Thursday, March 19, 2020


                             ( Renuka Devi)

             (Sheikh Abdullah with his family )
                    ( Sheikh Abdullah or Papa Mian)
                              ( Renuka Devi)



Thakur Dass was a Kashmiri Brahmin who's father had embraced Sikhism. The ancestors  of Thakur Dass  had moved out from Kashmir valley and shifted to Poonch during the Pathan rule or even earlier .

The ancestors of Thakur Dass were Raina Brahmins from Kashmir. During my research ,I came to know that his grandfather was a landlord .Those Kashmiri Pandits who moved out  from valley  and settled in remote  or  far flung villages in Poonch and Rajouri or even Kishtwar and Doda  district during  18th/ 19th  century , gradually   lost link with their roots .I found a man with Tikoo  surname living in a remote village of Bhalesa /Gandoh in Doda district. He told me that his ancestors were Kashmiri Pandits and beyond that he knew nothing about Kashmir or Kashmiri culture. He looked typical Pahaadi . In contrast ,a  sizeable number of Kashmiri Pandits from Zutshi , Misri, Kar, Dhar ,Raina and Razdan clans who  had settled in Poonch town,  retained some link with their roots.  The Kashmiri Mohalla known as Mohalla Panditaan  in Poonch town has still many old Kashmiri Pandit families . I also came to know that some Kashmiri Pandit families had  also settled in Surankote and Thana Mandi areas . Infact Bakshi family from Srinagar had sizeable land in Thana Mandi.

It is quite pertinent to add that Sikhs who had a substantial presence in Muzaffaraba,Mirpur, Baramulla, Poonch, Rawalkote and Kotli were Brahmins who were converted to Sikhism either by 6th Guru or during the rule of Raja Sukh Jeevan Mal .These Sikhs write Bali, Issar, Dutta, Sasan, Raina , Reen ,Soodan and other Brahmin surnames and most of them trace their ancestry to Kashmir. For sometime ,  many Brahmin Sikhs  from  Kashmir  also carried on with some Brahminical practices like performing Shradas for the dead. This practice has now been discarded. If you see old  land / revenue records  , it is not surprising to find word Kashmiri  Brahmin mentioned in some old title deeds or revenue   records. Mata  Bhag Bhari  ,who presented a cloak to sixth Sikh Guru in Kashmir  was a saintly Kashmiri Pandit lady from Rainawari , Kashmir. Her son Pandit Seva Ram ( who later came to be known as Bhai Seva Ram  ji ) was the first caretaker of Chhati Paadshaahi Gurdwara (  Initially a small wooden structure  but later  a Gurudwara and a Dharmshala was constructed by Hari Singh Nalwa the then Sikh Governor of Kashmir ).

Thakur Dass received his early education at his village school. For higher education , he  went to Jammu and then to Lahore. In Lahore, his teacher and mentor Maulana Nooruddin renamed him Sheikh Abdullah after he embraced Islam, possibly under the influence of his teacher . From that day in 1891  , Thakur Dass became Sheikh Abdullah . From Lahore ,he moved to Aligarh  and completed higher studies .  He settled in Aligarh and started legal practice. Under the influence of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, he began to take interest in social resurgence of Muslims. He attended the meetings of All India Mohammadan Educational Conference and took it upon himself to impart modern western education to girls from Muslim community. He also involved Begum Sultan Jahan from the ruling family of Bhopal in this task. In 1906, along with his wife, he started Aligarh Zenana Madrasa .The Aligarh Zenana Madarsa then received a grant of Rs 17,000 with an additional monthly allowance of Rs 250 from government.. There was no looking back since then.

‌He did face bitter opposition .Muslim clerics were bitterly opposed to the idea of a Western-style education for boys being propagated by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Western education for girls was something they could not reconcile to. Sheikh Abdullah ignored criticism and started  building first  boarding school for girls in Aligarh .On November 7, 1911, the foundation stone of first girl’s hostel was laid in presence of Lady Porter, wife of the acting Lt. Governor of the United Province. The construction was completed in 1913. Later on, the Begum of Bhopal inaugurated new buildings.It became the first Women College  in Aligarh . In 1937 ,The Aligarh Women’s College became a part of the Aligarh Muslim University .

