Dr. Rahul A. Shastri, President, Samvit Kendra
Chaturbhuj Srikishen (c. 1884? -1962 CE) was the son of Rai C. Balmukund, a respected judge of the Hyderabad High Court who retired as acting Chief Justice c. 1920. From his maternal side, Rai Balmukund was the great grandson of Raja Mahipat Ram, a freedom fighter of Hyderabad (1807-14) [Mahendra 1997: 59, Sehgal 1997: 180, Shastri 2021].
BACKGROUND & EARLY VIEWS
Rai Balmukund was a jurist, social reformer and educationist. Utilising the prestige of his position and with the support of women of the brahmakshatriya community, he campaigned vigourously against courtly habits of social drinking and mujra entertainment that had begun to corrupt the men-folk. Together with Raja Bansilal, Rai Bachulal, Rai Jagat Narain and Rai Dharmendar Das, he started the Muffidullanam Boy’s School c. 1880s to provide modern education. He was President of the Adi Hindu Social Service League started by Sri Bhagyareddy Verma and supported his educational, temperance and vegetarian movements. Balmukund lived near King Kothi, Hyderabad, and had Aghorenath Chattopadhyay, Principal, Nizam College, as his immediate neighbour and good friend.
Coming from a family of scholars and ascetics, the reformer- educationist-nationalist Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya pioneered female education; helped usher in prohibition of child marriage; formed the ‘Society of the Brotherhood of the Pure (anjuman e akhwan us safa)’ to cultivate social and political consciousness, hosting its meetings at his house; and with Abdul Qayuum and Ramachandra Pillai, sponsored the swadeshi movement in Hyderabad for which he was deported twice from the Nizam’s dominions [Akhtar 2013: p 81 n65; Barooah 2004: 9-10]. Among his children, Sarojini Naidu and the revolutionary Virendranath Chattopadhyaya acquired national renown.
This was the atmosphere that sharpened national consciousness in Srikishen and his outspokenness earned him early renown. As a young student of Nizam College, Srikishen had the habit of walking to the State Central Library for reference work at 6 am daily. This was the time when the British resident Sir David Barr used to take a morning ride in his buggy with his wife. One day, seeing Srikishen walk past, Sir David stopped his buggy and introducing himself as the bada sahib, asked Srikishen to salaam him and his wife. Srikishen replied that he did not know him, but since Sir David knew him, he should have salaamed him himself instead of being so rude.(1) The story went round Hyderabad, gossip adding salt, and Srikishen found himself suddenly famous in 1906 [Srikishen 1954 104-5].
Srikishen’s political and revolutionary views were considerably influenced by Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya’s family, particularly by Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya who together with her brother Virendranath was closely involved with the revolutionary movement, and to whom he was also romantically attached. News of the budding romance soon reached his father’s disapproving ears. For Rai Balmukund marriage within the community was the discharge of a social debt that each man owed to his community. When he came to know of British complaints against subversive activities, he decided to send his son to London to become a Barrister, hoping that distance would cool youthful ardour.
In 1908, Srikishen went to London and registered for the Barrister’s course. Inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s writings, he embarked on an unfinished book project “The Beauties of Hindu Culture” through which he hoped to draw attention to the ‘wisdom of the ancient Hindus’ that combined ‘sublime spiritual idealism of culture’ with a ‘highly efficient structure of society’ and enabled Hindus to survive the cruelty of time and yet keep the ‘lamp of Truth’ burning. He hoped to convince would-be Hindu reformers that “mere mimicry of foreign ideas and idealism will not do” and that “we have to evolve on our own lines” [Srikishen 1952: 4-5, 389-391].
In London Srikishen came into contact with Vinayak Savarkar, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya and others at the India House [Pemmaraju 2021]. Here, he had the “pleasure of working with” Savarkar for “nearly two years”. He testifies in his book:
“Savarkar was the initiator and moving spirit of the revolutionary party that was working in Europe and America. … His character, sincerety, fearlessness and grasp of facts and realities of the situation, and more than that, his love for the motherland, enthused and inspired us all.” [Srikishen 1952: 6]
For his friends in “the Revolutionary Party” he wrote a “complete handbook on ‘The Theory and Methods of Revolution’” and handed it over. It was possibly lost in the movings to and fro that the revolutionaries had to engage in, in order to evade arrest [Srikishen 1952:5 ].
