Varanasi, 1920: There were around 5-6 young people in the group. The magistrate, Mr. Kharegat, a Parsi, known for awarding severe punishments, saw that these boys stood fearlessly. They seemed to know no fear. He called one of the boys, arrested for throwing a stone at a police officer. The boy seemed quite young, but totally unperturbed by the arrest.
The boy replied back nonchalantly “Azad”.
“Your father’s name”?- “Azadi”
“Where do you live?”- “In Prison”
Taken aback by the insouciance and arrogance, a furious Kharegat, ordered 50 lashes of severe caning. It was a punishment that often scared even the most hardened criminals. Yet the youngster betrayed no fear. This boy was stripped of his clothes, except a vest, and tied to a wooden plank. The caning could often tear the flesh off the body, yet the youngster did not seem to fear it. The jailor Ganda Singh, was notorious for his cruelty, he relished torturing the prisoners and hearing their cries. As the cane lashed over his body, the youth cried out “Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai” with every stroke. Not one trace of anxiety, or suffering, as he patiently took the lashing. As the news of the youth’s bravery spread, the citizens of Benares, came to receive him. He was accorded a hero’s welcome, garlanded, taken in a procession and slogans of “Chandrashekar Azad Ki Jai” rent the air.
The youngster who took the cane blows, was born Chandrashekar Sitaram Tiwari, on July 23, 1906 in the village of Bhabara, now located in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh. His father, Pandit Sita Ram Tiwari, hailed from the Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh and got a small job as a clerk in the forest department. Located in the midst of thick jungles, surrounded by hills and valleys, this is where Chandrashekar would spend his growing up years. Though Sitaram Tiwari, was not very well off and had to struggle due to poverty, he remained honest and never sought to earn money by illegal means. Chandrashekhar grew up under the loving care of his mother Jagrani Devi who wanted her son to be a Sanskrit scholar. From childhood, he displayed a strong rebellious streak, once when his hand was burnt, during Diwali, he did not even notice it, till his friends told him so.
Chandrashekhar studied at the local village school, along with his brother Sukhdev, where he was tutored by Manohar Lal Trivedi. Chandra always held high ideals and a love for justice, a quality that he inherited from his father. Trivedi sir would be Chandra’s mentor – when his father was unable to afford his education, it was he who took him to his home and educatedto the poor financial condition, Chandra took up a job when he was just 14 years old, under the local Tehsildar, Sitaram Agnihotri. However, Chandra was restless with the job and wanted to explore the world more.
His mother persuaded Chandra’s father to send him to Kashi to study Sanskrit. Varanasi then was the center for Sanskrit education, students from all over Bharat flocked there. The best part was that most students from a poor background there were given free boarding and lodging. Keeping this in mind, Sitaram Tiwari sent him to Varanasi for further studies.
However, the restless Chandrashekhar could not adjust to the environment and he ran away from Kashi to the jungles of Alirajpur, where his uncle lived. It was during his stay in Alirajpur, that he came into contact with the Bhil tribe. He learnt archery from the tribals there. However, once when a tribal lost his eyesight, due to an arrow from Chandra hitting him, his uncle was furious. He felt that the Bhils were having a bad influence on Chandra and thus, sent him back to Varanasi.
Chandrashekar studied Sanskrit but he could not bring himself to understand the complicated grammar. He loved to swim in the Ganga, for hours. He loved listening to discourses on Ramayana, Mahabharata and hearing stories about freedom fighters and heroes.
Just at that time on 10th December, 1917, the British Government introduced the dreaded Rowlatt Act, to suppress the growing clamor for independence. Its aim was to suppress political agitations under the pretext of “sedition”. It specifically targeted the so-called extremists in Congress like Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal & Lala Lajpat Rai, who along with revolutionaries like the Chapekar brothers and Khudi Ram Bose were considered dangerous. Under this act, police could arrest any one any time, or place them under house arrest, with no warrant, no questions asked.
