A brave revolutionary who gave up his life smilingly for the sake of the Motherland. He was persecuted by an enraged foreign government, hunted by the police and betrayed by fellow workers. And yet he lit the fire of revolution to burn down the slavery. He was the brave leader of the Kakori Rail Dacoity episode. His poetry is also a lamp lighted at the altar of the Motherland.
It was the 18th of December 1927. A middle-aged lady was waiting at the main gates of the Gorakhpur Central Jail. Her face was radiant but the anxiety was writ large on it. She was eagerly waiting to be called into the prison.
By that time her husband also arrived there.
He was surprised that his wife was there before him. He also sat down to wait for the call.
Another young man came there. He was not related to them. He knew that the couple would be permitted to enter the prison. But how could he manage to enter? This was his problem.
The officials of the prison called in the husband and the wife. The young man followed them. The guard stopped him and rudely asked,
“Who are you?”
“Permit him also, brother. He is my sister’s son”, the lady said in an entreating voice. The guard relented.
All three entered the prison to visit a freedom fighter that was to face his death on the morrow.
The Brave Freedom Fighter
The freedom fighter was brought there in chains. They were like ornaments on him. This was the last time that he could see his mother, the last time he could address her as ‘Mother’.
At this thought, grief welled up in him. He stood speechless and tears rolled down his cheeks.
In a firm voice, the mother said, ‘What is this, my son? I had thought of my son as a great hero. I was thinking that the British Government would shiver at the very mention of his name. I never thought that my son would be afraid of death.
If you can die only in this way, weeping, why did you take up such activities?” The officials were astounded at the firmness of the mother. The freedom fighter replied,
“Mother dear, these are not tears of fear – the fear of death. These are tears of joy – joy at beholding so brave as a mother!”
The brave son of that brave mother was Ramprasad Bismil. He was the leader of the famous Kakori Rail Dacoity case. The last meeting ended.
The next morning Ramprasad got up earlier than usual, bathed and said his morning prayers. He wrote his last letter to his mother. Then he sat down with a calm mind awaiting his death.
The officials came and removed his chains.
They took him from the prison cell towards his death.
He was completely untroubled and walked like a hero. The officials were amazed. As he moved to the gallows, he joyfully chanted ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharath Matha ki Jai’. At the top of his voice, he shouted: “down with the British Empire.” Then he calmly recited prayers like ‘Vishwani deva Savitha ha Dunithani’ and embraced death.
As he was being executed, there was a strong guard around the prison. When he was dead the officials brought out the dead body. Not only his parents but also hundreds of his countrymen were waiting in tears. The people of Gorakhpur decorated the body of the brave son of Bharath as befitted a hero and carried it in a procession.
Flowers were showered on the body, and the last rites were performed.
Ramprasad Bismil joined the select band of martyrs who dreamt of a free India and made the supreme sacrifice so that the dream might come true.
Ramprasad was born at Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh in the year 1897. His ancestors belonged to the Thomarghar area of Gwalior State. Their village abutted the British administered provinces on the banks of the river Chambal. People of the Chambal valley are hardy and brave. For generations, several states had tried to establish their sway over them but without success.
Ramprasad’s father Muralidhar had only a little education and was employed by Shahjahanpur Municipality. He got tired of service and switched over to an independent life. He lent money on interest and hired out carts for his livelihood. His first son lived only for a few days.
Ramprasad was his second son. This child, too, developed the same symptoms as the first child.
His grandmother, in great anxiety, got talismans and tied them around his neck. She did whatever anyone suggested. Anyway, the child survived.
Ramprasad was the darling of the family. In his seventh year, Muralidhar started teaching him Hindi. He was also sent to a Moulvi to learn Urdu. Later he was sent to a school.
He was fourteen years old by the time he completed the fourth standard in Urdu. By then the habit of reading Urdu novels had taken hold of him. He needed money to buy the novels. But his father would not give him money for this. And so he found an easy way – he stole money from his father’s safe. He had also learned to smoke and occasionally he would even use bhang (charas) as a result of all this he failed twice in the fifth standard.
