Sher Ali Afridi

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Sher Ali Afridi, Muhammad Shafi Sabir
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Sher Ali Afridi

Muhammad Shafi Sabir

Tazkara Sarfaroshan e Sarhad

Publishing Date: Friday, September 16 2005

The night of 8th February, 1872 was a historical one for the Andaman Islands. These islands are found in the Bay of Bengal and are also referred to as 'Kala Pani'. During the British Rule, those prisoners who had received life in prison would be boarded off to these islands. These prisoners would than pass their life doing hard labour for the British. Apart from the prisoners and their captors, no one else inhabited these islands. Occasionally, the media would highlight the sufferings of the prisoners there and report about the torture methods of the British. As a result of which the government would be pressurized to be lenient to them.

In 1869 Lord Mayo; the Viceroy of India devoted special attention to the issue of the plight of the prisoners. In this regard, he gave some benefits to the prisoners in 1971 which increased his popularity by two-folds. It was his wish that he personally go to the Andaman Islands to see the condition of the prisoners with his own eyes. Hence according to program, he visited the desolate place in the early morning of the 8th of February 1872. He was also accompanied by Lady Mayo and other high ranking officials. Since this was the first ever visit of a Viceroy to the Islands, special security measures had been taken and even the prisoners were highly riveted for they had never seen such measures been taken before.

The Viceroy's arrival was welcomed with 21 cannon fires and the officers lined up to meet him. He spent his entire day touring the workshops, barracks, and factories of the Prisoners where they dwelled and worked. At night fall he was taken to a small mountain on the Island called Mount Harriet. The place was quite high and had been renovated to depict somewhat of a tourist resort for the special guests. There, he marvelled the beauties of the Island and witnessed sunset from atop Mount Harriett. So much was he immersed in the surroundings and activities that darkness totally prevailed. It was then that he decided to go back. On the way there was a small bridge called 'Hope Town Bridge' through which he had to pass in order to board a launch that was ready for carrying him back to the Royal Navy Ship where he would be spending his night. Two men with torches were walking ahead of him to light up the path and his private secretaries and bodyguards were on either sides of him. An armed police guard was following them as well. But these were traditional methods and the Viceroy and his secretaries were walking with their own pace enjoying their trip.

Sher Ali Afridi Serving Prison Sentence
1995-2002 The Andaman Association, Switzerland

As soon as they boarded the small ship, a noise was heard. When the private secretary looked back he saw that a man was stabbing the viceroy in his back. The security personnel reacted immediately and pounded on the attacker and snatched the knife from his hands. The private secretary succeeded in saving the life of the attacker who was a prisoner, otherwise the security personnel were ready to kill him. In all this mayhem, the torch lights also died out creating an atmosphere of fear. When the torches were lit, they saw that the Viceroy had fallen down the tier after being stabbed. He was wiping his face with his handkerchief and told the secretary that he was injured and would be fine because the wounds were not big.

When the torches were relit and brought near the viceroy, they found out that his coat was torn from the back and blood was oozing out like a small stream from the wound. Everybody immediately tried to control the blood with their handkerchiefs. For two-three minutes, the viceroy tried to keep his balance but then his feet started to shake and he fell. He tried to get back up on his feet again and managed to tell somebody, "Hold my Head". These were his last words after which he died.

The Viceroy's body was carried back to the ship. By the time the doctors examined the body, it was too late. The wounds were there stretching from his back to his chest. They were just too deep and nobody could have survived it. Lord Meo was a huge and strong man therefore he managed himself for some while before dying. A man of ordinary build would have died straight away.

This assassination attempt was made by a prisoner 'Sher Ali Afridi'. He belonged to Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency. He worked for the Commissioner of Peshawar. By nature, Sher Ali was a kind man but a family feud had brought him to this situation. Two clans of his Tribe were having an enmity with one another since ages. Whomever of them had an opportunity, they would kill their rivals. Many precious lives were lost under the custom of 'Revenge'. One day, Sher Ali saw his 'Tarboor' (Cousin) in the Peshawar Cantonment near Company Bagh where his office was located. Sher Ali reacted immediately and killed him on the spot. A murder like this right under the nose of the Commissioner of Peshawar was not to go unnoticed. Sher Ali was arrested immediately and a case was booked against him.

