Patriots > Early Nationalist and Moderates > Tyabji, Badruddin
Tyabji, Badruddin (1844-1906)

Badruddin Tyabji ( Tyab Ali) was born in Bombay on 10 October 1844, and died in London on 19 September 1906. His father, Tyabji (Tyab Ali) Bhai Mian, was the scion of an old Cambay emigrant Arab family, and although impoverished and reduced to hawking by the 1808 Bombay fire, soon became a merchant prince. Despite, or as he might have claimed, because of his attachment to Islamic principles, Tyabji was adventurous, intrepid, and self-reliant.

Not only did he visit Europe (his photograph taken in Liverpool (29 May 1853), perhaps the earliest of an orthodox Muslim, exists), but sent all his six sons abroad; and had his daughters taught domestic science. The Times of India (Ocerland Summary’s) obituary (12 December 1863) stated: “He has made a name for himself which will live.” Badruddin’s mother, Ameena, was the daughter of Mullah Meher Ali. Both parents were from orthodox Sulaimani Muslim families. (Cf.. entry under Tyabji, Abbas for further family details.)

Badruddin undoubtedly owed his eminence principally to his inherited gifts, but also to his brothers’, especially Camruddin’s, support. Camruddin returned as the first Indian Solicitor (1858) from England after seven and a half years. His account of England and the Law Courts spurred the ambition of Badruddin-then aged fifteen. Badruddin’s own resounding triumphs there- the award of a special Certificate of Hounour for “perfect French (acquired in twelve months) and outstanding progress in Latin, French and English Dramatic Elocution Competition-and the consideration he received, gave him great self-confidence and a capacity, then rare, for dealing with Englishmen without inhibitions.

After passing the London Matriculation, weakening eyesight compelled him to return home. Besides his curricular studies he had learnt French, Urdu (from a Lucknow tutor in London), Arabic, Persian, Gujarati and Marathi. What he learnt he never forgot. After a year in India, and marriage to Moti (later named Rahar-un-Nafs), daughter of Shajaat Ali of Cambay, he joined the Middle Temple, became a Barrister (April 1867)-the first Indian Barrister in Bombay-and rose rapidly in the profession.

An anecdote illustrates his mettle. Barristers then used to call on Judges, so he called on Parsons of the I.C.S. The latter, in typical Anglo-Indian style, enquired “What can I do for you? I am busy.” “So am I,” said Badruddin walking out. Parsons, realising his mistake, followed him and tried to make amends by praising his carriage and pair, out without success.

Within ten years Badruddin became one of the leading Barristers; but in 1895, his health failed, and he accepted a Judgeship. This, as Sir Pherozeshah Mehta stated, was as enthusiastically welcomed by the Hindus and the Parsis as by the Muslims. He acted as Chief Justice in 1902, the first Indian to hold post in Bombay. He was known as a great Judge, and for his courage and impartiality, typically shown by his granting bail to Tilak in a sensational case after its rejection thrice by others, and by admonishing eminent British Counsels for denigrating the Indian National Congress and Indian character.

He said: “I have always regarded it (Congress Presidentship) as the highest honour, higher than in my Court no contemptuous reference to that body will be permitted.” He remarked on another occasion: “There is a great deal of false evidence in Court, but this country has no monopoly of it. Tichbourne and his hundred of false witnesses were not Indians…. Indian witness tell lies less discriminatingly on facts which it is not necessary for them to deny: denying just what is necessary: and therefore, it is more difficult to detect where they lie.”

Badruddin entered public life after three years at the Bar. In July 1871, he was prominent in the agitation that secured an elective Council for the Bombay Municipal Corporation, and topped the list of those subsequently elected. From then on, Badruddin Tyabji, Pherozeshah Mehta and Kashinath Telang were popularly known (in that order) as “The Triumvirate”, “The Three Stars”, etc., of Bombay’s public life. In 1882 he became a Member of the Bombay Legislative Presidency Association and virtually ran it all by himself.

Soon afterwards, the Indian

National Congress held its first Session in Bombay under its auspices; and Badruddin and Camruddin were among its delegates. Urgent business in Cambay prevented their attendance, which its opponents exploited, alleging that Muslims were boycotting the Congress. Badruddin vigorously denied this, declaring that he had “ever denounced all communal and sectarian prejudices.” He missed unanimously elected President of its third Session in Madras (1887).

Camruddin and he were principally responsible for establishing the Anjuman-I-Islam in Bombay (1876) “for the betterment and uplift of Mussalmans in every direction.” “Its working principle,” defined by Badruddin, was “…not to take the initiative when the interests of Mussalmans were common with the rest of the people of India, but to consider it its duty to take initiative if the interests of Mussalmans alone were affected, or if they were affected more than those of other”(1887).

Badruddin’s speeches, such as on the Ilbert Bill, Lord Ripon’s administration, at the third Congress Session, etc., are models of close reasoning balanced judgement and lucid exposition. Mr. Justice Russell said of him: “He was one of the most cultivated and perfect speakers in the English language I have ever heard.”

Badruddin’s own education and background, a harmonious blend of the East and the West, made him acutely conscious of its lack, particularly among the Muslims. Indian attention, he thought was too exclusively focussed on politics, too little on education and social reform, and that an advanced type of representative Government was useless if the majority was ignorant.

Therefore, he campaigned against Purdah all his life, holding that it went far beyond the Quranic injunctions. His daughters were the first to be sent abroad for education. He supported the Age of Consent Bill (1891), despite Hindu and Muslim opposition, and education rather than for feeding religious mendicants or scriptural readings, etc.

He showed his characteristic sense of public responsibility during the 1878 famine; and in 1898 when plague depopulated Bombay, by staying on to give heart to the public.

Badruddin with his fair complexion, an intellectual forehead, aquiline features, curly hair and well-proportioned limbs, was strikingly handsome in his youth. He looked like an eagle. Later, his face broadened, and compelling ways gave him a leonine look. On all formal occasions, even in Court or on the Bench (unlike most England returned Indians) he wore his traditional family costume (Arab-Indian); but for excursions and sports he wore European clothes. He lived like his father in grand patriarchal, patrician style, entertaining magnificently at Somerset House (now St. Sophia’s College for Women) with its spacious grounds.

Badruddin impact on society and his times was all-pervasive. His intellectual and personal distinction-unbiased appraisal of Western thought and ways allied with an equal appreciation of the inherited Eastern thought-helped to destroy the myth of European superiority. Equally it enabled him to exert considerable influence Englishmen, without loss of personal or national dignity, in fact, with an accretion to both. He was not only, as Mahatma Gandhi wrote,”…for years, a decisive factor in the deliberations of the Congress” (The Harijan 18 November, 1939), but one of its creators.

It gained its national character by Muslim participation largely through his influence. In this the difference between his outlook and that of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the other outstanding the Two-Nation theory. This he did without abating a jot of hid zeal for the advancement of the backward Muslims; and it was most remarkable that he succeeded in obtaining widespread non-Muslim co-operation for it. His nationalism, absolute, won their confidence. Among Muslims, Badruddin was the first to create a secular political consciousness; and nationally he was a pioneer in making it the Indian ideal.

He was survived by five sons and eight daughters, most of whom made a mark in public life.

Author : Badr-ud-din Tyabji