Kakori martyrs and the British Raj

by

Shahid Siddiqui

The resistance to the British Raj in India came from different ethnic groups which converged on the objective of liberating India from British control. The resistance took many forms, employing methods ranging from discourse to coercion.

The Kakori incident is an important milestone in the history of the freedom struggle when a group of young revolutionaries successfully challenged the might of the British Raj. In the post-world war scenario some important developments, including the unsure future of the caliphate in the Ottoman Empire, the massacre in Jalianwala Bagh and the promulgation of the oppressive Rowlatt Act had already taken place and the people of India were in the grip of grief and rage. The situation was ripe to launch a movement at the national level to mobilise the people against the British rule.

Two important movements were launched in response to the political situation, the Khilafat movement and the non-cooperation movement. The Khilafat movement was started by Muslims to save the symbolic caliphate of the Ottoman Empire. This movement was led by Muhammad Ali Johar, Shaukat Ali Johar, Hakeem Ajmal, and Majaddad Sarhindd. The second important movement, non-cooperation, was launched by Gandhi. Muslims and Hindus decided to work together and support both the movements. Gandhi showed his support for the Khilafat movement and Khilafat leaders committed their allegiance for non-cooperation movement announced by Gandhi.

The non-cooperation movement gave a call to all Indians to quit government jobs, pay no taxes, leave government educational institutions, boycott foreign products and use locally made products. This call was the voice of the people that led to the mobilisation of the masses. A large number of people, irrespective of their ethnic affiliations, joined this movement.

The movement starting threatening the British Raj until the Chauri Chaura incident took place on February 4, 1922 involving violent clashes between the local police and the protesters, killing more than twenty policemen. Gandhi, who believed in a pacifist approach to the struggle against the British, was stunned and called to end the movement, which had become a serious threat to the British Raj.

The sudden halt of the movement disappointed the masses in general and the youth in particular who could not reconcile with the idea of putting an end to the movement. A number of young men got together and decided to carry on the struggle more aggressively by use of force. This led to the formation of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in 1924. Some pioneer members of the HRA included Ramprasad Bismil, Jogesh Chatterjea, Ashfaqullah Khan, Chandrashakher Azad and Sachindranath Sanyal.

Ramprasad Bismil belonged to the Arya Samaj and Ashfaqullah Khan was a devout Mulsim but they became close friends. Both of them came from Shahjahanpur and shared two passions: love for poetry and love for the country. They were young and passionate about liberating India from foreign rule. They were also among those who felt let down by the sudden end of the non-cooperation movement. They were eager to see a speedy exit of the British from their homeland.

To expedite the process of liberation the newly established HRA needed human and physical resources and that involved a huge budget. To arrange the required money they decided to take the desperate step of robbing the train that carried the government treasurer. This daring challenge to the authority of the British Raj could lead to dire consequences – and they were ready for it.

It was on August 9, 1925, that Bismil, Ashfaqullah and their comrades boarded the train that was carrying the money. At Kakori, a small village near Lucknow, they pulled the chain and stopped train. They grabbed the guard and got hold of the treasury box of the British government. Bismil, Ashfaq and Lehri broke open the box and emptied it. This money would help them organise the revolutionary activities to liberate their country from foreign rule. After the successful execution of the plan all of them managed to escape the scene.

This incident rocked the country, and was significant in three important ways. First, it provided the HRA the financial sources required for its organisational structures and acquisition of weapons. Second, it challenged the despotic rule of the British Raj amidst an atmosphere of tremendous fear. And third, it brought the HRA to the lime ight and people started talking about the new organisation formed by young people.

The police were under remarkable pressure to catch the revolutionaries but they could not arrest anybody involved in the Kakori train robbery for about one month. Ramparsad Bismil was arrested on September 26, 1925. Ashfaqullah Khan, who was still at large, moved to Banaras and then to Bihar where he managed to get a clerical job in an engineering firm. He worked there for a few months before leaving for Delhi where he planned to leave the country. It was there that he came across a friend of his, who secretly informed the police about his whereabouts. On this lead Ashfaqullah Khan was arrested by the police about ten months after Bismil’s arrest.

The trial of the Kakori incident lasted for about two years. A defence committee was formed to defend Bismil, Ashfaq and their comrades. Appeals were sent to the Privy Council as well but the British government was determined to give a death sentence to the revolutionaries. Ashfaqullah Khan, Ramprasad Bismil, Roshan Singh, Rajendra Lahiri were hanged in December, 1927. Four others were sent to the Andamans for life and seventeen others were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

The journey of the freedom struggle, however, did not stop with the hanging of the Kakori martyrs. Rather they inspired many more young people of India. The torch of freedom was now taken by another set of young men – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru – who marched ahead with the same courage and commitment and shook the British Raj with their revolutionary activities. They ,like Bismil and Ashfaq, went to the gallows with a smile on their face and a deep sense of satisfaction that they did the best they could for the freedom of India.

Bhagat Singh and his comrades were also hanged to death in 1931 but they had done their job by weakening the British Raj and awakening the masses, furthering the unfinished agenda of Bismil and Ashfaq and their colleagues.

The writer is an educationist.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com

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