The 15th day of August is regarded with deep affection and pride for it was the day when the all efforts to liberate India were finally fruitful.
It all started in the 19th century. Frustrated with the expanding dominion of the East India Company and Lord Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse, Rani Lakshmibai, Tatya Tope and Nana Sahib swore to liberate the nation, and sparked off a revolution.
At an ashram of Dashnami Sanyasis, Rani Lakshmibai, Tatya Tope, Bala Sahib Peshwa, Feroz Shah and Babu Kunwar Singh plotted to uproot the British dominion in secret. There, they pledged to kill the oppressors. Word of this resolution was circulated and a day was marked for a battle in the history books, the day of May 10, 1957.
Mangal Pandey’s stand against the Britishers is tagged as the first step towards independence. In Barrackpore, the introduction of the Enfield Rifle sparked an outrage in the Bengal Army. Incidentally, the cartridge in the rifle, rumoured to be greased with beef and pig fat, had to be bitten off to be loaded. This angered both Hindu and Muslim communities across the nation.
Pandey, a sepoy in the 34th Bengal Native Infantry, infuriated about the rifles, revolted against the Company. Pandey shot Sergeant-Major Hewson, when he arrived in Barrackpore to investigate the matter. For his treason, Pandey was hanged on April 8. His death inspired others to join the rebellion. One of them was the famous Lala Lajpat Rai.
Lala Lajpat Rai
Rai was born in Dhudike village in Firozpur district on January 28, 1865 and joined the Arya Samaj when studying at college in Lahore. At 23, he joined the Indian National Congress and drew their attention to poverty and illiteracy. He was lauded with the titles Punjab Kesari and Sher-E-Punjab. Since he strongly resisted the British Empire, he was arrested for treason in 1907.
When the Simon Commission came to India, Rai led a peaceful protest on October 30, 1928. During the protest, he received injuries after being beaten by police SP James A. Scott with sticks. Rai passed away on November 17, 1928 as he could not recover from his injuries.
In life, Lala Lajpat Rai was a prolific writer and a staunch advocate of the revolution, more so with two other nationalists Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Bipin Chandra Pal. The trio was famously nick-named ‘Lal Bal Pal’.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born on July 23, 1856 in a small village named Chikhali Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. He graduated from Deccan College in Pune and was amongst the first generation of Indians to graduate college. Tilak wanted to be rid of the Empire’s cruelty and hence, joined the fight for independence. He became a part of the Indian National Congress. Soon, he got disappointed with the moderate attitude of the party and in 1907, the Congress was divided into the ‘Garam Dal’ that largely consisted of extremists and the ‘Naram Dal’, a faction of moderates. Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal were a part of the extremist group
In 1908, Tilak supported the attack laid by revolutionaries Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki in Muzzafarpur which landed him a six year sentence in jail in Mandalay, Burma. After his release, he continued working with the Congress and with Annie Besant and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, he started the Indian Home Rule movement in 1916. He died on August 1, 1920 in Mumbai.
Ram Prasad Bismil
With every life the British claimed, a swarm of revolutionaries arose. In 1897, one such freedom fighter was born who managed to motivate the masses in a whole different way, through his writings. Ram Prasad Bismil was born on June 11, 1897. Angered by the death sentence of Bhai Parmanand, Bismil penned down his frustration in a poem titled ‘Mera Janm’ and discovered his resolve.
Bismil left his education and in 1916, he led a procession for Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Lucknow, despite the opposition of the Naram Dal of the Congress. He also started an organisation of revolutionaries named ‘Matrivedi’ with the help of Genda Lal Dixit from Auraiya.
In January 1918, he published a pamphlet named ‘Deshwasiyon Ke Naam Sandesh’ and distributed it along with his poem ‘Mainpuri Ki Pratigya’. The same year, he also carried out three robberies. During a congress session, he narrowly slipped a police raid for selling banned literature. After fleeing the scene, he jumped into the river Yamuna and swam till what now forms Greater Noida to hide in a ravine.
On October 3, 1924, at a Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) meet in Kanpur, many notable leaders, Sachindra Nath Sanyal and Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee were present along with Bismil. To collect funds for the party, the town of Bamrauli was looted. Bismil also played a hand in the Kakori Conspiracy. For the Kakori incident, Ram Prasad Bismil and three others were sentenced to be hanged. Bismil was hanged on December 19, 1927 in Gorakhpur jail.
Gopal Krishna Gokhale
The list of significant players in the war of independence has another eminent personality, Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gokhale was born on May 9, 1866 in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. During his schooling, he proved to be an exceptional student for which, he was awarded a Rs 20 scholarship from the government. Gokhale is commonly remembered as Mahatma Gandhi’s mentor but, besides him, he was also a mentor to Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is believed that had Gokhale been alive at the time of independence, the partition of India may not have been successful.
It was after gaining inspiration from Gokhale that Gandhi followed the principle of non-violence and opposed Apartheid in South Africa. Apart from struggling for independence, Gokhale was also known for working towards abolishing casteism and untouchability. He also dedicated himself to bringing Hindu and Muslim communities closer. He was a respected member of the Indian National Congress and Servants of India Society. Sadly, on February 19, 1915, he passed away, decades before India attained independence.
