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Friday 8 February 2013

Retracing history at Chauri-Chaura By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Retracing history at Chauri-Chaura
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Chauri Chaura town came into folk lore on February on February 4th, 1922 when 26 people were killed in police firing who were demanding fair prices for their product. The people in retaliation burnt the police station resulting in death of 21 persons inside the Thana. Shocked with the incident Gandhiji suspended his non-cooperation movement condemning the violence against the policemen. Many Congressmen did not like the suspension of the movement though Gandhi himself became more credible with this. But a visit to this place and a careful analysis of events throws some uncomfortable questions.
It is said that non-cooperation movement attracted a large number of people in Gorakhpur and Avadh. It is because of the movement in 1920s that people started raising difficult questions to the authorities particularly on the issues of prices as Chauri Chaura and Sahjanwa were two growing market of cloths which were highly influenced because of British policies. It had resulted in deep resentment among the common people particularly artisans and farmers. It is also true that the police and administration always connived with big landlords and Zamindars who exploited the landless people.  A majority of people who participated in the non-cooperation movement actually hailed from Dalit, OBCs and Muslim communities while the police officer were mostly the upper castes except for the chowkidars and guards.

A visit to the site reveals some interesting fact. The monument in the memory of the martyrs was built in 1972 by the people but later Prime Minister Narsimha Rao inaugurated the monument on July 19th, 1993. It was shocking that before that no efforts were made by the government and the people of Chauri Chaura actually built the monument themselves. There is a small library and a museum adjacent to the monument but a visit to it will reflect the condition of the memorial. The paintings are lying scattered and there is dust all over. The museum which could have been a great source of inspirations to people to learn about this movement is lying in shambles. The state of such an important monument and the museum adjacent to it is a shame.  A three member office staff by UP government has not received its salaries since inception even when they open it for public on time but the state of affair of the museum is shocking.

In all, 228 people were arrested for this in which 6 had died in the police custody while 172 were sentenced to death. The trial was perhaps done through a fast track court in 8 month. Later a higher court finally sentenced 19 people to death and 110 to life imprisonment. All the others were given different sentences but the death sentence was commuted. The most surprising thing is the attitude of presentation of this incident in our text books and why has that been so. The Chauri Chaura incident is presented that the people burnt the police station and 21 one 'innocent' policemen were killed and hence pained with the incident Gandhi suspended his movement. Was Gandhi pained at the death of policemen? Did he condemn the death of the people too who were killed in police firing? Why was Gandhi worried about killing of policemen and condemned it as brutal but not seen how brutally people were killed? Why the incident is not spoken in the school in its entirety.

There are many mischiefs that our ideological slants try to kill a real incident.  Most of the 19 people who went to gallows on April 23rd, 1923 belong to Dalit and backward communities. They are:
1.     Abdullah s/o Gobar Julaha ( weaver)
2.     Bhagwan s/o Ramnath Ahir
3.     Vikram s/o Shiv Charan Ahir
4.     Dudhai s/o Ram Sujhawan,
     5. Kali Charan s/o Nirgun Kahar
    6. Lal Mohammad s/o Hakim Fakir
    7. Ram Swaroop s/o Ram Tahal
    8. Rudli s/o Ram Kewat
    9. Sahdev Kahar
    10. Sampat Chamar
    11. Shyam Sunder Mishra
   12. Sita Ram s/o Ram Fal
   13. Nazar Ali s/o Hussein
   14. Raghuvir s/o Jaddu Sunar
   15. Ram Lagan S/o Shiv Tahal Sunar,
   16. Lotu s/o Shiv Nandan Kahar
 17. Mahadev s/o Kunk Bihari
 18. Meghu Tiwari
19. Sampat Ahir

It is good to make analysis of the caste and communities of these people. Though it is also true that the movement that time cut across the caste lines as freedom of the country was more important and people were fed up of the oppression but there seems to be some other harsher factors too. Most of the police personnel came from high caste background particularly landed peasantry of Brahmins and Thakurs. The Thana in charge that time was Gupteswar Singh and his subordinate was Prithvi Singh. It is said that both of them had connived with Badri Tiwari, an associate of feudal Zamindars and therefore fired at the innocent people who were returning. It is not true that people were just fed of British Raj but the fact is that the oppression of the feudal landlords and caste oppression in the Poorvanchal region was very high and people had been revolting against the same. In fact whenever the movement against the local feudal grew they played the 'nationalist' card and the movement was crushed by using the bigger cause of 'India's freedom. The huge success of the farmer's movement against big Zamaindari and caste oppression in Avadh is well document yet the same facts have been hidden from the people as how that movement too was foiled by Gandhi.

