Dr. Muhammad Iqbal’s Role in the Grant of an Extraordinary Pension to the Widow of Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah: A case study of a victim of army recruitment drive in colonial Punjab during the First World War


by: Dr. Tahir Mahmood and Dr. Muhammad Sultan Shah


This article brings into focus Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s contribution for the welfare of a family that was affected during the coercive recruitment system introduced during the First World War. In the light of revealing new sources it argues that although conscription was never introduced yet the level of coercion experienced by the Punjabis suggests that it was ‘conscription in disguise’ and therefore resistance to recruitment intensified towards the end of the war. The case study material pertaining to the Shahpur district of the British Punjab demonstrates that disturbances broke out at various places. District officials were humiliated and at times they were attacked by angry mobs. The case study of the murder of a tehsildar, Sayed Nadir Hussain, throws valuable light on the theme of recruitment and resistance. People had become averse to recruitment due to the high-handed methods of the officials. They fiercely resisted the overbearing attitude of the officials that resulted into recruitment related disturbances. Allama Muhammad Iqbal had personal relationship with the family of the aforementioned tehsildar. He, therefore, came forward to assist the family of the deceased tehsildar, and by writing to the Chief Secretary of the Punjab pleaded for extraordinary pension for the family. It was not in the jurisdiction of the Indian authorities to sanction such a large pension. The British sought the sanction of the Secretary of State for India. Hence the family was granted extraordinary pension due to the efforts of Allama Muhammad Iqbal.



Punjab had a tremendous strategic value for the Raj. Towards the end of the nineteenth century it not only emerged as the breadbasket of India but also became home of the colonial Indian army. Military prowess of the Punjabis led the British to view them in the light of martial race doctrine. Its proximity with Afghanistan further added to its strategic importance as the possibility of Russian threat from the north-west could destabilize British rule in India. Troops from other parts of India who performed garrisoning duties in Punjab proved to be a burden on the exchequer as they were paid extra allowances. Furthermore, coming from the plains of India they were unfit to fight in the rugged and hilly terrain of the north-west. Under these circumstances the old recruitment grounds of Bombay, Bengal and Madras gradually gave way to the military labour market of the Punjab. This led to the Punjabization of the Colonial Indian Army. Moreover, the British had nurtured alliances with landed aristocracy of the Province. The landed elite not only aided the British to maintain their political control but also served as military contractors for the Raj. By the turn of century Punjabis proportion in the army rose very steeply and before the war the province provided more than 50 per cent of its troops. During the First World War, when death toll rose very high, the depleting regiments were replenished by raising recruits from the same tribes and from the same catchment areas which had originally supplied recruits for the regiments.[1] In this way Punjab made an enormous contribution to the war which was unprecedented as compared to any other region of India. Until 1916, 235,000 soldiers had been recruited from different parts of India out which 110,000 had been raised from the Punjab.[2] Ian Talbot, along with other scholars, has pointed out that the First World War highlighted Punjab’s domination of the Colonial Indian Army. During the entire period war, more than three-quarters of a million Punjabis served in its ranks. In terms of personnel, Punjab’s contribution accounted for almost two-thirds of the army’s total strength.[3]

Shahpur was a key district in terms of army recruitment as it was home of the designated martial tribes of Tiwanas, Noons, Awans, Janjuas, and Baloches. Tiwanas had fought on the side of the British during the uprising of 1857. They took a lead in raising recruits for the army during the war. In the first five months of 1918, the district by raising 4,920 recruits got a leading position in the province.[4] In terms of total number of men serving in the army, the district ranked fourteenth among the 28 districts of the Punjab in November 1918.[5] With the rise of death toll during the war recruitment pressures intensified along with the reorganization of recruitment system. In 1917 territorial recruitment system was introduced and the whole province was mobilized to stimulate the recruitment process. The entire civil administration and the rural notables were involved in the recruitment derive. Colonial state successfully utilized the influence of notable families like Tiwana, Noon, Pir, Sayyid and Quraishi. Quotas to raise recruits were fixed for the patwaris, zaildars and tehsildars,and failure to meet the quotas meant loss of job. During the recruitment drive, every kind of compulsion and oppression was used by the district administration. Some healthy young persons, who were otherwise fit to be recruited, deliberately caused themselves injuries to avoid enlistment.[6]  Sahibzada Muhammad Abdur Rasul has depicted the situation as follows:

Generally an order was issued by the Governor that such and such district must provide so many ‘jawans’. Upon this the entire administration of the district, right from the Deputy Commissioner to the Tehsildars and the Patwaris started the operation from village to village. The entire population of the village was ordered to come out and was made to stand in a line. Sometimes, men were ordered to stand naked in the presence of their women and from a family having three or four young men, two were recruited under compulsion.[7]

As a result of coercive recruitment system serious disturbances broke out in various parts of the district. At Mardwal, Lak and Behk Lurka people fiercely resisted the recruitment. At the latter place tehsildar Sayed Nadir Hussain was killed. Local notables played a very important role in defusing the situation. Umar Hayat Tiwana along with his sawars (mounted men) personally went to the affected areas and accorded help to the police in arresting the culprits. Other notables of the district, Mubariz Khan Tiwana and Khuda Bakhsh Tiwana, also provided the police with mounted men.

M. S. Leigh has recorded that the contribution of tehsils in terms of providing recruits was not same within the district. Khushab tehsil provided the greatest number of recruits, while the Bhalwal tehsil raised the least number of recruits.[8] Socio-economic conditions varied in the district. Khushab was mostly rain-fed and agriculture was poor that was why its inhabitants joined the army in increasing numbers to supplement their meager agricultural incomes. Behk Lurka was a small village situated in the Bhulwal tehsil which was transformed through Jhelum Canal Colony scheme. Its people were averse to army service because of better agricultural productivity which became possible due to the provision of perennial irrigation. Therefore, the Lurka tribe, after which the village was named, solemnly pledged that they would not enlist in the army. It was in this backdrop the incident of the murder of tehsildar Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah took place.

Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah, his family and friendship with Alama Iqbal

Nadir Hussain Shah belonged to a Sayed family and was a descendent of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him). According to Dr. Muhammad Iqbal he was his personal friend. He belonged to a highly respectable family of Punjab which had provided several energetic and loyal civil servants. Besides Sayed Nadir Hussain, Alama Iqbal also had friendship with other member of his family. His father, Khan Bahadur Syed Alam Shah, was an Extra Assistant Commissioner whose good public service was recognized by Sir Walter Lawrence. His other relatives also worked in various official capacities.[9] For example, his Brother Sayed Muhammad Hussain was a gazetted officer in the Medical Department.[10] In keeping up with his family tradition Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah worked as a tehsildar at Bhera in the second decade of the twentieth century. He was a wealthy person who owned two murrabahs (squares) of land in Lyallpur District which he inherited from his father. He also inherited about a murrabah of land from his father’s property in his village at Kals Charachi in Gurdaspur district which was barani (rain-fed) land.[11]

Recruitment-disturbances and murder of Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah

Some of the villages in the Bhalwal and Sargodha tehsils were not ready to give recruits and they fiercely resisted in the face of coercion. This led to the Lak riot in February 1918. The Lak village as well as other villages in its surroundings resisted the recruitment. Warrants under the Defence of India Act were issued to arrest the culprits. When police reached the village, a crowd of about 1,000 men attacked the police party. Police opened fire resulting into several casualties. Some of the offenders were killed while several were wounded.[12] At other places district official were humiliated and attacked.

In April 1918 the Deputy Commissioner made a recruiting tour of Kot Momin, tehsil Bhalwal. To his dismay he found that people had taken an oath to not to give recruits. All his efforts were rendered futile by a sworn league similar to that of village Lak. He and his team faced discourteous and contemptuous behaviour on the part of the people, yet he managed to procure a few recruits. Similarly, in June the tehsildar Bhalwal, Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah, made a tour in the area under the jurisdiction of Midh Ranjha Police Station to get recruits and arrest the deserters. In the second leg of his tour he visited the remaining villages which were left over from his previous tour.  The villagers, therefore, were aware of the fact that he intended to come to them. They sent messengers from village to village and formed a league in which each village was believed to have taken an oath to oppose the recruitment tooth and nail. This allegiance spread like fire to other villages situated in the Kot Moman area and also in the Kirana Police station area of the Sargodha tehsil

