We have been celebrating in these columns the life and work of India’s revolutionary martyrs of the tumultuous 1920s and 1930s who, seething with youthful rage at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 and the failure of Gandhi’s first non-cooperation movement, made valiant attempts to challenge the might of the British rule. The saga of Ram Prasad Bismil, recounted in a previous edition of Blitz India, is incomplete without mentioning his fellow martyrs in the Kakori conspiracy case (1927) viz. Ashfaqulla Khan, Roshan Singh and Rajendra Lahiri.
Ashfaqulla was born on October 22, 1900 in Shahjahanpur in UP to Shafiqulla Khan of the Khyber tribe who belonged to the landlord class. Ashfaq’s mother Maharunissa belonged to a family of police and administrative officers of the British Indian Government. During his school days, he was inspired by the sacrifices of the Bengal revolutionaries like Kanailal Dutta and Khudiram Bose. In 1918, when he was in seventh standard, the police raided his school and arrested an accused student Rajaram Bhartiya in the Mainpuri conspiracy case masterminded by Bismil.
INSPIRED BY LENIN
This episode spurred Ashfaq’s patriotism and led him to join Bismil in 1920, a friendship that blossomed fully to end only with their death in 1927. Over the next seven years, he worked together with Bismil in the non-cooperation movement, the Swaraj Party, and the HRA. He was strongly inspired by Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and believed in the liberation of the poor.
He believed in socialist ideals and through his writings appealed to the public to be wary of the ill effects of British colonialism and imperialism. He also spoke against religious communalism, identifying it as a British tool to manipulate the people and prevent independence.
The revolutionaries led by Bismil and others organised a band of militant youth and formed the Hindustan Republication Association (HRA) in 1923. To fight the oppressive British rule, they started gathering funds to acquire weapons and executed the Kakori train robbery on August 9, 1925 near Lucknow and looted the Government treasury. While Bismil and all others were caught by the police, Ashfaqulla remained untraceable for a year. He fled to Nepal to evade capture, then to Kanpur and later to Daltonganj, where he worked in an engineering firm under a pseudonym. Eventually, Khan decided to travel to Delhi to continue his revolutionary activities where he was betrayed to the police by a childhood Pathan friend, at whose house he was staying.
Ashfaq was strongly inspired by Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution and believed in the liberation of the poor. He believed in socialist ideals and through his writings appealed to the public to be wary of the ill effects of British colonialism and imperialism
The so-called Kakori conspirators were soon apprehended, put on trial, and sentenced to death. Bismil, Roshan and Ashfaq were hanged on December 19, 1927 in different locations, while Lahiri was hanged two days ahead of schedule on December 17, 1927. While in prison, Khan wrote a letter justifying his revolutionary activities against the violence of the colonial power.
Bismil has devoted an entire chapter to Ashfaq in his autobiography written in Gorakhpur jail (Kakori ke Shaheed) wherein he lauds the indomitable grit of Ashfaq who ignored the pressure of his family and community to turn approver in the Kakori conspiracy case and embraced the gallows happily.
He remained Bismil’s friend till his last breath and became a role model for the secular fabric of Indian freedom struggle. Like Bismil he was also a poet, writing poems in Hindi and Urdu under the pseudonyms Varasi and Hasrat which became the battle cry of future revolutionaries: Kas li hai kamar, ab to kuch kar ke dikhaenge; Azaad hi ho lenge, ya sar hi kata denge (We have girded up our waist, we will now show some deed; we will become either free or will be beheaded).