We have been celebrating in these columns the life and work of India’s revolutionary freedom fighters who made the supreme sacrifice in their valiant attempts to wrest freedom from the British rule. One of the greatest luminaries in the hall of martyrs is Chandrashekhar Azad, whose heroic patriotism inspired thousands of youth to join the freedom struggle. To him is ascribed the famous quote: “If yet your blood does not rage, then it is water that flows in your veins. For what is the flush of youth, if it is not of service to the motherland”.
Born on July 23, 1906 in Badarka village of Unnao (UP) to Sitaram Tiwari and Jagarani Devi, his childhood was spent in Bhabra in the erstwhile estate of Alirajpur (Madhya Pradesh) where his father served. He grew up with Bhil tribal kids and indulged in outdoor sports.
His mother sent him to Kashi Vidyapeeth in Benaras to become a Sanskrit scholar. It was here that he imbibed nationalism and, incensed by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, joined the non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi at the age of 13.
When arrested by the police and asked his name, his father’s and his residence, he told his name was ‘Azad’ (free), his father’s ‘Swadheenta’ (freedom) and his residence the prison cell. He was sentenced to receive fifteen whiplashes; with each whip-lash the young Chandrasekhar Tiwari shouted Bharat Mata Ki Jai, and thus became known as Chandrashekhar Azad. He vowed not to be ever arrested by the British police.
When Gandhi withdrew the non-violent movement in February 1922, Azad joined the Hindustan Republication Association (HRA) after meeting its founder members Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Roshan Singh, Rajendra Lahiri, Sachindra Sanyal and others who formed the HRA in 1923. To fight the oppressive British rule, these revolutionaries started gathering funds to acquire weapons by looting and robbing the Government treasury money from the guard’s cabin of a train at Kakori near Lucknow in 1925, but in the ensuing gunfight one passenger was killed.
Eventually, except for Azad, the involved revolutionaries were apprehended, put on trial for murder and sentenced to death in Kakori Conspiracy Case (1927). After the death by hanging of Bismil, Roshan, Aashfaq and Lahiri, Azad shifted to Kanpur, where he met with Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. Under socialist influence, Azad reorganised HRA as Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) in 1928 with the primary goal of a socialist independent India. He became the Commanderin-Chief of the HSRA and went by the name Balraj.
After Assistant Superintendent of Police JP Saunders was shot dead by revolutionaries to avenge the killing of Lala Lajpat Rai, Azad escaped again thus justifying his nickname ‘Quick Silver’. He carried on his revolutionary activities from Jhansi, and practiced shooting with other revolutionaries in the forest of Orchha. The people of Bundelkhand supported Azad financially and with arms and fighters.
Azad also participated in the attempt to blow up the Viceroy’s train in 1929. The British police put a reward of Rs 30,000 on his head.
This led to the betrayal of Azad by an old comrade who informed the police of his location in Alfred Park in Allahabad. In a fierce gun-battle on February 27, 1931, he shot some police officers to ensure safe passage for his compatriots, before shooting himself dead with his last bullet to avoid capture.
Thus Azad kept his pledge of not getting caught alive: “I will face the bullets of the enemies, I have been free and I will forever be free.”
(The writer is a litterateur and educationist)