Wednesday, August 26, 2009

“The issue is not of winning or losing. The spirit of fighting is more important"


These were the words of Dr. Lakshmi Sehgal when asked why she was contesting a loosing battle against Dr APJ Abdul Kalam for the presidential post in 2002 & that was my first brush with the lady who is better known as Captain Lakshmi to generations of Indians. Very rarely did I hear about her heroics during my childhood, but then I realized that she has been part of the great historical transition India has seen from colonial subjugation to freedom. A freedom fighter, a dedicated medical doctor, an outstanding leader of the women' movement in India, and a presidential candidate at the age of 87 in 2002, Captain Lakshmi represents the progressive and secular traditions of the freedom movement & the struggle for democracy, women' emancipation and socialism in free India. And after Jhansi Lakshmi Bai, it would be very apt to pay tribute to a woman, for whom what matters, is her undying and untiring commitment towards humanity.

Early Life

Sahgal was born as Lakshmi Swaminathan on October 24, 1914 in Madras. She was the daughter of Dr S. Swaminathan, a leading lawyer practising Criminal Law at Madras High Court. Her mother was A.V. Ammukutty, better known as Ammu Swaminathan, a social worker and freedom fighter & hailed from the famous Vadakkath family of Anakkara in Palghat, Kerala. Even as a young girl, Lakshmi involved herself ardently in the nationalist programmes of smoldering foreign goods, including her own clothes and toys and picketing of liquor-vends. She decided to opt for studying medicine not from the point of view of embarking on a successful career but because she wanted to serve the poor, especially the poor women. As a result, she received an MBBS degree from
Madras Medical College in 1938. A year later, she received her diploma in gynecology and obstetrics.

In 1940, she left for Singapore where she established a clinic for the poor, mostly migrant labor, from India. She became one of the most popular and prosperous gynecologists in the city. She established herself as a victorious, compassionate and exceptionally competent doctor.

Freedom Fighter

It was quite accidental that Captain Lakshmi Sehgal had happened to join the Indian National Army (INA) of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In 1942, during the historic surrender of Singapore by the British to the Japanese, she worked hard in serving the prisoners of war who were hurt during the skirmishes. In the process, she came in contact with many Indian Prisoners of War (POWs) who were thinking of forming an Indian liberation army.

Events moved rapidly with the arrival of Subhash Chandra Bose in Singapore on July 2, 1943. The next few days, at all the public meetings, Netaji, as he was popularly known as, spoke of his fortitude to raise a women's regiment, the Rani of Jhansi regiment, for the freedom struggle of Indian Independence. On July 5, when he was inquiring whether there was any Indian woman in Singapore, who would be suitable for the task of leading a regiment, Menon instantaneously suggested the name of Lakshmi. She was brought to Bose quite late the same night due to his insistence on meeting her immediately. As soon as he put his proposal to her, she accepted it without a moment's uncertainty and the very next day, she began her preparations for the formation of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the INA. These preparations progressed very soon and, in a short time, a well-trained fighting force of women recruits took shape. This woman's army unit was the first of its kind in Asia. Lakshmi was also the sole woman member of the Cabinet on October 21, 943, when Provisional Government of Azad Hind was announced.

The Rani of Jhansi Regiment saw active duty at the front. Lakshmi, who was given the rank of a Colonel, was popular as Captain Lakshmi, and was active both at the military and on the medical front. She played a gallantry role by saving many lives because of her valor and dedication. She was finally captured and brought to
India on March 4, 1946, where she received a heroine's welcome. But soon she was released, after the British authorities realized that keeping her a prisoner would be counter-productive. Lakshmi married Col. Prem Kumar Sehgal in March 1947, who was one among the many INA prisoners who were released from the Red Fort. They settled down in Kanpur.

Never Ending Public Service

After her release, Capt Lakshmi campaigned tirelessly for the release and rehabilitation of imprisoned and de-mobbed INA personnel and for the freedom of India. By traveling the length and breadth of the country she was not only able to collect huge funds for the INA soldiers' but also mobilize people against the colonial power. In 1971 she joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and represented them in the Rajya Sabha. The same year, when a massive influx of refugees came from what was then the East Pakistan into West Bengal, Lakshmi Sehgal worked industriously at a camp in Bongoan for several months. During the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, she single-handedly faced unruly crowds. Her presence was enough to make anti social elements retreat. She even brought several Sikhs home in a bid to protect them from the mayhem that had engulfed Kanpur.

Although never neglecting her medical work, she became very active in social activities. First the trade union and then the movement for women. She became the Vice-President of the largest woman's organization in the country; the All India Democratic Women' Association, which was formed in 1981, and has been actively involved in its activities, campaigns and struggles ever since.

Brush With Politics

In 2002 four leftist parties (Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party and All India Forward Bloc) nominated Lakshmi Sehgal as a candidate in the presidential elections. She was the sole counter-candidate to the eventual winner A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. She was the first woman candidate to contest for the country's highest constitutional post. She used the campaign and the all-India platform it created for her to campaign for issues that were dear to her heart - the issue of social and economic justice, women' empowerment, the secular traditions of the country and self-reliance.


Captain Lakshmi Sehgal has established a small maternity home in Kanpur which servers the poor till date. Her compassion and service to the poor have become legendary in the city. Adulation and awards mean very little to her. Her unpretentious manners and reticence are a source of bewilderment and motivation. Her untiring and everlasting commitment to humanity and its service are exceptional. Whether as a medical practioner or INA officer, service has been her motto. In 1998, she was awarded the Padma Vibhushan.

