Attitude of the British government towards India after the First World War, where the Indians backed the British war efforts in hope of better treatment, exacerbated the already suppressed Indian feelings. The Rowlatt bill, satyagraha in its opposition, Jallianwala massacre, and brutal suppression of the satyagraha led Mahatma Gandhi to call for Non-Cooperation movement coupled with Khilafat movement.
Gandhi urged his followers, through Young India, on 11 August, 1920, to ‘formulate an education system completely independent of government control’. Only then, in his view, non-cooperation holds any real meaning.
Mazharul Haque was the first in Bihar to respond to Gandhi’s call of developing indigenous education system. On 22 November, 1920 Haque opened a National School in Patna with Dr. Harnandan Lal Nandkeoliyar as its principal. But, the moment of glory was yet to arrive.
On 11 December, 1920, One Hundred & Ten (110) students of Bihar Engineering School (B.E.S) boycotted classes and with all their belongings, with raised flags of ‘Free B.E.S’ marched to Sikandar Manzil, residence of Mazharul Haque, at Fraser Road in Patna. Students urged Haque to lead them into the non-cooperation movement. Haque left his house with 103 students, since seven (7) were taken by their parents to home, for an orchard in a rather scantily populated area on Patna- Danapur road. The orchard was a property of Khairu Mian, who donated it to the students without any hesitation. Haque, with the help of the students, made huts with straws, woods and leaves. The orchard, where now 103 students and Mazharul Haque were living, was named Sadaqat Ashram.
Sadaqt is a Persian/ Urdu word for truth while Ashram is a Sanskrit/ Hindi word for Abode. So, the place was Abode of Truth.
Now all the residents of Ashram were studying and spinning Charkha (cotton spinning wheel) and the ashram became a focal point of nationalist activities in Bihar.
Mahatma Gandhi, in December, emphasised upon having a Bihar Vidyapith to oversee all the nationalist education and coordinate National Schools running in Patna. Dr. Rajendra Prasad and other Congress leaders were unable to raise enough funds to secure land for Vidyapith in Patna. When the difficulty was put in front of Haque, he immediately started construction of a building, with his personal funds, at the Ashram site.
On 6 February, 1921, Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturba Gandhi and Mohammad Ali arrived in Patna, by Punjab Mail, to formally inaugurate the Bihar Vidyapith (Bihar University). At the inauguration Gandhi said that without the efforts of Mazharul Haque it would have been impossible to open a National College at Patna. It was only because of Haque that Gandhi was inaugurating the Vidyapith.
Mazharul Haque was chosen as the Chancellor, Braj Kishore Prasad as the Vice Chancellor and Rajendra Prasad as the registrar of the newly formed Bihar Vidyapith.
Sadaqat Ashram did not stop at this. In September, 1921, Mazharul Haque started printing newspapers, journals and books from the Ashram. An English weekly The Motherland and an Urdu daily Sheristan were two prominent newspapers published from the Ashram. Apart from these, books like Tufan-e-Nuh, Khilafat and England, etc., were also published from the Ashram press.
Mazharul Haque set an example by renouncing his lavish lifestyle to live in Sadaqat Ashram with the students. Mahatma Gandhi wrote about Haque, “The Sadaqat Ashram near Patna is a fruit of his (Mazharul Haque’s) constructive labour. Though he did not live in it for as long as he had intended, his conception of the Ashram made it possible for the Bihar Vidyapith to find a permanent habitation. It may yet prove a cement to bind the two communities together.”
Later, Rajendra Prasad lived at Sadaqat Ashram after retirement, Jayprakash Narain launched his movement from here and presently it serves as the Bihar Congress headquarters.
With the Sadaqat Ashram, the legacy of Mazharul Haque remains alive.
(Author is a well known historian)