Modi Govt’s Renovation of Jallianwala Bagh Draws Sharp Criticism

The Centre’s renovation work on the historic Jallianwala Bagh site has sparked a massive controversy with historians and opposition politicians criticising it as an “insult” to the martyrs and a bid at erasing history and heritage.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the renovated Jallianwala Bagh complex in Amritsar on August 28. The monument was the nation’s homage to the victims of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre wherein over thousand unarmed people were killed by British troops.

The British troops led by Col. Reginald Dyer opened fire at a large gathering of people who had assembled to protest against the arrest of freedom fighters Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlu for opposing the Rowlatt Act.

— source | 31 Aug 2021

[this clearly shows the commitment of sangh towards british, even after 100 years. fascists are afraid of history.]

Nullius in verba

The Unknown Democratic-Republican Ethos of 1857

The revolt of 1857 is usually remembered as the First War of Indian Independence. It is associated with heroic figures such as Mangal Pandey, Rani Lakshmibai, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Nana Sahib, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Tatya Tope, Azimullah Khan, Kunwar Singh, and Maulavi Ahmadullah Shah. The main reason for the Great Revolt is also usually understood as the introduction of new greased cartridges rumoured to contain cow and pig fat.

It is generally believed Hindu and Muslim soldiers considered these an attack on their religion and thereby revolted against the East India Company, making the revolt a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity. It is also generally believed that the rebel soldiers had no political programme or ideology except to oust the British. However, recent historical research has shown that the above events are either untrue or only partially true. For example, the Indian sepoys who rebelled against the East India Company used those very rifles and cartridges that supposedly sparked the revolt in response to hurt religious sentiments.

The Indian sepoys revolted because of their exploitation, such as non-payment of salaries, cutting of allowances, miserable working conditions and, crucially, the racial discrimination

— source | Prabal Saran Agrawal, Harshvardhan | 10 May 2021

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Bhagat Singh Jhuggian’s fight for our freedoms

He was on stage to receive his prize – a shiny one-paisa coin – from the Munshi, a senior officer with several schools under his control. This was Punjab in 1939, he was just 11 years old, and a student of Class 3, which he had topped. The Munshi patted him on the head and asked him to shout ‘Britannia Zindabad, Hitler Murdabad’. Young Bhagat Singh – not to be confused with his legendary namesake – faced the audience at the ceremony and yelled: “Britannia Murdabad, Hindustan Zindabad.”

The consequences of his impudence were immediate. He was thrashed then and there by the Munshi Babu himself, and thrown out of the Government Elementary School, Samundra. The other students present stared

— source | Aug. 15, 2021

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When ‘Salihan’ took on the Raj

She was working in the fields along with the other Adivasi women when a youngster from their village Saliha came racing to them, yelling: “They’re attacking the village, they have assaulted your father. They are torching our homes.”

“They” were armed British police who had cracked down on a village seen as defiant of the Raj. Many other villages were razed, burned down, their grain looted. The rebels were being shown their place.

Demathi Dei Sabar, an Adivasi of the Sabar tribe, raced back to Saliha with 40 other young women. “My father was lying on the ground bleeding,” says the aging freedom fighter. “He had a bullet in his leg.”

That memory brings alive a mind otherwise fading. “I lost my temper and attacked that officer with the gun. In those days, we all took lathis as we went to work in the fields or forest. You had to have something with you in case wild animals showed up.”

As she attacked the officer, the 40 other women with her turned their lathis on the rest of the raiding force. “I chased the scoundrel down the street,” she says, angry but also

— source | P. Sainath | Aug. 14, 2015

Nullius in verba

Harvard University of ‘spiritual bankruptcy’

Author, activist and scholar Cornel West has resigned from his role as professor at Harvard University, accusing the institution of “an intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of deep depths”. West writes that his faculty supported him as a candidate for tenure, but went on to “timidly defer to a rejection based on the Harvard administration’s hostility to the Palestinian cause”, describing this as “disgusting” and lambasting Harvard for “an intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of deep depths”. West had told the New York Times in March of his belief that the reluctance to grant him tenure could have been linked to his support for the Palestinian cause. Harvard declined to comment on the situation.

