By Amardeep Kumar


Let the motherland be the first in your affections, your province the second, and your community wherever thereafter you choose to put it.”

The abovementioned quote was stated by Mr. Syed Hasan Imam. There has been already much written about him at length on this webpage itself. People having interest in history do not have any second thought as to why heritagetimes.inis a ‘zakhira’ (a hidden treasure) for them when they themselves completely devours into it while unravelling about the forgotten personalities.

Amongst several one of them is Mr. Syed Hasan Imam who was born on 31st August, 1871 in Neora (Patna), Bihar. As we remember a man of colossus stature like that of him on his 149th birth centenary who having donned multifaceted responsibilities, one tends to ponder upon today that how come he is not celebrated amongst us unlike others and remains to be oblivion, just forget about that he is forgotten and faded because we did not even endeavoured and cared to know about him. All these despite being the strict mandate of Article 51A (b) of the Indian Constitution which directs us ‘to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom.’

Barrister Syed Hasan Imam

The just aforementioned thing can be vouched, evinced and corroborated with certainty by not just merely asking the lawyers, law students having an affinity towards the legal history but also form the history students and brass of politicians as well especially the ones who all are active in politics. One can be sure that most of them if not all will obviously be found to remain oblivion about him.

Nevertheless, it is certainly not a joke and fluke that Mr. Imam read most of the works of Shakespeare, Milton and Thennyson during his teenage even before completing his fourteenth while many still grapples to read and comprehend them during their octogenarian stage also. Clearly, Mr. Imam was way ahead of his time and the resistance he showed vehemently against the introduction of a separate electorate at the lower level by fiercely opposing it through a piece contributing in the ‘Indian Review’ and later on reiterating the same through his speech at Allahabad Congress meet in 1910 can be best compared with the object behind the Poona Pact, 1932 which took place much later that was after more than two decades of Allahabad Congress Session. Undoubtedly, he surely knew about the evils of having a separate electorate.

Syed Hasan Imam, President of Indian National Congress who represented India at the ‘League Of Nations’.

It is seldom that one shows the magnanimity in equal proportion especially when prejudice and biasness are rampant. Not many of us know that he donated an equal amount of share to Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University. But, his generosity was something more of a routine manner rather than that of a rarity. Once, he generously handed over the entire sum of money to the Committee of B.N. College, Patna in order to save its affiliation when it was on the verge of getting disaffiliated. He did not stop here itself, rather he used to contribute Rs.1000/- annually to this college fund until it got acquired by the then government.

As the adage goes ‘Practice what you preach’ and it is also well known that both cannot go always hand in hand but this was not the problem with Mr. Imam. In 1915, when he paid a visit to England for a short stint he made sure to take along with his daughters also for providing them with the best available education there and making them at par with his sons,  all of whom had completed their study from England only. This decision of Mr. Imam had one of the wider ramification that it made the Maharaja of Tekari to be spellbound and he made an endowment of his entire estate that was 3 Crore (approx.) so that Indian women gets educated and no girl gets left out. It can be assessed with precision that how much deep impact he had left on Maharaja through a single step taken by him towards a social reform. It is unaccounted for the number of Hindu students he insisted upon for going to England and study there. In terms of emancipating ‘Zenana’ he surely was ahead of his contemporaries and advocated it openly with students also, one of such instance can be recollected as to when he told the same to all those who assembled for ‘Gaya Students Conference’. As far as existing prejudices and practices prevalent amongst the Hindus while practicing their own law he once made a remark to one of his hindu friend that –“Worship the Sun, but also examine the laws of heat”.

Syed Ali Imam : Who stated that nationalism cannot be achieved by division and separation.

Many of them will argue that for the emancipation of social evils, he was confined only to his own household but that was not the case rather he was an equal champion for public cause also. Despite facing the turbulence and fiasco within ‘The Beharee’, his mental resolve for the setting up of an independent publication to provide the voice of the public opinion grew much stronger. The result of it was that ‘The Searchlight’ came into being on 15th June, 1919 along with an assistance of Mr. Sinha at a time when draconian legislation that was Rowlatt Act, 1919 (commonly referred to as black law in common parlance) had just came into operation barely three months ago, which not only was repressive but was also anti-press in nature. It is significant to mention here that in spite of all the situations being completely averse to him, he not only contributed a major portion of his income for the establishment of ‘The Searchlight’ but simultaneously he also stood as a guarantor for incurring the liability if the paper did any wrong.

