There were some key phrases, poems and slogans that made up an important instrument in invoking a deep feeling of patriotism and love in the minds of those fighting for India’s freedom from the British. One such beautiful poem was “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna”, written by Ram Prasad Bismil – an exceptionally passionate and brave freedom fighter. While merely reading this poem can summon such passion in the minds of the reader, it is rather difficult to imagine what transpired in the heart of the poet Ram Prasad Bismil during the composition of this beautiful poem.
सरफ़रोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल में है
देखना है ज़ोर कितना बाज़ुए कातिल में है
वक्त आने दे बता देंगे तुझे ए आसमान
हम अभी से क्या बतायें क्या हमारे दिल में है
(ऐ वतन,) करता नहीं क्यूँ दूसरा कुछ बातचीत
देखता हूँ मैं जिसे वो चुप तेरी महफ़िल में है
रहबरे राहे मुहब्बत, रह न जाना राह में
लज्जते-सेहरा न वर्दी दूरिए-मंजिल में है
अब न अगले वलवले हैं और न अरमानों की भीड़
एक मिट जाने की हसरत अब दिले-बिस्मिल में है
ए शहीद-ए-मुल्क-ओ-मिल्लत मैं तेरे ऊपर निसार
अब तेरी हिम्मत का चरचा गैर की महफ़िल में है
खैंच कर लायी है सब को कत्ल होने की उम्मीद
आशिकों का आज जमघट कूचा-ए-कातिल में है
सरफ़रोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल में है
देखना है ज़ोर कितना बाज़ुए कातिल में है
In this post, I would like to present a brief account of the life of this great poet and patriot. He is yet another among those valiant men who smilingly went to the gallows fighting for India’s freedom. (See post on Khudiram Bose). Bismil was born in 1897 in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh. He spent his early years gaining education in Urdu and English. Even at a young age, he got introduced to the Arya Samaj and he quickly took to their philosophy. After reading Swami Dayananda’s Satyaartha Prakash, Bismil became very influenced by the concept of Brahmacharya and started practicing it very strictly. He soon gave up his evening meals as well sweet and spicy foods. This sincere practice made his face radiant, his mind calm and his body healthy. He regularly participated in the activities of the Arya Samaj, however their ideas and methods were very conservative. Ram Prasad was a radical and a revolutionary. He believed in using violence to attain freedom, while the others in the Shahjahanpur Arya Samaj stuck to non-violence. There were a few others like Bismil, who broke away from the Arya Samaj to form the revolutionary group – the Kumar Sabha.
In 1916, when he learnt about the 43 death sentences offered to freedom fighters in the Lahore Conspiracy case, a raging fire was ignited in Bismil’s heart. He made a vow that he will take his revenge on the evil British government for putting these patriots to death. Ram Prasad Bismil was upset that his countrymen were too pusillanimous to stand up to the injustices of the British. He thought that writing books would help people inspire the sleeping countrymen. He wrote two books titled “How Did America Attain Freedom” and “A Message to My Countrymen”. He had to borrow money from his supportive mother to get these books published, but the sales of these books brought him enough money to pay back his debts. However, the British government banned these books. With the extra money he made, Bismil started buying some weapons from Gwalior. His initial weapons were muzzle pistols, but quickly started to understand more about weapons and started collecting them for his Kumar Sabha activists. Somehow the Gwalior police scented that Bismil’s interest in weapons. They tried to trap him by sending an undercover officer to him in the pretext of showing him where to buy new and powerful weapons. When that disguised man took Bismil to the weapons warehouse, Bismil realized that he was in fact being led to the house of the police inspector and he immediately escaped. Once he realized that the police had already scented him, he gathered all his weapons from his stock at Gwalior and escaped to his hometown Shahjahanpur.
When Bismil returned to Shahjahanpur, there were some misunderstandings and mistrust between the members of the Kumar Sabha over the trouble Bismil had gotten himself into with the Gwalior police. Despite trying to explain to them that he had gotten away safely, they plotted to kill him. Sadly, the ostracized Bismil escaped into hiding in the outskirts of Gwalior. When the police started threatening his parents about confiscating their property if they did not reveal the whereabouts of his son, Ram Prasad’s parents decided to sell their belongings and joined him in hiding. While in hiding, Ram Prasad became a farmer and a cowherd. He used his free time during this period to translate many Bengali works into Hindi. He also wrote several books of his own during this time. After World War 1, the government removed the charges that were pressed on revolutionaries earlier and this enabled Ram Prasad to return to Shahjahanpur and start over in life. Slowly he started to rebuild his family’s life by taking on jobs and starting up businesses. He also started reorganizing the revolutionary movement. Since he was very poor now, it was difficult for him to monetarily support the revolutionaries’ day to day activities. This forced some of his followers to turn to dacoity in order to get their money to run their freedom movement. But very soon, Ram Prasad realized that it was a futile effort to loot Indians to save India. Therefore, he began to encourage these young revolutionaries to find alternative subjects to loot from, preferably the British.
One day, while Bismil was traveling between Shahjahanpur and Lucknow by train, he noticed some British men bring bags of money and put them in the guard’s carriage. He also noticed that there was no specially appointed guard to take care of the money bags. Suddenly, Bismil realized that stealing this money was his only way to fund the revolutionaries that were fighting for the Indian cause. Near a stop called Kakori, he along with his accomplices, looted the money and escaped. The British government was shaken by this well planned dacoity. Investigations started immediately and 4 people were caught in this Kakori Rail Dacoity case. Among them was of course Ram Prasad Bismil – the mastermind, and 3 of his faithful friends – Ashfaqullah Khan, Roshan Singh and Rajendra Lahiri. These 4 people were sentenced to be executed.
Their sentence caused a huge wave of uproar across the country. All public leaders appealed on behalf of these 4 men. Dacoity was not a crime serious enough to be given a death sentence for. However, the British government remained unyielding. On the 18th of December 1927, Rajendra Lahiri was hanged. Ram Prasad and Ashfaqullah were executed on the 19th and Roshan Singh on the 20th. Thus ended yet another magnificent chapter in the history of the Indian freedom struggle. While awaiting execution in the Gorakhpur jail, Ram Prasad Bismil wrote a heart-rending autobiography in Hindi. (The full text can be found on the Hindi Wikipedia).
Waiting for death is an unimaginably fearful situation to be in for most normal people, but time and again we have seen that every patriot who sacrificed his life for India gave up his life smilingly and without fear. It is very clear that their love for India exceeded the love for their life. The British might have been successful in uprooting revolutionaries by putting them to death, but they never succeeded in uprooting them all. When one was put down, that single loss triggered an entire army of patriots who had much more passion than the ones that were killed. Reading the stories of the lives of these great patriots should remind us again and again of what it cost India to become free. That would in turn enable us to appreciate what we have and find out novel ways to preserve it.