Mohd Akram/Motihari (Bihar)
Not many Indians would know that much before Nathuram Godse’s gun silenced Mahatma Gandhi, he had faced an assassination attempt during his travel through Bihar and was saved by Batakh Mian Ansari, a cook.
As India celebrates Gandhi Jayanti and the World International Day of Non-violence in memory of Mahatma Gandhi, Batakh Mian’s family is relegated to anonymity. Not many Indians are even aware that Mahatma Gandhi’s life was saved by Batakh Mian in Champaran in 1927.
The second generation of Batakh Mian Ansari say they feel sad to realize that their grandfather was never given his due in the pages of history.
Gandhiji was visiting the Champaran to meet the Indigo farmers who were facing the atrocities of the British. He reached the town on 13 April 1927. During his stay, Bapu listened to the problems of the people and met several delegations.
Gandhi was mulling to launch a major agitation against the British. Seeing the fallout of Mahatma’s moves, Irwin, the leader of the Indigo factory managers, invited him for negotiations.
The invitation was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi. The plan was to poison his food.
At that time, the Batakh Mian Ansari, a resident of Siswa Ajgari, located a few kilometers from Motihari, was Irwin's cook. He earned a meager salary and it was difficult for him to make both ends meet.
Irwin had asked Batakh Mian to add poison to Bapu's food. As a servant, Batakh Mian had no choice but to listen to his master. However, he didn’t like it.
At the designated time, duty-bound Batakh Mian went to Gandhi with a glass of milk in laced with poison. He broke down and cried copiously.
Gandhiji asked him the reason for his despair and Batakh Mian Ansari spills the beans of Irwin’s plot. The assassination plot flopped.
Batakh Mian lost his job and faced untold miseries. Members of his family were tortured and his house was demolished. Batakh Mian spent 17 years in jail.
The memories of Mahatma Gandhi's arrival in Champaran are recorded in many books and yet none of these include the episode of sacrifices made by Batakh Mian and his family.
Ansari doesn’t figure even in Gandhi's autobiography; nor is it mentioned in the book 'Mahatma Gandhi in Champaran' which is specifically about the country's first President Rajendra Prasad’s visit to Champaran.
Chirag Ansari, Batakh Mian Ansari's grandson, wonders about his grandfather’s near neglect by successive historians. "If it was someone else maybe he might not have been forgotten like this," he says.
Chirag Ansari told Awaz-the voice that President Dr Rajendra Prasad had come to Motihari in 1957 to address the public meeting.
Batakh Mian was also present at the meeting. On seeing him, Rajendra Prasad shouted from the dais, "Batakh bhai kaise ho? (Brother Batakh, how are you?).”
He invited him on the stage and spoke with him for a long time. On his return to Delhi, the President invited his son Jan Mian Ansari to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Rajendra Prasad wrote a letter to the Bihar government asking it to give 35 acres of land to Batakh Mian Ansari. The order was never put into action.
Chirag said that in 1955, again there was a proposal to give 50 acres of land to the family. However, after his father died in 1958, the Bihar government was again asked to give 35 acres of land to the family.
So far only 5 acres of land have been allotted to the family in their native village Siswa Ajgari.
"Everyone has forgotten the man who saved Bapu's life and suffered for it. Every year a program is held at his Mazar, but neither the government nor the representative of any political party visits it,” rues Chirag.
Batakh Mian had three sons: Rashid Mian, Sher Mohammad Mian, and Jan Mohammad Mian. Even today, their children work as farm labourers and face poverty.
Chirag says the family has not given up hope. He feels one day the family of Batakh Mian will be taken care of and he will get his due place in history.