This Day in History (27-Feb-1931) – Chandrashekhar Azad shot himself to avoid British police arrest at Alfred Park, Allahabad

Chandrashekhar Tiwari was drawn into the non-cooperation movement of 1920-21, at the age of 15, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. When arrested he gave his name as ‘Azad’, his father’s name as ‘Swatantra’ and his residence as ‘prison’. This annoyed the magistrate who sentenced him to fifteen lashes of flogging. The title of Azad stuck thereafter. Although Gandhiji was appalled by the brutal violence at Chauri chaura and suspended non-cooperation movement, Azad did not feel that violence was unacceptable in the struggle, especially in view of the Amritsar Massacre.

He got involved in revolutionary activities and joined the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), a revolutionary organization formed by Ram Prasad Bismil . He trained the revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Batukeshwar Dutt, and Rajguru.  He was involved in the Kakori Conspiracy where revolutionaries looted the Government treasury from train. He was also involved in the attempt to blow up the Viceroy’s train, the Assembly bomb incident, the Delhi Conspiracy and the Second Lahore conspiracy. He was one of the three who were involved in the shooting of Saunders at Lahore.  Azad was also a believer in socialism as the basis for a future India, free of social and economic oppression and adversity. He was instrumental in transforming the HRA into the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) in 1928 so as to achieve their primary aim of an independent India based on socialist principle.

As a result of a friend’s betrayal, he was encircled by the police at Alfred Park in Allahabad on 27 February 1931 where he had gone to meet his colleague Sukhdev Raj. Surrounded by the police, he put up a good fight which made it possible for Raj to escape. When he was left with only one bullet, he fired it at his own temple and lived up to his resolve that he would never be arrested and be dragged to gallows to be hanged. After the independence, to commemorate Azad, Alfred Park was renamed Chandrashekhar Azad Park.


This Day in History (2-Jan-1947) – Lord Bevin commented that with half of the population of beggars and thieves, India is ungovernable Nation

At the conclusion of the Second World War, the Labour Party, under Prime Minister Clement Richard Attlee, came to power in Britain. The Labour Party was largely sympathetic towards Indian people for freedom. A Cabinet Mission was sent to India in March 1946, which after a careful study of the Indian political scenario, proposed the formation of an interim Government and convening of a Constituent Assembly comprising members elected by the provincial legislatures and nominees of the Indian states. A Constituent Assembly was formed in July 1946, to frame the Constitution of India and Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected its President. An interim Government was formed headed by Jawaharlal Nehru.

On 2nd Jan 1947, Mahatma Gandhi met Lord Bevin, the personal emissary of British Prime Minister, in Delhi. Bevin is reported to have told the great man, ”Eighteen languages, 500 dialects, some 30 religions, a million Gods and Goddesses, 300 million individuals, an infinity of castes and sub castes, and a population (that is) practically illiterate and half of which (are) beggars or thieves… Good luck, sir! Such a nation is ungovernable! It’d take you centuries to get anywhere!”. Gandhiji wrapped his large, white shawl a little more closely around him, and modestly replied, ‘India has eternity before her’.

Bevin’s statement showed the challenges new born India would be facing. However, India – a developing nation, proved Bevin wrong over a period creating largest democracy in the world.


This Day in History (22-Nov-1988) – Baba Amte wins U.N. Human Rights Award

Muralidhar Devdas Amte, popularly known as Baba Amte, was the eldest son of rich parents. His owned over 450 acres of good cultivable land. At a very young age, Baba Amte owned a gun and used to hunt wild boar and deer. Later, he went on to own an expensive sports car, cushioned with panther skin. He studied Law and started a lucrative practice in Wardha, but was moved by distressed condition of the poor and downtrodden classes of society. Then he relinquished his ceremonial dress and started working with the rag-pickers and sweepers for sometime in Chandrapur district. Later, he resumed practicing but as a “defence lawyer” for the leaders imprisoned in the 1942 Quit India movement.

Baba Amte was deeply influenced by the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. After pursuing a leprosy orientation course at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, Baba Amte set up 11 weekly clinics and started working for leprosy. Later in 1951, Baba Amte was given 250 acres of land by the state government on which Amte founded the Anandvan ashram. Inside the ashram premises, two hospitals, a university, an orphanage and a school for the blind were opened.