The tehsildar left Ghullapur on the morning of 28 July 1918 to go to Behk Lurka with the intention of performing recruiting duties and returning on the same day. On such occasions it was his routine not to enter the premises of the villages rather he would make his selection of recruits outside. But on that particular occasion a lot of people, armed with batons, assembled outside the village. The zaildar and lambardar of the village, who were secretly in league with the culprits, persuaded him to come into the village and made assurance for his safety. He and his team were taken to the village guest house. He was provided with a bed to sit on, and served with yogurt drink. Suddenly assailants poured into the guest-house-courtyard from two sides and he and his party were attacked with axes and batons. The lambardar mentioned above led the assailants. The tehsildar’s all efforts to save himself proved futile in the wake of mob frenzy. He was beaten with batons and killed. His corpse was humiliated and cut into pieces and the remains were put in a sack. However, the government officials reached the spot and recovered the body before the culprits could hide it. It was generally believed that the tehsildar had good repute and the people of tehsil had no personal enmity with him.[13] He was murdered just because of the fact that he was overzealous in arresting the deserters and recruiting the people. About his murder, Feroz Khan Noon writes that it was because of his ‘unseemly part in forcing recruitment’.[14]

Reasons of his Murder:

In the Shahpur district many of the tribes remained aloof from the British administration until the introduction of canal colonization. These tribes generally comprised the grazing community of the district, and rarely came in touch with any British officer except ordinary policemen. They were mostly addicted to cattle lifting. Although, with the advent of the canal colonization these people had settled down to agriculture but they remained backward and continued to lack any sort of social discipline. Physically they were well built and were potentially fit for recruitment. During the war all sorts of efforts were made to enlist them in the army. As the recruiting activities intensified they gradually became more averse to enlistment and fiercely resisted the efforts of officials and non-officials to inculcate a sense of duty in them.[15] A Special Tribunal was established to investigate the case of murder of the tehsildar.

The tribunal decided that his murder was due to the obtruding nature of his selection of the recruits. The evidences presented before the tribunal reveal the complex nature of the case. Both the accused, in order to mitigate the severity of the crime, stated that they had personal motives to kill the tehsildar. Hassan Muhammad and Bakht were suspended at the behest of the tehsildar from their positions of zaildar and lambardar respectively. They also argued that on the 27 July at Ghullapur, Muradi, who was brother of Hassan Muhammad was enlisted by the tehsildar. On this, Hassan Muhammad requested the tehsildar to spare Muradi from the enlistment. But the tehsildar refused to do so arguing that this would have set a bad example. However, the tribunal rejected the plea made by Hassan Muhammad in the light of the evidence that Muradi was not present at Ghullapur on 27 July. The accused also leveled charges of ill-treatment which tantamount to conscription. The tribunal in the light of evidence presented by the Revenue Assistant, Khan Ahmad Hassan Khan concluded that the methods of tehsildar amounted to conscription but there were no evidences of ill-treatment on his part in the village Behk Lurka, and ‘therefore we hold that there are no circumstances which could amount to legal extenuation of the crime’.[16]

The enquiry of the tribunal can be seen as a part of the discourse on recruitment methods employed by the officials in the Punjab. This certainly strengthens the existing understanding that coercion was employed to stimulate the recruitment process. This case study demonstrates that coercion was the most crucial cause of the recruitment-related disturbance in the Shahpur district. Although, conscription was not employed; but compulsion and the use of force suggests that it was ‘conscription in disguise’. This coercion was due to the pressure exerted by the higher officials on the junior staff to meet the quotas.

The Case of His Extraordinary Family Pension

The district authorities could only sanction a meager amount of Rs.10 per month as extraordinary pension for the family of the deceased, which was considered too little. The family approached Dr. Alama Muhammad Iabal for help. Iqbal, as mentioned earlier, being a family friend of the deceased wrote a letter to the Chief Secretary of the Punjab. His efforts bore fruit and, after some hiccups, an amount of Rs. 100 per month was sanctioned as an extraordinary pension for the family.

