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Martyred freedom fighters Ashfaqullah Khan, Ramprasad Bismil exemplify communal amity

 By Bharat Dogra* 
Several stories of courage and firm determination of four martyrs of Kakori case have become an import part of the legends of our freedom movement. This case is regarded as an important event of our freedom movement. All four of these martyrs were hanged to death within four days December 17 to December 20 1927. These four freedom fighters known for their great courage and firm resolve were -- Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Rajendra Nath Lahiri and Roshan Singh.
Ramprasad and Ashfaqullah have also won widespread acclaim for their poetry. Some of their poems were very widely used in the freedom struggle. Several of these poems have stood the test of time and are still a source of courage and devotion to a great cause for many people.
Ram Prasad and Ashfaqullah were very good friends, always willing to undergo great hardships to help each other. Several stories of their friendship have passed into folklore.
The great friendship of Ashfaqullah Khan and Ramprasad Bismil has become a symbol of communal harmony. Just before their martyrdom both of them issued statements calling for Hindu-Muslim unity. In fact Bismil said that this is his last will that Hindi-Muslim unity should be established firmly. Similarly Ashfaqullah appealed to Hindus and Muslims to avoid quarrels and work with unity for the sake of their country.
All the four martyrs conducted themselves with exemplary courage in the middle of great difficulties after their arrest. The dignity and courage of their conduct during their imprisonment made a great impact on people and added further to enhancing the impact of their message of commitment to freedom movement and communal harmony. They remain a source of inspiration right up to this day and will continue to be so for a very long time.
Around the early 1920s Ram Prasad Bismil headed the main group of revolutionaries in Uttar Pradesh (then United Provinces). He was arrested in 1925, and then sentenced to death in a farcical trial.
While he was imprisoned in Gorakhpur Jail, in very difficult conditions he wrote his memoirs. It is said that this text was completed by him just two days before his supreme sacrifice or execution on December 19 1927.
These memoirs were written on register size pages by pencil. Somehow these were smuggled out of the prison in three instalments and kept in the custody of a local congress leader named Darshan Prasad Dwivedi. He in turns arranged to send this to Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, leading freedom fighter and Editor of Pratap based in Kanpur, as it was believed that only Vidyarthi had the courage and the ability to get this published soon.
True to the trust reposed in him, Vidyarthi could get the memoirs published along with other tributes to the martyrs of Kakori case (in which Ram Prasad Bismil and three others Ashfaqullah, Roshanlal Thakur and Rajendra Lahri) were given the death sentence.
Banarasi Das Chaturvedi, one of the leading contemporary writers who is particularly known for his writings on freedom fighters, wrote that only one among hundreds of thousands of persons passes through the circumstances through which Ram Prasad Bismil passed. He added that as a result he considers this to be the finest memoir in Hindi.
Here it may be pointed out that Ram Prasad was also a great poet whose poems and songs were very frequently sung by freedom fighters for a long time. He wrote and translated several important books and set up small publication efforts.
Despite this obvious importance of these memoirs, there have not received the attention deserved by them, at least not in recent times.
A particularly important part of the memoirs relates to the conclusions that Ram Prasad draws from his role for several years as an activist and leader of the revolutionary movement. He notes that youth have a lot of attraction towards revolvers and other firearms, and when they are initially armed and participate in 'actions' they are excited and have grand notions of their success in changing the world and bringing a revolution. But when the reality of a long and bitter struggle dawns on them, then it becomes a big challenge to sustain their initial ideals and courage. Not many succeed in this.
Instead of this path he recommends that youths should work among peasants and workers to resist injustice and achieve justice with a longer term vision of such broad-based change. They should prepare themselves for committed educational work (to create a justice and equality based society) over a longer term and only then solid results will be achieved.
In his programme of change he gives a lot of importance to achieving equality for Dalits and for ending the horrible practice of untouchability. Educational work among them is very important, he asserts. He asks - when so many of our own people are being treated as untouchables, how can we achieve freedom in the true sense?
He also gives a lot of importance to improving the status of women. They should neither be humiliated nor regarded as an object of decoration, he asserts. He gives examples of women who played an important place in social change in other countries and pleads for their similar role in India.
In particular Ram Prasad makes a very strong plea to youth to work in villages. He writes that youth who were active in the non-co-operation movement were more seen in high visibility urban areas while the greater need is for grassroots, longer term committed work in villages. He writes that several youth find it difficult and punishing to spend a few days in remote villages.
To ensure longer-term commitment in villages, Ram Prasad calls upon youth to take up small-scale, pioneering, entrepreneurial activities in villages to support their livelihood, and at the same time devote much of their time and effort for wider social and political tasks.
In his memoirs Ram Prasad pleads very strongly for communal harmony and most particularly for Hindu-Muslim unity and harmony. Pointing out to government collusion in promoting communal disturbances, he gives example of how those involved in communal riots were given lower punishments, and these were reduced further later, while even those freedom fighters who took special care to avoid indiscriminate or needless violence were given death sentences.
Pointing to his own legendary friendship with fellow-revolutionary Ashfaqullah Khan (also given death sentence), Ram Prasad points out in his memoirs that when such a devout Muslim can have such an abiding friendship of complete trust with a devout Hindu (like Ram Prasad), then why can't we have Hindu-Muslim unity in the entire country?
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include “When the Two Streams Met” (on freedom movement), “Planet in Peril” and “A Day in 2071”

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