Somehow his father came to know about his habit of stealing money. He changed the lock of the safe. Ramprasad expressed a desire to join an English school. His father did not agree at once, but his mother’s support enabled him to join an English school.
A New Path
A new priest came to the temple near his house. He took a liking to young Ramprasad.
Under his healthy influence, Ramprasad gradually gave up the bad habits he had cultivated. He learned the rituals of worship. At school, too, he found a good friend in Sushil Chandra Sen and he gave up smoking, too.
A gentleman by name Munshi Indrajeet once saw young Ramprasad performing worship and was pleased very much. Munshiji taught Ramprasad ‘Sandhya-Vandana’ (the traditional prayers). He told him quite a good deal about the Arya Samaj. Ramprasad read the ‘Sathyartha Prakasha’ by the great sage Swami Dayanand.
This book influenced him deeply. It showed him the way to a brave life. Realizing the importance of Brahmacharya (not seeking pleasures of the body), Ramprasad practiced it in word, thought and deed. He gave up the evening meal.
He also gave up savory and sour dishes and the use of salt. The practice of Brahmacharya and regular exercises made his face radiant and his body strong as steel.
Ramprasad was greatly influenced by the principles of the Arya Samaj. So often there were heated debates between him and Muralidhar.
The angry father turned his son out of his home.
Ramprasad moved about for two days in a nearby forest and returned to Shahjahanpur. He was standing at a meeting organized by the Arya Samaj, listening to a discourse. Two men who had been sent by his father caught hold of him and took him to the Head Master of the Mission School in which he was studying. That Christian gentleman advised both the son and the father to behave better. Then Muralidhar realized that it was impossible to mend his son by beating him.
The young, followers of the Arya Samaj banded together and established the Arya Kumar Sabha.
They began to organize meetings and processions. The police feared that this might lead to a clash between the Hindus and the Muslims. So the government banned meetings and processions. The elders in the Arya Samaj were also dissatisfied with these young men. They turned Kumar Sabha out of their quarters. The Sabha remained active for some months and then faded out. But during that short period, the Arya Kumar Sabha of Shahjahanpur earned a good name by its good work.
At that time, Swami Somadevji, a leader of the Arya Samaj, came down to Shahjahanpur and stayed there to improve his health. He had become extremely weak because of much loss of blood. Young Ramprasad devoted himself to the service of Swami Somadevji.
Swami Somadevji was a great patriot and a scholar. He was proficient in Yoga too. He gave Ramprasad advice on matters of religion and politics. He suggested some good books for Ramprasad to read. Under his guidance, Ramprasad’s views on religion and political subjects grew clearer.
In the year 1916, Bhai, Paramanandji was sentenced to death in the Lahore Conspiracy case.
He had written a book with the title ‘Thavasi Hindu’. Ramprasad read the book and appreciated it immensely. He came to admire Paramanandji. When he heard about the death sentence, his blood boiled and he took a vow that he would settle scores with the British Government for this great injustice. He told Guru Somadevji about his vow. The Guru remarked,
“It is easy to take a vow but hard to keep it.” Then Ramprasad touched the feet of Guru Somadevji and declared, “if I have the grace of these sacred feet my vow will surely be fulfilled; nothing can come in the way.” This was the first step in the revolutionary life of Ramprasad.
Meeting With Tilak
After a short while, Guru Samadevji passed away. Ramprasad had come up to the ninth standard. He was active as an enthusiastic volunteer in the Shahjahanpur Seva Samithi.
The Indian National Congress was to have its annual session at Lucknow. There were two groups in the Congress at that time. One group consisted of liberals, who were opposed to any direct action against the British Government.
They believed in securing justice by explaining India’s difficulties to the British Government.
They also believed that India should continue to be a part of the British Empire.
The other group was that of extremists who believed in fighting the British Government.
And attaining full independence. Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak was their leader. Tilak was expected to participate in the session and so the extremists had gathered in large numbers.
Ramprasad also went to Lucknow. The liberals were in a majority in the Reception Committee.
They had not made any elaborate arrangements to welcome Tilak. He was just to be received at the railway station.
