Azra Choudhary, a Jammu massacre victim: the journey to Islam and translation of Tazkeer ul Quran into Dogri
Story of her life, her childhood in the most difficult conditions, her journey to Islam, translation of Quran and also the story of her mother, a victim of the Jammu massacre in 1947.
This is the story of Azra Chowdhary’s legendary life, how she began her childhood in the most difficult conditions, her journey to Islam and larger purpose as she toiled through her difficulties. Also the story ofher mother, a victim of the Jammu massacre in 1947. Azra Choudhary, a Jammuite Muslim and former govt employee, had been receiving calls from all nears and dears for translating the Quran into Dogri Language when I met her last year after the release of the translation. Azra translated Moulana Waheed ud Din Khan’s Tazkeer Ul Quran (a translation in Urdu) to Dogri. While I was about to start the conversation Azra got a call that she greeted by saying, “Namaste’’ (a greeting used by Hindus). “She was my niece, congratulating me for this achievement”, said Azra. Strange! Yes. Her niece is a Hindu, born to Karan Singh, Azra’s brother. Azra’s story is like that of many Jammu Muslims, who became the victims of the 1947 sub-continent partition, followed by massacres which divided families. Now, still, after so many years, Azra’s family is also divided by borders and religion but united by blood and family bond.
The strange yet painful story of Azra’s family goes back to the carnage of 1947 when her mother, Razia was taken as a bounty by a member of a mob that attacked Muslim families in Miran Shah, Jammu. Razia was only 16 years old and was married a year earlier in 1946 to Choudhary Ghulam Ahmad of Miran Shah, Jammu. Razia’s father Choudhary Abdullah Khan was a member of Maharaja’s Prajha Sabha. He was a very influential person in Jammu. But as soon as the riots broke out the only identity one carried was religion. Choudhary Abdullah Khan was now only a Muslim whose blood was ‘lawful’ for the mob.
He took away my mom and told her all her family members were killed”, says Azra. “He then handed her over to a person named Thakur Balwan Singh. He kept my mom and married her.”
In November 1947, thousands of Muslims were killed in the Jammu region by mobs and paramilitaries led by Dogra ruler Hari Singh. Though the exact number of causalities is unknown owing to media negligence but estimates range from 20,000 to 2,37,000 . Christopher Snedden in his book ‘The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir’ writes, “in J&K, the partition process and its impact affected Jammu province most of all. This province was contiguous to Punjab.” He further writes, “…much of this was not widely reported, even though the violence in Jammu province may have been greater.” Going into the details of censorship imposed by Maharaja Hari Singh, Snedden writes, “another reason why Jammu events were poorly reported in 1947 was that the Maharaja’s govt suppressed, adulterated or hindered the news collection and reporting activities. Hari Singh’s administration was ‘waging a ceaseless war against newspapers and journalists that were in favour of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan”. (The untold story of the people of Azad Kashmir page number 39, 40). In order to save themselves from rape, kidnap and killings, Razia along with many women took refuge in a glass factory owned by her husband’s Hindu friend. “One of the mob members was especially looking for Choudhary Abdullah Khan’s daughter. He took away my mom and told her all her family members were killed”, says Azra. “He then handed over her to a person named Thakur Balwan Singh. He kept my mom and married her.” Thakur Balwan Singh had already been married but his wife had died some time ago then.
Thakur Balwan Singh was from Thub village of Jammu’s Gao Masa belt. “However, when he took my mom as bounty and then married her, he did not take her to his village. Instead, he kept her in different places in Punjab as he did not want his family to know about my Muslim mom”, said Azra. Razia had no other option but to live with Thakur Balwan Singh. According to Azra, young Razia had nowhere to go as she found herself in a completely strange environment. So, Razia embraced Balwan Singh as her husband, as he was then the only shelter left for her. Meanwhile, Razia who was then living like Hindu gave birth to three children. Her children included a son, Karan Singh and two daughters, Reva Rani and Anju.
According to Azra, her father Balwan Singh was a generous person who had rescued many Muslims and helped them reach Pakistan. “He would love me. He had appointed a Pathan who would rescue Muslims and save their lives. But only my Amee was unfortunate”, said Azra. When asked when she and her siblings came to know about the painful episode of her mother, Azra said, “She used to be disturbed. We would ask her where our maternal home was. One day when I was in Class 6th the name “Ruqaya” was written on my textbook when she heard me reading it, she told me Ruqaya was also the name of her sister.”
However, one day her colleague Shameema proposed her name to her husband Abdul Qayoom Nadvi for translating the Quran into Dogri. Abdul Qayoom Nadvi on behalf of Shah e Hamdan Society approached Azra. This time Azra could not turn down the offer.
