By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Baseenpur is located some 3 kilometres from my ancestral village, in the Azamgarh district in eastern Uttar Pradesh. When I was a child—this was before Independence—there was a red-coloured building there, built in the British style, in the midst of a large farm. It was called Sahib ka Bangla. An Englishman called Mr. Laurie used to live there. He had probably settled there after the First World War. After 1947, he returned to England. The British authorities had given him a large tract of agricultural land in Baseenpur, where his house also stood. As a young boy, I passed by that way often, and I would look at the house. The present occupants have now demolished it and are using the space where it once stood for cultivation.
At that time, there was no road connecting the house. And so, Mr. Laurie would ride his horse from his house to the railway station. His route passed in front of our home. At that time, my family was among the larger landlords of the area. They were also influenced by the movement for India’s independence. They found it against their honour that an Englishman should sit on a horse and ride past their house. And so, they told him that he must desist from doing so. But when he did not listen, one day my relatives stopped him while he was riding on his horse and beat him up. But Mr. Laurie did not take any revenge. The only thing that he did was to change his route to the railway station, although his new route was longer.
I was a young man then, and I took great pride in the fact that my relatives had forced Mr. Laurie to dismount his horse and had beaten him up. But now I think that not only was this inhuman, but it was also utterly foolish.
Mr. Laurie was a member of a progressive community. The way his house was constructed, the principles of agriculture that he employed, his style of living, and even the way he responded to having been insulted and assaulted—there were so many things about him that were worth learning about and from. The most important thing was that he was possibly the only person in the entire area who knew the English language. My family never once thought that they should learn English from him, a language that was, as it were, the door to progress in the modern world.
What was the reason for this? It was because of the hatred for English people that Hindu and Muslim leaders had at that time spread all across the country. At that time, the word ‘English’ had become a symbol of hate among both Hindus and Muslims. In order to further spread and strengthen this hate, the Hindu and Muslim leaders of those times launched movement after movement. They called for people to burn English-made cloth, for instance, and in our village, too, much such cloth went up in flames.
Unfortunately, almost all the enormously influential movements that the Indian subcontinent has witnessed in the last 100 years have been based on hate. Perhaps not a single one of them has been based on love. Hate is man’s most powerful emotion. By stoking hate, very big and powerful movements can come into being and can quickly gather momentum. But such movements provide humanity nothing but destruction and devastation. Movements based on hate make people blind to the abundant goodness and possibilities in the world.
On the other hand, movements based on love are able to discern the positive opportunities that exist even in challenging situations, the goodness that inheres even in so-called ‘enemies’. The movement based on anti-British hatred promoted hatred for the British and for the English language—that is one reason why many Muslims avoided learning English. But a movement based on love would have made a distinction between the two. While considering British political rule undesirable, it would still have recognized the importance of learning the English language and modern forms of knowledge.
Sadly, no major movement based on love was launched in the subcontinent in these last 100 years. That is why despite the numerous angry agitations and movements that we have witnessed, meaningful progress still largely eludes us.