Chandra Shekhar Azad
In December 1921, Gandhi started the Non-Cooperation Movement. The movement was joined by a member, a 14 year old boy named Chandra Shekhar Azad. Noted for the Kakori Conspiracy and the killing of Deputy SP Sanders, he was arrested and presented before the magistrate for his notorious behaviour. He identified himself as ‘Azad’ (free) and ‘Swatantrata’ (Independence) as his father. When inquired about his residence, he replied “Prison”. He continued to shout slogans of ‘Vande Mataram‘ and ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai‘. It was after this incident that he was given the name Azad.
In 1931, he went to visit Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi in Sitapur jail, where Vidyarthi suggested that he meet with Jawaharlal Nehru in Allahabad. When he arrived at Allahabad, Nehru ignored him. Angered, he went to Alfred Park to plot his next move with Sukhdev Raj. Seeing that he was being surrounded by the police, he began shooting. He managed to distract the police, allowing Raj to escape and remained to fight them alone. He soon ran out of ammunition. With his last bullet, he shot himself, dying at his own terms, dying ‘Azad‘.
Azad brought a new vigour to the HRA, and with the help of his allies, transformed the organisation into the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). One of his allies was was the famed Bhagat Singh.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre in April 13, 1919 deeply impacted Singh. He carried deep-seated hatred for the British Raj. He dropped out of National College, Lahore and started his own organisation, the ‘Naujawan Bharat Sabha’.
When the conspirators of the Kakori train robbery were sentenced to death, Bhagat Singh tied-up with Chandra Shekhar Azad and joined HRA. They were involved in the killing of Deputy SP Saunders on December 17, 1928 after the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. His most popular feat was the bombing of the Central Legislative Assembly in 1929 with fellow revolutionary Batukeshwar Dutt. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were arrested and hanged on March 23, 1931.
Another revolutionary involved in the Kakori conspiracy was Ashfaqulla Khan, who was born on October 22, 1900 in Shahjahanpur. Growing up, Khan drew inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi but, after the Chauri Chaura incident, when Gandhi withdrew the Non-Cooperation Movement, Khan was disgruntled. On August 8, 1925, he attended a meeting with Chandra Shekhar Azad and Ram Prasad Bismil. At this meeting, the Kakori conspiracy to loot Government Treasury was hatched.
Khan, along with Chandra Shekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Rajendra Nath Lahiri, Roshan Singh, Shachindra Bakshi, Keshav Chakrawarti, Banwari Lal, Mukund Lal, Manmath Lal Gupta executed the robbery of Number 8 Down Train Saharanpur-Lucknow on August 9.
The looters had assumed new identities to conduct the raid. The British government was outraged by the incident and started a manhunt. Khan fled to Banaras and started work at an engineering company. After 10 months at the company, he planned to work as an engineer abroad so he could financially assist the revolution. To move out of the country, he sought assistance from a Pathan friend in Delhi, who betrayed him and informed the police of his whereabouts. He was arrested and on December 19, 1927, he was hanged in Faizabad jail.
Batukeshwar Dutt was born on November 18, 1910 in Oari village, Burdwan district. He was also known as B. K. Dutt, Battu and Mohan. He moved to Kanpur to attend High School and it was here that he met Chandra Shekhar Azad. Azad was busy conducting activities in Allahabad, Kanpur and Jhansi around that time. Dutt also befriended Bhagat Singh while he was in Kanpur.
Dutt was trained in making bombs and in 1929, he bombed the Central Legislative Assembly with Bhagat Singh. On June 12, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in Kala Pani jail. In 1933, While in jail, he initiated a historic hunger strike that he continued till 1937. In 1937, he was moved from the Cellular Jail to Bankipur Central Prison and in 1938, he was released.
In 1947, after India’s independence, he married Anjali Dutt and settled in Patna. On July 20, 1965, he died at AIIMS from a long illness.
Shivaram Hari Rajguru, famously known as Rajguru, was born on August 24, 1908 near Pune.
On December 1928, him and Bhagat Singh shot down Deputy SP Sanders. They later revealed that they were avenging the death of Lala Lajpat Rai and intended to kill police SP James A. Scott, whose actions led to Rai’s death.
On September 28, 1929, he attempted to kill a governor which led to his arrest the next day in Pune. He was prosecuted over the Lahore Conspiracy Case and on March 23, 1931 in Central Jail, Lahore, he was hanged along with Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, a day before their scheduled hanging and the three were later cremated in secret by British officials.
Sukhdev Thapar, born on May 15 1907, was a member of the HSRA and was closely associated with Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad. Sukhdev played an active role in popularising the Independence movement mainly in Punjab and other northern regions. With Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev had a significant part in the establishment of ‘Naujawan Bharat Sabha’.
His letter to Mahatma Gandhi from March 1931, where he expressed his disagreement with Gandhi’s opposition of revolutionary activities, was heavily discussed amongst the masses. He too was arrested in the Lahore Conspiracy Case and Unilateral court proceedings sentenced him to death. He was hanged on March 23, 1931.