Sadly, in the autumn of her life, there is a sense of disappointment. She says it isn't just that the INA never got its due. "We have not yet achieved what had been our goal at that time. Our leader had always spoken of freedom and its three parts: political, financial and social. While we achieved the first, the rest is still unchanged. The position of women is still unfortunate. Social evils continue unabated. The caste system still thrives. Child marriages still take place and dowry deaths are still happening”. Inching her way through religious bigotry, male chauvinism, caste and economic exploitation, she continues to keep alive the INA's ideals of unity and equality for all Indians. Her yearning for freedom lives on. The fire still burns.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I tried to make India free and the attempt will not end with my life


15th August has come and gone. So what, many might ask. So what if we safely treasure our ‘Patriotic’ spirit in a safe till 26th of January. How does it matter? But we all know “With great power comes great responsibility”…Yes its that famous dialogue from the Spiderman series, but the fact remains that we are enjoying the fruits of the dreams few young men of your and my age had, few decades ago. And its a pity that we take this hard earned freedom for granted. So I move on and continue to remember few more of such heroes even though many of my friends feel it’s just a waste of everyone's time. So be it, I say :-)

And how fitting it is to start with the above title that inspired many freedom fighters.The Pathan patriot who kissed the hang- man's noose with the name of Allah on his lips. A youth endowed with a body of iron and a will of steel, he dedicated everything to the service of India and of freedom and challenged the strenght of a mighty empire. It was Asfaqullah Khan.

Early Life

Ahfaqullah Khan was born on 22nd October 1900 in Shahjahanpur city of Uttar Pradesh. He hailed from a middle class family but had great traditional values. His father, Shafiqur Rahman was employed in police department. His mother's name was Mazharunissa. Ashfaq was the youngest amongst his six siblings. During his early days he was influenced by the air of revolution. He had strong patriotic feelings. He had also composed poems using pen names Hazrat and Varasi. His poems were mostly in Urdu & Hindi. He was in school when Non Cooperation Movement started. When Gandhiji withdrew the Movement he was disheartened. He wanted to see the Independent India as soon as possible.

Towards Revolution

His yearning made him join the revolutionaries. It was then that he decided to win the friendship of Ramaprasad, another revolutionary from Shahjahanpur. Pandit Ramaprasad Bismil was already a famous revolutionary. He was a member of the Arya Samaj and was eager to explain the greatness of the Hindu religion to those belonging to other religions, though he never bore any prejudice against any religious community. And so, Ashfaq who was a devout Muslim befriended him, and they both had the common objective of a free, united India and started working in unison. They ate and lived the revolutionary lives together. In the end both became martyrs on the same day.

Initially Ashfaq & Bismil along with other revolutionaries wanted to raise funds from the public but had to turn their way to theft due to lack of money. They started looting government funds. They used that money to buy arms and ammunition, for noble causes and to sustain the revolution. They were supported by other big leaders. But because of the differences in principles Gandhiji distanced himself. Ashfaqullah Khan, Bismil founded Hindustan Association. This Association published a manifesto called ‘Krantikari’ in 1925, spelling out its aims and objectives. The manifesto said it was wrong for one man to become rich by making another man work hard; it was also wrong for one man to be the master of another. The Association wanted to put an end to such things.

To give a fillip to their movement and to buy arms and ammunition for carry out their activities, the revolutionaries organized a meeting on August 8, 1925 in Shahjahanpur. After a lot of deliberations it was decided to loot the government treasury carried in the trains to raise funds. But Ashfaq thought about it thoroughly and sounded a word of caution to his mates & finally suggested that this deed be carried out without bloodshed. This was the beginning to the most daring exploit of those times.

Kakori Train Robbery

On August 9, 1925 when the No.8 Down Train from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow was approaching Kakori, the chain was pulled and the train stopped abruptly. Ashfaqulla and other revolutionaries, namely Pandit Ram Prasad Bismil, Rajendra Lahiri, Thakur Roshan Singh, Sachindra Bakshi, Chandrashekar Azad, Keshab Chakravarthy, Banwari Lal, Mukundi Lal, Manmathnath Gupta looted the train carrying British government money. Just ten young men had done this difficult job because of their courage, discipline, patience, leadership and above all, love for the country. They had written a memorable chapter in the history of India’s fight for freedom.

The Hunt Was On

A month passed after the Kakori dacoity, and yet no one was arrested. But the Government had spread a big net. On the morning of September 26, 1925 Ramaprasad was arrested and Ashfaq was the only one untraced by the police. Before the police could arrest him, he had escaped from his home and hid in a sugarcane field half a mile from his home. The police were tired of searching for Ashfaq.

He managed to reach Kashi after a difficult journey and met a few friends in the Benares University. They advised him to live quietly at least for some time. With the help of these friends he went to Bihar. He got a job as a clerk in an engineering firm at Daltonganj in Palamau district. He worked in the firm for about ten months. This long and forced rest became tiresome for him. So he went to Delhi to find out how he could go abroad and began making preparations. He took the help of one of his Pathan friend who in turn betrayed him by informing the police about his whereabouts. He was finally taken into custody. Tasadruk Khan then superintendent of police tried to play the caste politics with Ashfaq and tried to win him over by provoking him against Hinduism but Ashfaq was a strong willed Indian who surprised Tasadruk Khan by saying "Khan Sahib, I am quite sure that Hindu India will be much better than British India."