— source | 16 Jul 2021

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The Uttar Pradesh village that raised the flag in 1942 and paid the price for it

They still keep the flag at the tehsil office. Only here, they raise it on August 18. That day in 1942, people from this part of Uttar Pradesh’s Ghazipur district declared their independence from British rule. The tehsildar of Muhammadabad opened fire on a crowd, killing eight persons from Sherpur village. These were mostly Congressmen led by Shiv Pujan Rai. They were shot dead while trying to hoist the tricolour atop the tehsil building in Muhammadabad.

Struggles erupted across an already simmering district where the British had issued arrest warrants for 129 leaders on August 10. By the 19th, locals took control of nearly all of Ghazipur and ran the government for three days.

The British response, says the district Gazetteer , was “a reign of terror.” Soon, “village after village was pillaged, looted and burnt.” Military and mounted police crushed ‘Quit India’ protestors. They gunned down nearly 150 people across the district in the next few days. Records suggest that officials and police looted Rs. 35 lakhs from civilians. As many as 74 villages were burnt. Ghazipur’s people paid a collective fine of Rs. 4.5 lakhs, a huge sum in those days.

Officials singled out Sherpur for punishment. Hari Sharan Ram, the oldest Dalit resident here, recalls the day: “There wasn’t a bird left in the village, let alone human beings. Those who could, fled. The looting went on and on.” Yet, Ghazipur as a whole had to be taught a lesson. The district had a record of anti-British uprisings going back to the 1850s when locals had attacked indigo planters. It now learned a lesson spelt out with bullets and batons.

To this day, the tehsil office at Muhammadabad attracts political pilgrims. Its visitors’ list over the years includes four who were either prime ministers of India or held that post later. Almost all the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh have been here, too. Usually on August 18, says the amiable Laxman Rai, who heads the shaheed smarak samiti , the association that runs the memorial to the eight martyrs at the tehsil office. He shows us the original flag of the protestors, somewhat frayed, yet carefully preserved here. “The VIPs come here and do puja to the flag”, he says proudly. “Every VIP who comes does this puja.”

Sherpur hasn’t gained much from the pujas. And class, caste, time and commerce colour the memories of the heroic sacrifice of its freedom fighters. “There were eight martyrs,” says one non-governmental organisation worker here. “But there could be as many as 10 memorial committees for the martyrs.” Some of these run diverse institutions with official grants. Sons of the martyrs, known by a term unique to this place – shaheed putra – control some of them.

So what did people die for? “There was no demand other than freedom,” asserts Krishan Dev Rai, principal of the Inter College at Muhammadabad. Most of the land-owning Bhumihars at Sherpur and elsewhere see it that way, too. The matter ended with the exit of the British in 1947.

Bal Mukund, a scheduled caste resident of Sherpur, saw it differently. A young man at the time of the revolt, he and his fellow Dalits had another agenda. “We were excited,” he says. “We thought there would be zamin [land] for us.” A Kisan Sabha movement active in the 1930s and again later, raised those hopes. That excitement revived in 1952, when the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act came into force.

It was short-lived.

All the 3,500 Dalits in the village are landless. “Land for cultivation?” asks Radheysham of the local Dalit samiti . “Not even our homes are in our own names.” That’s 35 years after the land settlement was to have been completed. Freedom did bring distinct benefits. To some. The Bhumihars did get titles to the land they tilled. The landless lower castes remain the way they were. “We thought we, too, could be like others, take our place with the rest,” says Hari Sharan Ram.

“We are not talking about 50 years ago,” says Dasuram Vanvasi of Gagaran village. “It still happens. Some have faced this just two years ago.” Other forms of harassment, too, exist. Dasuram completed tenth standard with a first division, one of very few Musahars to get that far. He quit college though, harried by the taunts of upper caste teachers and students. Ironically, that Inter College bears the name of Babu Jagjivan Ram.