B. T. Gibson, the Deputy Commissioner of Shahpur district recommended the case for the sanction of extraordinary pension of Rs. 100 per month. However, the Accountant General rejected it on two grounds. First, he argued that duty on which late tehsildar, Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah, was engaged did not involve any ‘extraordinary bodily risk’. The reason put forth by him was that it was the practice of the late tehsildar to select the recruits outside the villages but at that particular occasion he changed his plan and entered the village thus endangering his life.[17] Second, he stated that it was beyond his powers to sanction pension as high as Rs. 100 per month. The following excerpt from his letter shows an interesting variation in the financial powers of different tiers of the government.

I have the honour to state that the limit of an extraordinary pension when sanctioned by the local Government is Rs.10/- P.M. whereas the Government of India can sanction extraordinary pension not exceeding Rs.25/-P.M. vide Article 739 C.S.R. The grant of proposed pension of Rs.100/- P.M. in the present case will require the sanction of the Secretary of State.[18]

After the case being rejected by the Accountant General Punjab, Frank Popham Yong, Commissioner Rawalpindi Division, forwarded the Deputy Commissioner’s recommendations to the Financial Secretary to the Government of Punjab pertaining the grant of ‘extraordinary family pension of Rs.100/-per month; half to the widow of Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah, and half to his three sons and one daughter for a period of ten years, or in the alternative a pension of Rs.100/-per month to Sayed Inayat Hussain Shah, eldest son of the tehsildar for a period of 12 years’.[19] He explained the circumstances and supported the plea of the Deputy Commissioner that the Accountant General had failed to grasp the nature of the circumstances in which the murder of the tehsildar took place. He vehemently pleaded the case by stating that ‘I trust that the Punjab Government will agree that in the circumstances it would be unjust, as well as impolitic, to refuse to grant an extraordinary Family Pension to the heirs of Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah’.[20]

Iqbal’s Correspondance with I.P.Thompson

On 31 July 1918, Allama Dr. Muhammad Iqbal wrote a letter to Mr. I. P. Thompson, the Chief Secretary of Punjab, in which he introduced Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah and his family. He highlighted the services rendered by the deceased and his family for the British, and recommended an extraordinary pension for the widow of the tehsildar in the following words:

I know he sometime expressed a vague apprehension of a violent end, but that feeling never made him shirk his duty in performance of which he has at last given his life. He has left behind a widow, a married daughter and three young sons. I request you to kindly bring these facts to the special notice of  His Honour the Lieutenant Governor who, l am sure, will recognize, in some fitting manner, the great services of Syed Nadir Hussain……..I cannot help saying that under the circumstances, such cases should be most liberally treated by Government; and I have no doubt that the keen- sighted and noble-minded head of the Province whose wise guidance of affairs has already brought glory to this province, will take the same view of the matter.[21]

In response to this letter Mr. I. P. Thompson, the Chief Secretary of Punjab at Lahore responded to Dr. Iqbal from Simla on 18 August 1918. He wrote:

I understand that the question of a pension for the family of Syed Nadir Hussain Shah is already under consideration. It is very tragic occurrence and I hope that those who were responsible for the barbarous act will be brought to justice. Please convey my sympathy to the relatives.[22]

Reasons behinds Iqbal’s Recommendation:

Dr.Muhammad Iqbal wrote a letter to Mr. Thompson recommending extraordinary pension to the widow of Sayed Nadir Hussain due to the following reasons:

1. He was an old friend of the philosopher-poet and this friendship with him extended over a period of 20 years. Dr. Iqbal acknowledged his relationship with the deceased saying “I happen to be personally interested in the matter”.[23]

2. Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah had a brilliant record which extended over 27 years of unflinching devotion to duty.[24]

3. The family had a tradition of loyalty and service. His family had provided several energetic and loyal public servants and tehsildar inherited great traditions of public service and devotion to the government from his family. ‘The sad but noble end of the eldest member of the family had not only shown how sacred they held their traditions, and how true they were to their salt, but had also set a most admirable example of loyal devotion to the duty in those troublous times’.[25]

4. The Loss of the head of family meant there were sever hardships his family and children were going through.[26]

Besides the reasons mentioned above which are taken from the letter of Dr Iqbal, one can assume that the deceased belonged to Sayed family and Iqbal had a great reverence for the descendants of the blessed Prophet (peace be upon him).

