Lala Gurudas Mal and Family—How Various Members Contributed To Different Streams of Freedom Movement

A fascinating aspect of the freedom movement of India relates to very useful inter-actions among various streams of the movement, and their various meeting points. An interesting chapter of this concerns the family of Lala Gurudas Mal Talwar ( sometimes also written as Gurdasmal) whose various members contributed in very important ways to different streams of the freedom movement.

This family was a large and respected family of the North-Western Frontier Province in the early years of the 20th century. Badshah Khan or Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan ( also known as the Frontier Gandhi) was then emerging fast as the most beloved leader of people in this region. Like his friend and mentor Mahatma Gandhi, Badshah Khan was also very firmly committed to communal harmony and protection of minorities. In this region the Hindus and the Sikhs comprised the minorities and there were numerous cases of khudai khidmatgars of Badshah Khan saving the life of Hindus and Sikhs in very difficult conditions. In these conditions it was only to be expected that together with his wife and other family members Lala Gurudas, who was firmly devoted to the freedom movement, was increasingly drawn towards the Khudai Khidmitgars and tried to contribute as much as possible to their struggles and constructive work.

Hari Kishan Talwar
Hari Kishan Talwar

At the same time this family was not closed to other ideas and viewpoints in the freedom movement. Lala Ji encouraged commitment to the cause of freedom, but did not believe in imposing just one kind of ideas. His elder son Hari Kishan Talwar was increasingly attracted by the ideas of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. He started working with revolutionaries and was involved in some violent actions against the colonial regime. He was arrested and subjected to terrible torture but he did not break down and maintained a high spirit. On January 26, 1931 he was sentenced to death. But he continued to maintain high spirits and said that he was happy to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Bhagat Singh ( who too had been given a death sentence).

Then he went on a hunger strike to demand that he should be allowed to meet Bhagat Singh at least once before he is hanged. After hunger strike of nine days the authorities accepted his demand. Later Bhagat Singh was executed on 23 March while Hari Kishan was hanged on 9 June. Both of them had seen only 23 years of life.

As Lala Gurudas Mal had taken a very bold stand in the course of his son’s trial, he too incurred increasing wrath of colonial rulers. He was implicated in some cases and arrested. A few weeks after his son’s hanging, Lala Gurudas Mal died in jail in July.

His younger son Bhagat Ram Talwar had a many-sided personality and contributed to the freedom movement in many ways. His most important contribution related to the leading role he played in the escape of Subhash Chandra Bose from Calcutta to Kabul. Someone very familiar with the language and culture of the Pashtuns was needed for this purpose and Bhagat Ram Talwar fulfilled this role with great courage and capability. His contacts also proved very helpful. Later he also contributed as an important activist in the peasant movement.

Thus within a single family three members made important contributions to the mainstream peaceful movement led by Gandhiji, to the militaristic mobilization by Nataji Subhash Bose and also to the revolutionary movement of Bhagat Singh , all within the span of about 15 years or so.

Bharat Dogra has contributed several books and booklets on the freedom movement including When the Two Streams Met and Azadi Ke Deewanon Ki Daastaan.

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