Chandra Shekhar Azad: Free to the end, he inspires us to this day

As the nation observes Shaheed Diwas today to commemorate the sacrifice of the famous trio of freedom fighters-Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and Rajguru, the memory of another great son of our motherland Chandra Shekhar Azad flashes through our mind. In fact, Bhagat Singh was a great fan of Azad and all these people played an important role in the Saunders’ assassination to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai.

Chandra Shekhar Azad statue
The imposing statue of great freedom fighter Chandra Shekhar Azad in Allahabad where people from different parts of the country come and pay tributes. Photo: Connected to India

True to the name he chose, valiant freedom fighter Chandra Shekhar Azad refused to compromise until his last breath. Part of Azad’s legend is that he had vowed that he would never be arrested by the British police and he kept his promise, going so far as to commit suicide when he was facing capture. Azad’s final act of defiance has been immortalised by historians and film-makers alike and is retold as one of the most inspirational tales about the days of India’s freedom struggle.

Early life

Chandra Shekhar was born on July 23, 1906, to Pandit Sitaram Tiwari and his third wife Jagrani Devi in Bhabara village of Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh. He spent his childhood in the village while his father worked at the erstwhile estate of Alirajpur. His mother wanted Chandra Shekhar to become a Sanskrit scholar. Therefore, he was sent to Kashi Vidyapeeth in Varanasi, where he initially became aware of India’s freedom struggle and Gandhiji’s recently-launched Non-Cooperation Movement.

"My home is a prison cell" - young Azad

In 1921, Chandrasekhar was an active participant in the revolutionary Non-Cooperation Movement, and was among those arrested, even though he was only 15.

Statue of Chandra Shekhar Azad installed in the campus of Allahabad Museum.
Statue of Chandra Shekhar Azad installed on the campus of Allahabad Museum. Photo: Connected to India

His famous responses to the magistrate’s routine questions, “What is your name? Where do you live? What is your father’s name?” signalled his commitment to the freedom struggle. He gave his name as ‘Azad’ (which means free in Urdu), his father’s name as ‘Swatantra’ (independent) and his place of dwelling as a ‘prison cell’. The Magistrate sentenced Azad to 15 lashes.

After the Non-Cooperation movement was suspended in 1922, Azad began leaning towards more aggressive and revolutionary ideals. He became an active member of the HRA and came in contact with its founder Ram Prasad Bismil. He became an active member of the HRA and started to collect funds for HRA.

Kakori Train Robbery

As part of their efforts to raise funds, Bismil and the HRA planned to rob the government treasury being transported by train at Kakori, near Lucknow in UP.

On August 9, 1925, Azad and the HRA successfully looted the Number 8 Down Train from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow. The participants included Ramaprasad Bismil, Rajendra Lahiri, Thakur Roshan Singh, Sachindra Bakshi, Keshab Chakravarty, Banwari Lal, Mukundi Lal, Mammathnath Gupta and Ashfaqulla Khan.

Photograph of the dead body of Chandra Shekhar Azad surrounded by British police force being kept at Allahabad museum.
Photograph of the dead body of Chandra Shekhar Azad surrounded by British police force being kept at Allahabad museum. Photo courtesy: Allahabad Museum

This incident galvanised the British government into cracking down with heavy reprisals across the country and led to the arrest and conviction of most of the robbers 18 months later. Ramaprasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Rajendra Lahiri and Roshan Singh were sentenced to death; the others were given life sentences. However, British police were unable to capture Azad.

Chandra Shekhar Azad later reorganised the HRA with the help of revolutionaries like Sheo Verma and Mahaveer Singh. Azad was also a close associate of Bhagwati Charan Vohra who, along with Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and Rajguru, helped him to transform the HRA into the HSRA in 1928 to achieve their primary aim of an independent India based on their socialist principles.

Avenging Lala Lajpat Rai’s death

Following the death of Lala Lajpat Rai on November 17, 1928, and given that he had been injured in a police lathi charge on October 30 during a protest against the Simon Commission, Azad rushed to Lahore and met Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru and Jaigopal. They developed a plan to assassinate James A. Scott, the superintendent of police who ordered the lathi charge.

The conspirators mistakenly shot and killed JP Saunders, an assistant commissioner of police, before going on the run. Azad used camouflage skills to blend in and hide on several occasions from pursuers. His escape and evasion of police efforts to catch him solidified his legend and made him a symbol of the freedom struggle.

The pistol used by Chandra Shekhar Azad to shoot himself rather than surrendering to the British police kept at Allahabad Museum.
The pistol used by Chandra Shekhar Azad to shoot himself rather than surrendering to the British police kept at Allahabad Museum. Photo courtesy: Allahabad Museum

Attaining martyrdom

However, the police cornered Azad on February 27, 1931, at Alfred Park of Allahabad. The authorities set up a cordon with a troop of 80 sepoys to surround the park and moved in to arrest Azad, who exchanged shots with them and was shot in the right thigh. Unable to escape, Azad shot himself rather than surrendering, creating the legend of never having been arrested by the British.

Chandra Shekhar Azad Park

To honour Azad and remember his sacrifice, the sprawling campus of Alfred Park in Allahabad was renamed Chandra Shekhar Azad Park. A tall statue of Azad was installed where many people come and pay tribute. This statue is located just near the tree where he died. This park is spread over an area of 133 acres and houses the Chandra Shekhar Azad Memorial, Allahabad Museum, Madan Mohan Malviya Stadium, Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Victoria Memorial and Allahabad Public Library.

Tree underneath which Chandra Shekhar Azad attained martyrdom in Allahabad. Photo: Connected to India
Tree underneath which Chandra Shekhar Azad attained martyrdom in Allahabad. Photo: Connected to India

Director of the Allahabad Museum, Rajesh Purohit, said, “Azad is a young revolutionary icon like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru and he is an inspiration for the youth of today.”

Speaking about the importance of Azad for today's youth, he said, "The patriotic spirit is immensely required for the present day youth for a resurgent India to unite India to fight against illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty and multifarious problems facing the nation. Since India is a free country now, the objective of Indians and the nationalist youth of India should be to make India a powerful nation where diversity of population can have the freedom of expression and thoughts and cohesive living.”

Various schools and colleges of this country have been named after Chandra Shekhar Azad to provide inspiration to the people of the nation. These parting words of Azad have been written in golden words in the history of India's independence.

Dushman ki goliyon ka hum samna karenge, Azad hi rahein hain, azad hi rahenge!
(I will face bullets of the enemy. I am independent and will remain independent!)

Author
Ashraf Jamal
Ashraf Jamal – Senior Writer

Ashraf Jamal brings a rare depth to writing equipped with a degree in journalism, a postgraduate degree in political science, and a degree in law from the Allahabad University. His experience includes editing and publishing the Northern India Patrika and writing for Times of India for almost a decade covering just about any topic under the sun including NRIs and Indian diaspora.

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