"The lad went to the gallows in 1943 while the death sentence of the others was commuted to life imprisonment and cut short further when India won freedom. Before being hanged, Shankar said that his father Dajiba Mahale, who had fallen to police bullets in the Quit India movement five months earlier, would not have liked him to plead for mercy."
By Shyam Pandharipande

Nagpur, Aug 14 - It may be a coincidence that the 1920 session of the Indian National Congress, marking a watershed in the history of the freedom movement, was held in Nagpur. But later events showed that the historic session turned the central Indian city into a focal point of the long drawn struggle that culminated in the country's emancipation.

The 1920 session was of course not the first one Nagpur hosted - the city did that way back in 1891, only six years after the Congress' formation. It was all set to do that again in 1907 when a tense atmosphere here led to the venue being shifted to Surat in Gujarat.

Former minister Shankarrao Gedam, a young foot soldier during the 1942 'Quit India' movement, has painstakingly chronicled the details of Nagpur's contribution to the freedom struggle.

A resolution calling for complete non-cooperation and boycott, virtually amounting to a war cry against the British rule in India, was the hallmark of the Nagpur session. It was also significant in many other ways.

Of the 15,000 delegates to the session, where Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Ali brothers were special invitees, more than 1,000 were Muslims apart from 169 women.

It was at this session that Gandhi outrightly rejected British Labour Party invitees' counsel to reconsider the non-cooperation resolution as a confrontationist stance of the Congress would make it difficult for the British well-wishers of India to lobby for them in England.

Gandhi declared that Indians have no true friends outside India. 'The people of India have to shape their own destiny, and self-reliance and non-cooperation are the legitimate non-violent weapons of our struggle for which we are preparing ourselves.'

Dalit leader Vitthal Shinde was felicitated in Nagpur, and Hindus were called upon to remove the scourge of untouchability. Lokmanya Tilak's disciple N.C. Kelkar described the Nagpur gathering as a landmark one.

'The Congress is not an elitist organisation of a fistful of Brahmin lawyers any more... it is beginning to be broad-based and a true representative of the poor masses', he wrote in Tilak's nationalistic newspaper Kesri.

Boycott of government colleges, bonfire of foreign goods and picketing of liquor shops were the actions that the rattled British rulers tried to suppress, using brute force. Police fired upon a massive procession in Nagpur's Budhawari area on March 27, 1921, killed nine people and injured many more.

A record 20,000 people were dumped in the region's jails. Vallabhbhai and Vitthalbhai Patel successfully led a spectacular 'zenda satyagraha' (flag agitation) in the city Aug 18, 1922. Women gingerly participated in the movement even as the police used canes and public flogging at will.

While a woman activist, Durgabai Joshi, led the Salt Satyagrah in Nagpur April 21, 1929, three others went all the way to Nashik in western Maharashtra to take part in similar action. About 1,000 women took part in a 21,000-strong 'swadeshi' procession taken out by traders in the city June 26. An unprecedented 'jungle satyagraha' at Talegaon, a small town near Nagpur, attracted 75,000 people from the region.

Like elsewhere, the freedom struggle peaked in Nagpur during the Quit India movement, surcharged with Gandhi's 'do or die' call. In a hair-raising account of the action in the city's Gadikhana area, Gedam writes about 12-year-old Doma Bante who raised a 'bal sena' (children's army) that stormed a bank and hoisted the tricolour atop it amidst a volley of bullets.

Even as one batch of children was enacting the valorous drama in one part of the city, another lad hoisted a flag right on top of the district collector's office in the presence of a huge cheering crowd, provoking a British officer to open fire on unarmed people.

In the following three days, irrepressible multitudes burnt several police outposts apart from the Itwari post office, clashed with the police at several places and even attacked the army at the famous Cotton Market square.

As many as 920 people were killed in police firing while 1,630 were injured. The total number of imprisonments in the region till 1942 stood at a staggering 60,000.

Shankar Mahale, 18, was among five persons sentenced to death for the murder of a constable in a mob attack. While the other four preferred an appeal against the sentence, Shankar not only refused to go with them but told the court that he was the one who killed the cop.

The lad went to the gallows in 1943 while the death sentence of the others was commuted to life imprisonment and cut short further when India won freedom. Before being hanged, Shankar said that his father Dajiba Mahale, who had fallen to police bullets in the Quit India movement five months earlier, would not have liked him to plead for mercy.

Krishnarao Kakde's story is even less known. On Aug 13, 1942, the young man emerged from a fleeing crowd and stood like a rock baring his chest in front of gun wielding police. As he answered repeated warnings of the cops to flee with defiant slogans of 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai', they rained bullets on him.


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