Remembering Chandra Shekhar Azad and his martyrdom on his death anniversary
On Feb 27, 1931 Chandra Shekhar Azad, shot himself dead because he had vowed he would never be arrested by British Police. On this day it is fitting to remember what free India is doing to its youth
While Chandra Shekhar Azad certainly valued his revolver, he was actually restrained while using it. If we read his life-story carefully, time and again there would be call for action and the restraining influence would often come from Azad. We must also recall in this context what Shahid Bhagat Singh said, that non-violence as a policy is indispensable for all mass movements while use of force is justifiable only when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity.
This was then the message of great revolutionaries like Azad, Bhagat Singh and Ramprasad Bismil. Revolution for them was not the wanton use of violence but a long-term commitment to build a nation free from exploitation and injustice. These revolutionaries, from Bhagat Singh to Subhas Chandra Bose, also placed great emphasis on inter-faith harmony. That is their legacy.
Let us also not forget that they all were young. Chandra Shekhar Azad became known as a freedom fighter at the age of only 15. He achieved martyrdom at the age of 25, while fighting a huge police force which had surrounded him from all sides in Alfred Park of Allahabad.
A century ago, in 1921 the Non-Cooperation Movement against colonial rule was making waves in India. In Varanasi, a freedom fighter who had been felled by police lathis was still being beaten by a policeman. A 15-year-old boy who had joined the protest demonstration could not bear to see this cruelty. He picked up a stone and hit it with force on the forehead of the policeman who was hitting the man on the ground. The man was left alone and the police rushed to catch the teenager.
While Chandra Shekhar managed to dodge the policemen for some time, he was eventually nabbed. He refused to cooperate though. He was brutally caned before the interrogation resumed.
"Now let us know your real name"
"Azad" (meaning free)
"Your real name"
"Okay tell your father's name"
"Swatantra" (again meaning free)
"Tell his real name"
He would shout 'Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai' each time he was struck by a cane. Even when layers of his skin started peeling, he persisted in raising defiant slogans. Soon the entire city was talking about him. When he was finally released from jail, he was carried by people on their shoulders.
This was the first and the last time that people of Allahabad saw Azad in action. During the next decade many stories of his courage made the rounds, but he was never seen again. Despite a massive manhunt launched by the colonial government, Azad continued to work for freedom and remained underground.
Azad took part in the Kakori Train Robbery of 1925 along with Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan when he was just 19 years old. He was also involved in the assassination of Assistant Superintendent Saunders in 1928.
In 2021 as we honour his memory and martyrdom, one sees parallels of equally young people raising their voice for justice, for harmony, for freedom, for the environment, for the farmers and the workers. And they are paying a price, getting arrested and put behind the bars. Some of the victimized are students and research scholars and some were combining their studies and activism with jobs to pay for their studies or sustain their families. But rather than applaud their courage, grit and determination, they are getting imprisoned on diabolical charges.
So, while paying our homage to Azad and Bhagat Singh in the days to come, we must also remember these young Indians whose potential is being crushed and their lives ruined because of the courage of their conviction, their courage in raising their voice for what they believed is right. Sadly, this is happening in independent India. Retired judges and police officers, serving lawyers and activists and public intellectuals have raised their voice against this gross injustice. All of them cannot be wrong.
On this day, therefore, a fitting tribute to Azad will be to demand that all these cases be reviewed urgently; that trials if necessary be expedited in fast-track courts, that hearings be held on a daily basis and in public; and the verdict given within three months. Independent India cannot afford to ruin more young lives because they are our future.
(Bharat Dogra is a senior journalist and author. Jagmohan Singh is Chairperson of Shahid Bhagat Singh Creativity Center and nephew of Shahid Bhagat Singh. They have jointly written books on freedom movement ‘When the Two Streams Met’. Views are personal)