In the year 1985, Baba Amte started the Bharat Jodo or the Unite India movement beginning from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and then again from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh in the year 1988. The main objective was to reinstate peace and whip up environmental awareness. In 1990, Baba Amte left Anandvan to join Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan. While leaving Anandvan Baba said, “I am leaving to live along the Narmada… Narmada will linger on the lips of the nation as a symbol of all struggles against social injustice.” In place of the dams, the Narmada Bachao Andolan demanded for an energy and water strategy based on improving dry farming technology, watershed development, small dams, lift schemes for irrigation and drinking water, and improved efficiency and utilization of existing dams.

He was awarded with the Padma Shree Award (1971), Damien-Dutton Award (1983) the Ramon Magsaysay award (1985), the Padma Vibhushan (1986), United Nations Human Rights Prize (1988), the Templeton Prize(1990), the Gandhi Peace Prize (1999), and many other humanitarian and environmental prizes.


This Day in History (1-Aug-1916) – Annie Besant starts the Home Rule League

Annie Besant, Irish activist in London, fought for the causes she thought were right, such as, women’s rights, secularism, birth control, Fabian socialism and workers’ rights. In 1893, Besant became a part of the Theosophical Society and came to India. The society is based in Chennai and is known as the Theosophical Society, Adyar. Besant spent most of her time on the betterment of society and even towards India’s freedom struggle. Annie Besant went on to establish the All India Home Rule League on 1st August 1916, which was a political organization which aimed at self-government, termed as “Home Rule”. The league wanted to secure for India the statue of a dominion within the British Empire, such as countries like Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Newfoundland then. Besant’s league had an All India character, but was founded on Besant’s Theosophical contacts; it reached its zenith in year’s time with 27,000 members. The Home Rule League organized discussions and lectures and set up reading rooms, also distributing pamphlets educating people of what they sought to achieve through this movement. Members of the league were powerful orators and petitions of thousands of Indians were submitted to the British authorities.

The philosophy of the league was a combination of theosophy, social reform, ancient Hindu wisdom and the claims of achievement of the West which had already been anticipated by Hindu Rishis many years before they happened. The league influenced a lot of people by its philosophy, primarily because the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj had not reached the majority by then. A lot of young men groomed by the home rule movement went on to become future leaders in Indian politics, namely Satyamuri of Chennai, Jitendralal Banerji of Kolkata, Jawaharlal Nehru and Khaliquzzaman of Allahabad, Jamunadas Dwarkadas and Indulal Yajnik, among others.

The popularity of the Home Rule League began declining with the coming of the Satyagraha Movement by Mahatma Gandhi. By 1920 the Home Rule League elected Gandhi as its President and within a year from then it would merge into the Indian National Congress forming a united political front.


This Day in History (21-Jul-1947) – The National Flag Is Adopted by the Constituent Assembly

The first national flag in India is said to have been hoisted on August 7, 1906, in the Parsee Bagan Square (Green Park) in Calcutta. The flag was composed of three horizontal strips of red, yellow and green with series of lotus, moon, sun and ‘vande mataram’ written on it. The second flag was hoisted in Paris by Madame Cama and her band of exiled revolutionaries in 1907 which was very similar to the first flag except that the top strip had only one lotus but seven stars denoting the Saptarishi. In 1918, Dr. Annie Besant and Lokmanya Tilak hoisted another flag during the Home rule movement. This flag had five red and four green horizontal strips arranged alternately, with seven stars in the saptarishi configuration super-imposed on them. In the left-hand top corner (the pole end) was the Union Jack. There was also a white crescent and star in one corner.

Mahatma Gandhi designed a flag comprised of a three colours: white on the top representing minorities, green in the middle for muslims and red at the bottom for the Hindu and Sikh community. A charkha(spinning wheel) was drawn across all three colours symbolizing unity among all communities of India.  Not many people were happy with the communal representation with the flag proposed by Gandhi which led to a new flag designed by Pingali Venkayya. The new flag had three colours, saffron at the top, white in the middle and green at the bottom, with a charkha in between. The design of this flag was passed at a meeting of the Congress Committee in 1931 and was chosen as the official flag of the committee.

