New Delhi. Jamia Millia Islamia will put five letters handwritten by Mahatma Gandhi on display for the public as a part of Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations. The five letters —two written in English and three in Urdu— dated as early as 1928, were preserved by the university’s archival department.
The letters, seen by Hindustan Times, were addressed to the university’s founding members, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, his daughter, Zohra Ansari and a former vice-chancellor (VC) of the university, Mohammad Mujeeb.
The university also plans to research Gandhi’s relationship with the university. Umaima Farooqi, assistant archivist at the university library, said, “These letters are a treasure. The letters have not been in put in the public domain as yet. Within a few months, we are also going to start research on Gandhi’s involvement with Jamia Millia Islamia. These letters will be a great resource for the research.”
In his letter to MA Ansari, dated June 30, 1928, Gandhi wrote about the importance of “Hindu-Muslim unity” for the betterment of the university. Ansari, who was the then vice-chancellor of the university, had a close association with Gandhi. Gandhi would often stay at his home in Daryaganj during his visits to Delhi.
“Dear doctor Ansari, I have your letter. I am sorry you could not come. But your presence is really necessary… Somehow I feel that the time has not yet come for Hindu-Muslim unity. It has to come, but how? Your sincerely MK Gandhi,” reads one of the letters, as per the transcription provided by the varsity.
Wahajuddin Alvi, dean of faculty of humanities and languages, said Gandhi had played an instrumental role in the establishment of Jamia.
“The word ‘Jamia’ means ‘a university’ in Arabic. It was a product of the non-cooperation movement. It was established in Aligarh in 1920 and shifted to Delhi in 1925. The idea was to establish a national institution that doesn’t follow the British norms. Gandhiji was associated with Jamia since its inception and tried to build a university where students from all religions can study in a cordial environment,” he said.
The Mahatma wrote another letter to Mohammad Mujeeb, the vice-chancellor of Jamia between 1948 and 1973.
In the letter, dated January 31, 1941, Gandhi expressed concern about the health of Dr Zakir Husain —then vice-chancellor of Jamia who later became the third president of the country.
“My Dear Mujeeb, poor Zakir! His eyes are ever a source of trouble,” he said.
A university official said the letter refers to Dr Husain’s eye illness.
“That’s why he would wear black spectacles all the time,” the official said.
In the same letter, Gandhi also asked Mujeeb about the financial status of the university. Alvi said Gandhi had helped Jamia in raising funds. According to the university’s official website, when Jamia moved to Delhi from Aligarh it was going through a financial crisis. Gandhi boosted the moral of Jamia, saying, “The Jamia has to run. If you are worried about finances I’ll go out with a begging bowl.”
Vivek Shukla, the author of ‘Gandhi’s Delhi: April 12, 1915- January 30, 1950’, said Gandhiji was close to Jamia.
“When Gandhiji said he will go to streets to collect funds for Jamia, many prominent personalities came forward and contributed. Jamia, without Gandhi, is nothing. He still exists everywhere on that campus. Gandhi’s family also stayed on the campus. His son Devdas Gandhi had also taught English there,” Shukla said.
In his three letters to MA Ansari’s daughter Zohra Ansari, written between 1928 and 1933, in Urdu, Gandhi requested her to help him polish his skills in the language.
“I’m writing this to congratulate you for writing me a wonderful letter. I want you to be my Ustani (teacher). Would you correct my mistakes in Urdu language and send back to me,” he wrote in one of the letters.