From February 1909, Srikishen started attending India House meetings regularly [Pemmaraju 2021]. He also assisted Virendranath Chattopadhyaya in the clandestine publication of Talwar, a revolutionary paper from London. One day, the revolutionaries were tipped off about an impending search of the premises by Scotland Yard. Taking advantage of the fact that unsanctioned searches could not be conducted by the police, the budding Barristers Srikishen and G.C.Varma helped Virendranath Chattopadhyaya to take copies of the paper out of the house. They carried the copies all through London, visiting friends under constant police surveillance, and returned only after the search was over to their house [Srikishen 1952: 92].
Things took a radical turn after July 1, 1909 when Madanlal Dhingra shot Lord Curzon Willie dead at Craxton Hall. Srikishen decided to “dive into the picture” [Srikishen 1952:4 ]. He is said to have escorted Savarkar to Somerset for convalescence [Pemmaraju 2021]. Here Savarkar spontaneously composed “saagara praana talamalalaa” on the Brighton Beach, in the company of Niranjan Pal. On January 5, 1910, Savarkar left for Paris, seen off by Barr. G.C. Varma and others [Sampath 2019]. The ‘others’ may have included Srikishen.
On February 20, 1910, Srikishen presided over a meeting at the house of VVS Aiyar where it was decided that political assassinations were to continue [Pemmaraju 2021]. This crucial decision came on the heels of the Jackson assassination in Nashik on December 21, 1909 [Sampath 2019]. In March, Srikishen addressed a meeting of the revolutionaries on Mazzini, the Italian revolutionary [Pemmaraju 2021]. Apparently, by now he had completed a few chapters of a proposed book “The Italian Revolution” [Srikishen 1952: 5].
By now the revolutionaries had information that at the instance of Government of India, a warrant of arrest of Savarkar had been issued. He was to be arrested as soon as he came to England. When Savarkar was warned, he replied:
“Let it be. If I am not arrested, I shall continue my work, and if I am, [my] incarceration would devolve work on others.”
Srikishen remarks that this “was the reply of a patriot [determined] to work undaunted and without thinking of the consequences.” [Srikishen 1952: 5]
On returning from France, Savarkar was arrested at Victoria Station in March 1910 [Sampath 2019]. For his defense, V.V.S. Aiyar, Rajan, Srikishen and others collected funds [Pemmaraju 2021] and Srikishen took “great interest in Savarkar’s defence while he was being prosecuted under the Fugitive Offender’s Act” [Srikishen 1952: 18-9]. According to a police report, the revolutionaries came to know that Chaturbhuj Amin Patidar (a former cook who used to smuggle their arms to India) and Koregaonkar of Gwalior had given away all their secrets to the British. Hence in April 1910, VVS Aiyar left for Paris to join Virendranath Chattopadhyaya [Secret Report 2014: 85].
Indian revolutionary leaders visited Savarkar several times in Brixton Prison – Chattopadyaya alone paying 15 visits even though he lived in Paris [Sampath 2019]. Srikishen too met him several times, and police intelligence records state that his last visit was on May 9, 1910 [Pemmaraju 2021]. In his book, Srikishen wrote:
“I don’t suppose there will be any harm done if I were to divulge the secret now that it was here we had planned the mode and manner of his escape, when the ship anchored at Marseilles, and how he was to be taken to the interior from the shore. But unfortunately, before the people arrived, the officers of the ship managed to get him back.” [Srikishen 1952: 6]
He rued that in the normal course, even after that, as Savarkar had landed on French soil – as a political offender, he should have been handed over to France. “But British influence and money got the Hague court to decide otherwise” [Srikishen 1952:6].
After Savarkar’s incarceration, the initiative among the revolutionaries was diffused between Virendranath Chattopadhya, Lala Hardayal and others. Chattopadhyaya seems to have maintained touch with Srikishen until the October Revolution.