Michael O’ Dwyer’s recommendation to the Government of India

The lieutenant governor of Punjab, Michael O’ Dwyer approached the Government of India on the behalf of the family of the deceased tehsildar and forwarded the recommendations of the Commissioner Rawalpindi regarding the grant of extraordinary pension for the family. His letter also sheds light on the coercive nature of the recruitment. He stated that the ‘methods adopted by him savoured of conscription’ and adds that ‘undeterred by threats to his life this officer persisted loyally in his endeavours to induce the people to enlist. The Accountant General’s view that the duty involved though technically correct, hardly applied to the particular circumstances of this case’.[27] The family was already granted five rectangles of agricultural land but O’Dwyer believed that this was not a sufficient recognition of the recruiting services of the deceased. He, therefore, recommended to the Government of India that his wife should be granted an extraordinary pension of Rs. 100 per month for life.

This demonstrates that the entire civil administration of the Punjab had taken a favourable view of the case. Dr. Iqbal’s letter definitely had played a key role in this regard. The colonial authorities also had to justify their ruling presence in the Punjab and therefore they wanted to portray a benign image of the government in the wake of recruitment disturbances.

Sanction of Extraordinary pension by the Secretary of State, Edwin Montagu

The Finance Department (Pensions and Gratuities) Government of India approached the Secretary of State for India on the behalf of Chelmsford. C. C. Monroe, G. R. Lowndes, G. S. Barnes, R. A. Mant and H.T. Howard stating that the local Accountant General was of the opinion that the duty which the tehsildar performed did not involve any extraordinary bodily risk, and that the case was accordingly not covered by the Provisions of Article 735, Civil Service Regulations. According to him the recruiting was not normally a duty having extraordinary bodily risk, but it might become so in special circumstances. The tehsildar went for recruitment in spite of physical danger to his life and ultimately lost his life. The letter further reads.

It is not necessary to press this view, however, since pensions are also admissible under Article 43(b) of the Civil Service Regulations, when death is due to devotion to duty, and we are of opinion that the present case is clearly one which falls within the scope of the particle, but whichever Article is held to be applicable, our powers are limited to grant of Pensions not exceeding Rs 25/ a month , which were considerd inadequate in a case  so exceptional as this. Liberal treatment is, in our opinion, called for and we strongly, support the local Government’s proposal for your sanction.[28]

His Majesty Secretary of State sanctioned the proposal on 24 November 1919 and the Superintendent, Department of Revenue and Agriculture informed to the Deputy Commissioner Shahpur District through a telegram.[29]

Press Release

The decision of grant of extraordinary pension was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 15 January, 1920 as follows:

The Secretary of State for India has sanctioned the grant of an extraordinary pension of Rs 100/-mesem  to the widow of the late Sayed Nadir Hussain Shah Tehsildar of Bhalwal in the Shahpur District, who was cruelly murdered by some villagers while on recruiting duty. At the time of his death he was drawing Rs 200/- a month as pay. Five rectangles have already been granted to his heirs.[30]

But the notification published in the Civil and Military Gazette contained typographical mistake of name and amount of his pay. So Sheikh Asghar Ali,the Additional Secretary to Government wrote to the editor pointing out two mistakes that occurred in the quotation of that communiqué in the civil and Military Gazette and rectification of these mistakes was requested. In the issue of 28 January 1920 the name of the tehsildar was corrected and further published.

It should be noted that the late Tahsildar was drawing Rs.200 a month at the time of his death, not Rs, 300 as stated in our issue of January 15. Thus the widow’s pension is the same as the Tahsildar would have drawn if he had been entitled to retire at the time of his death and had then retired.[31]