As we leave Sherpur, our feet sink in the slime, mud and refuse that pave the route in and out of the Dalit basti. Rains have destroyed the main track. Streams of stagnant filth cover the lanes here. “The highway to our New Delhi,” says Shiv Jagan Ram.

“The Dalits here are not free,” he says. “No independence, no land, no learning, no assets, no jobs, no health, no hope. Our freedom is slavery.”

Meanwhile, at the tehsil office, the pujas continue.

— source | P. Sainath | Aug. 14, 2015

Nullius in verba

When Veer Narayan died twice

“Veer Narayan Singh?” says Sahasram Kanwar of Sonakhan village in Chattisgarh. “He was a lootera , a bandit. Some people have made him out to be a great man. Not us.” Quite a few of those sitting around nod in assent. Some weigh in with similar comments.

It was heart-breaking. We had come a long way in search of Sonakhan. This was the nerve centre of a Chattisgarh tribal revolt of the mid-1850s. One that began before the great uprising of 1857. And which threw up a genuine folk hero.

This is the village where Veer Narayan Singh rose against the British.

Near famine conditions here in the 1850s pushed matters to the brink. As things got worse, Narayan Singh of Sonakhan faced up to the feudals in the area. “He did not seek charity,” says Charan Singh, the oldest Adivasi resident in this largely tribal village. He alone seems to hold a more generous view of Narayan Singh.

“He asked the merchants and lords to open the godowns and let the poor eat.” Like in so many famines, the granaries were full. “And he said that when the first crop came, people would replace the grain they were given. When they refused, he led the poor to seize and distribute the grain.” The struggle that followed spread across the region as the tribals took on their oppressors.

“The conflict began well before the 1857 uprising,” says Prof. Hiralal Shukla of Barkatullah University, Bhopal. Yet, says Prof. Shukla; “It later networked with the rebels of 1857.” Which means the sacrifices of the Chattisgarh tribals came around the time the elite of Bombay and Calcutta were holding meetings to pray for the success of the British.

In 1857, the British hanged Narayan Singh in Raipur.

— source | P. Sainath | Aug. 14, 2015

Nullius in verba

Nine decades of non-violence

Baji Mohammed, the man whose non-violent struggles continued 60 years after Independence

“We were sitting in the tent, they tore it down. We kept sitting,” the old freedom fighter told us. “They threw water on the ground and at us. They tried making the ground wet and difficult to sit on. We remained seated. Then when I went to drink some water and bent down near the tap, they smashed me on the head, fracturing my skull. I had to be rushed to hospital.”

Baji Mohammed is one of India’s last living freedom fighters – just one of four or five nationally recognised ones still alive in Odisha’s Koraput region. He is not talking about British brutality in 1942. (Though he has much to say on that, too.) He’s describing the vicious attack on him during the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, half a century later: “I was there as part of a 100-member peace team.” But the team was given no peace. The old Gandhian fighter, already in his mid-seventies, spent 10 days in hospital and a month in a Varanasi ashram recovering from the injury to his head.

There is not an iota of anger as he describes the event. No hatred towards the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or Bajrang Dal that led the attack. Just a gentle old man with a charming smile. And a firm Gandhi bhakt . He’s a Muslim who heads the anti-cow slaughter league of Nabrangpur. “After the attack, Biju Patnaik came to my home and scolded me. He was worried about my being active even in peaceful protest at my age. Earlier, too, when I did not accept this freedom fighter’s pension for 12 years, he chided me.”

Baji Mohammed is a colourful remnant of a vanishing tribe. Countless rural Indians sacrificed much for India’s freedom. But the generation that led the nation to it is dying out swiftly, most of its members in their late 80s or 90s. Baji is closing in on 90.

“I was studying in the 1930s, but did not make it past matric. My guru was Sadashiv Tripathi who later became Odisha chief minister. I joined the Congress party and became president of its Nabrangpur unit [then still a part of Koraput district]. I made 20,000 members for the Congress. This was a region of great ferment. And it came fully alive with satyagraha .”