WITH VIRENDRANATH CHATTOPADHYAYA
Srikishen is said to have told his children that in London he had conspired to smuggle revolvers to India hidden in books cut for the purpose [Ram 1997: 198]. British intelligence had also intercepted his correspondence from London with Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya which was part personal and part subversive [Pemmaraju 2021]. Concerned over the information that he was getting, his father cut short his London studies and ordered Srikishen home [Barooah 2004: 25].
Accordingly, Srikishen reached Bombay in June 1910, where the Customs officials, possibly acting on orders, confiscated all his books and manuscripts. His half completed work on the Italian Revolution was thus lost [Srikishen 1952: 5]. On the very day of his arrival at Hyderabad, he was interviewed by the DCP Mr. D.S. Hankin who asked humorously whether he had brought back bombs in order to “send him off”, before interrogating him more seriously.
Meanwhile Virendranath Chattopadhyaya wrote a letter to Srikishen on June 19, 1910 in which he asked him to desist from proceeding to Calcutta and provided a key to a cipher. A week later, he sent him another letter in cipher. British intelligence intercepted both letters and deciphered the second letter easily. In it, Srikishen was asked to go to Calcutta to see Bejoy Chandra Chatterji and setup with the help of Sukumar Mitter, s/o of Krishna Kumar Mitter, a furniture trade in Calcutta or Chandernagore to serve as a cover for smuggling rifles. More details were to be got from Mrinalini Chattopadyaya [Barooah 2004: 26].
By now the Mitter family was in the list of political agitators prepared by the secret police, who knew Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya as one of the “Three Bengali Ladies” who had vowed celibacy in the cause of freedom. The other two were Subhodini Mitter (d/o K.K.Mitter) and Sarojini Ghosh (s/o Aurobindo Ghosh) [Secret Report 1914: 22]. However, police raids on houses of Chattopadyaya and Mitter in August failed to turn up tangible evidence [Barooah 2004: 26].
Srikishen was shortly married within the community, overruling his protests. The British Indian government made several attempts to have him extradited. A Police enquiry was instituted in 1912 into Srikishen’s “revolutionary activities and .. connection with the different conspiracy cases that the British Indian government had launched and was launching “in different parts of the country”. He was interrogated on a daily basis for almost two years. The enquiry ended only when the Nizam intervened after his father Balmukund and brother Balkishen (a police officer under DCP Rankins) threatened to resign [Srikishen 1952: 17-18].
A letter from the German archives reveals that in 1916, the Berlin Committee of Virendranath Chattopadyaya proposed the formation of a ‘secret committee” in Hyderabad, consisting of Srikishen and three other persons. ‘Sultan Nawaz Jung’, an Arab leader, was to be their conduit with the Nizam [Pemmaraju 2021]. The Arab in question may actually have been Saif Nawaz Jung, the grandson of Sultan Nawaz Jung who was prominent in 1880s.(2) Possibly contact was made but was unsuccessful because the Nizam was by then under the influence of the Islamists.
In his memoirs, Srikishen observes a recurrent pattern in the behaviour of Nizam. He notes that before the Police action, the Nizam had “been guided by fanatical-minded persions”, which gave the impression that “he was in agreement … [with] those who were thinking in terms of the Islamic brotherhood…”. Similarly, “in the earlier days” persons with such views “tried to influence him in the way these people tried to do in the latter part of his reign” [Srikishen 1952: 11].(3) In other words, from the very early phase of his regime, Nizam Osman Ali Khan was influenced by Islamists – of the Islamic brotherhood and pan-Islamic kind.
His political initiatives frustrated, Srikishen turned towards education.
VERNACULAR AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
Even as a student of Nizam College, Srikishen regretted the cultural slavery of India to Britain, which he felt was the result of education in English medium and complete neglect of vernaculars. Advocating vernacular education, he published a pamphlet that he circulated among literatii of Hyderabad. He believed that there should be four universities in Hyderabad state: Urdu, Kanarese, Telugu and Marathi. After going to London, he spoke to Imadul Mulk Bahadur about this [Srikishen 1952: 95]. Unfortunately, the ruling dispensation was pursuing only Urdu medium education, with deleterious effects for Hindus [see for instance: Economic condition of Hindus in Hyderabad State by K.S. Vaidya].
