WEAVER’S NEST: Mohammed Toufique, whose grandfather migrated from Barabanki, still runs a handloom outfit in his memory
W its Muslim profile and powerloom economy, Malegaon in Maharastra is a child of 1857. Community elders who have been handed down tales of the slaughter that engulfed Meerut, Awadh and Lucknow, have not forgotten their Gadr origins, and with the 150th anniversary commemoration, memories are stirring once again.
Ninety-one-year-old Basheer Adeeb’s grandfather, Kallu Haji and his two sons Mohammed Usman and Mohammed Sultan, joined the river of migrants that flowed out of the United Provinces. Ironically, it was transportation technology introduced by the British, the railways, that helped the weavers and peasants in their flight. “My grandfather told me they used bullock carts and trains to leave Uttar Pradesh,’’ said Adeeb, who has written a book on Malegaon’s history. “The trains came up to Burhanpur (in Madhya Pradesh) and after that they had to walk. Burhanpur was the weavers’ first shelter town. Some stayed on, others kept on towards Jabalpur, Nagpur, Kampti, Shahda, Dhule, Malegaon, Yeola, Bhiwandi, and their last stop, Mominpura and Madanpura in Bombay.’’
Apart from the advancing bayonets of the East India Company it was also exploitation by the zamindars that the peasants wanted to escape. “The weavers did not even have the right to name their own children,’’ said Adeeb. When their wives gave birth a a child, the zamindar had to be consulted. He would typically brand the children with degrading names like Buddhu, Chhedan, Kallu, Kallan, or Khaddu. When the zamindar found out my grandfather had named his sons Usman and Sultan, he was furious. My grandfather was tied to a tree and lashed for having the audacity to name his children on his own. This was the reason my grandfather decided to leave.’’
The migration did not take place in one single burst but was spread over years. Once a family reached Malegaon, word was sent back to those still in Awadh or Lucknow, telling them to join—a family pattern that is still followed by migrants who flock to big cities for jobs.
It was not as if Malegaon had not existed before 1857. The local fort built in 1765 by the Marathas indicates it was already an important centre. However, its powerloom economy is a result of the migrant weaver population. Since the first census was conducted only in 1881 (Malegaon then had 10,622 people) there are no pre-1857 figures to compare the expansion in population or to record the influx of refugees. Adeeb says about 75 families settled in Malegaon after the gadar, in the Sangmeshwar, Islampura, Rasoolpura and Belbaug areas.
Until 1857, there were only six mosques in Malegaon—today the town boasts 250, as well as the biggest Islamic education institution for girls and the biggest Muslim cemetery in the country, where the September 8, 2006 bomb blasts took place killing 25.
The most dramatic event in the modern history of Malegaon was the arrival of electricity in 1936. Today Malegaon has around one lakh powerloom machines and 80 per cent of the city’s four lakh population is dependent on this industry. But there are those who have turned their back on electricity and stuck to the old craft of handlooms.
Mohammed Toufique, whose grandfather migrated from Barabanki in UP after the mutiny, still runs a handloom outfit in Ramzanpura on the outskirts of Malegaon. “My father used to say handlooms should not be replaced by powerlooms. This is the reason I still operate a handloom at this age,’’ said the 77-year-old weaver, who supplies cotton to the town’s doctors for dressing wounds.
Electricity turned Malegaon’s weavers into merchants and businessmen and ushered in a wave of prosperity that they have never dreamed possible. Adeeb’s grandfather had arrived from Allahabad in his kurta-pyjama with two children. Today, Adeeb’s family has 110 members, they own several powerloom units and shops and one of his sons is an American citizen with a clinic in Texas. It’s been a long journey.
The Times of India, May 10, 2007