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Abul Kalam Azad – The man behind Quit India movement

India is currently celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement. Very few people are aware the instrumental role played by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was the Congress President, in organizing the Quit India Movement. Azad, travelled across India meeting Leaders from Congress Party and galvanizing grass root activists. On August 7th 1942 at the Gowalia Tank in Mumbai he gave a vociferous speech asking the British to quit India. This was the start of the Quit India Movement. The movement was brutally suppressed by arresting the entire leadership of the Congress Party.

Azad was born in Mecca in a scholarly family which had thousands of disciples. At a very young age, he had begun to master languages like Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Bengali, Arabic and English. He could be called as a childhood prodigy. An avid and determined student, the precocious Azad was running a library, a reading room, a debating society before he was twelve, wanted to write on the life of Ghazali at twelve, was contributing learned articles to Makhzan (A literary magazine) at fourteen,was teaching a class of students, most of whom were twice his age, when he was merely fifteen and succeeded in completing the traditional course of study at the young age of sixteen, nine years ahead of his contemporaries, and brought out a magazine at the same age.

In fact, in the field of journalism, he was publishing a poetical journal (Nairang-e-Aalam) and was already an editor of a weekly (Al-Misbah), in 1900, at the age of twelve and, in 1903, brought out a monthly journal, Lissan-us-Sidq, which soon gained popularity. At the age of thirteen, he was married to a young Muslim girl, Zulaikha Begum. Azad compiled many treatises interpreting the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the principles of Fiqh and Kalam.

Though Kalam’s education shaped to him becoming a cleric, he veered towards politics and journalism. He went on to start a urdu weekly called Al-Hilal. His publications were aimed at encouraging young muslims to fight for Independence and for Hindu-Muslim unity. After Independence, he became India’s first Education Minister. He was instrumental in setting up the Indian Institute of Technology as well as the University Grants Commission. He continued to be the Minister of Education until his death in 1958 aged 69.

His birthday on November 11th is celebrated as National Education Day. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1992. In popular culture his role has been enacted by Veerendra Razdan in the biopic Gandhi which was released in 1982. The march which Azad leads and gets brutually beaten up, in the movie refers to the nationalist raid on the Dharasana Salt Works to protest against salt tax and restriction of production and sale of Salt.

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