He was a martyr who kissed the gallows with a smile
Scores of Muslims in the district celebrated Id-ul-Fitr on Monday. And the fact that the festival was celebrated within days after the country's 66th Independence Day makes it imperative to recall the contribution of Muslims, especially revolutionaries, such as S. Ashfaqullah Khan who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation and kissed the gallows with a smile at the age of 27 to make India as free as she is today.
It was on December 19, 1927, that the brave Ashfaqullah offered Namaz (prayers) inside his cell at the Faizabad Jail in Uttar Pradesh and proceeded to the hanging platform reciting verses from the holy book Quran, a copy of which he carried in a shoulder bag. After shaking hands with the jail officials, he looked at everyone present there and bid adieu, saying Khuda Hafiz in Urdu and himself put the noose of the rope around his neck.
In the book titled ‘Hanged for their Patriotism,’ its author R.K. Tandon points out that the martyr was the youngest of the five children born to Shafiqullah Khan, a landlord of Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh on October 22, 1900. Being a patriot right from childhood, he was expelled from the Abbie Rich Mission High School for having participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement of Mahatma Gandhi.
Alike Bhagat Singh and hundreds of other youngsters of those days, Ashfaqullah was also dejected and disappointed with the calling off of the Non-Cooperation Movement by Mahatma Gandhi who was terribly disturbed over the burning down of a police station by participants of a procession organised by the Congress at Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur district in February, 1922. Twenty policemen had lost their lives in the violence.
A strong believer in armed struggle, Ashfaqullah was closely associated with another great revolutionary, Pandit Ramprasad, known popularly along with his pen name Bismil.
Though belonging to different faiths, the two had their meals in the same utensil and displayed rare secularism even in those days. There was no pettiness in them and they were much above communalism.
Once they were sitting inside a temple when the news of Hindu-Muslim riots broke. Then, a mob marched towards the temple with the intention of ransacking it. But to its shock,
Ashfaqullah took out his revolver and roared that though being a staunch Muslim he would not hesitate to shoot anyone who dares to touch even a single brick of the temple complex.
On August 9, 1925, Ashfaqullah played a major role in executing the famous Kakori train dacoity in which a group of revolutionaries looted the government treasury box to fund their activities. After the daring incident that challenged the then British Empire, he managed to stay away from the eyes of the police for long until one of his schoolmates betrayed him and turned a police informer.
In the jail, attempts were made to turn him into an approver so that all those who were involved in the dacoity could be given maximum punishment and he was lured with money and position. The task was assigned to an Indian Superintendent of Police Tasadruk Khan who wondered why a Muslim should be involved in the fight of the Hindus to win back their kingdom.
To this Ashfaqullah had reportedly said: “I am the only Muslim in this case (Kakori train dacoity) and if I am hanged, this honour will go to a Muslim. It will be a great honour for me. The whole Muslim community will be discredited if I become a traitor. In death, I want to prove that I was a true Muslim. I do not fear death but I have a fear of getting a bad name if I betray the country.”