Sher Ali was a man who gave great respect to everybody. The English officers were served well by him. He was under the impression that due to his past services, the English officers would be lenient towards him and may possibly be let go. But unexpected to him, the courts announced the death penalty for him on the 2nd of April, 1867.

His overall nature was well cultured even after receiving the death penalty. Moreover, he had served the British well in the Ambela War. Because of these reasons, his death penalty was switched to life in prison at Habs e Dawam on the other banks of River 'Showr'; also known as Kalapani when he made an appeal. In 1869, he reached the Andaman islands to serve his sentence. By this time, he had already made up his mind to kill a high ranking English Officer for revenge.

Sher Ali Afridi was evidently a very religious person. His officers have noted that he used to pray five times a day as well as fast regularly. The little amount of money that he would earn while serving at the prison would always be given away to other poor prisoners as charity. Moreover, every second or third month he would provide some food for the orphaned prisoners as well. Such a character was obviously very popular amongst the prisoners and even the prison officers treated him with respect. The officers did not strictly monitor his activities because of this reason as well. It was not long that he was appointed as a barber for the labourers in the prison.

Lord Meo's murder sent shockwaves throughout the British Empire. Forensic Investigative Teams reached Andaman and started their work there. The British Government was under the impression that this murder was part of a big conspiracy against the empire. By pure chance, a leading figure of the Tehreek e Mujahideen, Muhammad Ja'far Thanesri was serving his sentence at Andaman as well when this murder happened. The British Government was convinced that Maulvi Muhammad Jafar and other Mujahideen serving their prison sentences had somehow convinced Sher Ali to carry on this attack. Many experienced Investigative Officers were appointed this task to somehow find a link to the Mujahideen leaders. One such officer was Aishwari Prasad who was famous for embroiling Mujahideen leaders in false cases. He had gradually gained popularity with the British with his connivance and was now the Deputy Collector of Suraj Garh. Prasad tried his level best to involve the Mujahideen leaders in this case who were already serving sentences for rebelling against the British Empire.

Sher Ali Afridi told the courts that he had waited for almost all day near the small ship where the viceroy would be boarded in order to be transferred to his lodgings. He was under the impression that the viceroy would simply not come because it was too late. Given no chance of attack, he left the site and went to Mount Harriett. He was not aware that the viceroy would enjoy sunset at Andaman from the Mount. Now fully aware of the program, Sher Ali rushed back to the place where he had waited. Fate itself drove the viceroy right to his death. Sher Ali was by no means a strong man and simplicity was written all over his face. Nobody would even have imagined that such a small man would be successful in killing the well built, six foot viceroy. But that was exactly what had happened.

In "Sarguzasht e Mujahideen", Maulana Ghulam Rasool Mahar explains the incident in great detail:

"Sher Ali was a man who would come down to anything to fulfil his ambitions. On one occasion, he had broken his heavy chains and handcuffs that were meant to restrain him and injured a prison guard after snatching his rifle. After killing the viceroy, he was asked by the courts about who had hired him to do this job. He would simply reply that I killed him by the Order of Allah!"

Sher Ali was again tried for murder and was given the death penalty once again. On the 11th of March 1873, when he was brought to the gallows, there was a look of satisfaction in his eyes. He kissed the rope from which he would be hanged and exclaimed, "When I made this intention [of killing the viceroy], I had already envisioned myself over here". He addressed the Muslims who had come to watch the penalty being enforced, "Brothers, I killed your enemy. You be witness that I am a Muslim." With this, he recited the Kalma Shahadah. Twice he was able to complete it. The third time, he was not able to do so because of suffocation.

The British did not stop at this only. Although no link had been found that could involve the Mujahideen prisoners in this case, their period of length at prison was increased by ten years.


Image Credits:

The Murder of Lord Mayo in 1872
http://www.andaman.org/book/app-o/texto.htm

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Sher Ali Afridi, Muhammad Shafi Sabir
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)