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Mainstream, VOL LII No 12, March 15, 2014

Pot Calling Kettle Black

Saturday 15 March 2014, by Kuldip Nayar

Foreign rulers always claim that their regimen is benign and helps the subjects. The British are no exception. They say the same thing about their governance. But if their atrocities were to be enumerated, the record would be brutal. The credit for not defaming the British for their 150-year rule goes to the Indians who have taken the past in their stride and have even joined the Commonwealth with the Queen as the symbol of unity.

Still the British have never said or written a good word about India’s generosity in not raking up the past. However, the British go on running down the movement for independence and those who participated in it.

 The latest barb has come from a British historian who has characterised Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad as “terrorists”. -Both were hanged for their revolt against the foreign rule. Obviously, the British do not know the difference between a terrorist and a revolutio-nary. In fact, the British come in the category of terrorists because they killed thousands of people wanting to rule themselves, a hallmark of democracy which the UK cherishes.

It is heartening to find Pakistan allocating money to preserve the house in which Bhagat Singh lived when he was young. Indeed, all those who suffered at the hands of Britain before partition are heroes in all the three countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. I wish they would recall their sacrifices to tell their people that they share the same history, the same heritage and the same agony at the hands of the British.

 One glaring example of British cruelty is that of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy (April 13, 1919)—a milestone for the nationalists towards the journey to the destination of independence. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, who was given control of Amritsar by Lt. Governor of Punjab

Michael O’Dwyer, chose April 13, the day of the harvest festival, Baisakhi, for his revenge. To vent their protest against the Rowlatt Act, which gave the rulers the power to detain anyone without trial, some 20,000 people had collected in a garden, called Jallian -wala Bagh, a stone’s throw from the Golden Temple.

Dyer set the police on the gathering like hunters unchaining their ferocious hounds to bring the pursued animal to bay. He purposely

 blocked the garden’s only gate to prevent anyone from escaping from the place. Targeted by machine guns, men, women and children had no escape or respite from the bullets till the police exhausted their ammunition.

 As many as 1650 rounds were fired. Scores of people jumped into the garden’s only well, mute witness to that barbarous massacre. Some 400 people died on the spot and more than 1500 were injured. London too was horrified. It recalled Dyer who, appearing before an inquiry

committee, said that he had done his duty. He expressed no regret. Nor was he admonished. Some in the British political hierarchy rationa-lised that he had saved Punjab from “anarchy”. Then a few years later the British hung hundreds in Balia, a town on the border of UP and Bihar, for having declared independence on the Quit India day, August 9, 1942. Bodies were dangled on trees for days to teach a lesson to the freedom fighters. The Indian revolutionaries were not deterred and recalled Bhagat Singh’s execution.

The rulers, who considered Mahatma Gandhi “an anarchist”, can go to any limit to denigrate the freedom movement. The revolutionaries compared themselves with the insects which burnt themselves to keep the earthen lamps alight. Had they not done so the thousands who went to jail or laid down their lives would not have got the inspiration their martyrdom evoked. Bhagat Singh, a prolific writer, had explained what killing meant to them: “We attachnt great sanctity to human life, we regard man’s life as sacred... We would sooner lay down our lives in the service of humanity than injure anyone.” There was no revenge, no vendetta. ”These actions (killings),” he said, “have their political significance inasmuch as they serve to create a mentality and an atmosphere which shall be very necessary to the final struggle. That is all.”

 Mahatma Gandhi, who was against the violent methods of revolutionaries, admired these martyrs when they were executed. He said: “Bhagat Singh and his comrades have been executed and have become martyrs. Their death seems to have been a personal loss to many. I join in the tributes paid to the memory of these young men. And yet I must warn the youth of the country against following their example. We should not utilise our energy, our spirit of sacrifice, our labours and our indomitable courage in the way they have utilised theirs. This country must not be liberated through bloodshed”.

Mahatma Gandhi was against violence in any shape. During the non-cooperation movement in 1920, when more than 30,000 people went to jail, the agitation which looked like defeating the British was withdrawn. Students, who renounced their studies, lawyers their practice, doctors their clinics and civil servants their jobs and rallied behind the Mahatma from all over the country, felt cheated. Foreign goods were boycotted. Piles of textile were burnt in public to protest against imported cloth from Lancashire and Birmingham. Gandhiji wanted the British to “declare in clear terms a policy of absolute non-interference with all non-violent activities in the country”.

Indeed, non-cooperation was the biggest non-violent movement the Indians had ever launched against the British.

Gandhiji’s sudden withdrawal of the move-ment was because he did not approve of villagers from Chauri Chaura, near Gorakhpur in UP, turning violent. On February 12, 1921, they took out a procession past a local police station to protest against the British rule. Towards the end, the procession was jeered at by the police, provoking the people to retaliate. Angry policemen then started firing on them and went on doing so till their ammunition was exhausted. Three men were killed and many injured. Gandhiji withdrew the movement but did not utter a word to condemn the police.

The British should not rub salt on our wounds. By denigrating our heroes like Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad they only challenge the heritage of freedom movement. They will be well advised not to do so.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com