Ashfaqullah Khan was detained in the Faizabad jail. A case was filed against Ashfaqullah. His brother Riyasatullah was his counsel who fought the case till the very end. A committee had also been formed to defend the accused in the main case. Motilal Nehru was the chairman. There were eminent men like Jawaharlal, Sriprakasha, Acharya Narendra Dev, Govind Ballabh Pant and Chandra Bhanu Gupta on the committee.

Tryst With Destiny

While in jail, Ashfaqullah recited the Quran. The case for the Kakori dacoity was concluded by awarding death sentence to Pandit Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Rajendra Lahiri and Thankur Roshan Singh. The others were given life sentences. The whole country protested against the death sentences. Members of the Central Legislature petitioned the Viceroy to reduce their death sentences into life sentences. Appeals were sent to the Privy council, the highest court in those days. But British imperialism was thirsting for the blood of the Indian revolutionaries.

On Monday, 19th December, 1927, Ashfaqullah Khan met his destiny and he is known to have taken two steps at a time, as he walked upto the post. When his chains were released, he reached for the rope and kissed it. "My hands are not soiled with the murder of man. The charge against me is false. God will give me justice. la ilahi il allah, mohammed ur rasool allah." The noose came around his neck and the movement lost one of its shining stars.


He walked into history, a fearless martyr, the first Muslim revolutionary to be hanged. There is a memorinal eshtablished for Ashfaqullah Khan in Shahjahanpur. He died at the early age of twenty seven but his deeds are remembered after so many generations. Hope, this reminds all of us the value of our freedom
His devotion to the cause he admired, made him the foremost among those who gave their lives to win freedom for the country. Love for the motherland, clear thinking, courage, firmness and loyalty were embodied in Ashfaq to the hilt. He deserves to be remembered and cherished by all Indians for his noble qualities. He was a Lion among Men.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Not anymore. A loud voice, a scream or even a death cannot change the pschye of the young brigade of today’s
India who strongly believe in Million dollar dreams. Nothing wrong provided the options we have right now. With sensex crashing & markets tumbling, survival of the richest is the norm. And those who stick to their 20th century principles are usually left way behind in the muddy rat race. So why all this clichéd stuff now? Read on……..

Throughout my previous blogs (barring two, of pre 1857 era) there was a Gandhian principle hidden somewhere behind the motive of all the heroes we had met. And today on 15th of August at the stroke of midnight hour ;-), I wake up to realize the fact that had it not been for those people who revolutionized our freedom struggle, I could have been a strong believer in Gandhigiri like many others. And these history lessons would never have bothered you all :-)

And my thoughts were wandering around as to what I should be writing on this very special day. Special is too small a word for this occasion. And I finally zeroed on writing a short and simple note on what inspired me to pen down my thoughts in first place. Confusing?? Ok, I believe it would be befitting that I pay tribute today, in small way to the legends who in many ways are responsible for what I am today. 15th of August & 26th of January would have been just another days at school, only difference being the white uniforms, sweets, etc (all part of the big goody bag those days) had it not been for these young Indians who were visionaries and ready to do whatever they could for living their dreams

I was quite a TV buff and fed on whatever DD National and DD Metro (better known as DD I & II ;-) ) served, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Swaraj was the TV series which in a way changed the way I think, talk & feel about our country. While Tipu’s saga planted the seeds, this series strengthened the roots for my passion. And then came, 26th of January 1998 which was just like the icing on a cake. It was the day when I hoisted our National flag at my school. Saying that the moment is ‘just inexplicable’ would be a cliché. However that was a once in a lifetime opportunity. No, my life neither took a 360 degree turn nor did I have a dream of changing everything and anything. It influenced me to start thinking about these boys who were of my age but were the 'Men who mattered'. Men who believed in one principle - One in a million thinks and moves a million & millions move the Nation. And fortunately India not just had one or two of these charismatic men.

On March 24, 1931, an official notice pasted on the walls of the most prominent places in Lahore read:

“The public is hereby informed that the dead bodies of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev who were hanged yesterday evening (March 23) were taken out of the jail to the banks of the Sutlej where they were cremated according to Sikh and Hindu rites and the remains thrown into the river.”(Sd. Deputy Commissioner, Lahore)

The Sutlej is over 30 miles from Lahore. Lahore has its own river, Ravi. Hangings are almost always carried out at dawn. The departures from normal practice were a tribute to the image built up by the condemned men. They had forced the mightiest empire in the world to act in a surreptitious and cowardly manner in executing the heroes and disposing off their mortal remains. This one instance is enough to understand what those men were made of and what our country is missing today. Inquilaab Zindaabad (Long live the revolution) was their slogan and their story truly mirriored The State of the Nation during those times.

I was young, I was intelligent
I was smart but I couldn’t be like you.

I was everything that today’s youth aspire for
But I choose to fight for the dreams of millions.

The withdrawal of Non cooperation hurt me deep
I could not let the freedom struggle sink

The blows on Lalaji hit me hard
Saunders’ death was the only way to pay back their debt

I burnt their camps & robbed their money
I was their nightmare & answer to their tyranny

I had the courage and the zeal to fight my enemy
Instead of choosing to live just for me.

Decades later, you think of me & shed few tears
What if, that is the end of my memory-is my fear.

