Sarfaroshi ki tamannaa ab hamare dil mein hai, dekhnaa hai zor kitnaa baazu-e-qaatil mein hai (The desire to lay down our heads is now in our hearts, we will see how much strength is in the slayer’s hands).
These immortal lines of Ram Prasad Bismil became the credo of revolutionaries in India’s freedom struggle against the British rule in the aftermath of Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. Known for his romantic love of the motherland and literary skills, he played a key role in planning and executing the activities of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in the 1920s.
Born on June 11, 1897 in Shahjahanpur, UP, to Murlidhar, an employee of the local municipality, Ram Prasad grew up in a village in Chambal valley. He learnt Hindi from his father, Urdu from a local Maulavi, and English in a Mission School where he studied up to eighth class. He came into contact with intellectuals and revolutionaries of Arya Samaj and was inspired by Swami Dayanand’s book Satyarth Prakash. He sought advice on religion and politics from Swami Somdev of Arya Samaj who introduced him to famous revolutionary Lala Hardayal.
‘BISMIL’ AS PSEUDONYM
When Bhai Balmukund and his cousin Bhai Parmanand, a founder of the revolutionary Ghadar Party and Arya Samaj thinker, were sentenced to death in 1915 in Delhi Conspiracy Case for throwing a bomb at Lord Hardinge’s carriage, Ram Prasad’s patriotic fervour rang out in poems under the pseudonym ‘Bismil’. Giving up his studies at age 19, he moved to Lucknow for the Congress session in 1916. When liberals opposed Bal Gangadhar Tilak in taking out a procession in the streets, Bismil and his friends lifted Tilak on their shoulders and took out the march.
Although Bhai Parmanand’s death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, Bismil along with other revolutionaries were convinced that only an armed struggle could win India’s freedom. He distributed a pamphlet Deshvasiyon ke Naam and a poem Mainpuri Ki Pratigya (1918) to draw public attention to their cause. Bismil formed his own revolutionary outfit ‘Matrivedi’ (Altar of Motherland) and organised youths of Etawah, Mainpuri, Agra and Shahjahanpur to strengthen it. He was aided by Gendalal Dixit and other revolutionaries.
UNDERGROUND FOR LONG
The revolutionaries indulged in looting public property and selling revolutionary books to collect money for their organisation (Mainpuri Conspiracy, 1918). Bismil fought a gun battle with the police and escaped by jumping in the Yamuna river. He remained underground from 1919 to 1920 and penned many poems, such as, Man Ki Lahar, Swadeshi Rang, Sarfaroshi ki Tamannaa, Kranti Geetanjali and translated into Hindi and Urdu famous Bengali and English works like American Independence, Bolshevikon ki Kartoot, Yogic Sadhana, Swadhinta ki Devi: Catherine.
After being absolved of the Mainpuri Conspiracy in 1920, Bismil attended Ahmedabad Congress with Hasrat Mohani and endorsed ‘Poorna Swaraj’ resolution in 1921. However, after Gandhi withdrew non-cooperation movement at Gaya Congress in 1922, the young patriots formed the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in 1923, led by Ram Prasad Bismil, Jogesh Chatterjee, Sachindra Sanyal, Shachindra Bakshi, Ashfaqulla Khan, Roshan Singh, Rajendra Lahiri, Manmath Gupta, Jadugopal Mukherjee and others.
Bismil became the organiser of Shahjahanpur, Oudh and Agra regions and chief of arms division. On Hardayal’s advice he wrote a four-page pamphlet entitled The Revolutionary in January 1925, which served as the manifesto of HRA. He played a key role in bringing Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru into the HRA. His idea of freedom had a strong component of social justice, for “making proper arrangements for educating the six million people who are considered ‘untouchables’; and they should be granted equal socioeconomic rights”. On August 9, 1925 the revolutionaries executed the Kakori train robbery near Lucknow and looted Government treasury money.
Bismil and others were caught by the police, put on trial in Kakori conspiracy case, and sentenced to death. Bismil, Ashfaqulla and Roshan were all hanged in different locations on December 19, 1927, while Rajendra Lahiri was hanged two days ahead of schedule on December 17. Bismil wrote his famous autobiography Kakori ke Shaheed in Gorakhpur jail. The martyrdom of Kakori bravehearts became a leverage for more radical activities during the freedom struggle.