A few days ago, during a debate held to commemorate the 107 birth anniversary of Prem Nath Bazaz, his son-in-law said Bazaz had the distinction of publishing the first newspaper from Srinagar. The newspaper titled Vetasta was launched by Bazaz before 1930. He was corrected by one of the participants who said the first paper titled Al Rafiq was launched by Abdul Salam Rafiqui in 1896.
The newspaper was printed at Tuhfa Kashmir Press owned by Harmukh Prasad. The newspaper caused a stir in the Dogra regime. The second issue was as strong as the first one. The Dogra rulers could not take more of it. Consequently, the newspaper and the printing press were confiscated. Rafiqui was forced to leave the state.
Another session of Anglo Oriental Conference was held in 1901. By then, Maharaja Partap Singh had also become its member. He saw his seat much behind Abdul Salam Rafiqui. He felt insulted and impressed upon the British rulers to persecute him.
Salam was arrested and imprisoned in Calcutta. He was, however, released unconditionally at Rangoon in 1903. It took Rafiqui some time to settle down in the alien land. He resumed publication of “Al Rafiq” from Rangoon and launched a campaign against British rulers and the persecution of Muslims by the Dogra rulers in Kashmir. The newspaper was printed at Nizami Press Badayan and published from Rangoon. As they say a newspaper is incomplete without a printing press, Salam established his own printing press in 1909. Rafiqui would occasionally publish pamphlets and posters to highlight the plight of Indians and Kashmiris.
While in Rangoon, Rafiqui located the graves of last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zaffar and his queen. He wrote to the authorities seeking repair and maintenance of the graves. The proposal was first accepted by the authorities. However, for unknown reasons, the authorities backed out of their promise. He appealed to the people who donated money and the graves were rebuilt.
Salam wrote three letters to the British government and demanded self-rule for Indians on the Australian model. This alarmed the British government and he was arrested and put on trial. While in prison, his lawyer informed him that he might be awarded death sentence. He escaped from the jail on May 12, 1912 and reached Batavia (now Jakarta), the then capital of Dutch colony. The British government requested the Dutch authorities to repatriate Salam. He was arrested but his lawyer pleaded that he had not violated any law of the land and had obtained valid permission to settle in the Dutch territory. The Dutch governor general after hearing the arguments ordered his release. He even accorded political asylum to Salam. He was, however, ordered to leave Jakarta and settle down in Timur. The British government sent an agent to Timur to keep strict vigil on the activities of Rafiqui. The agent, CM Pilliat, performed the job till Rafiqui’s death.
There was a public park at Dalhousie. A signboard with humiliating words – “Dogs and Indians not allowed” – at the entrance of the park caught his attention one day and he felt insulted. He removed the board and broke it into pieces. He was arrested and punished. Salam became the basic member of the All India Anglo Oriental Educational Conference of Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan of Aligarh and strived for the upliftment of the Muslims.
Rafiqui has the distinction of persuading Mirwaiz Rasool Shah to launch the Anjuman-e-Nusrat-ul-Islam. The organization was launched in 1899 but Rafiqui was not around to attend the inaugural function.
After 15 years of exile, Rafiqui wished to come to his homeland. The permission was granted by the British on conditions that he would not indulge in politics. He asked the authorities to draw a line between religion and politics. The British government refused and the permission was subsequently withdrawn.
Rafiqui’s wish to return to his homeland and work for the liberation of his Kashmiri brethren did not come true. He passed away on July 2, 1941 at Jakarta and was laid to rest there.
Some aspects of Rafiqui’s personality came to light after 13 years of his death when his grandson Yaqub Rafiqui visited Jakarta in 1952. He met the British agent CM Pilliat who had retired and settled in Jakarta. He willingly answered the questions of Rafiqui’s grandson. He also revealed details about British government’s offer of allowing Salam to visit his homeland. “When the British government sent a ship to bring Rafiqui back to India, he refused saying that British flag should not be hoisted on the ship till he was on board. The condition was rejected by the British government,” he said.
Rafiqui was born in 1879 to a literate family of Fateh Kadal, Srinagar. As per family traditions, Rafiqui got the initial education at home and memorized the whole Quran at the age of nine. At the tender age of 11, he came to be known as Moulvi Abdul Salam Rafiqui.
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