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Remembering Poet-Revolutionary Ashfaqullah Khan On His 119th Birth Anniversary

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Today is freedom fighter Shaheed Ashfaqullah Khan’s 119th birth anniversary. The poet-revolutionary made me realise how the seed of revolution often takes birth in poems, ideas and sacrifices. It’s been an overwhelming morning with me going back in time while reading about Ashfaq and our freedom struggle. In times when we have been taught to respect fear more than our dire need for language, it becomes necessary to remember how language, poems and ideas paved the path for freedom.

Our silence will not save us; we’re all going to die in the end. I wonder if Ashfaqullah or Bismil used to think on the same lines when they chose death over giving up on their fight for freedom. I want to write about Ashfaq today because I don’t think there will be a time when he will be more relevant to our society or our country than now.

We all know about Kakori train loot, the dialogue “Bas itna batana tha ki Bismil ka sandesh hai, 27 ko Lucknow se Lahore jaane waali train, jisme angrezon ka paisa jaata hai, usse hum Kakori mein lootenge… Aur phir unn paison se hathiyar khareedenge.” is like a poem fresh in our minds.

Once the revolutionaries got hold of the treasury box in the Kakori train loot, they hammered it to open time and again, but in vain. Ashfaqulla Khan single-handedly ran towards the box and had struck it with a blow finally widening its opening. The thundering metallic noise echoed all over the place where the train stopped. I imagine the sound of that blow and wonder if Ashfaq in that moment of tangible action inspired by the ideas of his own poems, found another poem about a revolution in that echo.

Ashfaqullah Khan was a mureed (disciple) of Ram Prasad Bismil and later his closest friend in life and death. Both were captured by the British and asked to testify against each other. A Muslim soldier of the British cavalry was appointed to influence Ashfaq into speaking up agianst Ram Prasad Bismil by convincing him that Ram was a Hindu and sought freedom for a nation only for Hindus, and Muslims were better off with Britishers. A similar treatment was meted out to Ram Prasad Bismil as well.

They were tortured in the worst ways one could think of—ways one cannot write about, but they didn’t give up. They didn’t write mercy petitions; they just smiled and sang their poems till the very end. Their poems turned into fervid lava and strengthened their will; they never gave up on each other, or their fight for the freedom of their country. Imagine finding such solace in the poems and songs of resistance that every torture, every blow on your naked skin, every pain turns to dust in front of it. And you sail through the ocean of pain on the bard of your poems into the horizon of sacrifice, as the sun reflects the heat of Inquilab.

It is said that they (Britishers) had to keep Bismil and Ashfaq in cells far away from each other because they’d sing “Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai, dekhna hai zor kitna baazu-e-katil mein hai” and hear each other’s voices and then laugh triumphantly in the face of atrocities. This irritated and broke the will of their oppressors. They chose each other and their fight for freedom and were hanged in the end, and happily so, after the trial for the Kakori rail dacoity. Ashfaqulla Khan along with Ram Prasad Bismil, Rajendra Lahiri and Roshan were given death sentences.

The six-feet tall Ashfaqulla Khan went up to the pole bravely like a lion and kissed the rope stating, “My hands are not soiled with the murder of man. The charge against me is false. God will give me justice.” Then he prayed “La ilahi il Allah, Mohammed Ur Rasool Allah.” (There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.) Ashfaqullah Khan and Ram Prasad Bismil were the founding stones of India as they served as the perfect examples of Hindu-Muslim unity and united fight against injustice.

Six days back, the Ayodhya jail administration banned the public from Ashfaqullah Memorial. In today’s day and age when our nation is plagued by religious bigotry, oppression and manipulation of history, promoting false idols, I wish oh so profusely that I could tell the story of Ashfaq and Bismil to every kid of this nation. So that they would know the sacrifices it took for us as a nation to have something so precious: a unity in diversity, that transcends caste and creed and is plastered in the idea of freedom for every single person. The idea of speaking up, the idea of speaking out against injustice, come what may, and how those in power are insistent on destroying every bit of it.

“किये थे काम हमने भी जो कुछ भी हमसे बन पाये,ये बातें तब की हैं आज़ाद थे और था शबाब अपना;
मगर अब तो जो कुछ भी हैं उम्मीदें बस वो तुमसे हैं,जबाँ तुम हो लबे-बाम आ चुका है आफताब अपना.”

-शहीद अशफ़ाक़ उल्ला खान

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