Mohammad Baji was one of the countless freedom fighters, who had fought fearlessly and taken down the most potent and exploitative imperialistic regime but was silently sent into oblivion after independence. Being a staunch Gandhian he was also an epitome of Hindu-Muslim unity who after independence dedicated his life for many social works including maintenance of communal harmony for which he was also beaten mercilessly by the miscreants.
Born on 20 January 1917 in Nabarnagpur he was the 20th of 21 children of his parents.
Since he was born with a passion for fighting for the independence of the country, from his childhood he was moved by the call of Gandhi. At the age of 21, he along with his friend Laxman Sahu cycled around 350 km amid thick forests and hilly terrain to reach Raipur from where they travelled to Wardha by train to have a glimpse of Gandhi. He was inspired by Gandhi’s few words ‘Jao Lathi Khao, sacrifice for the nation.’ Being inspired by these words he organized satyagraha, an anti-war protest near a mosque in Nabrangpur, and was arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50. On one occasion, people gathered to attack the police but were stopped by Baji who urged the crowd ‘Marenge lekin maarenge nahin’, Coming out of jail, he wrote to Gandhi: What now? And his reply came. ‘Go to jail again.’ So he did. This time for four months.
At the height of the Quit India Movement in 1942, Baji and his associates took the slogan of non-violence among the masses. He and his group of about 30 people used to walk from village to village, spreading the gospel of non-violence and Satyagraha. The idea of India and Poorna Swaraj and the necessity of non-violent means to achieve them were spread across the remotest parts of Nabrangpur and adjoining areas.
On 19 August 1942, nineteen people died in the police firing at Papadahandi near Nabrangpur. Baji’s shoulder was broken in the violence unleashed against the protesters. Over 300 were injured, many died thereafter from their wounds. Baji, along with nearly a thousand satyagrahis, were jailed in Koraput.
He spent the next five years in various jails. He was with the legendary tribal freedom fighter LaxmanNayak in Koraput Jail. After the pronouncement of Laxman Nayak’s death sentence, he was shifted to Berhampur Jail and Baji was sent to the Cuttack jail. He was released just before Independence on 12 August 1947.
After independence, from 1955-67 he was active in the Bhoodan movement and played an important role in collecting about four lakh acres of land and distributing them among the landless. He himself has donated 14 acres of his personal land during the Bhoodan movement. Though a Muslim, he had launched a movement against cow slaughter. In 1968, he established an ashram for Adivasi and Harijan students in Bijapur.
He was a strict vegetarian and had headed the anti-cow slaughter league for years, even participating in protests in Delhi and Mumbai. He refused to accept the freedom fighter’s pension for twelve years but relented at the insistence of Biju Patnaik, who asked him to put the money to good use. About partition, he says that they have fought for the independence of a united India, not a fragmented India.
He remained a bachelor throughout his life and died in June 2019 at the age of 102.