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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

faqir of ipi

The Faqir of Ipi

"Cherchez la femme," say the French to indicate that behind every great man is always a woman. No one would have thought that this would be true even about the Faqir of Ipi, but apparently it is. Though not in the sense that the French mean.

The name of Mirza Ali Khan, the Faqir of Ipi, conjures up memories of the Frontier's long and eventful fight against the British. It inspires both awe and respect - the mysterious man in the mountains whom few had seen, but who kept the might of the British Empire at bay.

Despite their propaganda to paint him as a charlatan and a religious bigot, the British feared him. He kept them on their toes for many years, and they were ever-vigilant to catch the elusive man who had acquired a reputation to match that of the fictional Scarlet Pimpernel. Against his sword and antiquated rifle, they brought in their cannons and even military aircraft, but he was neither subdued nor did they manage to get anywhere near his hideout in the caves of Gurwekht in North Waziristan.

Not that a woman was solely responsible for launching the Faqir of Ipi on his anti-British adventure. That would be too romantic, and, under the circumstances, too naive and simplistic to believe. He was, of course, imbued with a tremendous feeling of independence, and he found the presence of the infidel rulers galling to his free spirit as a Pukhtoon. But a woman did play a part in provoking him into a life of rebellion against the European rulers.

She was a Hindu girl who came to be known as Islam Bibi. She was born Ram Kori, the daughter of Mewa Ram and Mansa Devi, a couple living in a village in Bannu district. When she was 16, she fell in love with Noor Ali Shah, a youthful Syed of Bannu. Noor Ali was equally infatuated, and the two married after she converted to Islam and took on the name of Islam Bibi.

It seems that Mewa Ram was reconciled to this religious revolt in his family, but his wife and his father-in-law, Milap Chand, made a complaint before the Deputy Commissioner that Ram Kori's conversion had been forcibly brought about and that she should be recovered and restored to the family. The DC started proceedings and Noor Ali was charged with kidnapping a Hindu girl. Islam Bibi stated in court that she had embraced Islam of her own free will and that the marriage had taken place with her consent.

Despite these averments, she was sent back to her parents because she was found to be a minor and thus not entitled to take the vital decisions about conversion and matrimony. Her parents promptly whisked her away to a town in Punjab, where, after a ceremony to convert her back to Hinduism, she was made to marry a young Hindu man.

This episode, as it were, aroused the whole of North Waziristan and the adjoining areas into anger and indignation. This feeling was taken up by the already rebellious Pukhtoons as blatant interference by the British in a matter that pertained to an essentially religious affair of the Muslims. Since this could not be tolerated, a call for Jihad was given by the mullahs. Mirza Ali Khan had been brought up on a religious education and had taken instruction in a variety of Islamic madressahs. He had been deeply influenced by the earlier calls for Jihad made by famous mullahs, and his father had been a die-hard foe of the British. He thus inherited the noble virtues of love of liberty and self-rule. The Islam Bibi affair was like putting a lighted match in a cask of gunpowder.

After this episode, which aroused so much of the Frontier to militant action against the British, the Faqir of Ipi never relaxed. He waged a relentless war against them, killing hundreds of their men and losing hundreds of his own companions in innumerable skirmishes and even pitched battles. It was not just guerrilla fighting in the mountains. The Faqir ran a printing press in his caves in Gurwekht, and copies of his news-sheet managed to reach people in the settled areas and Peshawar. Efforts were also made by him to upgrade his weaponry, and gunsmiths from the Punjab, long settled in the Frontier, cast new cannon for him.

Even after the British left in August 1947, the Faqir could not reconcile himself to the free Muslim government, and till his death in 1962, continued to disregard it with active patronage from the then Afghan government, which was inimical to Pakistan. His role after independence is controversial. It is defended by some and deprecated by others. My purpose is not to analyze that role or whitewash or condemn the Faqir. It is only to show how the public feeling generated in the Frontier by a Hindu girl's marriage to a Muslim contributed to turn Mirza Ali Khan into the Faqir of Ipi, the most hated and feared enemy of the British in the subcontinent.

As for Islam Bibi herself, nothing is known of her new life as a reclaimed Hindu in Hoshiarpur. But something can be told about her lover and ex-husband, Noor Ali Shah. He had been convicted of "abducting" a minor girl and sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment. Apparently he obtained his release after 18 months, and, immediately on coming out of jail, was married off by his family.

He is reported to have spent about a year or two with his new bride, but then the yearning for his tempestuous love affair with Islam Bibi overcame his new domestic existence. One day, he quietly left home never to return. Maybe he is still looking for his lost love in Hoshiarpur in Indian Punjab. Who knows? But he was never heard from again.


Anonymous Le Mystique said...

Thankyou so much for such interesting information about a person I know so little about.

I must share this post about Faqir of Ipi with friends...

November 04, 2009 5:46 AM  
Blogger temporal said...

you are welcome:)

btw this is not my post...i don't know the writer

have a feeling it was from dawn and there was no permamnent link to it

November 04, 2009 11:05 AM  

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