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HomeIndiaSatyashodhak Revolutionary: Remembering Hamid Dalwai on his 88th birth anniversary

Satyashodhak Revolutionary: Remembering Hamid Dalwai on his 88th birth anniversary

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Dr. Suresh Khairnar By Dr. Suresh Khairnar New Delhi: How does one make sense of a still-nascent democracy that has been rapidly hijacked by majoritarian chauvinists, forcing its minorities into siege-like conditions; a situation where social, economic, and political predicaments continue to feed upon and strengthen each other in a noxious symbiosis, while those who struggle are at a loss on how to find their way out of this imbroglio? It is a crucial challenge of our times to understand how the RSS can be prevented from using problems within the Muslim community to vilify them and use these as means to push its toxic Hindutva agenda, while at the same time, encouraging the urgent need for societal reforms which is thwarted by external threats that minorities in India undeniably face today.
Table of contents Life of Hamid Dalwai Political transformation of India Socialist activist RSS Language Pan-Islamist orthodoxies Muslim reformists Life of Hamid Dalwai The short-lived but immensely meaningful life of Hamid Dalwai might provide some clues to these questions, and it is only fitting to remember Hamid bhai on his 88th Birth anniversary and to ruminate about the man, his invaluable work, how he would have perceived today’s India, and what we might learn from his courageous efforts in the 1970s when the country was in the midst of a similar political upheaval. Hamid bhai spearheaded the cause of radical reforms within the Muslim community, specifically the arbitrary practice of teen-talaq, and the question of the communalization of the Urdu language, which sought to impose upon the Indian Muslim a monolithic and essentializing cultural identity. It is these very issues that have been hijacked by the RSS today to serve its virulent communal agenda. Hamid bhai had even argued for a uniform secular civil code at the time, which ironically, the RSS chief, MS Golwalkar had been staunchly opposed to.
Unfortunately, before he had had an opportunity to live out his life, Hamid Dalwai passed away due to kidney disease on 3rd May 1977. Yet, in a short lifespan of merely 45 years, he had dedicated nearly 25 years to promoting social reforms, even endangering his life on several occasions with little thought for his own well-being. Inspired by the work and ideals of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and the reforms carried out by Kemal Ataturk Pasha after assuming power in Turkey, Dalwai led the struggle for societal reforms within and outside India’s Muslim community. There have been very few reformers like him in the 1500-year long history of Islam.
Hamid Dalwai was born in a small village called Chiplun in Maharashtra’s Konkan region, which was also the birthplace of another stalwart social reformer, Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar. At 14 years of age, Hamid joined the Rashtra Seva Dal, a nascent organization that had been formed only five years prior. In that impressionable age, he was exposed to the values of democratic socialism, secularism, scientific temper, and nationalism which would go on to guide him in his journey. While in the lifespan of an organization, it has several members, there are usually only a few who are truly able to pursue the path of their conviction and ideals, and Hamid was one of those few.
Political transformation of India Hamid’s teenage years witnessed the political transformation of India from a colonized nation to an independent state, and the several struggles of nation-building that accompanied its political independence. The period, when Hamid was about 15 years old, also saw the horrific humanitarian crisis engendered by the partition, which had resulted from the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British colonialists – of promoting the Muslim League on the one hand and the RSS on the other. The partition brought with it widespread bloodshed and displacement of millions of people, and also left a deep wedge between Hindus and the Muslims, leading to Gandhi’s martyrdom in its wake. I feel a shiver run down my spine when I imagine how tumultuous a period it might have been for the innocent and impressionable Hamid Dalwai. The communal pulls and pressures and deep-seated hatred had made it difficult for most Indians to continue to believe in the innate humanity and goodness of the ‘other’; perhaps Dalwai’s induction into the Rashtra Seva Dal helped him to continue to have faith in the ideals of secularism even in the face of the unprecedented barbarity that prevailed all around. It is important to remember that one’s worldviews and faith in being liberal, secular and anti-caste depends to a large extent on the prevailing milieu. Personally, I believe that even I might have been influenced by the RSS and even been its functionary, had I not encountered the Seva Dal when I was 13-14 years of age; my favorite school teacher who taught me Geography had been relentless in trying to persuade me to join the RSS.

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