But the young men desired that Tilak should be taken in a procession through the city. With a student of the M. A. class as their leader, they gathered at the railway station. As soon as Tilak got off the railway carriage, the volunteers of the Reception Committee surrounded him and took him to the waiting car. The M.A. student and Ramprasad leaped forward and sat in front of the car.
“If the car is to move, let it move over our bodies,” they declared. The members of the Reception Committee and Tilak himself tried to dissuade them but they would not budge. Their friends hired a coach, set free the horses, and they drew the coach. Tilak was made to sit in the coach and taken in a procession. All along the way flowers were showered on Lokamanya Tilak.
From Books to Bullets
At the Lucknow Session of the Congress, Ramprasad came into contact with some members of a secret committee; this committee was playing an important role in revolutionary activities. The previous year he had developed revolutionary ideals. This contact with the committee gave practical shape to them. In a short while, he became a member of the executive committee of the revolutionaries.
The committee had very little money. It needed money, quite a lot of it to buy arms and ammunition. It needed thousands of rupees.
Ramprasad thought of a plan. Why not take up the publication of writings which would, on the one hand, spread the revolutionary ideas and, on the other hand, bring them money? He took four hundred rupees as a loan from his mother and published a book entitled ‘How Did America Attain freedom? ‘At that time a revolutionary leader by name Gendalal Dikshit had been imprisoned at Gwalior. Ramprasad was very keen on drawing public attention towards him and win him people’s sympathy. Therefore he printed a pamphlet entitled ‘A Message to My Countrymen.’ By his book trade, he could not only repay the loan he had taken from his mother but could also make a profit of two hundred rupees. But the then Government of the United Provinces banned both these books.
Publication of books brought them money and this, in turn, brought the arms. On an earlier occasion, Ramprasad had wandered in Gwalior City and had bought a revolver. With this experience, he went there again. In those days collection of arms was comparatively easier in the native states.
Ramprasad observed in a shop in the market a few muzzleloaders along with swords, shields, and daggers. He gathered enough courage and approached the owner and casually inquired what they would cost.
‘Well, don’t you sell, any rifles and revolvers?” he asked. The shop owner showed some muzzleloader pistols and said, “Please come again. I shall somehow manage to get one or two rifles and revolvers.” Ramprasad purchased some muzzleloader pistols and daggers and returned.
A few such visits gave him some knowledge of firearms. He could make out which weapon was old and which was new and the price of every weapon.
Once he was about to fall into the hands of the police. The police of Gwalior State got the scent of the collection of arms. A constable of the confidential investigation department approached Ramprasad and offered to get him some weapons. He took Ramprasad with him. Can you guess where he took him? To the house of a police inspector!
Luckily for him, the inspector was not at home.
A constable was standing guard in front of the house. Ramprasad happened to know him.
He managed to elude the eye of the constable who had taken him there and asked the man keeping guard there whose house it was. He was assured it was the house of a police inspector. In the twinkling of an eye, Ramprasad vanished.
But somehow the police constable had already found out that the team had collected weapons and that they intended to move them that very day. Ramprasad, who had now grown cautious, walked past several railway stations with the weapons; then he boarded the train and reached Shahjahanpur.
Another time he had to purchase a revolver from a Police Superintendent who was about to retire. The Superintendent had his doubts and hesitated; so Ramprasad got an affidavit prepared to declare that he was the son of a Zamindar, (a rich land-lord) and forged two signatures of Zamindars in Hindi and the signature of a Police Inspector in English. Anyhow he managed to buy the revolver.
So they managed to collect a good quantity of weapons such as rifles, muzzleloaders, revolvers, cartridges, daggers, and knives.
Sale of Banned Books
The Indian National Congress was to meet in Delhi. Ramprasad felt that it would be a good opportunity to sell the remaining copies of “How Did America Attain Freedom?” An ambulance team was sent to Delhi on behalf of Shahjahanpur Seva Samithi. Volunteers of the ambulance team could move about freely. The book had been banned by the United Provinces Government, hadn’t it? The young men of Shahjahanpur used this very fact to advertise the book. They kept crying: “How Did America Attain Freedom? – the book banned in the United Provinces and began to sell books.