In 1965, when Balwan Singh died, Razia along with her children settled in New Plot, Jammu at the accommodation of her husband Balwan Singh’s friend Bishamber Das Sharma, who happened to be a patwari. Azra says, our mother settled in Jammu for our education and lived in that accommodation for about 5 years till we constructed our house in 1970. Razia was very much concerned about the education of her children. and earned for her family by using skills of stitching, tailoring. Then one day in 1974 Razia accidentally met her ex-husband’s sister, also her cousin, in a Tehsil Office. It was there where she came to know that all these years, she had been living a life with all lies. She came to know then that many of her family members are still alive including her ex-husband Choudhary Ghulam Ahmed. Her ex-husband who was also Razia’s relative had returned from Pakistan after the situation got under control. However, he had also married and had three children. In the same year, Razia moved to Dalpatian, Jammu and started living with her ex-husband’s sister. The family then never looked back and accepted Islam. However, Azra’s elder brother Karan Singh continued to be Hindu. He had got married in 1971. Azra had a religious bent right since her childhood. Even while she was a Hindu, she used to practice her religion and read religious books like Gita. After she embraced Islam, a local Molvi Sahib was assigned to teach her Quran. Azra says about her conversion to Islam, “When I converted then I totally left back my previous beliefs. Though, I have seen women who after converting and marrying do not leave behind previous beliefs.”
On 29 April 1979, Razia along with her younger daughter Zarina (earlier Anju) went to Pakistan to visit her sisters and brother. Her eight sisters had safely reached Pakistan in 1947 and were living in Pakistan. Azra was married in the same year to Chaudhary Salamat. When Razia went to Pakistan she was not allowed by her siblings to come back to Jammu and Kashmir. Razia married her daughter Zarina with her nephew there and died in 1999 in Sialkot.
“So far there is positive response regarding my work. Dogri speaking people are requesting me to give them copies, both Hindus as well as Muslims. It is lack of knowledge and ignorance which leads to hatred and communalism and same is the case with Dogris”.
Now what followed was the track upon which Azra set her foot and as a result, got an achievement she hardly had imagined of before. She says, “When you are chosen by Allah for His task He makes and opens ways for you that you had never imagined of. After graduation, I pursued post-graduation in Hindi. I was married so I was also busy with domestic work. One day a friend and father-in-law asked me to pursue post-graduation in Dogri. It was such a strange development. ”After completing her studies, Azra got appointed as a teacher in 1985. In 1992, she got appointed in Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages as Research Assistant Dogri dictionary section. She was the only Muslim in the office so she had to face communal brunt oftentimes. “My interview was conducted by Muhammad Yusuf Taing who was then heading it. Since he got retired after my appointment so about him colleagues would say ‘Taing has left a mukhbir among us’.”
Working as a research assistant in the academy groomed Azra’s vocabulary in Dogri. In 2002, Azra got promoted as an assistant editor in the Hindi section. Later on, Azra got appointed in Sheeraza Section and began writing, satires, short stories, articles, etc. When asked if she has written anything about the tragedy of 1947 which badly affected her mother, she said, “Yes, I have written. That is so painful but I have never published it. People would say ‘yeh ab bhi wahi rona rotay hein’.”
While in the academy Azra was approached by many to translate the Quran, but she would always put down the offer, thinking she is not worthy of the noble task. “Many times, even Qadiyanis also approached but I did not agree,” says Azra. However, one day her colleague Shameema proposed her name to her husband Abdul Qayoom Nadvi for translating the Quran into Dogri. Abdul Qayoom Nadvi on behalf of Shah e Hamdan Society approached Azra. This time Azra could not turn down the offer.
“Shah e Hamdan Society based in Rajouri is affiliated with Moulana Waheed ud Din Khan’s Center for Peace and Spirituality. Nadvi gave me Moulana Waheed ud Din Khan’s Qur’an translation ‘Tazkeer ul Quran’. I was told to do a translation of only the 30th chapter. Everyone liked it and then I was asked to go ahead with the rest of the chapters. Thus, it took me two years to translate all.” The translation was released in April 2019. However, like any other personality, Azra was also severely criticized but she did not stop. Owing to Moulana’s controversial stand before rest of Islamic scholars Azra was asked not to continue with it. “All this appeared to be mere malicious propaganda which I did not agree with”, she says.
Born in 1925, Maulana Khan is a renowned Islamic scholar. He has won many awards including Padma Bhushan in Jan 2000. His notable works include his translation and commentary of the Quran. Maulana Khan’s work against Communism and Atheism is considered highly intellectual. However, among Islamic scholars, he stands controversial due to his ideas regarding Jihad and negating the struggle to establish a state based on Islam. So far Maulana Waheed ud Din Khan’s Tafseer and translation have been translated into 26 languages. When asked how this attempt would defuse the growing communal tension in Jammu, where there seems to be a growing gap between Hindus and Muslims, Azra said, “So far there is positive response regarding my work. Dogri speaking people are requesting me to give them copies, both Hindus as well as Muslims. It is lack of knowledge and ignorance which leads to hatred and communalism and same is the case with Dogris. I am hopeful this measure would fill the gap. It is a progressive step towards peace. It would clear the confusion. Islamophobia would be erased.” Azra says she has been very careful in translating the terms which may offend non-Muslims. “So, word selection must be like it should not hurt them but simultaneously should put across your message,” she says.
When asked about her future endeavors Azra said, “I am working on to translate Maulana Waheed ud Din Khan’s two books i.e. Hadith e Rasool and Paighambar e Islam Hadrat Muhammad(saw) ka Jeevan i.e. Urdu to Hindi and Hindi to Dogri respectively.”
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