Soon by 1919, the entire country was up against the Rowlatt Act and Mahatma Gandhi led the Satyagraha. Swami Shraddananda led the hartal in Delhi against the Act and there was firing in which 5 Bharatiyas were killed. Punjab exploded in anger against the Rowlatt Act, and the Government there arrested Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Satyapal Dang. Then, one of the worst massacres took place on 13th April, 1919, at Jallianwala Bagh on a Baisakhi day. Even after the Jallianwala Bagh atrocity, the Government committed more atrocities, Bharatiyas were asked to crawl on the streets, people were put in cages and paraded live, they were routinely flogged and whipped.
As a student, Chandrashekar’s blood boiled at what happened in Jallianwala Bagh and the atrocities in Punjab. The Congress held it’s session at Kolkata in 1920, headed by Lala Lajpat Rai and passed a resolution for non-cooperation. Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the non-cooperation movement spread like wildfire all over Bharat in 1921. Varanasi too was caught up in the movement, as students boycotted classes and demonstrations were held. Chandrashekhar left his studies and jumped into the fray, his naturally rebellious self could not hold back. Once during the agitation, Chandra saw police mercilessly beating up some agitators. Unable to hold back, he threw a stone at the sub inspector which hit him hard. Though he ran away from the place, the police managed to trace him out and he was arrested. He was just a 15 year old student, when he was handcuffed, put in a dark, damp cell. However, instead of breaking his spirit, it strengthened his resolve further.
His defiance at the police station, the way he received the cane blows without flinching made him a hero in Varanasi. People turned up in large numbers to see this brave son, who did not flinch from his resolve. His photo was published in the newspaper Maryada, with the caption “Brave Child Azad”, along with his heroic deeds. The 15 year old Sanskrit student Chandrashekar Sitaram Tiwari, was now the heroic revolutionary Chandrashekhar Azad. His father, however, was worried and implored him to return home. Azad, by now had made up his mind, that he would serve the nation and his life was dedicated to it only.
Azad gave up his studies and plunged headlong into the freedom movement. He had broken all bonds with his family, and now his life remained committed only towards Bharat. However, when Mahatma Gandhi suspended the non-cooperation movement abruptly after the Chauri Chaura incident in 1921, like many others, Azad was thoroughly disappointed. An agitating mob had burnt down a police station at the village of Chauri Chaura near Gorakhpur and this made Mahatma Gandhi suspend the movement.
Azad felt that armed revolution was the only way to achieve independence and he began to come in touch with some of the rebels from Bengal. The movement was led by Sachindranath Sanyal of Anushilan Samiti who organized it in Uttar Pradesh. Soon the revolutionary bodies in Uttar Pradesh were merged to found the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA). Influenced by the objectives of the Russian Revolution in 1917, HRA sought to establish a democratic, socialist society in Bharat. Apart from Azad, it had other active members like Pandit Ram Prasad Bismil from Shahjahanpur, Suresh Bapu from Kanpur, Rajendra Nath Lahiri and Ravindra Mohan Kar from Varanasi.
Azad became a member of HRA through Pranavesh Chatterjee, a revolutionary who was impressed by his spirit. In due course, Azad became an active member of HRA and he ensured that the membership shot up, as he reached out to people. Most of these revolutionaries used to meet at Kalyan Ashram in Benares and often covered their activities under the guise of being a music group. However, the group was facing financial constraints and money was hard to come by.
Azad took up this responsibility and began to meet influential leaders of Congress for funds. He had a good manner of speaking and many were impressed by him. Pandit Motilal Nehru was one of those who assisted the party financially. Others like P.D. Tandon, the famous writer Sharat Chandra, Advocate General of Kolkata S.N. Sarkar too contributed financially. However, with the increasing number of members, the expenses shot up. Azad and his friends often had to do with meager clothing and sparse food to save money. They often spent the cold winters in ordinary clothes and sometimes had no food to eat too. However, it never deterred them from theira growing necessity of pistols, Azad, made a mistry as the member, who was an expert in pistol making. He himself started working as an accountant in a shop to provide financially for the party.
