One of Gandhi’s last outings in January 1948

Martyrs’ Day: VIVEK SHUKLA on one of Gandhi’s last acts, as Delhi lay engulfed in communal tensions

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Just nine days after ending his last fast on January 18, 1948, to bring sanity in Delhi which was engulfed in unprecedented communal violence, and three days before he was assassinated on January 30, a weak and weary Mahatma Gandhi visited the Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah in Mehrauli.

It was freezing cold in Delhi, and the 79-year-old reached there at 8 am to see the damage done to it during the communal tensions. Maulana Azad and Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur accompanied him. Gandhiji was very distressed that in the name of religion, Muslims were attacked in their own land. Even though it was Urs time there, yet the mood was sombre and Bapu was unwell as he had been on fast until recently.

Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah in Mehrauli
Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah in Mehrauli

After this holy place was attacked and vandalised, many local Muslims left the area for safer places. Even staffers of the dargah abandoned it as they feared for their lives.
(At the time, only scattered villages constituted the entire Mehrauli area. IIT and various South Delhi suburbs like Green Park, Hauz Khas and Safdarjung Development Area (SDA)
came up only after the mid ‘50s.) Refugees from Pakistan were given make-shift accommodation close to the Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah by the government.

Pyare Lal Nayar, Bapu’s PA, writes in Mahatma Gandhi Purnahuti, “Bapu was devastated to see some part of the dargah damaged.” At the dargah, Gandhiji appealed to everybody to live peacefully, requesting refugees to help rebuild the damaged area.

Gandhiji had already asked Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to get the dargah repaired as it had sustained extensive damage during the riots.

Further, Gandhiji asked Nehru to allocate Rs 50,000 for the damages, a huge amount for the times. After his visit, Gandhi himself wrote, in his Collected Works (Volume 98, pg 98-99): “Esteemed as second only to the shrine at Ajmer, it (the Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah) is visited every year not only by Muslims but by thousands of non-Muslims too.”

Before leaving the dargah, Gandhiji told the large assembly, “I have come on a pilgrimage. I request Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs who have come here with cleansed hearts to take a vow that they will never allow strife to raise its head, but will live in amity, united as friends and brothers. We must purify ourselves and meet even our opponents with love.”

In his 744-day stay in Delhi between April 12, 1915, and the fateful January 30, 1948, Gandhiji visited religious places only twice even though he was a devout Hindu. He inaugurated the Birla Mandir on September 22, 1939, on the condition that the
entry of dalits would not be barred there.

The second time he visited a place of religious worship, it was this dargah.
[Yes, he lived in a tiny room at Valmiki Mandir in Delhi, on Reading Road (now called Mandir Marg), where he used to teach the kids of Valmiki families. The black board he used is still intact on the premises. It was at Valmiki Mandir that Louis Fischer conducted regular interviews with him for his great biography The Life of Mahatma Gandhi.]

“This shrine was subjected to the wrath of mobs. The Muslims living in the vicinity for the last 800 years had to leave. Though Muslims love the shrine, today no Muslim can be found
anywhere near it. It is the duty of the Hindus, Sikhs, the officials and the government to open the shrine again and wash off this stain on us,” Gandhi wrote.

“The time has come when both India and Pakistan must unequivocally declare to the majorities in each country that they will not tolerate desecration of religious places, be they small or big. They should also undertake to repair the places damaged
during riots.”

Floral pankha at the famed Phool Walon ki Sair
A floral pankha at the famed Phool Walon ki Sair

Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah comes alive every year during autumn when ‘Phool Walon Ki Sair’, the annual Delhi festival which celebrates communal harmony, takes place here. It is indeed a tribute to Gandhiji who stood firm that India must survive on secular ethos.

The seven-day festival was revived by Prime Minister Nehru in 1961. During the festival, both Hindus and Muslims offer floral chaadar and pankha at the dargah. In a wonderful spirit of communal harmony, the floral pankha and canopy are also offered at the ancient temple of Devi Yogmaya, also in Mehrauli.

Alas, there is no plaque at the dargah that can give an idea that this place has very strong connections with Gandhiji. Sadly enough, those who work at the dargah have no clue as to why Gandhiji came here on January 27, 1948.

IANS