I am neither hurt by the poverty nor by any other evils

What hurts me the most is your indifference

I am Man for the Masses

Bhagat Singh had once said, ‘You can kill individuals but you cannot kill ideas.’ Great empires have crumbled but ideas have survived.” Have they?? Keep thinking.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Forgotten Tribal Hero - Alluri Sitarama Raju


The year of 1897 has a special significance in our country’s struggle for freedom. This was the year in which our nation saw the birth of two revolutionaries who brought in an all new meaning to the word ‘Revolutionary’. One of them is Subhas Chandra Bose whom we have already met :-) . Alluri Sitarama Raju, also known as Aluri Rama Raju and Rama Chandra Raju is the second legend, a young Indian who fought a brave battle for the oppressed tribes. Apart from Jhansi Laksmi Bai, he is still the most popular character to be played by many children across various competetive forums, especially in Andhra Pradesh. The fact that I belong to the same soil might make many feel that I am biased. But the fact is, he remains an inspiring role model till date for those who fight against oppression. A terror to the alien rulers, Alluri Seetha Rama Raju was one of India’s early revolutionaries. This is my small tribute to the great hero whose story is lost somewhere in the pages of our history.

The only photograph of Raju, which was taken after his death is preserved in the A.P. State Archives, Hyderabad.

Early Life

He was born on July 4 1897 in Mogallu village of West Godavari district and was educated in Kakinada,Tuni & Rama-chandra-puram in East Godavari district. His father died when Alluri was in elementary school and he was brought up by his uncle, Rama Chandra Raju, a Tahsildar in Narsapur. He then studied in Taylor High School and had to shift to Tuni along with his mother, brother and sister, on the transfer of his uncle. He joined A.V.N. College in Visakhapatnam on September 20, 1912 but was a drop out after having failed in the fourth form (Std. IX). While in Tuni, Alluri used to frequent the agency areas of the Visakhapatnam district and became familiar with the tribal folks

He was deeply moved by the plight of the tribals, whose rights were infringed upon by the British with the implementation of the Madras Forest Act of 1882 which placed restrictions on their free movement in the forest areas and prevented them from engaging in their traditional cultivation, and use of the forest produce for their livelihood. The repressive measures and policies of the British Raj, coupled with the deeds of the greedy contractors who exploited the forced labourers of the hilly areas of Visakhapatnam district, brought Alluri Sita Rama Raju into direct conflict with the bureaucrats and police who supported these contractors. This eventually culminated in the Rampa Rebellion or Rampa Pituri (Pituri means complaints)

Beginning Of The Unrest

While he was studying at Kakinada he got his political contact with Sri Madduri Annapurnayya, a great freedom-fighter, and Rallapalli Atchuta Ramayya, a great scholar. At the age of 15, Raju was shifted to Visakhapatnam for his studies. Though he had little inclination for school education, he was very keen and began to acquire knowledge of the political situation in India. He went deep into Gond land where nearly a thousand tribals had sacrificed their lives during the first war of independence in 1857. He attended the A. I. C. C. sessions at Gaya in 1916 and at Kakinada in 1923 and got blessings of the top-ranking leaders of India. Raju inspired and organized the tribals to wage war against the British.

Soon Raju's plan of action took shape with vigour and quickness. He set free the revolutionary, Veerayya Dora from jail. The British Army got alerted and platoons of Police and Army were sent to capture Seetarama Raju. At Peddavalasa, Raju attacked the British Army. They were defeated during this battle and suffered very heavy casualties and retreated. From that day onwards there was a regular warfare between Raju and the Britishers. Raju came out triumphant in all. Virtually for two years from 1922 to 1924 Seetarama Raju ruled over vast agency area and became a terror to the British rulers.

The Rampa Rebellion

Sita Rama Raju carried out his campaign in the border areas of East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh. Inspired by the patriotic zeal of the revolutionaries in Bengal, and the decisions taken by them at a meeting in Chittagong in 1921, Sita Rama Raju raided many police stations in and around Chintapalli, Krishna-devi-peta and Raja-vommangi, carrying off guns and powder, and killing several British army officers, including the Scott Coward and Hites. Between August and October 1922, he and his men attacked the various police stations and blasted the Chintapalli police station. Despite having fewer men and weapons, Alluri and his men exacted tremendous damage on the British. The British officers despite their superior weapons were no match to Alluri and his men, who were adept in guerilla tactics and knew the hilly terrain. They used to attack police stations and seize arms and ammunition. He carried a reward of Rs 10,000 on his head in those days.

Under the leadership of Saunders, the British deployed a company of the Assam Rifles, near Pedagaddapalem, in December 1922. Sita Rama Raju, who had by then gone underground, resurfaced after some four months and continued the fight, strengthened by tribal volunteers, using bows and arrows. He was assisted by two brothers, Mallu Dora and Gantam Dora, who were also tribal leaders.


On September 18, 1923, Sita Rama Raju raided the Annavaram police outpost and subsequently, Mallu Dora was arrested. The Government entrusted the task of containing Sita Rama Raju's activities to Rutherford, the then Collector of Vizag District who had his first win when his forces arrested Surya Narayana Raju Pericherla, popularly known as Aggiraju, a strong follower of Sita Rama Raju.

Subsequently, Rama Raju was trapped by the British in the forests of Chintapalli and was shot dead without a trial in May 1924 in Mampa village while following the law of jungle instead of the judiciary system they were proud of. After the martyrdom of Alluri, the tribal revolt lost its momentum and petered off by October 1923.