The Chauri Chaura incident is an eye opener. Its presentation is shocking in our text books. We are not reminded of the killing of 26 innocent Satyagrahis or people but informed more about the killings of 21 policemen were burnt inside the Thana. And then Gandhi is lauded for his heroic for 'Ahimsa' but was the suspension of the Non-cooperation movement after Chauri Chaura incident was that simple as has been made out and presented to us. The fact which should have been investigated in this region was the land relations. It is clear that Badri Tiwari, a middlemen with Zamindars instigated police who hailed mostly from the powerful upper castes, to fire at these protesters mostly from the backward and Dalit communities. In the entire Poorvanchal, aggression against the caste oppression by the small and marginal farmers grew up during the non-cooperation movement but that was completely thwarted by the leaders like Moti Lal Nehru who were actually the advocates for these Zamindars. Gandhi's spiritualism came handy to divert their attention from the internal issues for the big cause of 'nationalism'. At the end of the day, it was gain for Gandhi and Congress both the way. The movement was suspended and hence the anger of people was subsided. Gandhi basically made the mockery of those who were sentenced to death for allegedly killing but could not say that people will revolt and protest against such firing on innocent.  There is another fact which is important that since the policemen hailed from the upper caste background, it was important for Gandhi and his congress to show more sympathy towards their killings. It is disgusting and shameful to see how the historians have rarely analyzed this incident in true sense which made Gandhi a hero, a man of moral conviction, who suspended the Non Cooperation Movement when it was growing up. It did not come to the minds of the people that this non-cooperation was also resulting in non-cooperation towards the upper caste Zamindars but since they were leading the Congress movement, it was impossible for the party to ignore their interest.

Today, there are two 'Memorials' at Chauri Chaura. One is for the martyrs who were hanged to death by the British regime and shamefully Gandhi and his Congress could do nothing to save them. The Martyrs memorial came from a combined funds of people who wanted to remember them and there is a memorial at the police station too in which names of the police personnel are placed who were killed in the in that subsequent burning the police station. Both the memorials have named them as ' Amar Shaheed Smarak'.  How can the two people be equated together? One who died for the country asking for their rights and the others who showed brutality on people and got killed as people burnt the police station when they returned to their barracks as their ammunition ran out. How can the killers be accorded the status of Shaheed who were killed because of people's resentments? Was it because all these killers were actually upper caste feudal who were looking down upon the poor people in utter contempt? Was the movement stopped to keep the upper caste sentiments in mind? These are important questions which were hidden and not investigated but one is sure if they are looked properly we will find deception and hidden agenda of the caste forces underneath.

There is no issue if policemen on duty are killed and are given honor for the same. The Chauri Chaura incident shows that policemen only retreated as their ammunition was over otherwise they would have killed more people. It is also a fact that people burnt the police station only when their patience ran out and they realize it is time to avenge. I do not remember if the Congress Party demanded a fair investigation into the case so that truth is unveiled. Chauri Chaura incident was mythicized but it was another blow to people's struggle when it was growing simply because the power elite that time belonged to high caste Hindus and antagonizing them would have been detrimental for the caste interest of our political leadership and that seems to be the only region why facts were hidden and the movement was stopped and nothing was said much about the people and their struggle but more on policemen and their 'innocence'.  We can learn a lot from history provided it is written and analyzed free from caste bias. Chauri Chaura also explodes the myth that Dalits did not participate in the freedom movement but it reinforces their role even when they were not in the leadership in the Congress Party. It is time our historians investigate history through caste angle and we will find the greater role of most marginalized people in the struggle for freedom of India.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
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