This locality based study shows that First World War entailed a lot of effort and contribution from all sections of the society. Civilian administration, as Yong has demonstrated that it assumed a role of military recruitment at unprecedented level. The whole province was mobilized for the war effort. Civil administration together with the military and local notables stimulated the recruitment process. Our local study gives more empirical depth to this understanding. This study also reinforces the idea that coercion was there in the recruitment process.  But it also adds a nuanced understanding that although there was no conscription but the level of coercions and the use of force suggests that it was, in fact, ‘conscription’ in disguise. Moreover it also highlighst the soft and benevolent image of the colonial state when it sanctioned an extraordinary pension for a tehsildar who was murdered during his recruitment duties. Alam Iqbal was a family friend of the tehsildar. He wrote letter to the provincial authority supporting and highlighting his case. The British went extra length to get sanction for the pension from the secretary of state. This not only shows Alama Iqbals concern for the family of the deceased but it also reflects on the fact that Alama Iqbal was equally respected in the Muslim and British circles. That is why the chief secretary expressed his condolences for the deceased family and asked Alama Iqbal to convey his thoughts to the concerned family. This also reflects his love for the decedents of the profit (peace be upon him) which is reflected through his friendship and concern for the family.

Notes and References

[1] For details see, Tan Tai Yong, The Garrison State: The Military Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849–1947 (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2005).

[2] Sahibzada Muhammad Abdur Rasul, The History of Sargodha (Sargodha: University of Sargodha, 2006), p. 205.

[3]  Ian Talbot, Punjab and the Raj (Delhi: Manohar Publications,1988) p.45

[4]  M. S. Leigh, The Punjab and the War (repr. Lahore: Sang-e-Meel,1997), p. 37.

[5] Ibid., p. 59.

[6] One of the author’s grandfather Pir Ameer Shah (d.1975) told him that his real brother Bahadur Shah was enlisted in Army by the administration without his consent. His friend asked him to throw a heavy stone on his hand. He did so resulting in disability of the index finger. So he became medically unfit and escaped recruitment.

[7]  Abdur Rasul, The History of Sargodha, p. 205.

[8]  Leigh, The Punjab and the War, p. 47.

[9] Dr. Muhammad Iqbal to Mr. Thompson, 31 July 1918.

[10] B. T. Gibbon, Deputy Commissioner, Shahpur District to Lt. Col. Sir Frank Pophan Young, Commissioner Rawalpindi Division, No.44, 10 December 1918.

[11] Sayed Muhammad Hussain (Nadir Hussain Shah’s brother) to Deputy Commissioner Shahpur District, 25 October 1918.

[12] M. S. Leigh, War Services of the Shahpur District (Lahore: Civil and Military Gazetteer Press, n.d.), p. 10.

[13] See the report submitted by J. Slattery Superintendent of Police, Shahpur District, Sargodha.

[14] Feroz Khan Noon, From Memory (Islamabad: The National Book Foundation,

1993), p. 77. Also see Leigh, War Services, p. 11

[15] Lieutenant Colonel Sir Frank Pophan Young, Commissioner Rawalpindi Division to the Financial Secretary to the Government of Punjab, 2 January 1919.

[16] Extract from the Judgment of Special Tribunal in Behk Lurka Murder Case.

[17] Letter of Accountant General Punjab Lahore to the Deputy Commissioner, Shahpur District vide P.N. 26-1720, 19 November 1918.

[18] Accountant General Punjab to the Deputy Commissioner, Shahpur District, 1 November 1918.

[19] Lt. Col. Sir Frank Popham Young to the Financial Secretary to the Government of Punjab, 2 January 1919.

[20] Ibid.

[21] The letter written by Dr. Muhammad Iqbal to Mr. I. P. Thompson, dated 31July 1918.

[22] My. I. P. Thompson’s letter to Dr. Muhammad Iqbal dated 18 August, 1918.

[23] The letter written by Dr. Muhammad Iqbal to Mr. I. P. Thompson dated 31July 1918.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Michael O’ Dwyer to the Secretary to the Government of India, 9 April 1919.

[28]  Finance Department Letter No. 272 of 1919

[29] Telegram Superintendent,Deartment of Revenue and Agriculture received on 28 November 1919.

[30]  Registrar Punjab Secretariat, the 12 th January 1920.

[31] The Civil and Military Gazette Lahore 28 January 1920 Additional Secretary to Government Letter to the Editor No.2619 dated 27 January 1920

About the author

Dr. Tahir Mahmood and 1 more

Add comment

Recent Posts

Recent Comments