Sri Alluri Seetarama Raju is remembered as a great son in the annals of Indian History. He was born in a renowned Kshatriya clan and fought against the mighty British war machine, leading tribesmen of Andhra Pradesh with old traditional war weaponry. sacrificed his life true to his clan in the battle field.

Unfortunately, even fifty years after independence, Dalits and Adivasis have benefited least from the advent of freedom. Although independence has brought widespread gains for the vast majority of the Indian population, Dalits and Adivasis have often been left out, and new problems have arisen for the nation’s Adivasi population. They must have special access to educational, cultural and economic opportunities so as to reverse the effects of colonization and earlier injustices experienced by the Adivasi communities. That would be a fitting tribute to this fighter who was dearly known as Manyam Veerudu ('Hero of the jungles')

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tum Mujhe Khoon Do, Main Tumhe Azaadi Doonga..


It was one of those Kamal Hassan’s movie during which my memory of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had resurfaced after those text book days. Shyam Benegal’s tribute, ‘Bose-The Forgotten Hero’ is a fitting example of how well we remember this Indian who was a fierce patriot, a visionary leader, a great orator, flamboyant revolutionary, all rolled into one. Such was Bose's aura and magnetism that even those who differed with his strong views and firebrand politics could not help but appreciate his undying love for the nation. However his legacy continues as a legendary figure. Bose was outspoken in his anti-British stance and was jailed 11 times between 1920 and 1941. He was admired for his great skills in organization development.

Early Life

Subhash Chandra Bose was born on January 23 1897 in Cuttack, the ninth child among 14, of Janakinath Bose, an advocate, and Prabhavati Devi. Bose studied in an Anglo school, Cuttack until standard 6 which is now known as Stewart School and then shifted to Ravenshaw Collegiate School of Cuttack. A brilliant student, Bose topped the matriculation examination of Calcutta province in 1911 and passed his B.A. in 1918 in Philosophy from the Scottish Church College of the University of Calcutta. He was a devout Hindu and spent much time in meditation. Strongly influenced by Swami Vivekananda's teachings, he was known for his patriotic zeal as a student

Bose went to study in Fitz William Hall of the University of Cambridge, and his high score in civil service exams meant an almost automatic appointment. However following Amritsar massacre and the repressive Rowlatt legislation of 1919, he returned to India. Bose wrote for the newspaper Swaraj and took charge of publicity for the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee in 1924. In a roundup of nationalists in 1925, Bose was arrested and sent to prison in Mandalay.


Bose advocated complete freedom for India at the earliest, whereas the Congress Committee wanted it in phases, through a Dominion status. Other younger leaders including Jawaharlal Nehru supported Bose and finally at the historic Lahore Congress convention, the Congress had to adopt Purna Swaraj (Total Independence) as its motto. Bhagat Singh's martyrdom and the inability of the Congress leaders to save his life infuriated Bose and he started a movement opposing the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. He was imprisoned and expelled from India. But defying the ban, he came back to India and was imprisoned again.

By 1938 Bose had become a leader of national stature and agreed to accept nomination as Congress president. He stood for unqualified Swaraj, including the use of force against the British. This meant a confrontation with Mohandas Gandhi, who in fact opposed Bose's presidency, splitting the Congress party. Bose attempted to maintain unity, but Gandhi advised Bose to form his own cabinet. Bose appeared at the 1939 Congress meeting on a stretcher. Though he was elected president again, over Gandhi's preferred candidate, this time the differences led to Bose resignation. Bose’ uncompromising stand finally cut him off from the mainstream of Indian nationalism. He then organized the Forward Bloc aimed at consolidating the political left.

The second World War broke out in September of 1939, and just as predicted by Bose, India was declared as a warring state (on behalf of the British) by the Governor General, without consulting Indian leaders. Subhas Chandra Bose now started a mass movement against utilizing Indian resources and men for the great war. To him, it made no sense to further bleed poor Indians for the sake of colonial and imperial nations. There was a tremendous response to his call and the British promptly imprisoned him. He took to a hunger-strike, and after his health deteriorated on the 11th day of fasting, he was freed and was placed under house arrest. The British were afraid of violent reactions in India, should something happen to Bose in prison.


Bose suddenly disappeared in the beginning of 1941 and it was not until many days that authorities realized Bose was not inside the house they were guarding! He traveled by foot, car and train and resurfaced in Kabul, only to disappear once again. In November 1941, his broadcast from German radio sent shock waves among the British and electrified the Indian masses who realized that their leader was working on a master plan to free their motherland. It also gave fresh confidence to the revolutionaries in India who were challenging the British in many ways. It is told that he was last seen on land near Keil canal in Germany, in the beginning of 1943. A most hazardous journey was undertaken by him under water, covering thousands of miles, crossing enemy territories. He was in the Atlantic, the Middle East, Madagascar and the Indian Ocean. Battles were being fought over land, in the air and there were mines in the sea. At one stage he traveled 400 miles in a rubber dinghy to reach a Japanese submarine, which took him to Tokyo. He was warmly received in Japan and was declared the head of the Indian army, which consisted of about 40,000 soldiers who were mostly Indian prisoners of war from Singapore and Indian civilians in Southeast Asia. Bose called it the Indian National Army (INA) and a government by the name "Azad Hind Government" was declared on the 21st of October 1943. INA freed the Andaman and Nicobar islands from the British, and were renamed as Swaraj and Shaheed islands. The Government started functioning.

