Swami Shraddhanand was actively engaged in the shuddhi movement across North India. The purpose of this movement was to bring back various sections of Hindus who had converted to Islam and Christianity by force and with the promise of rice and shelter. The derogatory term ‘rice bag convert’ came into existence when poor Hindus deprived of their land, house and belongings by the Portuguese (working on the order of The Vatican) were forced to convert to Christianity for a bag of rice.
Under the oppressive rule of successive Muslim invaders starting from Mahmud of Ghazni, many Hindus especially the poorer sections were forced to convert to Islam out of fear and compulsion. Though, their ancestors were devout Hindus but were forced to give up their faith, the descendants were keen on returning to the fold and their ancestral roots.
Swami was deeply committed to the cause of the untouchables but the communal Muslims involved in the ill-fated Khilafat movement and Christians were unhappy with the gaining momentum of the shuddhi movement. Even the Indian National Congress was not in support of this movement as it put them on the defensive for their anti-Hindu activities and sentiments.
Though Swami appealed to Mr. Gandhi and the Indian National Congress to support the shuddhi movement and untouchability, their response to the upliftment of the depressed classes was watery at best. Swami was however undeterred and in the early months of 1923, set off to the western United Provinces.
Swami conferred with the locals and social reformists to help the Malkana Rajputs who were largely Hindu but had adopted several Islamic practices for reasons best known to them. They had settled down in Mathura, Agra, Mainpuri, Etah and surrounding areas. The official census had put them down as Muslims.
The Muslims were angered by the decision of Swami and the social groups to reconvert those Malkana Rajputs who were eager to reclaim their ancestry. The Muslims of these areas united to prevent the shuddhi movement as they were determined to have more people under their name in the official surveys and census.
Several Muslim clerics raised slogans and collected funds to combat the rising popularity of the shuddhi movement especially with regard to the Malkana Rajputs. From 1919 right up to 1926, the Muslims fought tooth and nail against the shuddhi movement which ultimately resulted in the assassination of Swami.
On 23 December 1926, Swami Shraddhanand had returned from a long trip and was resting in his residence at Naya Bazar in Delhi. He had suffered a nasty attack of bronchial pneumonia and was asked to convalesce. Close to 4 p.m., a Muslim man knocked on the door and insisted on having a word with Swami.
The attendant, Dharam Singh, explained that Swami was ill and was resting but the man refused to listen and demanded a minute of Swami’s time. The raised voices reached the ears of Swami, who asked his attendant to send the man inside.
The attendant left the room to get a glass of water giving the unwanted guest ample time to put his plan into action. The man whipped out his revolver and fired two rounds at point-blank range. The attendant came running on hearing the shots and managed to overpower the assassin named Abdul Rashid and called the police. However, the pious man who had dedicated his entire life to the upliftment of the economically and socially backward classes was dead by then.
On 24 December 1926, Mr. Gandhi addressed the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting in Gauhati, “From Swami Shraddhanand’s point of view, what has happened may be called a blessed event. He had been ill. I had not been aware of it, but a friend told me that it would be a miracle if Swamiji survived. You see, he was a brave man. He had no fear of death for he had faith in God. There is nothing to be wondered at that he was killed.
Today it is a Mussalman who has murdered a Hindu. We should not be surprised if a Hindu killed a Mussalman. God forbid that this should happen but what else can one expect when we cannot control our tongue or our pen? I must, however, say that if any Hindu imitated this act he would only bring disgrace to Hinduism. Let us pray to God that we may understand the real meaning of this assassination. Let the Hindus remain peaceful and refrain from seeking revenge for this murder. Let them not think that the two communities are now enemies of each other and that unity is no longer possible. If they do, they will be committing a crime and bringing disgrace upon their religions.”
Mr. Gandhi went on to refer to Abdul Rashid as a ‘dear brother’ and managed to ruffle the feathers of the crowd. Mr. Gandhi made more comments on this on 26 December 1926, “Brother Abdul Rashid was shown in. I purposely call him brother, and if we are true Hindus you will understand why I call him so. Swamiji asked his servant to admit Abdul Rashid, because God had willed to show there through the greatness of Swamiji and the glory of Hinduism.
The murder has been possible because the two communities look upon each other with feelings of hatred and enmity. Let every Mussalman also understand that Swami Shraddhanandji was no enemy of Islam, that his was a pure and unsullied life, and that he has left for us all the lesson of peace written in his blood.
You will all be accepting this resolution standing while, at this moment perhaps, there are Hindu-Muslim disturbances going on in Delhi. But I tell you that, if every one of you understands and lays to his heart the lesson that Swami Shraddhanandji has left for us, it is again possible to win swaraj in no time. I am a mad man, you will say, accustomed to giving rash promises.
Well, I tell you I am not mad, I am still as much in earnest about my programme as I was in 1920, but those who made pledges in 1920 broke them and made swaraj impossible then. We are all children of the same Father—whom the Hindu and the Mussalman and the Christian know by different names.
Now you will, perhaps, understand why I have called Abdul Rashid a brother, and I repeat it, I do not even regard him as guilty of Swami’s murder. Guilty, indeed, are all those who excited feelings of hatred against one another. For us Hindus, the Gita enjoins on us the lesson of equality; we are to cherish the same feelings towards a learned Brahmin as towards a Chandal, a dog, a cow and an elephant.
This is no occasion for mourning or tears; it is an occasion that should burn in our hearts the lesson of bravery. Bravery is not the exclusive quality of the Kshatriyas. It may be their special privilege. But, in our battle for swaraj, bravery is essential as much for the Brahmin and the Vaisya and the Sudra as for the Kshatriya.
Let us not therefore shed tears of sorrow, but chasten our hearts and steel them with some of the fire and faith that were Shraddhanandji’s.”
Mr. Gandhi wrote in Young India on 30 December 1926. “I wish to plead for Abdul Rashid. I do not know who he is. It does not matter to me what prompted the deed. The fault is ours.
The newspaper man has become a walking plague. He spreads the contagion of lies and calumnies. He exhausts the foul vocabulary of his dialect, and injects his virus into the unsuspecting, and often receptive minds of his readers.
Leaders ‘intoxicated with the exuberance of their own language’ have not known to put a curb upon their tongues or pens. Secret and insidious propaganda has done its dark and horrible work, unchecked and unabashed. It is, therefore, we the educated and the semi-educated class that are responsible for the hot fever, which possessed Abdul Rashid.
It is unnecessary to discriminate and apportion the blame between the rival parties. Where both are to blame, who can arbitrate with golden scales and fix the exact ratio of blame? It is no part of self-defence to tell lies or exaggerate. Swamiji was great enough to warrant the hope that his blood may wash us of our guilt, cleanse our hearts and cement these two mighty divisions of the human family.”
Nathuram Godse was 16 years of age, an impressionable age indeed.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about Nathuram Vinayak Godse is taken from archives