This drew the attention of the secret police and they surrounded the Congress camp. They began a hunt for the young men who were selling the books. As soon as Ramprasad got the scent of this he ran to the tent where the books were stocked. He wrapped them up in his big overcoat and, displaying the red badge of the ambulance, walked on with the bundle. He was in the uniform of a volunteer of the ambulance team and walked right into the Congress camp right under the nose of the police. The police could not enter the Congress camp without the permission of the Reception Committee. Thus all the copies of the book were saved. Later they were sold.
In The Shadow of Death
When he returned to Shahjahanpur from Delhi, he learned that the police were on the lookout for him and his friends. Because of a quarrel between two members of the revolutionary committee, the police had been able to get details of their arms dump. As this internal quarrel took place at Manipuri, the case was conducted there and came to be known as the Manipuri Conspiracy case.
As soon as Ramprasad learned about this, he left Shahjahanpur with three friends. They wandered here and there for some time and reached Prayag. There they camped in a choultry. Heated arguments developed among them about the future course of action. His friends felt that there was one coward in the group; they feared that, if he were arrested, the police would learn all their secrets. Their solution to the problem was to kill that member. Ramprasad did not agree. So the friends were now angry with him.
One evening, all the four went for a stroll to the banks of the river Yamuna. Ramprasad bathed and sat down for his evening prayers.
One friend said, “Ramprasad, sit near the river.” Ramprasad was sitting on a mound. He began his prayers there. The friends sat down nearby.
As with his eyes closed, he was immersed in prayers, he heard a whiz and was startled. A bullet whizzed past his ear. Opening his eyes he reached out for his revolver and turned back.
Another friend was about to shoot. By the time Ramprasad took out his revolver, two more shots rang out. As his revolver was in a leather case he took some time to take it out. By the time he stood up with his revolver, his friends had run away.
Ramprasad was stunned and frustrated when he realized that a serious attempt had been made to kill him. The bullet had passed within a foot from him. If he pursued the friends, bloodshed was certain. Moreover, he was one against three. He would have to collect his supporters before making a move.
A Cowherd – Write
He spent that night with a friend and then went to Lucknow. He gave a detailed report of the incident to the other members of the revolutionary committee. He wandered in a forest for a while gloomily and then went to his mother.
Hearing the woeful tale of her son she suggested that he should go to the relatives in Gwalior State.
In the meanwhile, the police had filed a case against him. They asked Muralidhar to surrender his son; they threatened his property would be confiscated. He sold his property for whatever price he could get and went away with his family to join his son.
During this period when he was in hiding Ramprasad became a farmer. He took to agriculture and animal husbandry. But above all, he learned to express his revolutionary ideas in literature. He translated many Bengali works into Hindi. He wrote original works, too. He had to take the cattle out to graze. He then carried writing materials with him. He would allow the cattle to graze and he would settle down in the shade to write.
Thus he wrote ‘The Bolshevic Programme,’ ‘A Sally of the Mind,’ ‘Catherine’ and ‘Swadeshi Rang’ and translated two works. He translated ‘Yogic Sadhana’ of Maharshi Aurobindo. All these were published in a series called ‘Sushil Mala’. ‘Prabha’, a periodical run by Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, used to publish his articles.
In the year 1919, when the First World War was over, the Government of India changed its policy towards the revolutionary and national movements. Political cases were withdrawn. Political convicts were released. Ramprasad returned to Shahjahapur.
So far as money was concerned, Ramprasad’s family faced a very grave situation. One sister was old enough to be married. But even satisfying the needs of life was a problem.
Therefore Ramprasad devoted his attention to the affairs of his family. At first, he tried to reorganize his publication venture and earn some money. It did not work well.
With the help of some friends, he became the manager of a factory. With a steady income, his financial position improved.
Gradually he turned to the reorganization of the revolutionary movement also, but all over the country, the non-co-operation movement was gaining ground. Moreover, there was a dearth of ability among those who volunteered to lead the revolutionary movement.
On the whole, revolutionary activities had come to a standstill.
Ramprasad arranged to get some capital and started a silk weaving factory. He worked devotedly day and night. In a matter of a year and a half, his factory established itself. The capital of three or four thousand yielded a net profit of two thousand. During this period he married off his last sister to a Zamindar. His mother wished that he should also marry. But he was not prepared to marry until he could stand on his legs.