Bose wanted to free India from the Eastern front. Army leadership, administration and communications were managed only by Indians. Subhash Brigade, Azad Brigade and Gandhi Brigade were formed. INA marched through Burma and occupied Coxtown on the Indian Border. A touching scene ensued when the solders entered their 'free' motherland. Some lay down and kissed, some placed pieces of mother earth on their heads, others wept. They were now inside of India and were determined to drive out the British! Delhi Chalo was the war cry.

Three officers of the INA were tried after the war in Delhi; the trial attracted so much popular sympathy that the British decision to withdraw from India followed. Bose indirectly and posthumously achieved his goal of Indian independence.


The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed the history of mankind. Japan had to surrender. Bose was in Singapore at that time and decided to go to Tokyo for his next course of action. Unfortunately, Bose died in a plane crash over Taiwan, while flying to Tokyo on 18 August 1945. It is believed that the crash burnt him fatally. He was just 48. However, his body was never recovered, and many theories have been put forward concerning his possible survival. One such claim is that Bose actually died in Siberia, while in Soviet captivity. Several committees have been set up by the Government of India to probe into this matter. The Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry submitted its report to the Indian Government on November 8, 2005. The probe said in its report that as Bose did not die in the plane crash, and that the ashes at the Renkoji Temple (said to be of Bose's) are not his.

Bose was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award in 1992, but it was later withdrawn in response to a Supreme Court directive following a Public Interest Litigation filed in the Court against the "posthumous" nature of the award.


Bose never liked the Nazis but when he failed to contact the Russians for help in Afghanistan he approached the Germans and Italians for help. His comment was that if he had to shake hands with the devil for India's independence he would do that.
On the 5th April, 1944, the "Azad Hind Bank" was inaugurated at Rangoon. It was on this occasion that Netaji used a chair which can now be seen at Red Fort. The chair is now symbolic to the sovereignty of the Republic of India, as also to the Psychological upkeep of the Armed Forces of India. It rests in a glass case and is a symbol of pride as well as national heritage.

The Indian people were so much enamored of Bose's oratory and leadership qualities, fealressness and mysterious adventures, that he had become a legend. While Bose's approach to Indian freedom continues to generate heated debate in the Indian society today, there is no denying of his burning patriotism, his tireless efforts to free India from inside and outside and his reckless adventures in trying to reach his goals. His exploits later became a legend due to the many stories carried by the disbanded INA soldiers who came from every nook and corner of our great country.
Had he lived, Subhas Chandra Bose could have given a new turn to Independent India's political history. But he lives on eternally in the Indian mind, more famous after his death.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Messiah of Downtrodden - Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar


It was during my third standard that I remember, I had received a gift of pictorial biography of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. It was more of a comic book to me rather than a story of a Dalit leader who went onto become the chief architect of the Indian Constitution. It was much later that I realized that he was A Lion Among Men. Ambedkar was born in a cast which was considered as the lowest of the low. People said that it was a sin it they offered him water to drink. But this very man framed the Constitution for the country. His entire life was one of struggles. But it’s no wonder that everyone called him ‘Babasaheb’, out of love and admiration. Bhimram Ambedkar was the lion-hearted man who fought for equality, justice and humanity

Overcoming numerous social and financial obstacles, Ambedkar became one of the first "untouchables" to obtain a college education in India. Eventually earning law degrees and multiple doctorates for his study and research in law, economics and political science from Columbia University and the London School of Economics, Ambedkar returned home a famous scholar.

Early Life

Dr.Bhimrao Ambedkar was born on April 14, 1891 in Mhow (presently in Madhya Pradesh). He was the fourteenth child of Ramji and Bhimabai Sakpal Ambavedkar. B.R. Ambedkar belonged to the "untouchable" Mahar Caste. His father and grandfather served in the British Army. In those days, the government ensured that all the army personnel and their children were educated and ran special schools for this purpose. This ensured good education for Bhimrao Ambedkar, which would have otherwise been denied to him by the virtue of his caste. Bhimrao Ambedkar experienced intense socio-economic discrimination right from the childhood. After his retirement, Bhimrao's father settled in Satara Maharashtra. Bhimrao was enrolled in the local school. Here, he had to sit on the floor in one corner in the classroom and teachers would not touch his notebooks. In spite of these hardships, Bhimrao continued his studies and passed his Matriculation examination from Bombay University with flying colours in 1908. Although excelling in his studies, Ambedkar was increasingly disturbed by the segregation and discrimination that he faced. He then joined the Elphinstone College for further education. In 1912, he graduated in Political Science and Economics from Bombay & obtained a scholarship of twenty five rupees a month from the Gayakwad ruler of Baroda, for higher studies in the USA. Ambedkar's marriage had been arranged in 1906 as per Hindu custom, to Ramabai, a nine-year old girl from Dapoli.

Fight against untouchability

In 1920, he began the publication of the weekly Mooknayak (Leader of the Silent) in Mumbai. Attaining popularity, Ambedkar used this journal to criticize orthodox Hindu politicians and a perceived reluctance of the Indian political community to fight caste discrimination. Ambedkar established a successful legal practice, and also organised the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha to promote education and socio-economic uplifting of the depressed classes. In 1927, Dr. Ambedkar decided to launch active movements against untouchability. He began with public movements and marches to open up and share public drinking water resources and also began a struggle for the right to enter Hindu temples.