As early as 1907, the Marathi community had taken the lead in starting an Anglo-Vernacular school under the initiative of Keshavrao Koratkar supported by Waman Naik who provided a site worth Rs. 60,000 and a donation of Rs. 35,000/-. The school turned into the present Vivek Vardhini Institution [Pernau 1999: 2748]. Srikishen began his foray into educational development of Hindus by helping them as much as he could [Srikishen 1952: 99]
Srikishen believed not only in vernacular but also vocational education. He thought that in the existing dispensation “the education they [students] received was not of use to them in later life”. The successful experience of his Maharashtrian friends showed him that the energies of society had to be mobilised for development.
With this in mind, he mooted the idea of starting a Reddy Vidyalaya with a focus on agricultural science, at the marriage of the daughter of Raja of Wanaparti. The idea was well received by the dignitaries present, among whom were the Maharajas of Wanaparti and Gadwal, Mr. Konda Reddy, Mr. Venkat Reddy of Railways, Mr. Pingle Venkatrama Reddy, Mr. Rajgopal Reddy, Barrister Mr. Narayan Reddy, retired Police Commissioner Venkatrama Reddy. Things began moving after Maharaja of Wanaparti donated Rs. 25,000/-. However, in spite of much persuasion and tact, the venture stopped with a Reddy Hostel, instead of a vernacular-vocational Reddy University as had been originally envisaged [Srikishen 1952: 97, 106]. The Reddy Hostel was completed in 1918.
Likewise he broached a Marwari Vidyalaya with Hindi as medium to “provide commercial training along with general culture”, to Rai Murlidhar (Raja Fateh Nawaz Bahadur), Seth Govindlal, Seth Ramgopal, Raja Bansilal, Seth Ramlal, Seth Mukund Das and Raja Narsing Girji. The Vidyalaya was to be constructed at the site where the Osmania General Hospital stands today. The cost of the site had been negotiated by him at Rs. 500,000/-. Unfortunately, owing to differences between Seth Govindlalji and his father Raja Bansilal, the inconclusive weekly meetings dragged on for months [Srikishen 1952: 98]. Meanwhile the government stepped in, acquired the land, and constructed the Osmania Hospital in 1919.
THE GANDHIAN PHASE
Nizam’s intervention had ended the police enquiry on Srikishen, subject to the condition that he would not be allowed to travel outside Hyderabad. This condition remained in force until 1920. He was nevertheless following political events in India keenly. His faith remained in Hind and the method of “assertion” [Srikishen 1952: 104].
Gandhiji’s 1919 call for hartal moved him to action. By now his father Rai Balmukund was the acting chief-justice of Hyderabad High Court. Nawab Akbar Ali Khan once described to this writer how ‘Chacha’ Srikishen had organised the hartal — travelling in his father’s car, banging his walking stick on the side-walk, asking shopkeepers to down their shutters. However, he was followed at a discreet distance by Kotwal Venkat Rama Reddy who made the shopkeepers to reopen. Hence, the ‘hartal’ of Hyderabad was successful within 500 metres of the car of Srikishen!
In 1920, the ban on his foreign travel was revoked. So Srikishen went to London and completed the Barristry course. On returning to Hyderabad, he joined Vaman Naik, Kashinath Rao Vaidya, Badrul Hasan, Raghavendra Sharma, Padmaja Naidu and others in opening a branch of Congress in Hyderabad. He was elected Secretary. The branch proposed to pursue the programme of constructive activities – specifically manufacture of yarn and khaddar.
Raja Kanhaiya Pershad allowed the use of his premises at Murlidhar Bagh for hand-spinning. Soon they began supplying Guntur and Bezwada, the leading spinning centres, with yarn and Khadi Bhandar, Bombay, with khaddar. However there seemed to be misappropriation of khaddar funds. Srikishen was prevented by Gandhiji and Sarojini Naidu from prosecuting the allegedly guilty party. Protesting against the ‘hushing’ up of corrupt practices, he resigned both from the Secretaryship and membership of the Congress [Srikishen 1952: 118-9].
