V SUNDARAM |
Sat, 18 Apr, 2009 ,
TODAY (18th of April 2009) is the day of glorious martyrdom of KRANTIVEER DAMODAR CHAPEKAR –-one of the greatest revolutionaries of Maharashtra. It was on this day in 1898, he was hanged by the British Government at Yerawada Jail in Poona.
|June 22 1897 was the day of Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria which was celebrated in a very grand manner in all parts of the British Empire. On that day in Pune (Poona) city, a group of young men—Damodar Hari Chapekar and his two brothers Balakrishna Hari Chapekar and Vasudev Hari Chapekar—killed two British Officers as they were returning from the Government House after a midnight party to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria who had ascended the British throne in 1837. The two British officers who were killed by the great Chapekar Brothers on that fateful day were Mr.Charles Walter Rand ICS, the then Collector of Poona and Special Officer in-charge-of Plague Relief Operations at that time and an Army Officer Lieutenant Ayerst. The three Chapekar brothers were subsequently arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to death. All the three brothers were unmatched and unsurpassed patriots and went smiling to the gallows within a period of 13 months.
|Damodar pant chapekar|
The Chapekar Brothers had intended to kill only Mr Rand, but the other Englishman Lieutenant Ayerst, who was closely following the carriage of Mr Rand in another carriage, was shot by accident or through mistake. Soon after the assassination of these two English Officers, the British Government let loose a reign of terror in Poona and Bombay. Among its most important victims was Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920), who had not yet won the honorific title of LOKMANYA but who had definitely emerged as the leader of the radicals in the Indian National Congress at that time. The British government tried to implicate TILAK as an accomplice in the Poona murders. But there was no clinching evidence for this, and so the British Government, prosecuted Tilak for sedition for the editorials in his newspaper KESARI and sentenced him to 18 months rigorous imprisonment.
In my view, the Chapekar Brothers unknowingly changed the face of Indian politics in 1897. They inaugurated a new era of extremism in India’s National Movement for Freedom. Why did they choose to kill Mr Rand, the Collector of Poona, on June 22, 1897? The answer is simple. The British Government had foolishly placed the Army at the disposal of Mr Rand to implement the relief measures that were being undertaken to deal with the EPIDEMIC OF BUBONIC PLAGUE which had broken out in Poona City at the beginning of 1897. Though Mr Rand was an officer of great energy, yet he was totally wanting in humanity. He functioned in a brutal and ruthless manner while carrying out his anti-plague relief campaign and in the process, completely transgressed the rules of civility, civilization and culture in dealing with the victims of plague and their families.
Victims of Poona Famine of 1896
Picture of Poona Plague Victims in 1897
Disinfection of the houses and segregation of the people suffering from plague was no doubt necessary. But in the raids that he and his soldiers carried out on houses suspected to be infected, property was destroyed and looted and places of worship were desecrated. Healthy people were taken to segregation camps where men and women were herded together. Helpless old people were ill-treated, men and women were almost stripped naked and forced to stand outside their homes. Consequently, there arose an avalanche of anger among the people who felt that the plague was a lesser evil than the cruel and inhuman relief measures adopted by Rand and his army men. The besieged and crushed people of Poona wanted immediate deliverance from Rand and the only way seemed to eliminate him from the scene.
The heroic men thrown up by Madame Destiny to rescue the beleaguered people of Poona from the cruel clutches of Rand and his army men were the Chapekar Brothers. THE ELDEST OF THE THREE BROTHERS WAS DAMODAR CHAPEKAR WHO ORGANIZED AND LED THE TEAM WHICH SUCCEEDED IN REMOVING THE WICKED RAND FROM THE SCENE ON 22ND JUNE 1897 FOREVER.
The Chapekars were once rich and lived in Chinchwad, a little distance from Pune. The family which had once been rich, but had been reduced to the status of a middle class family because of the lavish spending by Damodar Chapekar’s grandfather. Damodar’s father earned his living as a keertankar—a traditional singer of devotional hymns and Bhajans. His three sons, Damodar, Balkrishna and Vasudev, usually accompanied him on the stage during such Bhajan sessions.
