaan (faith)’. There were so many who sacrificed their lives and many who risked their life and property by starting newspapers and other anti-government publications, numbering more than 35, (prominent names listed include Dehli Urdu Akhbar, Sadiqul Akhbar, Payaame Azadi, Tilism, Risala Bhaghawate Hind, Sehar Samri ) that were oppressed under the Gagging Act and left to only 12 by the end of the year 1857.”

The English newspapers of the time were largely pro-establishment. However the research proves that out of all the Urdu newspapers that were published, only a single one by the name of Kohinoor, published from Lahore, got the government’s support and lasted 50 years. The paper, managed by Lala Jagat Narain and property of Harsukh Rai, called the Indian revolutionaries mufsid. They did produce and train generations of journalists, the research reveals.

Considering his work to be the gist of his study and service to Urdu journalism, Moradabadi, who is also a member of the Joint Advisory Committee, Doordarshan and AIR, and editor of Jadid Khabar and Khabardar, has finally found some satisfaction after the publication of his research work and believes others would take it to more readers through translation into Hindi and English.


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