Srikishen continued his anti-British activities however. He was a powerful orator and his booming voice carried a long distance. As such he was much sought after in meetings and conferences where the British had to be criticised. His popularity was such that when a last-minute missive from the Nizam forbade him from addressing a meeting at public gardens against the 1935 Act, a crowd of over ten thousand people moved from the venue to the lawns of his house near King Kothi to hear him speak [Ram 1997: 200].
MYSTICISM & SOCIAL OUTLOOK
Srikishen was deeply religious. He was a devotee of Upasini Maharaj of Sakori and was well known to devout circles in Meherabad. He read the Gita, the Bible and the Quran every morning. His house was a meeting place of people with a mystic/liberal bent of mind – Maharaja Sir Kishen Pershad, Salar Jung III, Mehdi Nawaz Jung, Akber Yar Jung, Welinkar, Abdul Munim, Abdul Basith, Ghulam Panjathan, Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya and Sarojini Naidu were frequent visitors [Ram 1997: 201].
Sometimes he used to organise group recitals of scriptures at his house. Once Bahadur Yar Jung attended a Quran recital organised by him. After the recital ended, Bahadur called Srikishen his ‘Krishna’ and claimed for himself the role of Arjun. Srikishen retorted that Bahadur would have to unlearn many wrong notions, before he could become his disciple [ibid.].
Although Srikishen had a roaring practice, his dharmic vision induced him to favour conciliation over conflict, especially in civil matters. He would renounce highly paying and prestigious briefs if it meant a frivolous fight between brothers. He was generous. Poor clients would be accommodated in his house and fed by his children personally. Through Sri Kalappa, he became associated with the Railwaymen’s union [Ram 1997: 200].
He worked for the well-being of SCs, a mission begun by his father, and would go round collecting funds for the chain of schools started by Sri Bhagyareddy Varma [Ram 1997: 201]. But he felt that the sorry state of SCs was not due, “as was said by foreigners and their mimics, to Brahminical tyranny”, but due to the serfdom of the whole country. He criticised the idea of garbha-griha entry by non-priests and opposed enactment of laws ‘in the guise of doing social justice’ that would “undermine the basic ideology of Hindu religion and affect the solidarity of the people who profess that faith” [Srikishen 1952: 85-7].
He wanted the SCs, backward classes and other minorities “to be helped to develop and utilise the facilities provided for them … but there should be no artificial props.” For him, reservations for SCs, backward classes and other minorities, were a tendency that “corrupts the atmosphere, narrows down the outlook, breeds inferiority complex and … lowers the standard of everything, education, service, administration.” “You must think nationally,” he urged [Srikishen 1952: 120].
Sensing a widening rift between Hindus and Muslims, especially after Bahadur Yar Jung launched in 1927, his proselytising Majlis Anjuman Tabligh-e-Islam, Srikishen started the Hyderabad Association in 1930, hoping to use the feeling of loyalty to the State to overcome communal differences. He persuaded Arya Samajis, Congressmen as well Bahadur Yar Jung and others to join. However, he found that the differences were fundamental. Soon Bahadur Yar Jung and Ahmed Mohiuddin resigned from the association opposing responsible government in the state. Srikishen rued later that the ‘dissentients were communal minded and cared only for their communal outlook and ascendancy’ [Srikishen 1952: 110-12].
As the Razakar terror mounted, Srikishen became a ‘regular visitor’ to the palace [Srikishen 1952], offering “unsolicited advice” and criticisms to the Nizam [Pemmaraju 2021], warning him repeatedly against Majlis Ittehadul Musalmeen and crypto Muslim Leaguers. Accusing Majlis of dishonesty and disloyalty to the Nizam, he openly urged Nawab Salar Jung, Nawab Zahir Yar Jung, Nawab Rashid Nawaz Jung, Nawab Himayat Jung, Raja Shamraj, Raja Mahbub Karan and other Samsthan rajas and nobles to point out to the Nizam the criticality of the situation and excesses of Ittihadul Musalmeen [Srikishen 1952: 104].
