“I do not know whether, while you listened to the story unfolded by the Begum Saheba, you were, like me, drawing a comparison between the history of Turkey and India. I could not fail to draw many a parallel between the two stories. No birth comes without agony… I listened to the story of Turkey, I derived hope that, if we modeled our actions according to the Right and nothing but the Right, there would be nothing but a bright future for us all. There is an indissoluble tie that binds India to Turkey, not because we have suffered alike, but because Turkey has a Muslim population which has so much in common with India because of her millions of Muslims, who are flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood and bone of our bone. May Begum Saheba’s coming in our midst result in binding Hindus and Muslims in an indissoluble bond.”
This is a part of Gandhi’s speech, which he delivered on 19 January 1935 at Jamia Millia Islamia, and the ‘Begum Saheba’ he is referring to is none other than the famous Turkish reformist, novelist, intellectual, columnist, and political activist Halide Edip Adıvar whose 138th birthday is commemorated every year this day.
According to the great freedom fighter of India, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, ‘Halide Edip Adıvar used to write almost daily in the Tunin when the paper was being published and has written to many of the leading French and German papers as well as in The Manchester Guardian and for the Jeune Turc.’
Halide Edip Adıvar had gone to India to give a lecture at Jamia Millia Islamia at the invitation of Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, an Indian freedom fighter and leader who had led the Indian Medical Mission to Turkey during the Balkan Wars. At the university, she delivered eight speeches entitled “Conflict of East and West in Turkey.” The series of her lectures began on 15 January 1935 and ended on 9 February 1935. Dr. Ansari presided over her first speech. The second speech was presided over by Mahatma Gandhi. Halide Edip’s lectures were published by Jamia Millia Islamia under the title ‘Conflict between East and West’.
Jamia Millia Islamia, the university that was visited by Halide Edip holds a distinguished position in India and the world today. Jamia is also the only institution in India that provides academic courses in the Turkish language and literature.
In 2017, the university awarded the Degree of Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his outstanding contribution to strengthening international cooperation, peace, and diplomacy. On this occasion, Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself said in his speech that “he was delighted to accept the honorary degree from a university which had played a significant role not only in India’s freedom movement but also in the way it supported the Khilafat movement in the 1920s and stood by the Turkish people and its founders.”
This is the same university that was established in 1920 as a protest against the British government in support of Turkey and the non-cooperation movement in India. It is the same university to which Halide Edip Adıvar also donated.
On March 1, 1935, the youngest student of the university, Abdul Aziz, laid the foundation stone of the first building of the Jamia Millia Islamia in Okhla, New Delhi. This was done by the youngest 10-year-old university student with the help of some other children. Halide Edip Adıvar was also present on occasion, and she not only delivered a very emotional speech but also donated an amount of a thousand Indian rupees. This news of the donation by Halide Edip to Jamia was published in the newspaper ‘The Times of India’ on March 5, 1935.
Halide Edip Adıvar writes about Jamia Millia Islamia in her book Inside India — ‘One must study the Jamia if one wishes to grasp the forces at work in India. The institution has two purposes. First, to train the Muslim youth with definite ideas of their rights and duties as Indian citizens. Second, to co-ordinate Islamic thought and behaviour with Hindus. The general aim is to create harmonious Indian nationhood without Muslims losing their Islamic identity. In its aim, if not always in its procedure, it is nearer to Gandhian Movement than any other Islamic institution I have come across.’
Mahadev Desai, Gandhi’s personal secretary writes about Halide Edip Adıvar in his “Weekly Notes” — “She came and sat down near Gandhiji and said, ‘I have come to learn from you and take what I can for my own people.” Gandhi was staying at the Jamia Millia Islamia at that time. He also conducted an interview with Gandhiji on 9 January 1935, which was also published in Harijan, a Gujarati newspaper on 25 January 1935. According to a report in the Madina newspaper from Bijnor, Kamal Atif Baig, the nephew of Halide Edip Adıvar passed away suddenly on January 25, 1935, at 11.30 am. He had come to Delhi on the night of January 23 with his wife and Dr. Irshad Baig to pick up his aunt from Kabul and was staying at Dr. Mukhtar Ansari’s house. When the news of his death reached Gandhi, he wrote a letter to Halide Edip on the same day, January 25, 1935, in which Gandhi himself wrote:
Prof. Malkani just brings me the news of your loss. I know that death has no terror for you. You regard it as a firm friend. I do not, therefore, send you any condolences. But if you are in need of a companion at this moment, then you know that you are to count me as one among many who would be silently sharing with you whatever it may be called—grief, separation, loss, etc. I do not come to pay a ceremonial visit. Prof. Malkani takes this note and being a valued worker represents me.
M. K. GANDHI
The Times of India took her interview, which was published on 8 January 1935. The reporter asked about feminism in Turkey to which she responded that she would not call herself a feminist in the sense that the term is usually understood. In Turkey, feminism had never been a struggle by women for their rights; the movement meant only progress of women as a part of society; there was no conflict between sexes, but cooperation for the advancement of the nation. Speaking about the part played by the Turkish women in the struggle for freedom, she said that the women stood by the men. She herself belonged to a group of ‘rebels’ of which Kemal Pasha was the head, and at the end of the Great War they were the chief opposition to the allied schemes and fought for national existence.
Referring to the discrimination against women, she said that the Turkish men were, from the earliest times, advocates of women’s progress, and during the last two decades there was practically no discrimination against women in the matter of education. Since 1916 there has been perfect equality between the sexes.
Halide Edip, a literary giant was not only a reformist in Turkey but she was also a role model for the women’s progress movement abroad. Although she went to India in the year 1935, her activities and her efforts got space in Indian newspapers like The Times of India, even before she visited India.