FeaturedInternationalinternational, political, nationalNationalPoliticsUttarakhand

Abbas Tyabbji- the Grand Old Man of Gujarat, a forgotten prominent freedom fighter   

Listen to this article

Abbas Tyabbji- the Grand Old Man of Gujarat, a forgotten prominent freedom fighter


Dehradun, March 3

Does anyone in Uttarakhand remembers Abbas Tyabji, known during the struggle for freedom as the Grand Old Man ( GOM) of Gujarat, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi who lived and lay buried in Mussoorie. This question was posed by Anil Nauriya, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, writer and scholar during the course of his talk “From Baroda to Mussoorie: Abbas Tyabbji on the frontline for Swaraj” at Doon Library and Research Centre on Saturday.

Anil Nauriya during his talk threw light on the stellar role played by Abbas Tayabbji in the freedom struggle after his transformation from being loyal to the British raj to a tall leader of the initial but most important phase of Indian freedom struggle with Mahatma Gandhi. Born in Baroda before the the Indian Revolt of 1857, he retired as a Chief Justice of the Baroda High Court around 1913. An England-educated barrister, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and military violence by Britishers in Punjab as a whole in 1919 pulled Abbas Tyabji into the national movement and there was no turning back, recalled Anil Nauriya.

With the 1919 events having shaken up the country, Abbas Tyabji became a member of the committee set up by the Indian National Congress to inquire into the military violence in the Punjab.Other members of the committee included Mahatma Gandhi, CR Das and MR Jayakar. The committee produced a famous report accompanied with voluminous evidence. Abbas Tyabbji was drawn into social struggles against untouchability, attending along with Gandhi, the Social Conference held at Godhra in 1917.

Abbas Tyabji remained active in the Congress and all its struggles, presiding over the Gujarat Political Conference in 1920. Anil Nauriya recalled that Gandhi wrote in his autobiography that it was under Abbas Tyabji’s influence that Gujarat accepted the non-cooperation programme even before the Congress as a whole had done so. Tyabji was a signatory to the October 1921 manifesto, a bold document, calling upon Indians to withdraw from civilian and military service of the Raj. Imprisoned often, the movement changed his lifestyle. He took to khadi, saying “this fakir’s dress has broken down all barriers”.

Paintings of Abbas Tyabbji and his wife Amina

Anil Nauriya said that enthusiasm and spirit of Abbas Tyabbji at the ripe old age was phenomenal. In the hot summer of 1928,when Abbas Tyabji was nearing 80, he went around Gujarat’s villages in a bullock cart popularising and hawking “the livery of freedom”. He had been active in the peasants’ movement in Bardoli.

In the civil disobedience movement of 1930, Abbas Tyabji succeeded Gandhi as the national leader after the latter’s arrest. A few days later Abbas Tyabji was himself arrested, leading a party of 59 persons to besiege the Salt Works at Dharasana. Before that he had been organisationally second in command of the ‘Dandi March’ and participated at its beginning and end.

Anil Nauriya lamented that although Abbas Tyabbji has been forgotten in the country and even by the Congress party , he was a household name in India in the 1930s. One popular slogan in the 1930s movement went like this: “Khara rupaiya Chandi ka Raj Tayab-Gandhi Ka”.

Anil during his talk mentioned about the affectionate relationship Abbas Tyabbji shared with Mahatma Gandhi. An unending stream of letters was exchanged between them. Gandhi’s side of it alone stretches across 52 of the 99 volumes of his Collected Works. The two are often as children exchanging notes: “Dear Bhrrr!” start many of Gandhi’s letters to Abbas Tyabji.

Anil Nauriya, a senior supreme court lawyer,writer and scholar presenting a talk on Abbas Tyabbji at Doon Library on March 2,2024.

Anil Nauriya said that he once asked Sohaila, Abbas Tyabji’s daughter who lived at Aligarh, what this ‘Bhrrr’ was about. She said that apparently, Gandhi and Abbas Tyabji were held up one winter night at a remote railway station in Gujarat, perhaps it was Godhra. It was so cold that they shivered and “bhrred” each other to keep warm through the night; when the station master asked them what the matter was, they bhrred him too! It became a private joke between them and sealed their friendship. “A different Gujarat in a different age’, commented Anil Nauriya.

About his connection and stay at Mussoorie, Anil Nauriya explained that his wife Amina who was also a prominent freedom fighter was not keeping good health and was advised to stay in the hills. A letter sent to the Viceroy in the 1930s on behalf of Indian women is signed by her. A school for girls which she started in Baroda still bears her name.

official order naming a street on the name of Abbas Tyabbji at Mussoorie.

First Amina and Abbas Tyabji lived as tenants in a cottage called ‘Brandlesome’ in Barlowganj before buying and moving to ‘Southwood’ house in 1930 where the family stayed. Abbas Taybbji died in the night of June 9-10, 1936 and buried at Mussoorie. During their stay at ‘Southwood’ many senior personalities of national freedom movement used to visit the place to meet Abbas Tyabbji. After the partition of the country, the Tyabbji family donated the ‘Southwood’ to the country for specific purpose of stay of central and state ministers. The building was looked after by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD).

However, Anil Nauriya said that a visit to ‘Southwood’ in 1996 brought the fact that the building was being pulled down to pave the way for a new building. He could find two paintings of both Abbas Tyabbji and Amina his wife on the floor. Nobody knows about those paintings but Anil Nauriya said that he was able to photograph those. The demolition was prevented following a hue and cry and the Uttarakhand Freedom Fighters Association got involved to protect his legacy. The Uttarakhand government in its’ order named the road from Kincraig to Library at Mussoorie as Abbas Tyabbji road and plaque was also installed which perhaps is nowhere to be seen following widening of the road in later years.

Anil Nauriya said that there is need to remember personalities like Abbas Tyabbji during the present time of communal hatred and bigotry. He said that it was a pity even organisations like Congress party and Khadi and Village Industries Commission have done little to perpetuate the memory of personalities like him who did so much for the cause of freedom struggle and Khadi. Anil Nauriya informed that a biography of Abbas Tyabji in Gujarati by Kalyanji Mehta, himself a prominent freedom fighter, is still extant. “The finest photograph I have seen of the Grand Old Man is in “The Fall of a Sparrow”, the autobiography of his distinguished ornithologist nephew, the late Salim Ali,” said Anil Nauriya.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
error: Content is protected !!