(Sufi Amba Prasad’s 100th martyrdom day falls on 21 January 2017)
On the morning of 21st January, 1917, ‘Sufi’ Amba Prasad, then in the captivity of “ The East Persia Cordon” of the British Indian Army, under the command of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer stationed at Shiraz in Iran was to face the firing squad. The previous day, his compatriot Kedar Nath Sondhi had faced the same on his way to martyrdom. As the dawn broke, the guards opened the door of the condemned cell, they found Sufi Amba Prasad sitting calm and motionless, in “deep Meditation”. Even when called out, he did not move. The curious English guard then tried to shake and wake him up for the day and face his fate but the motionless Sufi just slumped on to his side. True to the word given to his compatriots, he had attained martyrdom while in deep meditation, and not on the “British gallows” or “of a British bullet”.
Sufi Amba Parsad’ was born in 1858 in Moradabad. He was the sixth out of the seven sons and a daughter of Sh Gobind Prasad Bhatnagar of Mohalla Kanoongoan in Moradabad. Due to a genetic disorder he was born without his right hand. He was of a short stature and very witty . He often used to joke that in his previous life he lost his hand while fighting against the British in 1857 war of independence but at the time of his rebirth God forgot to restore it. He passed his matriculation from Moradabad and then shifted to Bareilly where he passed FA and graduated in Law. Highly proficient in Hindi, Urdu, Persian and English languages, he however chose to become a journalist. He got married however his wife died within two years of their marriage. This personal tragedy turned him towards spiritualism and he came under the influence of a Sufi mystic Syed Mohammad Hussain of Moradabad. He soon mastered its philosophical aspects and adopted it as a way of life. The powerful journalist in him however always focussed him upon the miseries of the people under the British rule. Those were the terrible times of Bengal Famine. The eternal rebel in him was nudging him towards a life long struggle for the empowerment of his people against tyranny.
In 1887 he established his own printing press in Moradabad and brought out a paper “Sitara e Hind”. In 1890 he started another paper named Jami-ul-Uloom. He was highly critical of the policies of the colonial government. Hindu-Muslim unity was another of his passions. Due to this he faced continuous persecution at the hands of the British government. In 1897 he was jailed for 18 month in Moradabad Jail on charges of sedition. However the fury of his writings against the atrocities of the British Government remained unabated and he was again jailed in 1901 for seven years on the charges of sedition and forgery.
After his release from Moradabad jail in early 1907, he came to Lahore and briefly joined a news paper “Hindustan”. Punjab at that time was rife with agitation popularly known as Pagri Sambhal Jatta Movement. Sardar Ajit Singh (Uncle of Shaheed Bhagat Singh ) along with his brothers Kishan Singh and Swaran Singh , Lal Chand Falak , Mehta Nand Kishore ,Ishwari Prasad and others was organizing people against the newly introduced laws affecting the rights of the peasantry and enhanced revenue rates. He joined them in Anjuman-i- Mohiban-i-watan and Bharat Mata Society and started editing the paper “Bharat Mata”. He also wrote for another paper “India” published from Gujranwala by Lala Pindi Dass.
Sardar Ajit Singh and Lala lajpat Rai were arrested and deported to Mandalay in Burma in May 1907. Sufi Amba Prasad along with Sardar Kishan Singh and Mehta Anand Kishore escaped to Nepal.
Soon, fearing unrest among the high number of Punjabi soldiers in the British-Indian Army, all the bills against rights of peasantry of Punjab and enhanced revenue rates were withdrawn and Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh were released from Mandalay in Nov 1907. On the return of Ajit Singh, Sufi Sahib again became very active and vigorously continued his revolutionary activities. However the government was now being even more repressive towards the revolutionaries. Therefore in August 1909 Sardar Ajit Singh and Sufi Amba Prasad along with Rishikesh Letha Thakar Das Dhuri and Zia ul Haq left for Iran. There they established contacts with the Iranian revolutionaries in the city of Bushier. Later on it was decided that it would be more useful and safe to be stationed in Shiraz. This courageous escape to Iran has been very vividly described by S. Ajit Singh in his memoirs “Buried Alive”.
Sufi Amba Prasad stayed on in Shiraz till his end. While others left for different destinations in other countries to coordinate the revolutionary activities of Indian expatriates.
Because of his proficiency in Persian language and Sufi leanings he blended very well with the Iranian milieu of that time. He closely collaborated with the Iranian revolutionaries. He started a newspaper “HAYAT” which targeted British imperialism and Anglo Russian belligerence in Iran. He also founded a school with modern curriculum in Shiraz and served as its Principal. He wrote and published a book “Mohibaan-e-Wattan” there. A Sufi Society “Anjuman e Sufiah” in Shiraz was founded by him. He was popularly addressed as Agha Sufi-ye Hindi or by his Iranian aliases ‘ Mohammad Hoseyn Sufi; and Mohammad Hoseyn “Khadem e Shari’ati” etc. etc.
Beginning of World War I in 1914 rejuvenated the activities of the Indian revolutionaries abroad under the influence of the Hindustan Ghadar Party supported by the German government. The Ghadarites apart from their activities in Canada and America also began to organize the Indian prisoners of war in Turkey, Germany, Mesopotamia, and the Middle East. It is here that the “Indian Independence” Army was organized under the leadership of Sufi Amba Prasad to invade British India from Iran. He was joined by Kedar Nath, Rishi Kesh Letha and Amin Chaudhry. This army of the Ghadarites starting from Shiraz attacked the frontier city of Karman and arrested the British Counsel and turned Karman into its base of operations. They soon chased out the British from Siestan and Karamshir area of Baluchistan. Advancing towards Karachi they took over the coastal towns of Gawader and Dawar in Balochistan. However just then the war in Europe took a turn for the better for the British. Turkey was defeated and Baghdad came under British control, thereby cutting support to the Ghadar army, which finally led to its defeat. They retreated to regroup in Shiraz. The British attacked Shiraz. The Ghadar army fought very bravely but was defeated and slaughtered. Their leaders Sufi Amba Prasad along with Kedar Nath Sondhi were captured alive and were ordered to face the firing squad.
The body of Sufi Amba Prasad was buried in Shiraz near the mausoleum of the famous Persian Poet-Philosopher Sheikh Saadi. The remaining Ghadarites carried on guerrilla warfare along with the Iranian partisans but when the Iranian patriots were defeated, they left Iran in 1919. Sardar Ajit Singh, in his biography “Buried Alive” writes writing about his long association with Sufi Amba Prasad thus concludes, “One day, I hope Indians would bring his tomb or at least his remains here”……….
- Writer is Director, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Study Center (A UGC funded project under the scheme “Epoch Making Social Thinkers of India”) Arya College, Ludhiana. (www.facebook.com/sbsscaryacollegeludhiana)