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Asim Bihari, the icon of Pasmanda movement who liked to stay in the background

Asim Bihari always looked at electoral politics as a shortcut to quick success and considered it more appropriate to give priority to generating social awareness.

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Asim Bihari was born in a patriotic family of Khasganj, Bihar Sharif, which is adjacent to the ancient Nalanda University, a famous site of knowledge. His grandfather Maulana Abdur Rahman was the flag-bearer, in this region, during the 1857 Gadar Revolution. Asim Bihari’s real name was Ali Hussain.

Bihari had to migrate to Kolkata in search of livelihood and it is from there that he started his struggle. He established a study center called Darul Muzakra by forming a team of his fellow beedi workers, where writing and narrating articles on the issues related to nation and society and discussing them was part of daily routine.

At the age of 22, Asim Bihari started a ‘five-year plan’ (1912–1917) for adult education. In 1914, at a young age of 24, he founded an organisation named Bazm-e-Adab (literary council) in his native place at Nalanda. A library was also operated under the aegis of this organisation.

After the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, leaders such as Lala Lajpat Rai, Maulana Azad etc. were arrested. In order to aid in the efforts to get them released, Bihari launched a nationwide correspondence protest. As part of this protest, around 1.5 lakh letters and telegrams were sent from every district, town, locality, village, countryside across India, to even Queen Victoria and to the Viceroy of India. Eventually, this campaign proved to be successful after the leaders were released.

In 1920, he formed another organisation called ‘Jamiatul Momineen’ (Momin Conference) at Tanti Bagh, Kolkata, whose first session was held on 10 March 1920. In April 1921, he started the tradition of a wall paper called Alamomin. Under this endeavor, articles were written on big size papers and pasted on the wall. From 1923 onwards, this ‘wall paper’ started to be published as a magazine with the same name.

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Declined help from Mahatma Gandhi

On 10 December 1921, a convention was organised at Tantibagh, Kolkata in which Mahatma Gandhi also participated.

At that meet, Mahatma Gandhi proposed to donate a large sum of Rs 1 lakh to the organisation, albeit with certain conditions imposed by the Congress party. But Asim thought it more prudent to keep the organisation immune from any kind of political pressures, so he refused to accept the sum, something the organisation desperately needed.

In the beginning of 1922, Asim Bihari set out on a tour of villages, towns and cities all over India with an intention of giving his organisation an all India appeal. This tour started from Bihar itself. After about six months of touring, a state-level conference was organised at Nalanda on 3-4 June 1922.

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Passion to bring society into the mainstream

A local meeting of the organisation (Jamiatul Mominen) was organised on 9 July 1923 at Madrasa Moinul Islam, Sohdih, Bihar Sharif, District Nalanda, Bihar. On the same day, Asim Bihari’s son Kamaruddin, whose age was only six months and 19 days, passed away. But his passion to bring the society into the mainstream was such that he left the side of his beloved deceased son and reached the meeting venue. There, he delivered about an hour-long very impressive speech on the condition and direction of the society.

In August 1924, the foundation of a core committee called Majlis-e-Misaq was laid for the special training of a select few dedicated people. On 6 July 1925, Majlis-e-Misak started publishing a fortnightly magazine called Al Ikram. In 1926, Daruttarabiyat (Training School) started a network of educational institutions and libraries.

On 26 July 1927, the Bihar Weavers Association was formed with the help of the Cooperative Society, which was an organisation of the government of India. It was formed with an aim to organise and strengthen the weaving work, and its branches were opened in several other cities, including Kolkata.

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Approaching other states after Bihar

After consolidating the organisational work in Bihar in 1927, Asim Bihari moved to UP. He toured Gorakhpur, Banaras, Allahabad, Moradabad, Lakhimpur-Kheri and other districts. After UP, he also raised the organisation in the areas of Delhi and Punjab.

On 18 April 1928, the first All India level conference was organised at a grand scale in Kolkata, in which thousands of people participated.

The second All India Conference was held at Allahabad in March 1929, the third one in October 1931 at Delhi, the fourth one was at Lahore, the fifth was held in November 1932 at Gaya.

During the Gaya conference, the women’s wing of the organisation also came into existence. Khalida Khatoon, Jaitoon Asghar, Begum Moina Ghaus, among others were prominent names of the women’s wing. Apart from this, Momin Naujawan Conference was also established for students and youth; along with it, the Momin Scout was also marching ahead.

Thus the organisation spread its wings in Mumbai, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Chennai and even in Sri Lanka and Burma (Mayanmar), and Jamiatul Mominen (Momin Conference) ascended from All India level to become an international organisation. A weekly magazine named Momin Gazette also started being published from Kanpur.

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Contribution to Pasmanda community

Within the organisation, Asim Bihari always preferred to keep himself in the background and tried to promote others. He never held the post of the president of the organisation, and confined himself to the post of the general secretary only.

From the very beginning, it was a constant endeavor of Bihari that apart from the weavers, other Pasmanda castes should also be made aware, and organised. On 16 November 1930, he proposed to form a joint political party of all the Pasmanda castes named Muslim Labor Federation with a pre-condition that the social movement of the parent organisation was not be affected.

On 17 October 1931, a joint organisation, Board of Muslim Vocational and Industry Classes — based on the organisations of all the Pasmanda castes of that time — was established and Bihari was unanimously appointed as its patron.

He always looked at electoral politics as a shortcut to quick success and considered it more appropriate to give priority to the tasks of social awareness. Nevertheless, in the elections of 1936-37, several workers from the party emerged victorious on many seats.

In electoral politics, Bihari adopted the policy of maintaining equidistance from both the Congress and the Muslim League. In a speech, he had said: ‘The cure to our illness is neither in the hands of the League nor it is with the Congress… The truth of the matter is that the only available cure of our illness is in our own hands, this cure is our ‘conference (organisation).’

Usually, Maulana Asim Bihari’s speeches used to last between two to three hours, but the five-hour speech delivered at Kannauj on 13 September 1938 and the night-long speech at Kolkata on 25 October 1934 have special place in history.

Maulana Asim also played an active role in the Quit India Movement.

In 1940, he organised a huge protest in Delhi against Partition in which about 40,000 Pasmandas had participated. In the elections of 1946 too, candidates of Jamiatul Mominen (Momin Conference) succeeded in giving a tough fight to the Muslim League on several seats.

Rebuilding Pasmanda society after partition

Once the storm of Partition settled down in 1947, Bihari worked hard to rebuild the Pasmanda society.  He ensured to get the ‘Momin Gazette’ re-published from Allahabad and Bihar Sharif.

Amid all this, Maulana’s deteriorating health had started to affect his work and tours. When he reached Allahabad, there was hardly any strength left in him. Despite such condition, he engrossed himself in preparations for the conference of UP State Jamiatul Mominen.

On 6 December 1953, Asim Bihari passed away due to a heart attack.

Asim Bihari’s struggles and activism had a wide spread. He was born in Bihar; started the movement from Kolkata, and took his last breath in Allahabad.

(Reference: Banda-e-Momin ka haath – Prof. Ahmed Sajjad, 2011, Research and Publication Division Markaz-e-Adab-v-Science, Ranchi)

Dr Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie is a writer, translator, columnist, media panellist, social worker, and physician by profession. Views are personal. 

This article has been translated from Hindi by Ram Lal Khanna and edited by Anurag Chaubey. Read the original article in Hindi here

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