This photograph was taken in Europe around 1924 and shows Syed Hasan Imam, his wife Natalia (nee Saupin) and son Tootoo. (Photo :Bulu Imam)

It will be of causing a great irreverence if his contribution to the bar and bench would go unnoticed and unexplained. The camaraderie was still the same with his existing clients of Bihar that once when he left for establishing his practice into Calcutta from Patna, the clientele of Mr. Imam who were left out in Bihar had actually not severed their connection with him rather they continued to sought his legal advice from Calcutta. His insight into forensic was something well acknowledged. The knowledge of Mr. Imam over the law(both civil and criminal) and the evolvement of British Jurisprudence for making it understood to Indians was something which made even his critics like that of Mr. Earldley Norton and Mr. Jackson to recognise his contribution. One certainly cannot forget about ‘Imam-Clayton’s case’, in which he successfully contested for the Indian passengers who all were used to be heckled, molested, offended by the Europeans and they considered it to be as a daily routine affair.  Later on, the Indians if were able to travel hassle free than if not all but a part of credit must go to him.

An interesting anecdote dates back then when he was serving as a Justice of Calcutta High Court, the Patna High Court came into its being. The peoples in almost all the districts of the then Bihar (erstwhile comprising of Odisha and Jharkhand as well) passed a resolution for the transferring of Justice Imam from Calcutta High Court to the newly built bench of Patna High Court. When the then Lieutenant Governor Charles Bayley came to know about it, he not only got irked about it but at the same time he also threatened to resign if Justice Imam will be transferred to the Patna High Court. Surely, Mr. Bayley as a Lieutenant Governor succeeded but that did not deterred Justice Imam from joining the precincts of the bar of the Patna High Court soon after resigning from the justiceship of the Calcutta High Court. Amongst several reasons, one of them was that the climate of Calcutta did not suited him and a doctor had advised him to opt for a drier climatic region concerning his health. No doubt as to why he paid heed to the doctor’s advice and to his own conscience rather than that to the British executive and to the existing lucrative chair.

Syed Hasan Imam at right. This is the last photograph of him. Taken towards the end of his life around 1932 perhaps in Patna. (Photo: BULU IMAM)

Certainly, his contribution and legacy is much more beyond that what has been aforementioned in several paragraphs. It is not only impossible but also unfair to confine a person like that of Mr. Imam within the strictures of this article. One thing is for sure that had he would have lived till India’s Independence, there could have hardly been any doubt that he would have not graced the hall of Constituent Assembly, as the Assembly would have perfectly provided him the tailor made situation which he must have embraced. His contribution in Constituent Assembly would have definitely been a focal point for discussion not only amongst academicians and scholars but also in between people of general kind. There also cannot be any second thought that he would have enjoyed the similar relevance and interest amongst all of us today similarly with the likes of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, B.N. Rau, Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, Rajendra Prasad, Professor K.T. Shah etc. Who knows better, that he may have been beyond all of them in terms of an intelligentsia? It might have been, no one knows. With all due reverence, we must acknowledge their respective works and contributions in this nation building.

While embarking into the celebration of 150th birth centenary of Mr. Imam, we should understand it very well that he and his works needs to be looked just beyond for a namesake as apparent in the mirror as to who was the fourth Muslim president of the Indian National Congress? One has to go beyond ‘Hasan Manzil’ by doing a thorough research upon him, digging out the contributions he made especially to the mankind and to make it available in the public domain so that the posterity will remember him instead of being completely oblivion unlike the present generation. This can only be a fitting tribute to a man of a colossus stature like that of Syed Hasan Imam/ Advocate Imam/ Justice Imam/ Mr. Imam who donned different responsibilities in his lifetime and to his family. Till then, we can mark out his words and keep in our mind which he once famously said:

We have no Hindu, we have no Mahomedan, we are Indians”

Source of this article – Syed Hasan Imam: A sketch of his life and career by G.A. Natesan & Co., Publishers, George Town, Madras

Author’s bio: Amardeep Kumar is a pass out student of  KIIT,  Bhubaneswar. He can be contacted at kumaramaradeep021@gmail.com

(Views are Personal)