He had grown increasingly critical of mainstream Indian political parties for their perceived lack of emphasis for the elimination of the caste system. Ambedkar criticized the Indian National Congress, whom he accused of reducing the untouchable community to a figure of pathos. At a Depressed Classes Conference on August 8, 1930 Ambedkar outlined his political vision, insisting that the safety of the Depressed Classes hinged on their being independent of the Government and the Congress both.

Ambedkar's prominence and popular support amongst the untouchable community had increased, and he was invited to attend the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931. These activities brought Ambedkar in collision with Mahatma Gandhi. Although Gandhi paternally sought to improve the condition of untouchables, he rejected Ambedkar's militant demand that untouchables mobilize politically and be given a status separate from that of other Hindus. Conflict between the leaders continued, punctuated by threats of fasts to the death and shaky compromises.

In 1935, Ambedkar was appointed principal of the Government Law College, a position he held for two years. One year later, Ambedkar founded the Independent Labour Party, which won 15 seats in the 1937 elections to the Central Legislative Assembly. He published his book The Annihilation of Caste the same year. Between 1941 and 1945, he published a large number of highly controversial books and pamphlets, including Thoughts on Pakistan, What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables. Ambedkar was also critical of Islam and its practices in South Asia. While he was extremely critical of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the communally divisive strategies of the Muslim League, he argued that Hindus and Muslims should segregate and the State of Pakistan be formed, as ethnic nationalism within the same country would only lead to more violence. He warned that the actual implementation of a two-state solution would be extremely problematic with massive population transfers and border disputes. This claim was prophetic, looking forward to the violent Partition of India after Independence

Architect of India's constitution

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is better remembered as the designer and formulator of the Indian Constitution in India. Upon India's independence on
August 15, 1947, the new Congress-led government invited Ambedkar to serve as the nation's first law minister, which he accepted. On August 29, Ambedkar was appointed chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee. Ambedkar won great praise from his colleagues and contemporary observers for his drafting. Although Ambedkar used Western models to give his Constitution shape, its spirit was Indian.The text prepared by Ambedkar provided constitutional guarantees and protections for individual citizens, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination Ambedkar argued for extensive economic and social rights for women. He framed the Fundamental Rights and Duties along with the Directive Principles of State Policy that are followed and granted to the people of the country (Remember anything from school texts??). He had kept the clauses of the Constitution flexible so that amendments could be made as and when situations demanded. On 26 November 1949, the Constitution of India was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly.

His stint in Indian politics too did not last for a long time. His resignation from the Cabinet came in the year 1951. He contested for the Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate in 1952 but was unfortunately defeated. However, he became a member of the Rajya Sabha the same year and would remain a member until his death.

Final Days

With passage of time, Ambedkar’s interest from politics started to shift and he aligned himself to Buddhism. After meetings with the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Hammalawa Saddhatissa, Ambedkar organised a formal public ceremony for himself and his supporters in Nagpur on October 14, 1956 and completed his own conversion.

Since 1948, Ambedkar had been suffering from diabetes. He was bed-ridden from June to October in 1954 owing to clinical depression and failing eyesight. He had been increasingly embittered by political issues, which took a toll on his health. His health worsened as he furiously worked through 1955. Just three days after completing his final manuscript The Buddha and His Dhamma , it is said that Ambedkar died in his sleep on December 6, 1956 at his home in Delhi. Five hundred thousand people witnessed the last rites.

Long Live His Legacy

Babasaheb was an Indian nationalist, jurist, Dalit, political leader, activist, philosopher, thinker, anthropologist, historian, orator, prolific writer, economist, scholar, editor, revolutionary and the revivalist of Buddhism in India. Born into a poor Untouchable family, Ambedkar spent his whole life fighting against social discrimination & the system of Chaturvarna — the Hindu categorization of human society into four varnas. His birthdate is celebrated as a public holiday known as Ambedkar Jayanti. He was posthumously bestowed with India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna in 1990.

Ambedkar's legacy as a socio-political reformer, had a deep effect on modern India. In post-Independence India his socio-political thought has acquired respect across the political spectrum. His message to his followers was " Educate!!!, Organize!!!, Agitate!!!". He had said many times "God will spare me till I complete my work for the ‘untouchables’. "He lived to see ‘untouchability’ declared a crime. The ‘untouchables’ had secured political equality.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Architect of Modern India - MAULANA ABUL KALAM AZAD


"If Swaraj is delayed, it is the loss to India, but if Hindu-Muslim Unity is lost, it is the loss to humanity." The man who worked for a modern India with secular credentials, a cosmopolitan character and international outlook. He stood for a learning society through liberal, modern and universal education combining the humanism of Indian arts, a society where the strong are just and the weak secure, where the youth is disciplined and the women lead a life of dignity - a non-violent, non-exploiting social and economic order. A man like Maulana Azad is born rarely.

Early Life

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was born on November 11, 1888 in Mecca. He belonged to an orthodox Muslim scholar family. The original name of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin. His ancestors came to India from Afghanistan. His mother was an Arab and his father Maulana Khairuddin, was a Bengali Muslim of Afghan origin. She died when he was only 11 years old.