In 1949, when Maulana Abul Kalam Azad visited Aligarh for the annual Convocation, he was highly impressed   by the role being played by  Women’s College  for the spread of modern  education among girls .He  announced an annual grant of Nine hundred thousand rupees (Rs. 900,000/-)  for the college.
Begum Khatun Jahan, Mrs. Mumtaz Jahan Haider, Khursheed Jahan and Birjis Jahan (daughters of Sheikh Abdullah, Papa Mian) were among the early alumni of this college. Later the ranks were joined by literary giants like Ismat Chugtai ,Salma Siddiqi,  Nayyar Sultana( well know actress of Pakistan), Zarina Hashmi ( artist based in the US ) Mrs Kusum Ansal (  well known Hindi and Sanskrit writer) and Begum Abida Ahmad (wife of President of India, Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad ). And Shri. Salman Haider (IFS)  ,who retired as India's foreign Secretary is Papa Mian's grandson .

‌He was a member of AMU court from 1920 till his death, and also served as Honorary Treasurer for many terms. He was also a leading advocate at Aligarh civil court. His prime interest was in the field of education and social reform.
‌In Aligarh, his students fondly called him Papa Mian..

Sheikh  Abdullah was very closely associated with the Aligarh Movement and has also served AMU as the member of Executive Council of the University from 1920 to 1928.

 He was a staunch believer in Hindu Muslim unity and stayed back in India after the partition . He also served as the member of United Province Legislative Council. He was conferred with the title of ‘Khan Bahadur’ in 1935 and a  Padama Bhushan was awarded to him in 1964.

At AMU  Aligarh, Abdullah Hall is named after Sheikh Abdullah, the founder of the women's college in Aligarh Muslim University. The AMU has also instituted  annual Papa Mian  Awards  for girls  who excel in academics.
‌In 1975, Films Division ,GOI made a documentary on Sheikh Abdullah (Papa Mian ) and his contribution towards women education in India. It was directed by K A  Abbas.

‌ Well known actress Renuka Devi  (1918-1989 ) was his daughter. In 1934, she was married to  Akbar Mirza ,  a police officer from Delhi .  Along with her husband and in-laws, she  moved to Pakistan during  the partition of the country.  In Pakistan, she got seriously  involved with  television  .She was known as Begum Khursheed Mirza.

In an interview Begum Khursheed Mirza has said:-

" I was on a vacation with my husband . We were in Mumbai and visited a studio to see how shooting is done. Himanshu Rai ,who was shooting there convinced my husband that I should act in his film. My husband consented. That is how it all happened. Himanshu Rai and his wife treated me like their own daughter. My father was liberal. He had no issues but he faced lot of criticism on this score. I worked with Ashok Kumar. A perfect gentleman he was. He would ask the cameraman to focus more on me. You rarely see such good people. I played Holi with Ashok Kumar's wife Shoba. Renuka Devi was a name given to me by  Devika Rani ,wife of Himanshu Rai.

Such was the trust with Himanshu Rai that I never signed any agreement. When Ashok Kumar got a monthly salary of Rs950/- ,I was given Rs2000/- for a film.  I acted in films like  Bhakti (1939), Badi Didi (1939), Jeevan Prabhat (1937), Bhabhi (1938) , Naya Sansar (1941),  Sahara (1943), Ghulami (1945) and Samrat Chandragupta (1945).  "

About Renuka Devi, Baburao Patel of Filmindia ( January 1939 issue )  magazine declared that "Bombay Talkies have found another Devika Rani " and that "her performance has that distinctive grace and poise which can only be associated with a lady of culture and education."

 Next time more on  actress Renuka Devi..

(Avtar Mota)

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