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Jamia Millia and Mahatma Gandhi: A Walk into History Lanes

Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib's statue at the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi

Nation celebrated 151st birth anniversary of Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi earlier this month. Jamia Millia Islamia will celebrate its 100th Foundation Day next week. Young journalist and Jamia alumnus Afroz Alam Sahil has penned a book ‘Jamia aur Gandhi’ highlighting the little-known aspects of the strong connection between Jamia and Gandhi.



Gandhi’s Youngest Son Devdas Gandhi Would Teach at Jamia 90 Years Ago 

Mumtaz Alam | Inclusive India

New Delhi, October 23 Jamia Millia Islamia was formed on October 29, 1920 in Aligarh during the Khilafat Movement (1919–24). It was run in rented accommodation till 1925 in Aligarh. The institution was shifted to Karol Bagh area in Delhi in 1925 and remained there till 1938 when it was shifted to Okhla area in Delhi. In this period of 13 years, Jamia faced several crises, including massive financial crisis.

Several people studying abroad returned to India in 1926 to serve Jamia, including Dr. Zakir Husain, Dr. Abid Husain and Dr. Mohammad Mujeeb who were then studying in Germany. They held doctorate degrees but agreed to serve Jamia on honorary amount as low as Rs 80 (for Dr. Zakir Husain).

Mahatma Gandhi, who was attending foundation meetings of Jamia since the beginning in Aligarh, also played important role in building the institution. He even sent his youngest son Devdas Gandhi to teach at Jamia when it was shifted to Delhi.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi had four sons – Hiralal Gandhi, Manilal Gandhi, Ramdas Gandhi and Devdas Gandhi – and one adopted daughter Laxmi.

In his research book, Afroz Alam Sahil, who is also a renowned RTI activist, has quoted from several letters and published articles of Mahatma Gandhi and noted that Devdas would teach Hindi at Jamia when it was at Karol Bagh. Devdas would also train students for cotton spinning.

Gandhiji mentioned about it in a letter to Prabhu Das Gandhi on April 8, 1928. “From Devdas’ letter it appears he is doing good work at Jamia.”

In his letter dated April 10, 1928 from Satyagraha Ashram to his son Manilal Gandhi and daughter-in-law Sushila Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “Devdas is teaching cotton spinning etc at Jamia Millia.”

He mentioned about it in his letter dated August 25, 1928 to Chaganlal Joshi and on August 31, 1928 to Vasumati Pandit.

Gandhi wrote a letter to Kanti on July 9, 1934 and talked about his further education. “If you want to take admission in Jamia, it can be done. You will get subject of your choice there and you will also come in contact with Muslim students.”

Gandhi’s grandson Rasik, who had gone to Jamia to help Devdas, died there after illness.

In an article in Young India on February 21, 1929, Gandhi wrote: “I thank those who have sent condolences to me on the demise of my grandson. Rasik was 17 years old. But he was taught to become servant of the nation since childhood. He was intelligent, progressive and ambitious. All along, he had got expertise in cotton spinning and he had gone to Delhi to help my son Devdas who is teaching Hindi and cotton spinning at Jamia Millia. Rasik’s death has helped me come closer to Muslims. Devdas told me that Rasik’s Muslim friends were very kind to him. Dr Ansari (Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari) did not only take care of him as a good physician but had also showered on him his love like father. Principal and teachers of Jamia also did not spare anything in his care. I express my gratitude to all of them with respect. And I thank Dr Sharma of Tibbya College, nurses and a number of Hindu friends who helped Devdas in care of Rasik. If Devdas had not got help from his loving and serving Hindu and Muslim friends, then he had got broken in treatment and long period of unconsciousness of his lovely Rasik.”

In another article published in Navjivan on February 24, 1929, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “My youngest son Devdas is working at Delhi’s Jamia Milia. He is teaching Hindi and cotton spinning to students there. Four months back, he had called for my grandsons Naveen and Rasik to Delhi for carpentry. Both are doing beautiful service there. The Muslim brothers of Jamia did not spare anything in his service. Those Hindu brothers who got information about his illness they also worked day and night in his care. I am indebted to all of them.”

Devdas Gandhi had three sons – Rajmohan Gandhi, Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Ramchandra Gandhi. All are renowned academicians and intellectuals. Rajmohan Gandhi is presently research professor at Centre for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois in the US. Gopalkrishna Gandhi is also an eminent writer. He is senior fellow, Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University. He was governor of West Bengal (2004-2009) and officiated as governor of Bihar in 2006. Ramchandra Gandhi died in 2007.

Afroz Alam Sahil

Throwing light on the relations between Gandhi and Jamia, Afroz Alam Sahil told Inclusive India: “Gandhi was personally involved in the formation of Jamia. It was part of the Khilafat Movement in which Gandhiji was also playing a leading role. Khilafat Movement led to Non-Cooperation Movement. Gandhiji wanted to maintain and strengthen Hindu-Muslim unity during the movement. Gandhiji was taking Jamia in that perspective.

Sahil further said: “Along with other stalwarts like Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Hakim Ajmal Khan and others, Gandhiji was also playing a key role in the formation of Jamia.”

‘Jamia aur Gandhi’

In the preface of his book “Gandhi and Jamia” Afroz Sahil writes: “While studying in Jamia, I came to know that Mahatma Gandhi had very close relations with this institution. But at the same, it was pitiable that this historical relations between Gandhi and Jamia is going away from the knowledge and understanding of the common people.”

Mahatma Gandhi also played important role in preparation of the syllabus of Jamia Millia. This topic will be touched in Part 2 of this series.