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.
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.
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.