After Mahatma Gandhiji withdrew the non-co-operation movement in 1921, the revolutionary movement regained strength. An all-India revolutionary party called ‘The Hindusthan Republican Association’ was formed.
In the United Provinces (the Uttar Pradesh of today) too, the revolutionaries reorganized themselves. A call went forth to Ramprasad, too. He asked for six months, to establish his business on a firm footing and make it over to some reliable person.
Within that period he made over his business to a friend and turned again to revolutionary activities.
The revolutionary movement had the support of the people. There was no dearth of workers. But lack of funds haunted them. It became exceedingly difficult even to provide food and clothing to members who devoted their entire life and energy to the institution. The collection of weapons was next to impossible.
Disappointed young members used to come to Ramprasad and ask him, ‘What next, Panditji?” He would feel unhappy at their miserable plight. But what could he do without money? So he concentrated on the collection of money.
They resorted to dacoity and looting in one or two villages. But a hundred or two hundred rupees they secured could not be of much use.
Another thought troubled Ramprasad. Who, after all, were the victims of these dacoities? They were the villagers who were also Indians. The dacoits might have acted with excellent intentions. But what was the good of getting money, by harassing our brothers?
Immersed in such thoughts, he was traveling one day by train, which was going from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow. At each station, when the train halted he would get off and move about on the platform. He observed that at each station the Stationmaster brought bags of money and put them in the Guard’s carriage. There was no special guard to protect the money. Ramprasad noted that it was the eight down train.
A plan to secure money for the revolutionary activities gradually took shape in his head.
The Kakori Rail Dacoity
Kakori is a village near Lucknow. It became famous because the attack on the train took place nearby.
It was the evening of the 9th of August 1925; the number eight down train was passing near Kakori. Ramprasad and his nine revolutionary followers pulled the chain and stopped it. They looted the money belonging to the government, deposited in the Guard’s carriage. Excepting that one passenger was killed by an accidental shot, there was no bloodshed.
This extremely well-planned dacoity jolted the government. After a month of detailed preliminary inquiries and elaborate preparations, the government cast its net wide for the revolutionaries. Arrest warrants were issued not only against the ten participants but also against other leaders of the Hindusthan Republican Association. With the lone exception of Chandrashekhar Azad, all participants were caught.
The case went on for over a year and a half, Ramprasad, Ashfaqullah, Roshan Singh and Rajendra Lahiri all four were sentenced to death.
A strong campaign was organized throughout India to save the lives of these revolutionary heroes. All the leaders of public life appealed to the British Government to show mercy to the condemned men. But the Government was unyielding.
On the 18th of December 1927, Rajendra Lahiri was hanged. Ramprasad and Ashfaqulla were executed on the 19th and Roshan Singh on the 20th. All of them greeted death bravely, with a smile on their faces. Thus they added a magnificent chapter to the history of the freedom movement.
While awaiting execution, Ramprasad wrote his autobiography. It is considered as a work of rare excellence in Hindi literature.
Ramprasad was always under strict watch.
And yet he wrote the book and it was successfully smuggled out of the prison. This itself was a feat of great courage.
Ramprasad got thick register like books and sent the manuscript out of prison in three installments. The final pages were written on the 17th of December; and they were sent out through Shiv Varma, a friend who interviewed him on the next day. The book was published in 1929 and was immediately banned by the Government.
It saw the light of day again only in free India.
His narrative covers a wide span; his ancestors, his interesting childhood, his entry into the Arya Samaj, his flights from the police, his experience in the revolutionary movement, the internal squabbles all find their place there. There are intimate pen pictures of his mother, his grandmother, and his teacher and close friends. The style is captivating and at times compels tears.
Addressing his mother, he says,
Mother dear, who gave me birth, bless me! Bless me that my heart may not flinch even at the last moment.
Bless me so that I leave this body prostrating myself at Your sacred feet and praying to the Almighty.
