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Remembering Lady Anees Imam, One of the Founders of Modern Bihar

Lady Anees Imam with her husband Sir Syed Ali Imam. Picture: National Portrait Gallery, London.

Mohd Hussain Ganie | TwoCircles.net

The role of minority personalities in the national movement and nation-building remains unacknowledged and is also being systematically and deliberately erased from history as well as from our memories.   Amidst this grim scenario, it is important to remember the story of courage, bravery, sacrifice, and political sagacity of Anees Fatimah, or Lady Anees Imam as she became later famous. She played a distinctive role in the anti-colonial movement and became one of the founders of Modern Bihar along with her cousin and husband Sir Syed Ali Imam (1869-1932), who too was one of the noted founders of modern Bihar.

Lady Anees received her early education from Badshah Nawaz Rizvi (B.N.R.) School, earlier called Madrasa Islamia, was founded by the first woman novelist of Patna Rasheed un Nesa (1853-1926) in 1906 with the help of her husband Yahya, a renowned advocate of Patna.

She was one among the group of prominent Muslim women who at the beginning of the 20th century emerged in Bihar and raised their voices against social evils and injustice in Bihar society. They rejected purdah and participated openly against this practice among both Hindu and Muslim women. These include lady Anees Imam, Zubaida Begum Daudi (1886-1972), Zahra Kalim, and Hamida Naim. These elite ( and largely upper caste) Muslim women of Bihar also actively participated with their male counterparts in the country’s freedom struggle. 

Lady Imam made remarkable contributions to India’s freedom movement. In the heydays of the Non-Cooperation movement (1920-22), she along with her daughter Mehmuda Sami organized large-scale protests against the liquor shops in Patna. 

More significantly, she was head of the Committee deputed by the All India Congress to England to pressurize the British Government against the Montaque Chelmsford Reforms of 1919. She was the first woman of Bihar to go to England for political matters.

She did not rest here. She was also quite active in the second big mass movement, the civil disobedience movement (1930-34) which is often considered, ‘the turning point in the participation of Women in the freedom struggle.’ 

On 15 July 1930, Lady Imam and Gauri Das took out a great procession in Patna and also proposed a committee for boycotting foreign goods. This again debunks a widely held notion that Muslims kept themselves aloof from the civil disobedience movement. On the 25th of July, 1938, under her leadership, a large procession of nearly 3000 women took out in Patna. As a result, the British issued warrants against her. This sparked more protests, this time across Patna. Later, the All India Congress acknowledged her efforts by sending a message of congratulations for Lady Imam’s sacrifices.  

Anees Fatima came in contact with Sushma Sen, a social worker. With the help of Sushma Sen and lady Wheeler, the wife of then Governor A. H. Wheeler, Anees Fatima undertook the task of making Bengali and Bihari women self-dependent. She established Aghor Kamini Shilpalaya. During her trip to Hyderabad she met Miss Aamna Aithal Pope, who was active in the upliftment of women in Hyderabad, Anees Imam was also impressed and supported the cause with the help of Shogara Begam, Humayun Begam, and Begam Mirza. She along with P. K. Sen also started Aghor Nari Pratishan at Patna in 1938 to impart industrial education to Women.  

Lady Imam also fought the elections of 1937 as an independent candidate from Bihar and won the seat. She was an active member of the Anjuman Tarraqi-e-Urdu, which relentlessly fought for Urdu to be considered the second language of Bihar. The other members who also played their part were Ghulam Sarwar (1926-2004), Betaab Siddiqi (1916-), Sardar Latifur Rahman, S. M. Aiyub (1910-64), Shah Mushtaq (1917-2002), among many others. 

After Independence, Anees Imam was elected the President of the Social Welfare Board, and with the backing of the Board, she contributed immensely to social welfare and women empowerment. She managed all her social work from Mariyam Manzil (Anisabad, Patna).

Moreover, Lady Imam also went to other parts of Bihar such as Barh, Muzaffarpur, and other cities, and established many committees for the promotion of welfare activities.

Lady Imam’s daughter Mehmuda Sami was quite active in the freedom movement of India. Sami was extremely popular among the students of Bihar. Even at her slightest hint, the students would gather and join the campaign against the British.  

She was elected to the Bihar legislative Assembly and fully supported the cause of Education in Bihar. She was an active member of the Khuda Baksh Library in Patna and she gave her possible support in opening Bihar Government Urdu Library. She was a good orator and inspired girls and taught them the value of Education in their life.

Imam Kothi alias Anees Castle in its present condition. Photo courtesy: Subhadip Mukherjee from the blog of Amitabha Gupta

Lady Imam’s close relationship with Patna can also be estimated from the fact that there is a locality named after her in Patna called Anisabad. Her husband Sir Ali Imam was the owner of a large area in the west of Gardanibagh and also built a palatial building called Anees Mahal near the junction of Phulwari Sharif Road and a new bypass. Later on, this property was passed on to Lady Imam and, thus, this sprawling area came to be known as Anisabad after her.

Sir Syed Ali Imam built a huge residence for her in Ranchi, Bihar. The residence is unusually styled as a Scottish castle and known locally as ‘Anees Castle’. A mausoleum was also built as a final resting place for the couple. The castle took around 20 years and was completed in 1932. Following her husband’s death in the same year, Anees Fatimah concentrated on her political career. When she passed away in Patna in 1979, her burial took place there, thus destroying her late husband’s dream of them resting together for eternity in the Castle. 

This Anees Castle, however, decayed gradually and has been turned into a storehouse of marble owned by a businessman Motilal. This also suggests our indifference towards our heritage.

(Mohd Hussain Ganie is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University. He can be reached at [email protected])