Sufi Amba Prasad: The One-Handed Freedom Fighter Who Fought on Two Fronts— in India and Iran

Sufi Amba Prasad

Freedom fighters often face immense difficulties, all the more so if they are challenging the biggest imperial power in the world. This is precisely what Sufi Amba Prasad (1858-1917) did ever since his young days. In fact he took up this challenge not in one but in two countries—India and Iran—and finally died fighting for this cause in Shiraj ( Iran).

Sufi Amba Prasad was a great champion of Hindu-Muslim unity. He was ahead of his times in visualizing the unity of several countries for defeating imperialist powers.

It is a great tribute to Sufi Amba Prasad that just as he had become very popular among freedom fighters at a very young age in India, similarly he became famous quickly in Iran, despite this being a new country for him where he had to start from scratch.

In the course of this very eventful life in which he was more often than not surrounded and chased by powerful enemies —time and again he displayed great courage for which he became very famous. It is absolutely amazing that he could lead such a life despite having been born without his right hand. He fought very bravely till he breathed his last in the freedom movement of two countries, all the while using only one hand!

Sufi Amba Prasad deserves to be known much more widely in India. At present he is perhaps remembered more in Iran where he died fighting colonial powers in Shiraj at the age of 58 in year 1917.

Amba Prasad was born in Moradabad (India) in 1858, just a little time after the great uprising of India against British rule in 1857. He used to joke that he must have been a fighter in the first great rising against colonial rule and lost his right hand in this, and then he was so quick to return to continue the struggle that he was reborn very soon without giving God adequate time to mend his hand!

He was drawn towards legal studies initially in which he became quite learned, but he soon found his true calling in journalism where he became known for his fiery writing against any kind of injustice and particularly against the many-sided injustices of colonial rule. As a result his jail journeys started at an early age. He was tortured in jail and denied treatment. Even his property was confiscated.

Despite this he was associated with several journals as editor and writer. His command over Urdu language was widely admired. He also emerged as a very strong and consistent promoter of Hindu-Muslim unity. Peshwa newspaper started by him soon became much sought after by people attracted to the freedom movement.

His work gathered further strength when he came in contact with Sardar Ajit Singh of Pagri Sambhal Jatta fame. Now his activities shifted more to Punjab. He was a frequent visitor to the joint family home of Ajit Singh who was also the much-loved uncle of Bhagat Singh. Along with his uncle, Sufi Amba Prasad also had a very inspirational impact on the child.

The contribution of Amba Prasad was particularly great in bringing out and distributing various publications which spread the message of the freedom movement. One of his books was banned by the authorities.

As both Ajit Singh and Sufi Amba Prasad were extremely popular and capable leaders working day and night to spread the message of freedom in India, the colonial regime was all the time thinking of harming them and arresting them. When this threat increased further they both decided to leave India and work for the freedom of India from abroad.

Initially both of them went together to Iran. Here they also got involved with nationalist activities of Iran. When Ajit Singh had to leave for Turkey most of the burden of the work in Iran was shouldered by Sufi Amba Prasad at a time when the British were also consolidating their hold over Iran.

Despite several constraints Amba Prasad  made several efforts to help the cause of freedom movement in India even when based in  Iran. His efforts to contact Indian soldiers fighting in the first world war to spread the message of freedom movement opened up a path which was later used much more widely and successfully  by Subhash Chandra Bose.

You cannot keep a fiery journalist quiet for too long and despite all the risks of initiating such work in a new place Sufi Amba Prasad started a newspaper in Iran. Unfortunately this also made it easier for the British to trace him.

This ultimately led to a confrontation in Shiraj where Sufi Amba Prasad faced his attackers with a revolver in his (only) left hand. He fought very bravely but was finally overpowered and imprisoned. He was given a death sentence but expired in the jail while awaiting the execution of death sentence. A large number of people of Iran gathered at his last rites.

He had gained very widespread and deep respect in this country. A memorial was created to honor him which is still visited by people. We in India need to do much more to preserve the inspirational memory of Sufi Amba Prasad.

Bharat Dogra has contributed biographies of several freedom fighters. His recent books on the freedom movement include When the Two Streams Met and Azadi  Ke Deewano Kee Dastaan.

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