Pandit Gendalal Dixit, the main accused in the Mainpuri Conspiracy case, eluded arrest and died of tuberculosis at Delhi in pitiable conditions. Referring to him Ramprasad writes,
He never even dreamt that he would have to sacrifice his life in such helpless circumstances in the service of his Motherland. His greatest desire was to be killed by a bullet. A great soul of Bharath passed away. But no one in the country heard of it even.
Ramprasad had thought deeply about the future of the revolutionary movement to which he had given the greater part of his life. He wrote:
Historically our work is very valuable this anyone must concede. It proclaimed that, even when India was downtrodden, the youth of the country yearned for freedom and that they struggled for freedom to the best of their ability.
Considering the conditions of the day he gave this advice to the youth of India:
I know this for certain the revolutionary movement in India will not succeed for the next fifty years. The conditions are not favorable…give up the desire to arm yourselves with pistols and revolvers and become real servants of the country – this is my last message to our youth.
The Poet ‘Bismil’
‘Bismil’ is the penname of Ramprasad. As ‘Bismil’ he is well known as a great revolutionary poet in Hindi. At the end of his autobiography, he has reproduced some selected poems. Every line of his poems throbs with patriotic fervor.
In one poem he prays:
Even if I have to face death a thousand times for the sake of my Motherland, I shall not be sorry. Oh, Lord! Grant me a hundred births in Bharath. But grant me this, too, that each time I may give up my life in the service of the Motherland.
In a poem written just before going to the gallows, he prays:
Oh, Lord! Thy will be done. You are unique. Neither my tears nor I will endure.
Grant me this boon, that to my last breath and the last drop of my blood, I may think of you and be immersed in your work.
Hard As A Diamond, Yet Soft As A Flower Ramprasad Bismil was an exemplary man who lived like a hero and died like a hero. In him were blended those great qualities which Indian culture has regarded as ideal and has held in great respect.
The Motherland, trodden under the iron heel of the foreigner, should become free; the right way to achieve it was an armed revolution – so he thought. No matter what problems and obstacles came in his way, no matter what thorns crowded his way, he walked with his head held high. Death lay in wait on that path. But yet he did not flinch.
He was never treacherous to anyone. When he suspected treachery, he denounced the traitors without casing for their position or prestige. In a way, he had to die only because he was not prepared to be treacherous.
In his autobiography, he has narrated how he was arrested and taken to the police station in connection with the Kakori case.
‘The arrests had kept the police officers busy throughout the night and they had not slept. They all went away. Even the one constable who was on guard was fast asleep. Only one clerk was in the station busy writing. He was Roshan Singh’s cousin. If I had wished, I could have simply walked out. But that clerk would have got into great trouble. I called him and told him that I would walk away if he was prepared to face the consequences.
He knew me well. He fell at my feet and said that he would be arrested if I did so and that his wife and children would have to starve and die. I pitied him.’ After a little while, Ramprasad found an excuse to go out; the constable on guard went with him. The other constables said, “Put him in chains” but he declared, “I have faith in him, he will not run away.” ‘We went to a lonely place. I placed my palms on the wall and looked back. The guard was watching a wrestling match and was absorbed in it. One leap and I could have scaled the wall. After that who could have caught me? But my inner self said, “Would you cheat and send to prison that poor constable who trusted you and gave you so much freedom? Is it right? What will his, wife and children think of you?” This thought filled my mind, I drew a long breath, called the guard and returned to the police station.’
Whether it was a clerk or a constable, the man who had trusted him should not be betrayed.
This was his principle. Even in prison, the prison guards had great faith in him because of his conduct. Even after he was sentenced to death, his principles remained unchanged. He was not prepared to escape, leaving those who had trusted him in trouble.
The Kakori Rail Dacoity is a great land-mark in the history of the revolutionary movement in India. It was the brave Ramprasad Bismil who planned and executed it faultlessly.
Ramprasad Bismil lives forever in our memory as a revolutionary, as a revolutionary – writer and, above all, as an ideal man.
Even if I have to face death a thousand times for the sake of my Motherland I shall not be sorry.
Oh, Lord! Grant me a hundred births in Bharath.
But grant me this, too, that each time I may give up my life in the service of the Motherland. This prayer should echo in each and every soul in free India.