However, while hundreds marched towards Koraput, Baji Mohammed headed elsewhere. “I went to Gandhiji. I had to see him.” And so he “took a cycle, my friend Lakshman Sahu, no money, and went from here to Raipur.” A distance of 350 kilometres of very tough, mountainous terrain. “From there we took a train to Wardha and went on to Sewagram. Many great people were at his ashram. We were awed and worried. When could we meet him, if ever? Ask his secretary Mahadev Desai, people told us.

“Desai told us to talk to him during his 5 p.m. evening walk. That’s nice, I thought. A leisurely meeting. But the man walked so fast! My run was his walk. Finally, I could no longer keep up and appealed to him: Please stop: I have come all the way from Odisha just to see you.

“He said testily: ‘what will you see? I too, am a human being, two hands, two legs, a pair of eyes. Are you a satyagrahi back in Odisha?’ I replied that I had pledged to be one.

“’Go’, said Gandhi. ‘ Jao, lathi khao [Go and taste the British lathis ]. Sacrifice for the nation.’ Seven days later, we returned here to do exactly as he ordered us.” Baji Mohammed offered satyagraha in an anti-war protest outside the Nabrangpur Masjid. It led to “six months in jail and a Rs. 50 fine. Not a small amount those days.”

More episodes followed. “On one occasion, at the jail, people gathered to attack the police. I stepped in and stopped it. ‘ Marenge lekin maarenge nahin’ , I said [We shall die, but we shall not attack].”

“Coming out of jail, I wrote to Gandhi: ‘what now?’ And his reply came: ‘Go to jail again’. So I did. This time for four months. But the third time, they did not arrest us. So I asked Gandhi yet again: ‘now what?’ And he said: ‘Take the same slogans and move amongst the people’. So we went 60 kilometres on foot each time with 20-30 people to clusters of villages. Then came the Quit India movement, and things changed.

“On August 25, 1942, we were all arrested and held. Nineteen people died on the spot in police firing at Paparandi in Nabrangpur. Many died thereafter from their wounds. Over 300 were injured. More than 1,000 were jailed in Koraput district. Several were shot or executed. There were over 100 shaheed (martyrs) in Koraput. Veer Lakhan Nayak [legendary tribal leader who defied the British] was hanged.”

Baji’s shoulder was shattered in the violence unleashed against the protesters. “I then spent five years in Koraput jail. There I saw Lakhan Nayak before he was shifted to Berhampore jail. He was in the cell in front of me and I was with him when the hanging order came. What should I tell your family, I asked him. ‘Tell them I am not worried,’ he replied. ‘Only sad that I will not live to see the swaraj we fought for.’”

Baji himself did. He was released just before Independence Day – “to walk into a newly-free nation.” Many of his colleagues, amongst them future Chief Minister Sadashiv Tripathi, “all became MLAs in the 1952 elections, the first in free India.” Baji himself “never contested the polls. Never married.

“I did not seek power or position,” he explains. “I knew I could serve in other ways. The way Gandhi wanted us to.” He was a staunch Congressman for decades. “But now I belong to no party,” he says. “I am non-party.”

It did not stop him from being active in every cause which he thought mattered to the masses. Right from the time “I took part in the bhoodan movement of Vinoba Bhave in 1956.” He was also supportive of some of Jayaprakash Narayan’s campaigns. “He stayed here twice in the 1950s.” The Congress asked him to contest elections more than once. “But me, I was more seva dal than satta dal [More service oriented than power seeking].”

For freedom fighter Baji Mohammed, meeting Gandhi was “the greatest reward of my struggle. What more could one ask for?” His eyes mist over as he shows us pictures of himself in one of the Mahatma’s famous protest marches. These are his treasures, having gifted away his 14 acres of land during the bhoodan movement. His favourite moments during the freedom struggle? “Every one of them. But of course, meeting the Mahatma, hearing his voice. That was the greatest moment of my life. The only regret is that his vision of what we should be as a nation, that is still not realised.”

Just a gentle old man with a charming smile. And a sacrifice that sits lightly on aging shoulders.

— source | P. Sainath | Aug. 14, 2015

Nullius in verba