Bhagwati Charan Vohra
Bhagwati Charan Vohra was born on July 4, 1904. Despite being married, he joined the revolution and even convinced his wife, Durga Devi, to do the same. He joined the Satyagraha movement in 1921 after dropping out of college. After the withdrawal of the Satyagraha movement by Mahatma Gandhi, Vohra, amongst others, started an armed revolution. While testing a bomb to break out Bhagat Singh and the others from jail, Vohra died when the bomb exploded in his hands.
After the death of her husband, Durga continued fighting in the revolution herself. She was commonly known as ‘Durga Bhabhi’ amongst revolutionaries. Through her efforts, Bhagat Singh and Rajguru managed to successfully escape trial after Saunders’ killing. She was known to disguise herself to smuggle arms and ammunition to other revolutionaries. Even after the devastating news of her husband’s death, she courageously continued the struggle.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, born in October 31, 1875, was a great philanthropist, freedom-fighter and patriot. When Mahatma Gandhi initiated the Quit India Movement, Patel spoke to a crowd of one lakh in Ahmedabad about the profile of the movement. At a Press Council, he told people to release their fears, reminding them of the power that rests with the masses. He was appointed the Minister of Home Affairs in 1946 and after independence, he directed the seemingly impossible of uniting 562 states into the Union of India. His notable works include restoration of Somnath Temple, the foundation of the National Gandhi Memorial Trust, and laying out the groundwork for Kamala Nehru Memorial Hospital.
Maulana Azad was a chief organiser in the Dharasana Satyagraha. He promoted secularism, socialism and the restoration of harmony amongst Hindus and Muslims. He was appointed the Congress President when the ‘Quit India Movement’ was in motion. He was against the partition of India as he believed that Hindus and Muslims weren’t separate. On August 15, 1947, the independent nation was welcomed with a heavy heart when his vision of an undivided India was crushed. On February 28, 1958, Maulana Azad passed away.
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, nicknamed ‘Baccha Khan’, ‘Semant Gandhi’ and ‘Sarhadi Gandhi’ for his loyalty towards the independence struggle, was a founder of the ‘Khudai Khidmatgar’ (servants of God) organisation. When military law was enacted in Peshawar in 1919, he tried negotiating peace but was arrested regardless. He spent six months in jail over false accusations of revolting against the British. He was arrested again in 1930 for his support of the Satyagraha movement and was transferred to a jail in Gujarat. Following the partitions, his felt detached from India. He wasn’t in support of the partition and his outlook was very different from that of Pakistanis. He continued his struggle for an independent Pashtunistan. In 1988, he was placed under house arrest and he passed away on January 20.
Naidu was born on February 13, 1879. Her father, Aghornath Chattopadhyaya was a scientist and an educationist. Naidu was a brilliant student and passed matriculation at the age of 12. At the age of 16, she moved to England to continue studies at King’s College, London and later, at Girton College, Cambridge. During the partition of Bengal in 1905, she joined the revolution alongside Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. She also promoted women empowerment and supported women’s rights. In 1925, she was appointed the President of the Indian National Congress. She even went to jail with Mahatma Gandhi for the Civil Disobedience Movement. In 1942, she was again arrested in the Quit India Movement and spent 21 months in jail. After independence, she was appointed Governor of Uttar Pradesh, becoming the first woman to ever attain the position. She died from a heart attack on March 2, 1949.
Born on May 28, 1883, Veer Savarkar was the founder of the Abhinav Bharat Society and later, joined the independence revolution. He was also a part of the Swaraj Dal along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak. His activity in the revolution and his patriotic speeches led to the confiscation of his graduate degree. In 1906, he left for England to become a barrister and there, he unified Indian students against the British. There, he founded the Free India Society. He advocated the use of weapons against the British and formed an armed organisation against the British. He was arrested on March 13, 1910. He was accused of grave offences and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was sent to Cellular Jail. He was then transferred to Ratnagiri Jail and later to Yerwada Jail. Although he was released after a 14 year term, a 27 year old Savarkar was sentenced to 50 years in prison twice.
Kasturba Gandhi was born on April 11, 1869 was the third child of Gokuladas Makanji was a trader. Born in Kathiawar, Porbandar like Mahatma Gandhi. She was six months older than Gandhi and the two were married in 1883. Kasturba was an illiterate since not many supported the education of females. She was engaged to Mohandas when she was 7. Kasturba did not live in the shadow of her husband. She had her own perspective of things and understood the value of education for females.
The couple shared the vision for a brighter, independent nation and worked towards it together. Without Kasturba, Gandhi’s non-violence policies would not have been effective. Every time Mahatma Gandhi went to prison, Kasturba led the charge of the Ahimsa movement. On August 9, 1942, upon the arrest of her husband, Kasturba was determined to deliver a speech to a crowd at Shivaji Park in Mumbai. However, she was arrested at the gates of the park. She was sent to Aga Khan Palace in Pune two days later. Her husband was also held at the palace at that time. She died on February 22, 1944.
(Transcribed By Siddhant Pandey)