This Day in History (17-Nov-1928) – Lala Lajpat Rai died after suffering grievous injuries during a lathi-charge carried out by the police

While in college Lala Lajpat Rai joined the Arya Samaj founded by Swami Daya Nand Saraswati. Soon he became one of the three most prominent Hindu Nationalist members of the Indian National Congress, the Lal-Bal-Pal trio. They formed the extremist faction of the Indian National Congress, as opposed to the moderate one led first by Gopal Krishna Gokhale and then Gandhiji. Lalaji actively participated in the struggle against partition of Bengal. Along with Surendra Nath Banerjee, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurorbindo Ghosh, he galvanized Bengal and the nation in a vigorous campaign of Swadeshi. Lalaji was arrested on May 3, 1907 for creating “turmoil” in Rawalpindi. He was put in Mandalay jail for six months.

He left for Britain in April 1914 to organize propaganda in foreign countries about freedom struggle. At this time First World War broke out and he was unable to return to India. He went to USA to galvanize support for India. He founded the Indian Home League Society of America and wrote a book called “Young India”. He was able to return to India in 1920 after the end of World War. After his return, Lala Lajpat Rai, led the Punjab protests against the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre and the Non-Cooperation Movement. He was arrested several times. He disagreed with Gandhiji’s suspension of Non-Cooperation movement due to the Chauri-Chaura incident, and formed the Congress Independence Party, which had a pro-Hindu slant.

In 1928, British Government decided to send Simon Commission to India to discuss constitutional reforms. The Commission had no Indian member. This greatly angered Indians. In 1929, when the Commisssion came to India there were protests all over India. Lala Lajpat Rai himself led one such procession against Simon Commission on October 30, 1928 in Lahore. While the procession was peaceful, James Scott, superintendent of Police brutally lathicharged the procession. Lala Lajpat Rai received severe head injuries and died on November17, 1928. Subsequently to avenge Lalaji’s death, Bhagat Singh and others planned to kill James Scott, however ended up killing John P. Saunders, Assistant Superintendent of Police, in case of a mistaken identity.

This Day in History (17-Oct-1919) – The Khilafat Movement was launched

The Muslims of India had a great regard for the Khilafat (Caliphate) which was held by the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). During World War I, Turkey joined the war in favour of Germany and lost the war. During the war, the Indian Muslim’s support to the British Government was subject to the safeguard and protection of the holy places of Turkey. But the British Government could not fulfill the promises. A wave of anger swept across the Muslim World and the Indian Muslims rose against the British Government. Muslim leaders like Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Moulana Muhammad Ali Johar, Moulana Shoukat Ali reacted against the British Government policy and were put behind the bars. Thus, Muslims organized a mass movement, which came to be known as Khilafat Movement.

The leaders of Khilafat movement announced the Non Co-operation Movement, the Congress extended its full support to the Khilafat Movement. The leaders of the two met at Amritsar and resolved to launch a country wide agitation under the leadership of Mr. Gandhi.

Muslim ulama issued a verdict and declared India as Dar-ul-Harab (countries where the Muslim law is not in force) and the Muslims therefore needed to migrate to some other country or Dar-ul-Salam (Muslim country). Thousands of families hastily left for Afghanistan, in August 1920. As many as eighteen thousand people marched towards Afghanistan, which was unable to bear the influx of the people. Thus, the Afghan authorities closed their frontiers. Eventually the Muhajarins had to return to their homes.

The Khilafat Movement came to an end when thousands of Indians were put behind the bar. The leaders in spite of their best efforts could not maintain the Hindu-Muslim Unity. One of the main reasons which caused a death blow to Khilafat Movement was the indirect announcement of Gandhiji to discontinue the Non Co-operation Movement due to Chauri Chaura episode.  In 1924, Kamal Ataturk set up a government on democratic basis in Turkey by abolishing Khilafat as a system of government which served a finishing blow to Khilafat Movement in India and people lost whatever interest that they had in the movement.



This Day in History (1-Oct-1909) – Gandhiji wrote to Tolstoy regarding Passive Resistance movement

Nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been the bloodiest in human history, while Count Leo Tolstoy in Russia and Mahatma Gandhi from India, have been the two greatest leaders who preached non-violence, universal love, concern for the weakest, a moral stance in whatever we do, and a non-violent resolution of conflicts among individuals, groups, as well as nations.

Gandhi arrived from South Africa in London on 10 July, 1909. On 2 July, 1909, Madanlal Dhingra had assassinated Sir Curzon Wylie. In London, Gandhi met many Indians who propagated violent resistance as the only way to obtain India’s freedom. And then he came across a copy of Tolstoy’s ‘Letter to a Hindoo’, written in reply to the letter of Tarak Nath Das, an Indian who advocated the violent approach. Tolstoy’s letter explained why non-violent resistance and a resolve by Indians to become free were the only solution.

This prompted Gandhi to write to Tolstoy (1 October, 1909), apprising him about the Indians’ ‘passive resistance’ against racial oppression in Transvaal (South Afrika) going on for three years. He wrote that nearly half of the total Indian population of 13,000 in Transvaal had left Transvaal rather than submit to the degrading law, and ‘nearly 2,500 have for conscience’s sake allowed themselves to be imprisoned, some as many as five times.’ He sought the approval for printing 20,000 copies of his letter for distribution and having it translated. He had ‘taken the liberty’ to write the letter ‘in the interests of truth, and in order to have your advice on problems the solution of which you have made your life-work.’

Tolstoy promptly replied (7 October, 1909) that ‘same struggle of the tender against the harsh, of meekness and love against pride and violence,’ was rising in Russia too, ‘especially in one of the very sharpest of the conflicts of the religious law with the worldly laws—in refusals of military service.’ He wrote that he was happy with the proposed publication and translation of ‘Letter to a Hindoo’.

Tolstoy remained one of the main mentors of Gandhi till the end.


This Day in History (13-Sep-1929) – Jatindra Nath Das died on the 63rd day of hunger strike in Lahore Central Jail

Jatindra Nath Das was a freedom fighter and revolutionary. He joined Anushilan Samiti, which was a revolutionary group in Bengal. Jatindra participated in Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation movement in 1921. In November 1925, while studying for a B.A. at Vidyasagar College in Kolkata, Jatindra Nath was arrested for his political activities and was imprisoned in Mymensingh Central Jail. Protesting against the ill treatment of political prisoners, he went on a hunger strike. After 20 days, when the Jail Superintendent apologized, Jatin gave up the fast. He was contacted by and agreed to participate in bomb-making for Bhagat Singh and comrades. On 14 June 1929, he was arrested for terrorist activities and was imprisoned in Lahore jail to be tried under the supplementary Lahore Conspiracy Case.

In the Lahore jail, Jatin Das, along with other prisoners, started a hunger strike demanding jail reforms and rights of prisoners and under trials. The conditions of Indian people of the jails were terrible. The uniform that Indian prisoners were required to wear in jail with were not washed for several days, and rats and cockroaches roamed the kitchen area making the food unsafe to eat. Indian prisoners were not provided with any reading material such as newspapers, nor were they provided paper to write. In contrast, the condition of the British prisoners in the same jail was noticeably different.

This unforgettable hunger strike started on 13 July 1929 and lasted 63 days. The jail authority took many measures to feed Jatin, including attempts to feed forcefully. However, Jatindra did not eat and died on 13 September without breaking the hunger strike. As his body was carried from Lahore to Kolkata by train, thousands of people rushed to every station to pay their homage to the martyr. A two-mile long procession in Kolkata carried the coffin to the cremation ground. The hunger strike of Jatin Das in prison was one crucial moment in the resistance against illegal detentions, and highlighted cold-hearted brutality of British colonialism. Of millions in the country who swore by Gandhism, Jatin Das alone walked till the end of path.



This Day in History (10-Aug-1930) – In the ‘Gandhi Cap Case’ in Guntur, the magistrate prohibits wearing of Gandhi caps within a five-mile radius of the town

Justice Pandalay’s most famous judgement was in what was known as the ‘The Gandhi Cap Case.’ N.L. Rajah, in his history of the 150 years of the Madras High Court, lists it as one of the cause cèlébres of the Court. Apparently in June 1930, the District Magistrate of Guntur passed an order that the Gandhi cap could not be worn by anyone in a public place in Guntur and within five miles of it. Negotiations on this went back and forth, but the Magistrate eventually backed the Police plea that they could not differentiate between who was a member of the Civil Disobedience Movement (all of whom wore the caps) and who was not but who might be wearing the cap.

In rejecting the contention that the order was necessary for safeguarding public tranquillity, Justice Pandalay, who heard the appeal, stated that those who wore the Gandhi cap could not necessarily be considered supporters of the Civil Disobedience Movement; such an inference would be an injustice to the numerous persons who wore the cap as a mark of sympathy with Gandhi’s views for a long time before the Civil Disobedience Movement. It was well-known that Gandhi was interested in several other causes besides the Movement. He did not think there was any danger in allowing people to wear the Gandhi cap in Guntur.

In the course of his judgement, judge said that if an Englishman can wear a top hat or a bowler or a peak cap or a pith helmet as part of his attire, there was no reason why an Indian couldn’t wear a Gandhi cap, which was part of the national dress of many.



This Day in History (8-Aug-1942) – ‘Britishers Quit India’, this resolution was announced in public at Bombay Congress Session

On July 14th 1942, the Congress Working Committee approved the resolution which declared “the immediate ending of the British rule in India is an urgent necessity both for the sake of India and for the success of the cause of United Nations.” The historic session of the All India Congress Committee began on the 7th August 1942 and was concluded after midnight of 8th/9th August 1942 at Gowalia Tank Maidan, Mumbai. The resolution was passed unanimously. The resolution which came to be known as ‘Quit India Resolution’ created on ‘electrifying atmosphere’ in the country. Gandhi conferred with his colleagues for the appropriate slogan for the movement against British to leave India. One of them suggested ‘Get Out’. Gandhi rejected it as being impolite. Rajagopalachari suggested ‘Retreat’ or ‘Withdraw’. That too was not acceptable. Yusuf Meheraly presented Gandhi a bow with an inscription bearing ‘Quit India’. Gandhi said in approval, ‘Amen’. That is how the historic slogan was selected.

Gandhi in his stirring speech told the people “There is a mantra, short one, that I give you. You imprint it on your heart and let every breath of yours give an expression to it. The mantra is “do or die”. In early hours of 9th August, all the top leaders – Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad were arrested and Congress was declared an unlawful organization. With the arrest of all the national leaders, there was nobody to guide the popular agitation. There were hartals and riots by the crowd. Even the private cars were not allowed to proceed unless there was a Gandhi cap on the head of at least one of the passengers.

The Government issued an order banning public processions, meetings & assemblies. Despite the police warning large crowd had gathered at Gowalia Tank Maidan. Aruna Asaf Ali hoisted the Indian flag. Lathi charge and tear gas was used by the police to disperse the crowd which had gathered at Gowalia Tank Maidan. The national flag was pulled down and volunteers who went to its rescued were beaten off.