Right from his childhood days, Damodar Chapekar had fully absorbed the letter and spirit of Sanatana Dharma from his devout father. He was totally against everything which was against the established Hindu way of life. He was an enemy of British rule because it had imposed alien values and culture on the Indian people. He was against the English system of education, particularly against the mischievous conversion attempts of the Christian Missionaries in India. Finally he had contempt and hatred towards those Hindus, more particularly the Brahmins, who had allowed themselves to be lured into the treacherous quick-sands of commercial Christianity. He was also against those who sought to reform Hindu society without understanding the rudiments of the timeless spirit underlying the Hindu Scriptures. Thus one of the scholars has rightly concluded that It is difficult to say whom Damodar Chapekar hated most—the British Government, the moderate Congress leaders, the Hindu social reformers or the Missionaries. Thus he created a body called Rashtra Hitechchu Mandal.
Western India at that time was suffering from an epidemic of Bubonic Plague which had come immediately after a great famine in which many people had died. In was in the midst of this great misery, the Government decided to go ahead with its plans for celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of the accession of Queen Victoria at the beginning of 1897. The two Chapekar Brothers decided on a shock therapy: they defaced the Queen’s statue in the Fort area of Bombay and garlanded it with tattered shoes. The Chapekars returned to Pune in June 1897 and found the city seething with anger against Rand, the District Collector of Poona and Chief Controller of Plague Relief in Poona City.
Seeing the boiling mood of unrest against Rand and his plague relief administration, The Chapekar Brothers decided that something had to be done to remove him from the scene. The day they selected was June 22, 1897 the day of Diamond Jubilee. Their planning was meticulous. After the midnight party was over, as the carriages started moving out of the Government House, one of the boys in that group watched from outside the gate. As Rand came out, he gave the signal. Another boy began running with the carriage. As he reached the spot where Damodar, Balkrishna and others were waiting, he shouted to them ‘Gondya ala re! (Gondya has come)’. Balkrishna jumped on the carriage and shot the occupant. But there was a mistake. It was Lt Ayerst whom he had killed. They realized their mistake. When Rand’s carriage came to the spot, Damodar climbed on it and shot Rand. While Lt Ayerst was killed on the spot, Rand died in hospital on July 3 1897. Thus the Chapekar Brothers had achieved their purpose.
The Government was rattled. It sensed a deep-rooted conspiracy and let loose a reign of repression and terror. The enquiry was entrusted to Harry Brewin, an Anglo-Indian officer of great ability, who could speak Marathi and knew Poona well. Two convicted prisoners Ganesh Dravid and his brother assisted Harry Brewin in the arrest of Damodar Chapekar.
After a trial, Damodar Chapekar was sentenced to death. Sister Nivedita (1867-1911) called on Damodar Chapekar in the death row in Yerwada Jail in Poona. A day before he was hanged, Damodar told the officers, ‘You may hang me tomorrow but my soul will at once pass into another body and in 16 years it will be fighting against the British again.’ HE WAS HANGED IN YERWADA JAIL ON 18 APRIL 1898. He mounted the gallows with a copy of the Bhagwad Gita in his hand. Tilak had given him his own copy of the Bhagavad Gita. His last wish was that his body should be cremated with Hindu rites and no non-Hindu should defile it.
Great Martyrs Left to right: Vasudeo Hari Chapekar, Khandeo Vishnu Sathe and
Mahadev Vinayak Ranade
After the arrest of Damodar, his younger brother Balakrishna Chapekar had fled to Hyderabad. Sometime later, he too was betrayed by another Indian in Hyderabad and was arrested. He was brought to Poona, tried and sentenced to death. In 1898, Damodar’s youngest brother Vasudev Chapekar, Mahadev Vinayak Ranade and Khando Vishnu Sathe, avenged the hanging of Damodar Hari Chapekar by plotting and murdering Ganesh Dravid and his brother, who had betrayed Damodar Chapekar to the Police in 1897. Eventually on 18th April 1898, Damodar Chapekar was hanged. This was followed by the hanging of Vasudev Chapekar on 8th May 1899, and Mahadeo Vinayak Ranade on 10th May 1899. Khando Vishnu Sathe, who was a mere school-boy and who was associating himself with them during that period, was sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment. Finally, Balkrishna Chapekar was hanged on 12th May 1899.
Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928) paid this glorious tribute: ‘Chapekar brothers were in fact the founders of the revolutionary movement in India. They were the first to invoke the Bhagavad Gita in support of political action of this kind.’
Sister Nivedita (1867-1911), while visiting Damodar Chapekar’s house in Chinchwad said, ‘A golden statue of Chapekar Brothers should be erected at the entrance of India, which will inspire the future generations for bravery and self-sacrifice.’
A statue of Damodar Hari Chapekar has been installed at the place where he shot Rand on 22 June 1897. Statues have been erected at other places also. The ancestral house in Chinchwad has an akhada and a library named after him.
(The writer is a retired IAS officer)
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