In 1947, when India gained freedom from the British, a committee headed by Dr. Rajendra Prasad decided to adopt the flag of the Congress as the national flag of India with a few modifications. With this in mind, the flag of 1931 was adopted as the national flag of India, but the charkha in the middle was replaced with the Ashoka Chakra. Thus, the Indian national flag was born.  The top band is of Saffron colour, indicating the strength and courage of the country. The white middle band indicates peace and truth with Dharma Chakra. The last band is green in colour shows the fertility, growth and auspiciousness of the land.


This Day in History (14-Jun-1913) – The South African Government pass the Immigration Act triggering widespread agitation led by Gandhiji

Gandhiji arrived in South Africa in 1893 at the relatively tender age of 24 as a newly qualified lawyer on a temporary assignment to act on behalf of a local Indian trader in a commercial dispute. What was meant to be a short stopgap for the struggling young lawyer turned into a 21-year stay, with spells in India and England. When Gandhi arrived in 1893, the issue of Indian immigration was a hot topic. When Gandhi visited the Durban courthouse shortly after his arrival, as a way of acclimatising to the courts in South Africa, the local magistrate asked him to remove the turban he was wearing which Gandhiji refused to do. His struggle towards rights turned into Satyagraha movement in 1906. Government was in process of implementing Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance, requiring all male Asians in the Transvaal to be fingerprinted and carry a form of pass. In a meeting of 3000 Indians, Gandhiji vowed that Indians would elect to go to prison rather than submit to the law in question. In 1908 he encouraged mass of 2000 population to bun the identity documents.

On 14 June 1913, the first Immigration Regulation Act, which limited the free movement of Asians, and restricted their entry into the country, was passed in South Africa. The Act was prejudiced on the basis of national origin, race, gender and class. Five months down the line, Mahatma Gandhi was confronted by Security police as he led striking Indian mineworkers, protesting the Immigration Act, from Newcastle to the Transvaal. The 1913 protest actions were what led to General Jan Smuts setting up a commission to investigate Indian grievances that would ultimately end in the passing of the Indian Relief Act, which paved the way for Gandhi’s return to India, having achieved a major legal milestone for Indians in South Africa. So powerful was this form of non-violent resistance that, as Gandhi was leaving South Africa in 1914, he described it as ‘perhaps the mightiest instrument on earth’.


This Day in History (29-May-1936) – Gandhi’s eldest son creates a controversy as he converts to the Muslim faith

Harilal Mohandas Gandhi was the eldest son of Mahatma Gandhi. Harilal wanted to go to England for higher studies and hoped to become a barrister as his father had once been. His father firmly opposed this, believing that a Western-style education would not be helpful in the struggle against British rule over India. Eventually rebelling against his father’s decision, in 1911 Harilal renounced all family ties. Harilal converted to Islam at the Jumma Masjid, Bombay on 29th May 1936 and took up the name Abdullah Gandhi. Gandhiji wrote to his another son, Ramdas Gandhi, the following day, “There could be no harm in his being converted to Islam with understanding and selfless motives. But he suffers from greed for wealth and sensual pleasures. I shall be spared all mental pain if I find my impression wrong and he turns a new leaf.” However as Gandhiji had predicted, Harilal followed Islam for a very brief period. In November he reconverted to Arya Samaj Hinduism.

Harilal married to Gulab Gandhi and they had five children, two of whom died at an early age. He appeared at his father’s funeral in such derelict condition that few recognized him. He died from liver disease on 18 June 1948 in a municipal hospital in Bombay. Harilal described Gandhiji as “the greatest father you can have but the one father I wish I did not have.” Mahatma Gandhi once confessed that the greatest regret of his life was that there were two people he had not been able to convince. One was Mohammed Ali Jinnah, whose demand for a separate homeland for Muslims led to the partition of India and Pakistan in August 1947 and the other person was his own eldest son Harilal.

Nilam Parikh, the daughter of Ramibehn, who was the eldest of Harilal’s children, wrote a biography on him, titled Gandhiji’s Lost Jewel: Harilal Gandhi. The troubled relationship between Harilal and his father is the subject of the film and play Gandhi, My Father.