Faced with a funds crunch, HRA decided that the only way out now was to loot Government money. The location was Kakori, a small railway station near Lucknow, through which a train carrying the treasury money would pass. The idea to rob the train was conceived by Ram Prasad Bismil, who saw the security loop holes. On 10th August, 1925 the revolutionaries stopped the train at Kakori in night and looted it. Along with Azad, other rebels who took part were Rajendra Lahiri, Roshan Singh, Ashfaqulla, Manmath Nath Gupt, Sachindranath Bakshi.
However, the Government reacted strongly and an intensive search was launched for the culprits. Many were arrested and after a long trial, 4 of them- Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah, Rajendra Lahiri and Roshan Singh – were sentenced to be hanged by death. Azad however was now on the run and the British were unable to capture him.
Disguised as a Sadhu, Azad, came to Jhansi via a long route that touched Khandwa, Indore, which he soon made his hub. The forests of Orchha, near to Jhansi was where he began to practice his shooting skills and soon he became known as an expert marksman. Living in exile in Jhansi, Azad began to recruit others for the revolution and trained them in shooting. He also taught kids at nearby villages under the alias of Pandit Harishankar Brahmachari. He learnt driving in Jhansi at the Bundelkhand Motor Garage. Sadashivrao Malkapurkar, Vishwanath Vaishampayan and Bhagwan Das Mahaur were his close associates in Jhansi and Congress leaders like Raghunath Dhulekar, Sitaram Bhagawat often visited him.
The HRA had by now become scattered after the crackdown and death of Bismil, Ashfaqullah; it was now left to Azad to reorganize it. Trekking on foot through the thick jungles of Central Bharat, Azad reached Kanpur, after a long and arduous journey. He reorganized HRA under the name of Hindustan Socialist Republican Army( HSRA). It was at Kanpur that he met Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Batukeshwar Dutt, who would later play a crucial role. He was helped in its reestablishment by one of his close friends Bhagawati Charan Vohra. The Hindustan Socialist Republican Army now vowed to take a more aggressive approach, and soon the members began to be trained in bomb making and shooting.
However, tragedy struck when Lala Lajpat Rai, their inspiration and role model, was brutally lathi charged while leading a demonstration in Lahore. Lalaji soon died of the injuries and a furious Azad vowed to avenge the brutality. Rushing to Lahore, he held a meeting with others, and formulated a plan of action for this. Along with Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, he lay in wait for Saunders and Scott, the police chiefs in Lahore responsible for Lalaji’s death. The rebels fired shots, Saunders was killed on the spot, Scott managed to escape and Lalaji was avenged.
Bhagat Singh was arrested in 1931, along with Sukhdev and Rajguru, and put on trial. But Azad once again escaped the police dragnet and by now he was one of the most wanted men ever. In 1931, Azad went to meet another revolutionary, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, at Sitapur Jail. It was Vidyarthi who suggested Azad to meet Jawaharlal Nehru at Allahabad to ask for clemency to Bhagat Singh. However, Nehru refused to meet Azad at Anand Bhavan in Allahabad, and Azad had to walk away in frustration.
February 27, 1931
Azad was sitting with his friend at Albert Park in Allahabad, planning his next course of action. However, an associate of Azad had turned informer and the police came to know of his whereabouts. Arriving with 80 sepoys, the police surrounded Azad and soon a gunfight broke out. One man against the whole police force, still Azad refused to surrender. He fought like a cornered tiger till the end. He kept firing at the British police with his pistol, till he had just one bullet left. Then he placed the pistol to his temple, and pulled the trigger.
One of the greatest revolutionaries, a truly brave son of Bharat, fell on the earth. He died like a man, without surrendering, in glory. A man who called himself Azad, sacrificied his life for the Azadi of Bharat.
(This article first appeared on author’s blog and has reproduced here with his consent.)
(Featured Image Source)
Did you find this article useful? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism.