Abbas Tyabji with Gandhiji

A very unique example of voluntary riches to rags – Abbas Tyabji was a nationalist and an Indian freedom fighter from Gujarat.

Born in Baroda before the Indian Revolt of 1857, Tyabji was a Sulaimani Bohra Muslim and the grandson of the Merchant Prince Mullah Tyab Ali Bhai Mian. He was an England-educated barrister, brought up in an atmosphere covered with loyalty to the Empire. He lived in England for eleven years and then moved on to the princely state of Baroda to become the Chief Justice of the (Baroda) Gujarat High Court.

During those days, Tyabji was seen as a model of Britishness, leading a Western lifestyle and wearing impeccably tailored English suits. Though a nationalist at heart, he would not stand adverse criticism of the British as people, or of the Raj. His moderate but simmering nationalism and his absolute integrity and fairness as a judge were widely recognized and lauded.

Tyabji’s life changed when he chaired an independent fact finding committee of the Congress to look into the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He decided to leave behind all the comforts when he was in his late 60s – a time when people usually take a backseat. He dumped his ‘British lifestyle’ and plunged himself whole heartedly into the freedom struggle. His first hand experience of the British atrocities committed by General Reginald Dyer turned him to become an ardent follower of Gandhiji.

Tyabji’s changed lifestyle included burning his English clothes and adopting Khadi as his clothing. He travelled around the country in third class railway carriages, stayed in simple dharamshalas and ashrams, slept on the ground and walked miles to preach non-violent disobedience against the British Indian government. He continued this new lifestyle well past the age of seventy, including several years in British jails.

Abbas Tyabji was also a key ally of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel during the 1918 Kheda Satyagraha, and the 1928 Bardoli Satyagraha. In the hot summer of 1928, when Tyabji was nearing 80, he went around Gujarat’s villages in a bullock cart popularizing “the livery of freedom”. After these, in early 1930, the Indian National Congress declared Purna Swaraj or independence from the British Raj. As a first act of civil disobedience, Gandhiji launched the well-known Salt Satyagraha. Tyabji was then chosen as the immediate successor in case of Gandhiji’s arrest. On May 4, 1930, after the Salt March to Dandi, Gandhiji was arrested and Tyabji was placed in charge of the next phase of the Salt Satyagraha. On May 7, 1930, Tyabji led the Dharasana Satyagraha with Gandhiji’s wife, Kasturba by his side. This was a raid on the Dharasana Salt Works in Gujarat. On May 12, before reaching Dharasana, Tyabji and 58 Satyagrahis were arrested by the British. After Tyabji, Sarojini Naidu was appointed the leader of the Satyagraha.

Tyabji’s was a household name in the 1930s. One popular slogan then went like this: “Khara rupaiya chandi ka/ Raj Tayab-Gandhi ka”. Tyabji had an affectionate relationship with Gandhiji and they exchanged an unending stream of letters. The ‘ever-smiling’ Tyabji kept poor health in the later years. Advised to spend more time in the hills, he moved to a cottage, ‘Southwood’, in Mussoorie, where he died in the night of June 9-10, 1936. After his death, Gandhiji wrote an article in the Harijan newspaper titled “G. O. M. of Gujarat” (Grand Old Man of Gujarat), including the following praise for Tyabji: “At his age and for one who had never known hardships of life it was no joke to suffer imprisonments. But his faith conquered every obstacle. He was a rare servant of humanity. He was a servant of India because he was a servant of humanity. He believed in God as Daridranarayana. He believed that God was to be found in the humblest cottages and among the depressed of the earth. Abbas Mian is not dead, though his body rests in the grave. His life is an inspiration for us all.”

With the polarization between the communities growing at a fast rate in our country, the common heritage of the legacy of people like Abbas Tyabji seems to have no place in our memories.

Read original article at: http://epaper.namoleague.com/EpaperArticle.aspx?title=The%20Grand%20Old%20man%20of%20Gujarat_189

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