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The assassination of Mahashay Rajpal, the publisher of Rangeela Rasool: How secularism and freedom of expression died along with him

On the surface, Rangeela Rasool had a laudatory tone of Mohammed’s life but at the same time pointing out uncomfortable truths about his domestic life.

Swargiya Mahashay Rajpal Malhotra was born in a Khatri family in Amritsar on the Panchmi tithi of Ashadh Samvat (AD 1885). Since childhood Mahashay Rajpal ji was very intelligent, hard working, perseverant and was a great student. His father, Swargiya Lala Ramdas Khatri, passed away when he was quite young.

In connection with his work, he met an Amritsar based, famous Aryasamaji Hakim Fatehchand, who was in need of an employee. He secured a job with Hakim ji on a monthly income of twelve rupees and with that, he earned a special place in Hakim ji’s heart with his qualities of duty, hard work, honesty and for being perseverant.

At the time, Hindi was not very prevalent in Punjab and there were hardly any Hindi publishers. Mahashay Rajpal ji in 1912 started “Rajpal and Sons” from Lahore. He would publish Hindi, English, Urdu and Punjabi books on social, political and religious topics. As a publisher he never shied away from controversial topics, such as publishing one of India’s first books on family planning titled “Santan Sankhya ka Seema Bandhan”.

Mahashay Rajpal
Mahashay Rajpal

In 1923, Muslims published two particularly offensive books to Hindus. “Krishna teri geeta jalani padegi” used derogatory and vulgar language against Shri Krishna and other Hindu deities and “Uniseevi sadi ka maharshi” which contained derogatory remarks on Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayanand Saraswati (incidentally written by an Ahmadi). This was the time before Sec 295A was introduced in the IPC.

To respond to this provocation, Pandit Chamupati Lal, a close friend of Mahashay Rajpal, wrote a short biography of the Islamic Prophet, Mohammed. Titled “Rangeela Rasool” this short pamphlet was a satirical take on the domestic life of Mohammed. Because of the sensitive nature of the pamphlet, Pandit Chamupati made Mahashay Rajpal promise that he would never reveal the name of the author.

The pamphlet was originally published anonymously under the name “doodh ka doodh aur panee ka panee”. On the surface, Rangeela Rasool had a laudatory tone of Mohammed’s life but at the same time pointing out uncomfortable truths about his domestic life.

Though historically accurate and written after due research of hadiths, this caused an outrage among the Muslims of Lahore. The first edition of the pamphlet sold out quickly, however a mere one month after the publication of the pamphlet, in June 1924 Mohandas Gandhi wrote in his weekly ‘Young India’ condemning the pamphlet indicating that it had already become a national issue as early as June 1924.

It is also worth pointing out that Mohandas completely ignored similar provocative articles written by Muslims to which this was a response. Before the second edition could be printed, the colonial government banned the pamphlet in late June 1924. This ban stands to this day (Although in the open internet era copies can be found easily. By July 1924, Muslims had filed a criminal case against Mahashay Rajpal under Sec 153A (promoting enmity between groups).

During the trial, he was offered to give up the name of the real author of Rangeela Rasool and go scot-free, but he declined it and upheld his promise. In legal proceedings that lasted close to three years, in May 1927 Mahashay Rajpal was acquitted of all charges. The judge contended that Sec. 153A does not prohibit historical analysis of ‘prophets’ of different religions and if it were to be so applied, works of serious historians could also be subject to it.

As soon as justice was delivered, Muslims all over the country went off into a frenzy holding large protests against the judgement. In several places, riots broke out after provocative speeches given by religious leaders. Al-Jamiat an official arm of the Jamiat-Ulaima-i-Hind warned in an article that “under sharia the punishment for insulting the prophet is death and it is legally permissible to kill those who insult the prophet”.

Maulana Mohammad Ali, once held up by Mohandas Gandhi as a great “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” in a provocative speech at the Jama Masjid in July 1927 warned that should the judgement not be reversed, Muslims would be compelled to take the law in their own hands. Even avowed secularists like Motilal Nehru remarked to his son that “the Musslmans of India have all gone mad”.

