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Islam and the Media ( 29 March 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Tribute to the First Martyr of Urdu Journalism Maulvi Mohammad Baqar

Delhi Urdu Akhbar Founded By Maulvi Mohammad Baqar Was the Pioneer in Modern Urdu Journalism

Main Points:

1.    Maulvi Baqar was killed by the British for his nationalist views.

2.    Maulvi Baqar was known for neutral reporting.

3.    Maulvi Mohammad Baqar was the first to do Spot reporting.


New Age Islam Staff Writer

29 March 2022


[A sketch of Maulvi Baqir’s execution. He and other scholars were tied to canons and were publicly blown away]


Although Urdu journalism in India started with the weekly Urdu newspaper Jam-e-Jahan Numa of Calcutta in March 1822, the Urdu journalism took its distinct shape with the publication of Delhi Urdu Akhbar in 1838. Jam-e-Jahan Numa was more of a cultural and literary Urdu magazine and did not publish content on politics or current affairs. Its circulation was also not wide because till that time Persian was the official language and Urdu readership was not high.

Delhi Urdu Akhbar was launched in 1838 after Urdu was granted the status of official language in 1834 and Urdu gradually became the language of the masses as well as of the elite.

Delhi Urdu Akhbar, founded and edited by Maulvi Mohammad Baqar was the first Urdu newspaper in the real sense. It published news of political happenings and analytical repoting on current affairs. The period in which Delhi Urdu Akhbar was being published was a critical phase in the history of India. The strength and influence of the British was increasing and the power and authority of the Mughal Empire was witnessing a downslide.

Maulvi Mohammad Baqar, therefore, published a newspaper when writing or speaking against the British could invite trouble. Still as a nationalist and a staunch Muslim he was not afraid to call a spade a spade. He published reports of both the policies of the British government and also of the happenings inside the Mughal Durbar.

Delhi Urdu Akhbar's pages give a reliable account of the social and political affairs and conditions of the time. On the one hand, the newspaper criticises the imposition of new taxes by the British government and on the other, it gives an account of the hardships it causes to the masses and the new problems it creates for the Mughal Durbar. We know from the reports published in the paper that due to extra financial burden caused by the new taxes, the salaries of the staff of the Mughal Durbar were pending.

Maulvi Mohammad Baqar's journalistic insight made the Delhi Urdu Akhbar a reliable source of news and the government and the elite followed the newspaper keenly.

From this newspaper the readers also become aware of the cultural and literary atmosphere of the period. Interestingly, two great poets of Urdu, Mirza Ghalib and Ibrahim Zauq lived during the period in Delhi. The literary rivalry and duels between Zauq and Ghalib are well known to the Urdu literary circle. Zauq was a close friend of Maulvi Mohammad Baqar and so he enjoyed the advantage of his closeness to Maulvi Baqar. Delhi Urdu Akhbar often published news, Ghazals and reports about Zauq presenting him in good light often in exaggeration. But Ghalib was often presented in poor light and sometimes flaws and errors in his ghazals were pointed out. It was in this newspaper that the news of his arrest for gambling was published. Zauq must have rejoiced at this report of his rival.

Maulvi Mohamnad Baqar was born in an Iranian religious Shia family in 1790. His father Maulvi Mohammad Akbar was himself a religious scholar and ran a Shia madrasa. Maulvi Mohammad Baqar was also an educated liberal person. He had received his education from Delhi College and later became a teacher at his alma mater and taught English along with religious subjects.

He was known for his knowledge of Shia jurisprudence but did not have sectarian bias against the Sunnis. He did not approve of Tabarra which made him unpopular among a section of conservative Shias. Therefore, Another Shia scholar Jafar Ali issued a fatwa against him and a call for his boycott against him was published. The differences of opinion between Maulvi Mohammad Baqar and Jafar Ali on some other religious issues became so severe that the Shias of Delhi became divided in two groups. One group was known as Baqaria and the other was known as Jafaria.

To keep away his son Mohammad Hussain Azad (who later became an Urdu writer and critic in his own right) from the sectarian bias, he later assigned him to a Sunni teacher.

When Maulvi Mohammad Baqar launched his Urdu newspaper and set up his own press, he kept his newspaper and press away from sectarian beliefs. In fact he published Shah Abdul Qadir's first Urdu translation of the Quran in his own press though Shah Abdul Qadir was Shah Waliullah's son and a Sunni. He also published books of Hindu religion in his press.

When the revolt of 1857 broke out, Maulvi Muhammad Baqar's newspaper took active part against the British. News of fighting and killing of British officers and advances of the freedom fighters were published fearlessly. The fatwas of jihad issued by ulama against the British were also published boldly. Speeches and messages of Mughal emperor and other leaders were also published regularly. Maulvi Baqar also introduced the genre of spot reporting. He would move about in the streets and write reports of rebellion. Actually, Maulvi Baqar was so much convinced of the victory of the Indians that he did not have any fear of the British while reporting against them..

But the revolt was crushed and the British dealt with the freedom fighters very ruthlessly. Thousands of freedom fighters were hanged and killed. Newspaper offices were burnt and all their copies were burnt. Ulema were either hanged or shot dead. There was a reign of terror in Delhi. People would be picked up at the slightest suspicion on being a participant in the revolt and hanged. During that period there was an informer named Kaley Khan on whose information many freedom fighters were hanged or shot. Probably, Sarai Kaley Khan is named after him.

The British also arrested Maulvi Muhammad Baqar on the charge of the killing of Principal Taylor (of Delhi College) who had been Maulvi Baqar 's student. During the revolt when Indian's were killing British officers, Principal Taylor had taken shelter at his house. But when he thought that the freedom fighters would catch him there too, he left Maulvi Baqar's house in disguise but was recognised and killed by freedom fighters. He was killed on 12 May 1857. On 16th September 1857, the British government held Maulvi Baqar responsible for or accomplice in the murder of Principal Taylor. He was shot dead instantly.

He died but left behind him the legacy of nationalism and patriotism. His contributions to the freedom movement of India and to the growth of Urdu journalism has been itched in gold.


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