Right from 1947 to August 1948, literally on a monthly basis, he organised press conferences and wrote letters to the Nizam warning of the impending disaster, reminding all who would listen of the inclusive traditions of Hyderabad, and the unjust unrealistic strategies being formulated. Specifically, he demanded the end of the reign of terror, disbandment of the Razakars, the removal of outsider/refugees from administrative, police and military jobs, their replacement with mulkis, the expulsion of the lakhs of settlers/refugees that were being brought in, disciplinary action against Majlis Ittehadul Musalmeen under the provisions of law and suspension of newspapers that were engaged in anti-India propaganda [Srikishen 1952: 79-172 passim].
Srikishen welcomed the Police action but regretted its costs. He was highly critical of the arbitrariness that followed it its wake. When Salar Jung III died, he stood on the steps of his residence defying the army units to enter. Prof. V.H. Desai called him the ‘stormy petrel’ of Hyderabad, cricketeer Ghulam Mohammad called him the only lion that roared in Hyderabad. To others like Nawab Akbar Ali Khan, he was sher-e-hyderabad [Ram 1997: 202].
Srikishen was committed to the idea of a composite inclusive state of Hyderabad and opposed to the formation of linguistic states. Failing to convince Congressmen and Nehru of his viewpoint, he filed writs against the formation of Andhra Pradesh and the formation of Andhra Pradesh High Court, arguing party-in-person. These were heard on the very first day of the sitting of the A.P. High Court. The writs were questioned on the grounds of locus standi, and were defended on the basis of rights of citizenship. The two writs were possibly the first public interest litigations (PIL) in India.(4)
In 1957, Srikishen contested as an independent, the parliamentary elections from Hyderabad against Pandit Vinayak Rao Vidyalankar and lost, polling 20,000 of about 1.2 lakh votes. He was runner-up and the communist party candidate stood third losing his deposit.(5)
Barrister Srikishen’s last days were spent in Dilsuknagar where his son had constructed a residence on the site of the ‘plague camp’ that had been setup by Rai Balmukund in 1911. He still maintained contacts with his old friends.
Feeling the onset of his last hours, he asked that his friend Mehdi Nawaz Jung be informed over the phone. Mehdi Nawaz Jung drove up. Seeing Mehdi enter, Srikishen asked him to pour a little Ganga Jal into his mouth. Mehdi Nawaz Jung did so, and Srikishen breathed his last [Ram 1997: 203]
Thus ended the earthly sojourn of a revolutionary nationalist from Hyderabad.
(1) To the credit of the Englishman, it must be noted that not only did Sir David not hold the incident against Srikishen, but when meeting him in London in 1908 expressed delight and also stood security for him for higher education [Srikishen 1952: 105].
(2) Arabs under Sultan Nawaz Jung, supported by Siddhis and Rohillas had clashed with the police in 1886, provoking a British crackdown on the influx of Arabs into Hyderabad [Ali 1996: 195]. Sultan Nawaz Jung’s father had come into Nizam’s service in 1818. His grandson Saif Nawaz Jung who constructed the Saif Manzil in 1912 was styled also as “Sultan Saleh bin Ghalib al Quaiti, Nawab Saif Nawaz Jung”. Hence the possible confusion.
(3) Srikishen mentions Aziz Mirza, Zafar Ali Khan, Safiuddin, Anwarulla Khan and Abdul Haleem Sharaar as the Islamists who influenced Nizam Osman Ali Khan in the early years of his regime. Shaikh Anwarulla Khan was Nizam’s teacher, head of Madrasa Nizami, d. 1917. Zafar Ali Khan befriended the Nizam c 1907, was expelled from Hyderabad in 1909 for floating a society for conversion as well as intriguing against Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan. Aziz Mirza then in Nizam’s service was his classmate in Aligarh. This group that included Shaukat Ali, promoted the notion of Islamic Brotherhood. Nothing is known about Safiuddin. The position of Sharaar, a writer is not clear, but one knows that Bahadur Yar Jung taught himself a style of speaking through regular reading of Sharaar. And also, that Sharaar and Abdul Qayum contributed regularly to publication brought out by Zafar Ali Khan in this period. It is also known that Nizam Osman Ali Khan went to British India in 1918 to meet Zafar Ali Khan. Zafar returned later to Hyderabad for some time.
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