SYEDA HAMEED | 22 SEPTEMBER, 2015
Brigadier Mohammad Usman leading a parade in Multan before Independence
I had gone with my sister to recite Fatiha at the grave of my nephew who had died many years ago in a tragic accident at the age of 26. In our Jamia Nagar area there are three graveyards; the VIP qabristan for the distinguished sons and daughters of Jamia and the nation, the Jamia Biraadri graveyard where employees, their families and a few others are buried and the public graveyard which is for all other residents of the Jamia area.
I saw that the VIP qabristan was sectioned off with a huge swathe of what looked like the tricolor flag. Since many of our beloved family and mentors lie there, we decided to walk over and pay our respects.
Qabristans (graveyards) in India are neglected spaces, filled with weeds, waste paper and stray animals freely wandering over the graves, looking for food. The only people one finds in such places are young boys in twos and threes, intent on their cell phones, flying kites or smoking. There is also the occasional bereaved person reciting Fatiha. But the scene we witnessed that day was quite different.
The place was swarming with military personnel, who were packing their gear after what appeared to be a big event. The tricolor swathe of cloth was stretched around a newly decorated and refurbished grave. All other graves in the area had been spruced and cleaned up. For once the place had a well cared look. No weeds, no litter, no stray animals. The hoarding which was being taken down by jawans bore the name Brigadier Mohammad Usman, Naushera Ka Sher. It displayed the photograph of a young man in uniform, with intense eyes and a determined face. There were three other photos on the hoarding showing three landmark events of his life, battle of Naushera, battle of Jhangar and his janaza attended by Pandit Nehru, Maulana Azad and Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah.
As a child I had heard about Brig. Usman who was spoken about in our family as a great hero and martyr. Later when my elder sister married his younger brother, Brigadier Ghufran, I began to think of him as family and referred to him as Usman Bhai. These three brothers from Azamgarh distinguished themselves in different ways. Brigadier Usman, was a national hero, Mohammad Subhan was a renowned Journalist with Times of India whose pen captured momentous events of the era, and Brigadier Ghufran was Deputy Military Secretary to the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
Brigadier Mohd Usman was born in Bibipur, Azamgarh district of UP on July 15 1912. His father Mohd Farooq was Shahr Kotwal of Benaras and his mother was Jamilun Bibi of Yusufpur. He had three older sisters and two younger brothers. After schooling in Benaras, he was commissioned in the army, which itself was a difficult feat given the colonial imperative. He was enlisted in the Baluch regiment. But when at the time of partition the Baluch regiment was assigned to Pakistan, he transferred to the Dogra Regiment. He was offered the position of Pakistan Army Chief if he agreed to opt for Pakistan, but he stated firmly that he preferred to remain in India.
As a young man, growing up in Benaras, there are many stories of his stoicism and bravery. But the climactic moments of his life occurred at two posts, Naushera and Jhangar which he commanded during the invasion of Kashmir by the Raiders, as the invaders from Pakistan were called. Jhangar is located in Kashmir at the Mirpur and Kotli junction. In December 1947 Jhangar was wrested from India by Pakistan in a fierce attack. Brigadier Usman took the defeat as a personal failure and vowed that he would sleep on a mat on the floor until he recaptured the surrendered post.
It was his fiery leadership that resulted in defeat of Pakistan at Naushera. His regiment while inflicting heavy casualties on the opponents, were able to escape with minimum casualties. This victory earned him the title Naushera Ka Sher.
During the Indo-Pak war of 1947-48, he was sent as Commander of the 77 Para Brigade, which was deployed at Jhangar. It was sheer grit that made him lead from the front and stake his life to capture Jhangar. The mission was successful but the Leader was killed by a 25 pounder shell. As he died he spoke his last words “I am dying, but let not the territory we are fighting for... fall”.
The Sher of Naushera died 12 days short of his 36th birthday. His brother Subhan with his journalist friend Khwaja Ahmed Abbas along with thousands mourned his death. Abbas wrote in his column, Last Page of the weekly Blitz “A precious life of imagination and unswerving patriotism has fallen victim to communal fanaticism. Brigadier Usman's brave example will be an abiding source of inspiration for free India".
The year 2012 was Birth Centenary of Brigadier Mohammad Usman. Two years later, in 2014, we commemorated the Birth Centenary of Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, which also happened to be the centenary year of Subhan. Both journalists were close friends and fellow travelers. These two men were part of our growing up and we were brought up in the aura of the values they embodied.
At the Qabristan I removed my shoes and lifted my hands in prayer at Brigadier Usman’s beautifully restored grave. An army jawan removed the temporary gate for me which had been put there to keep off the stray goats. As I stepped on the platform I felt joy in the Parachute Regiment and Jamia Millia University's commemoration of the death anniversary of the national hero, which extended to giving facelift to graves of all the national heroes and heroines who are laid along with him in the graveyard.
The dead need to be given dignity and honor not only on anniversaries but on every day of the year by giving a little extra care in maintaining graveyards which are places where everyone will find the ultimate space. It was the beauty of such spaces in England which inspired Thomas Gray's immortal poem Elegy in a Country Churchyard.