Remembering their egalitarian-secular ideology and joint martyrdoms can be a bulwark against the Hindutva onslaught
On August 9, 1925 a group of Indian revolutionaries affiliated to the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) which included Chandershekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, Rajender Lahiri, Roshan Singh, Manmathnath Gupt and others waylaid the British Government treasury loaded on a passenger train at Kakori railway station (approximately 20 kilo meters from Lucknow) and captured the same. The then British rulers and their henchmen branded these revolutionaries as terrorists who were hot-headed adventure loving young men indulging in robberies for buying guns and fire-arms in order to create anarchy. However, the truth was that this revolutionary group seized the government treasury not for purchasing/manufacturing arms and ammunition but for publishing Socialist literature to be circulated among youth, peasantry and workers so that they were politicized and join the anti-colonial struggle. This group had left behind the terrorist legacy and matured into a revolutionary political group which believed in involving larger masses in the struggle to overthrow the British rule. It could be seen in changing the name of HRA in 1928 to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.
In this Kakori Conspiracy Case four of the revolutionaries, namely Ram Prasad Bismil (11 June 1897–19 December 1927), Ashfaqullah Khan (22 October 1900–19 December 1927), Thakur Roshan Singh (22 January 1892 – 19 December 1927), Rajendra Nath Lahiri (23 June 1901–17 December 1927) were awarded death sentences. Ramprasad Bismil was hanged in Gorakhpur, Ashfaqullah Khan in Faizabad, Rajinder Nath Lahiri in Gonda and Roshan Singh in Allahabad between December 17-19, 1927.
These martyrs represented the youth of the country (the eldest, Thakur Roshan Singh being 35 years old and the youngest, Rajendra Nath Lahiri 26 years old) but also pan-Indian character not only in this Kakori action but as a whole. The revolutionary group consisted of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev (Punjabis), Rajguru (Maharashtrian), Jyotish Chander Pal (Orissa) to name few. These revolutionaries were also committed to overthrow the colonial rule and establish an egalitarian and secular society
We can see this commitment concretely in the writings of the martyr Ashfaqullah Khan. He wanted a socialist liberated India. In a ‘Message to Countrymen’ which was smuggled out of Faizabad Jail few days prior to his martyrdom on December 19, 1927 while addressing the Indian Communists he said:
“I am greatly in agreement with you and want to tell you that my heart always weeps for the poor peasants and helpless workers. While on the run I stayed with them and after seeing their condition I often wept…This is absolutely true that whatever they grow or produce, they have no share, they always remain sad and in bad shape. I do agree that for all these things our white Masters and their agents are responsible…I have deep regards for you in my heart and while dying, I fully agree with your political aims. I want that kind of freedom for Hindustan where poor should live happily and with ease. I pray to God that after my death, that day should come at the earliest when Abdullah mechanic of loco workshop, Dhaniya cobbler and common peasants are seen sitting on chairs in front of Mr. Khaliq-uz-Zaman, Jagat Narain Mulla and Raja Saheb Mehmoodabad in Lucknow’s Chhaatter Manzil.
“My comrades, my revolutionary brothers—what I can tell you and what I can write to you, it will be a matter of great pride to you when you will hear that one of your brothers went to the gallows smiling and was happy while dying. I know very well about the spirit which your group has and I was proud of it, and now I am more proud that I am dying as a true revolutionary.”
Ashfaqullah Khan like his other comrades was highly conscious of the damage communal polarization was causing to the anti-British liberation struggle. It was his firm opinion that communal divides would only help the White master. Exposing the nefarious game communal forces were playing in league with the British masters, he wrote:
“Oh! How can we appreciate the present day life when our political leadership is going through internal strife? If one is fond of Tableegh [the propagation of Islam for which an all India organization was formed in 1926] the other believes that dying for Shuddhi [conversion of Muslims and Christians to Sanatan Dharma for which Arya Samaj+Hindu Mahasabha started aggressive campaign from early 20th century] only will lead to emancipation. Government secret service agents finance the spread of religious propaganda. Their aim is not to defend religion or help it to flourish but to create obstacles in the path of the moving train [of the freedom struggle].”
While pouring out his heart for his countrymen both Hindus and Muslims he went on to warn them:
“Brothers! Your civil war, your internal bickering will not be useful for any of you. This is impossible that 7 crores Muslims can be converted to Hinduism [through Shuddhi] and likewise it is futile to believe that 22 crores Hindus can be turned into Muslims. However, [if they continue fighting with each other] it is easy and very easy that all of them together will continue to be in chains.”
It was not surprising that martyr Ram Prasad Bismil expressed the identical views in his last message before his hanging at Gorakhpur Jail on December 19. He declared that he was sacrificing life for a country and the world where there would be no slavery:
“The time of execution is fixed for 6.30 am on 19 December. Nothing to worry, I shall be reborn again and again due to God’s grace and my aim will be to ensure complete freedom for the world. That nature’s gifts should be equally shared by all and no one shall rule others. Everywhere people should have their democratic institutions.”
Bismil though a prominent Arya Samajist made it clear like his Ashfaqullah Khan that to defeat the British masters the unity of Hindus and Muslims was a pre-requisite.
“I am not disappointed at this time of giving up my life that this is wasted. Sacrifices never go to waste. Maybe because of our sighs that the idea of sending royal commission came to the mind of Lord Birkenhead [Secretary of State for India (1924-8)], for whose boycott Hindu-Muslims got together again. God may give some wisdom to them fast and they become united again. I had told advocate Mohan Lal Saxena, after our appeal was dismissed, that at least to commemorate us this time Hindu-Muslim leaders should be united.
“Government had mentioned that Sh. Ashfaqullah Khan is the right-hand man of Ram Prasad. If a devoted Muslim like Ashfaq could be right-hand man of Arya Samaji like Ram Prasad in the revolutionary movement, then why can’t other Hindus and Muslims unite forgetting their petty interests?”
Bismil reminded the flag-bearers of the Hindu and Islamic brands of nationalism who were causing communal polarizing that,
“Government had mentioned that Sh. Ashfaqullah Khan is the right-hand man of Ram Prasad. If a devoted Muslim like Ashfaq could be right-hand man of Arya Samaji like Ram Prasad in the revolutionary movement, then why can’t other Hindus and Muslims unite forgetting their petty interests?
His appeal from the depth of his heart ended with the following amazing words:
“Now my only request to countrymen is that if they had even an iota of sorrow at our death, then, with whatever means, they must establish Hindu-Muslim unity; that was our last wish and this only can be our memorial. All religions and all parties should consider Congress as a representative. Then the day is not far, when Britishers have to bow before Indians.”
Unfortunately the rulers, the mainstream academia and the media have consciously seceded from this great philosophical heritage of the Kakori martyrs. The current Hindutva onslaught is the outcome of our ignorance about the sacrifices of the Kakori martyrs and ideals for which they laid down their lives. If we are able to revive our memories of this glorious phase of the unity of Indians fighting for a society based on justice, the anti-egalitarian and religious polarizing agenda of the RSS-BJP rulers is bound to fizzle out.
Shamsul Islam is a former professor of Delhi University
December 19, 2020
Link for some of S. Islam’s writings in English, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and video interviews/debates: