Abadi Bano Begum, popularly known as ‘Bi Amma’ set an exemplary precedent for all women in general and Muslim women in particular as she shattered the stereotypes associated with a traditional ‘orthodox’ Muslim woman. She is a lesser-known freedom fighter who left no stone unturned as she took part in the nation’s freedom struggle, contributed to ensure Hindu-Muslim unity, and participated in the Khilafat movement. She was also the mother of the great freedom fighters Muhamamd Ali Jauhar and Shaukat Ali popularly known as Ali Brothers.
Bi Amma was born in 1850 into a nationalist family of Rampur. She suffered the trauma of 1857 revolt which ignited a strong desire within her to see her country be free of the British rule. Bi Amma was a courageous and intelligent woman. Widowed at a young age, she shouldered the responsibility of raising her children with utmost sincerity and dignity.
An Advocate For Her Sons’ Education
In the book, Eight Lives: A Study of the Hindu-Muslim Encounter, Rajmohan Gandhi writes how the young widow dressed her children in humble material and raised them on simple food and the Prophet’s sayings. But she ensured the kids attended English-medium schools. When their uncle refused to shell money for their education stating that he would have no part in turning the boys into infidels, Bi Amma pawned her jewellery with the help of her neighbour’s maid.
Despite having no formal education, Bi Amma fought valiantly for her sons’ modern English education. Maulana Muhammad Ali, after completing his graduation from Aligarh Muslim University, went to Lincoln College Oxford, England, in 1898 to study Modern History. On his return, he joined the Baroda Civil Service and served there for seven years.
Her Role In The Freedom Struggle
She played an important part in fundraising for the Khilafat movement and the Indian independence movement. When both her sons were put in jail, she addressed a large gathering on their behalf and gave a moving speech. It was in fact the first time that a Muslim woman was recorded to have addressed a political gathering wearing a burqa. This bold woman toured the country and addressed large gatherings of people.
In 1917, she joined the agitation to help release Annie Besant and her two sons from prison. It was at this time that Mahatma Gandhi spoke to her about gathering the support of women in the freedom movement. Considering Gandhi’s advice, Bi Amma took active part in Khilafat movement and the freedom movement and encouraged many women to play greater participatory role in the freedom movement.
Once when the rumour spread that Mohammad Ali would be released from jail after amnesty, she said, “Mohammad Ali can’t even think about begging forgiveness from the British. If he does so then my old hands have enough strength to strangle him.”
Even as the struggle for Independence continued, the words that she once spoke to her son, Maulana Mohammad Ali, which he later penned, continued to resound across India.
“Boleen Amma Muhammad Ali se
Jaan Baita Khilafat Pai De do”
(So spoke the mother of Muhammad Ali
My son, lay down your life for the sake of Khilafat)
In Rakhahari Chatterji’s book, Gandhi and the Ali Brothers: Biography of a Friendship, Maulana Mohammad Jouhar talks about Bi Amma. He said, “Suffice it to say that, although she was practically illiterate, I have, in all experience, of men of all sorts of types, come across none that I could call wiser and certainly that was more truly godly and spiritual than our mother.”
Her Role In Khadi And Swadeshi
Bi Amma collected funds and organised meetings of Indian women to tell them about the struggle and the importance of shunning the foreign goods.
During the Khilafat and Non-cooperation movement, Bi Amma collected funds and organised meetings of Indian women to tell them about the struggle and the importance of shunning the foreign goods. Along with Begum Hasrat Mohani, the wife of Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, Basanti Devi, and Sarojini Naidu as her main companions she continued contributing to the campaign. She addressed gatherings and encouraged people to donate for Tilak Swaraj Fund which was set up by Bal Gangadhar Tilak for the Indian freedom struggle.
Bi Amma once cautioned, “Countrymen! Give up the way of life of these foreigners. Stick to the traditional way of life of your ancestors. Serve not these foreigners, nor accept honours from them because these people are very crafty and fraudulent.”
— Turkish Embassy in Islamabad (@TrEmbIslamabad) August 14, 2016
A Progressive Thinker
She was a progressive thinker who gave importance to modern English education in a time where English education was compared to infidelity. She practised strict purdah all her life but when nationalist movement got momentum and her sons along with Mahatma Gandhi were imprisoned, she broke the restriction placed on women and urged them to come out with her in large numbers to support freedom movement. Although she did not have any formal education, she was deeply convinced of the advantages of acquiring modern education for the Muslims of the sub-continent.
She was one of the protagonists of the Hindu-Muslim unity and campaigned hard for communal harmony.
In the words of Kuldip Nayar, “It is painful that so far Bi Amma’s contribution has been neglected by our educational system and it is the need of the hour that a book be written and taught in schools and colleges. He added that her speech in Lahore during the Khilafat movement reflected her commitment towards pluralism and the language she used was no less than a piece of literature.”
Bi Amma instilled courage and confidence in the hearts of people. In 1924, Bi Amma passed away leaving behind her legacy of strength and pluralism. She was one of the protagonists of the Hindu-Muslim unity during the freedom struggle and campaigned hard for communal harmony preaching that communal harmony is imperative to win freedom. She called Hindus and Muslims “the two eyes of India” and worked tirelessly for amity between the two communities.