The scenes following the murder of Mahashay Rajpal
The scenes following the murder of Mahashay Rajpal

The primary organized opposition to the judgement was driven by the Khilafatists and the Ahmadis. Ahmadis printed posters in several cities urging a total economic boycott of Hindus in response to the perceived insult to their prophet. The then spiritual head of the Ahmadiya community, Mirza Bashir ud-din Ahmad, wrote to the British viceroy in support of an anti-blasphemy law where insult to the “prophet” should be clearly mentioned and made illegal.

In a cruel twist of karma, this is the same law that is used today in Pakistan to persecute the Ahmadiya community. The British introduced 295A, criminalizing future speech deemed insulting to religious groups, passed easily in parliament with widespread support. Lala Lajpat Rai, Hindu Mahasabha leader, called the legislation a “temporary measure” necessary to “satisfy some hyper sensitive folk”.

He also introduced an amendment to introduce a sunset clause of 1930 which was defeated. Few members objected to it on the grounds that it was a dangerous concession given to the Muslim community.

By this time Mahashay Rajpal was a marked man. In 1927, the same year he was acquitted, there were two unsuccessful attempts on his life — a wrestler named Khuda Baksh attacked him in September 1927 when he was sitting in his shop but Khatri Rajpal ji caught him and handed him over to the authorities. Khuda Baksh was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison.

The next month, a Muslim man named Aziz Ahmed attacked Swami Satyanand ji mistaking him to Khatri Rajpal. Luckily, the attack was not fatal and Swami ji recovered after a couple of months. On April 6th, 1929 a 19 year old carpenter named Ilm ud din stabbed Mahashay Rajpal on his chest eight times while he was seated in the outer verandah of his shop. Mahashay Rajpal did not survive the attack and attained the lotus feet of Narayan on this day.

The real author of Rangeela Rasool on Mahashay Rajpal
The real author of Rangeela Rasool on Mahashay Rajpal

As word spread among the Hindus of Lahore, a crowd of thousands gathered. Fearing a law and order situation, the British authorities initially declined to give permission for a funeral procession but relented and gave permission for the next day. As the procession went across Lahore, people paid respects by flowering petals from their homes. In an editorial soon after his funeral, journalist and poet Nanak chand Naaz wrote of Mahashay Rajpal –

फ़ख से सर उनके ऊँ चे आसमान तक तक हो गए, हि दं ओु ने जब अर्थी उठाई राजपाल।
फू ल बरसाए शहीदों ने तेरी अर्थी पे खूब, देवताओंने तेरी जय जय बुलाई राजपाल।
हो हर इक हि न्दू को तेरी ही तरह दनिु निया नसीब जि स तरह तूने छुरी सि ने पै खाई राजपाल।
तेरे काति ल पर न क्यूँ इस्लाम भेजे लानतें, जब मुजम्मत कर रही हैं इक खुदाई राजपाल।
मैंने क्या देखा की लाखों राजपाल उठने लगे दोस्तों ने लाश तेरी जब जलाई राजपाल।

On the other hand, Mahashay Rajpal’s killer was represented in court by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who argued for his innocence and at his funeral the poet Mohammad Iqbal, a favourite of Indian liberals today, eulogized the killer. Today his grave is a religious site in Pakistan and Pakistani textbooks eulogize him with the title of “Ghazi”.

After partition, Mahashay Rajpal’s family moved to Delhi from where “Rajpal and Sons” continues to operate today. Almost 70 years after his death, he was awarded the first “International Freedom to Publish Award” by then deputy PM LK Advani. Mahashay Rajpal inspired a generation and continues to inspire people today by his sacrifice.

References

Julia Stephens, The Politics of Muslim Rage: Secular Law and Religious
Sentiment in Late Colonial India, History Workshop Journal, Volume 77, Issue 1,
Spring 2014, Pages 45–64

Raj R. A Pamphlet and its (Dis)contents: A Case Study of Rangila Rasul and the
Controversy Surrounding it in Colonial Punjab, 1923–29. History and Sociology
of South Asia. 2015;9(2):146-162

Note: The article has been authored by @Vedic_Revival and @aryasanghi (Twitter usernames)

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