Silk Letter Movement : A freedom struggle woven in silk
The freedom struggle of independent India is a glorious amalgamation of various national and regional campaigns, revolts and extensive efforts which played an important role in connecting the masses for an ultimate goal of demolishing the colonial British Empire.
Reshmi Rumal Tehreek or The Silk Letter Movement (1913-1920)was one such effort by Deobandi Leaders to topple the British Empire , in other words to smother the British Rule with silken fabric.
After the revolt of 1857, the Muslim leaders changed their strategy of resistance by setting up educational institutions across the country.
This was done to raise leaders and freedom fighters who could lock horns with the British government and combat their disastrous colonial policies.
One such institute was Darul Uloom Deobandh(1866) produced Ulemas (leaders) like Maulana Mahmood Hassan (popularly known as Sheikh ul Hind), Mohammed Mian Mansoor Ansari who became the pioneer of this Movement.
The Silk Letter Movement or Tehreek-e-Reshmi Rumal got its name because the confidential information exchange between Shaikh ul Hind and other Deobandi leaders were written on pieces of silken clothes.
The letters contained strategies, information related to arms and ammunition,plans to recruits volunteers and how to train them for the cause. A large number of youth joined the Movement and it gained momentum.
This Movement wasn’t just a gathering of like minded activists, it was a full fledged arm movement with international support and sponsors.
Anti British countries like Turkey, Afghanistan, Russia, Imperial Germany supported the cause by providing the much needed funds, arms and ammunition.
Key leaders of Silk letter movement were Maulana Mahmud Hasan, Maulana Husain Ahmed Madni, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, Maulana Shah Raheem, Muhammad Mian Mansoor Ansari.
This movement was very secular despite being led by Ulema. A hindu Maharaja was appointed the president in exile in Kabul. Another Hindu leader was the war minister. Maulana Barkatullah Bhopali was the Prime Minister and Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi was Home Minister. The movement lasted for almost seven years.
Despite being a well crafted plan, it leaked before execution. In other words, the silk was losing its tensile strength.
Maulan Ubaidullah Sindhi wrote a letter to Sheikh Ul Hind in Saudi Arabia. It contained details of his activities for the movement in Kabul and future plans for the same. These letters written in Urdu were dispatched but unfortunately on the way in the British Ruled Multan, these letters reached in the hands of Rabb Nawaz,the Magistrate of Multan which he passed to the British Commisioner.
Three yellow silk letters, sewn in lining of coat,written in ornamental urdu font were confiscated.
At first the British Authority did not know what to make of them . The Commissioner of Multan mocked it as “childish rot” but upon investigation the letters revealed such details and plots against the British that the Commissioner had to swallow his words.
In span of few months, the colonial offices produced thousand pages of analysis from mere three letters.
Two of the letters written by Ubaidullah Sindhi detailed his activities in Kabul in gathering financial support from Britain’s First World War enemies and securing arm supplies.
But with the arrest all the efforts went kaput. How such blunder occurred no one could explain.
Having intercepted the letters,the British made swift arrest of many key plotters. 222 leaders were arrested and faced tough interrogations, intimidation and torture.
Maulana Mahmud Hassan was moved from Mecca to Cairo and after interrogation was sent to Malta. Officials avoided his imprisonment in india fearing arousal of anti-British sentiments.
Maulana Mahmud Hasan and his comrades Maulana Waheed Ahmed,Hakeem Syed Nusrat Hussain and Maulana Husain Ahmed Nadwi were sent to Malta by ship on 21 Feb 1917 and clamped in prison for 3 years and 4 months. However Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi and Mian Mansoor remained several years in exile.
When Shaikh ul Hind returned to India from Malta received a rousing welcome in the country. He was instrumental in establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia and the University main gate is named after him (Mahmud Hasan Gate)
Mahatma Gandhi led freedom movement got widespread acceptability when Maulana Mahmud Hasan issued Fatwa asking muslims to support Gandhi ji. After his Fatwa,a large number of muslims, especially the Ulemas supported and participated in the freedom movement with full devotion.
Silk Letter Movement was perhaps deliberately forgotten and buried in heaps of prejudice. It finds no place in school history textbooks appears sometime as tricky question in UPSC exams.
On January 11, 2013, former President of India, Shree Pranab Mukherjee released a commemorative stamp on Silk Letter Movement. Speaking on the occasion, the President said that the sacrifices of individuals and groups, such as those associated with the Silk Letter Movement, constitute a glorious chapter of India’s history of Freedom struggle and need to be acknowledged and appreciated. The President said that he is happy that the Department of Posts has done its bit over the years and has issued postage stamps to acknowledge the contribution of various groups and movements which in their own ways contributed to the overall effort to liberate India as it truly reflects the multi-cultural and multi-faceted dimension of the freedom struggle.
Ambreen Fatima: MBA Finance Graduate with a sweet tooth for literature, history and all that underrated. Part time content writer, full time caregiver.