Seventy-one years after India finally got its hard-won independence, the courage and contributions of many little-known freedom fighters have faded away from public memory. Largely overlooked by writers and historians, these men and women played small but crucial roles in paving the way for India’s freedom from the British.
One such unacknowledged hero is a man few Indians know about, a man who lived a life of intrigue and danger to help his nation fight colonial rule.
The man was Colonel Nizamuddin. A trusted aide of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, he once took three bullets to save the charismatic leader of INA in the forests of erstwhile Burma. In fact, it was Netaji who gave him the title of ‘Colonel’.
Here’s his untold story.
Nizamuddin, whose given name was Saifuddin, was born in the village of Dhakwan (in present-day district of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh) in 1901. His father Imam Ali ran a canteen in Rangoon and he grew up in the village, living with his homemaker mother.
In his early 20s, Saifuddin ran away from home to join the British army, reaching the city via Calcutta by ship. It was while serving in the colonial army that he overheard a British army officer telling white soldiers to let the Indians sepoys die but to save the donkeys to carry food for the rest of the force.
Infuriated by the callousness and injustice of these words, he shot the officer and ran away to Singapore. It was here that Saifuddin changed his name to Nizamuddin and joined the Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj) in the presence of Subhash Chandra Bose.
After a secret submarine journey from Berlin, Netaji had finally reached Singapore in 1943 to take command of INA and begin the most admired chapter of his life. Read about the fascinating story of Netaji’s epic submarine journey here.
In the year that followed, Nizamuddin went on to become Bose’s trusted aide. He worked as a driver, ferrying the leader in a 12-cylinder car that had been gifted by the Malaya king to Netaji. Between 1943 and 1944, he also fought alongside Netaji against the British Army in the forests of Burma (now Myanmar).
“We were in the forests when suddenly I saw the barrel of a gun peeping from between the bushes and jumped in front of him (Netaji). I fell unconscious after taking three bullets. I saw Netaji standing beside me after I regained consciousness. Captain Lakshmi Sehgal had removed the bullets from my body. That was in 1943,” Nizamuddin told The Telegraph in 2016.
Impressed by his dedication and courage, Netaji gave him the moniker of “Colonel”. And so Nizamuddin spent the next four years with Bose as his driver and bodyguard, remaining by his side wherever he went, be it Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia or Singapore.
After Bose disbanded the INA following Japan’s unconditional surrender in August 1945, Nizamuddin married Ajbun Nisha and began working in Rangoon as a driver for a bank. His sons and daughters too were born in Rangoon.
It was not until June 1969 that Nizamuddin would return to India with his family, settling down in his native viilage. Interestingly, he named his village home ‘Hind Bhawan’ and even had a Tricolour put on its roof. And he always greeted people with the words “Jai Hind”, the iconic rallying cry of the INA — as they say, old habits die hard!
In the years that followed, Nizamuddin continued to live at Dhakwan till he breathed his last on February 6, 2017. He was 117. Interestingly, the little-known freedom fighter had made headlines just a year ago when he (then believed to be the oldest man alive in the world) and his 107-year-old wife had opened a bank account.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)