Azad mastered several languages, including Urdu, Arabic, Hindko, Persian and Hindi. He was also trained in the subjects of shariat , mathematics, philosophy, world history and science by reputed tutors hired by his family. He also acquired huge knowledge in English & politics. A unique quality about him was that he always remained much ahead of his age, in years, in many fields. An avid and determined student, the precocious Azad was running a library, a reading room, a debating society before he was twelve, wanted to write on the life of Ghazali at twelve, was contributing learned articles to Makhzan (the best known literary magazine of the day) at fourteen, was teaching a class of students, most of whom were twice his age, when he was merely fifteen and succeeded in completing the traditional course of study at the young age of sixteen, nine years ahead of his contemporaries, and brought out a magazine at the same age. In fact, in the field of journalism, he was publishing a poetical journal (Nairang-e-Aalam) and was already an editor of a weekly (Al-Misbah), at the age of twelve and, in 1903, brought out a monthly journal, Lissan-us-Sidq, which soon gained popularity. At the age of thirteen, he was married to a young Muslim girl, Zuleikha Begum.

Revolutionary & Journalist

Azad developed political views considered radical for most Muslims of the time and became a full-fledged Indian nationalist. He fiercely criticized the British for racial discrimination and ignoring the needs of common people across India. He also criticized Muslim politicians for focusing on communal issues before the national interest and rejected the All India Muslim League's communal separatism. He became increasingly active in revolutionary activities, to which he was introduced by the prominent Hindu revolutionaries Sri Aurobindo and Shyam Sundar Chakravarthy.

Azad established an Urdu weekly newspaper in 1912 called Al-Hilal and openly attacked British policies while exploring the challenges facing common people. Azad's publications were aimed at encouraging young Muslims into fighting for independence and Hindu-Muslim unity. Azad started a new journal, the Al-Balagh, which increased its active support for nationalist causes and communal unity. With his popularity increasing across India, the government outlawed Azad's second publication and he was incarcerated until January 1, 1920.

Upon his release, Azad returned to a political atmosphere which was charged with sentiments of outrage and rebellion against British rule due to passage of the Rowlatt & the killing of unarmed civilians at Jallianwala Bagh. He organised the people of the region and pioneered the art of Satyagraha - combining mass civil disobedience with complete non-violence and self-reliance. Non-violence and Hindu-Muslim unity were universally emphasized.

Azad entered the Indian National Congress in 1920. In 1923, he became the youngest man to be elected Congress President. In the following years, Azad travelled across India, working extensively to promote Gandhi's vision, education and social reform. When Gandhi embarked on the Dandi Salt March that inaugurated the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, Azad organized and led the nationalist raid. The biggest nationalist upheaval in a decade, Azad was imprisoned along with millions of people, and would frequently be jailed from 1930 to 1934 for long periods of time. In 1942, Congress President Azad inaugurated the struggle with a vociferous speech exhorting Indians into action. Just two days later, the British arrested Azad and the entire Congress leadership.

Independence & Partition

With the end of the war, the British agreed to transfer power to Indian hands. All political prisoners were released in 1946. India's partition and independence on August 15, 1947 brought with it a scourge of violence that swept the all of India. Azad took up responsibility for the safety of Muslims in India, touring affected areas in Bengal, Bihar, Assam and the Punjab, guiding the organization of refugee camps, supplies and security. Azad gave speeches to large crowds encouraging peace and calm in the border areas and encouraging Muslims across the country to remain in India and not fear for their safety and security. He was free India's first Education Minister and guided the destinies of the Nation for eleven years. He served in the Constituent Assembly to draft India's constitution. In 1956, he served as president of the UNESCO General Conference held in Delhi.

Final Days

Azad spent the final years of his life focusing on writing his book India Wins Freedom, an exhaustive account of India's freedom struggle and its leaders, which was published in 1957. This great leader passed away on February 22, 1958 due to a stroke. For his invaluable contribution to the nation, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was posthumously awarded India's highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna in 1992.

The Long Legacy

Azad is remembered amongst the leading Indian nationalists of his time. His firm belief in Hindu-Muslim unity created a niche in the hearts of all patriotic Indians. He still remain one of the most important symbols of communal harmony in modern India. Azad was the staunchest opponent of partition of India into India and Pakistan. Partition shattered his dream of a unified nation where the Hindu and Muslim faiths would learn to co-exist in harmony. His work for education and social uplift in India made him an important influence in guiding India's economic and social development. He adopted the pen name "Azad" to signify his freedom from traditional Muslim ways.

Packed with several achievements, Maulana Azad oversaw the establishment of a national education system with free primary education and modern institutions of higher learning. The very recent decision of the Union Ministry of HRD, Government of India to declare his birthday as National Education Day is a treatise on the life, struggle, and contribution of the great educationist of the country. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was the first to raise the issue of the National System of Education which believed in all students, irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex have access to education of a comparable quality

The wealth of the nation, according to Maulana Azad, was not in the country's banks but in primary schools. He is one of those rare personalities through whom the distinctions of the 20th century can be recognized and possibilities of the 21st century determined. He established National Academies viz the Sangeet Natak Academy (1953), Sahitya Academy (1954) and Lalit Kala Academy (1954), the Indian Council for Cultural Relations(1950) & also the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 1956.
His greatest contribution, however, is that in spite of being an eminent scholar of Urdu, Persian and Arabic he stood for the retention of English language for educational advantages and national and international needs. On the technical education side, he strengthened the All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT-K) was established in 1951 followed by a chain of IIT's at Bombay, Madras and Kanpur and Delhi.

The National Education day is a goodwill gesture for our policy makers to re-think of change in India's present system of education which is not at par with the desires of its children.

A closer look at them