September 13, 1998
Akhilesh Mithal

If the Weak Turn Violent, it is Not Their Fault


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The launching of missiles by the most powerful State in the world against the civilian populations of the poorest and weakest State in the world shows an updated version of what used to be called “gun boat” diplomacy. An example of “the more things change the more they are the same.”

Only the White nations (the United States and the United Kingdom) have ever used the Atom Bomb, and that also only against a coloured nation, the Japanese. And this despite the fact that the most honest practitioners of the colour bar, the Apartheid law-governed South Africans had accorded “white” status to the Japs!

We know goondas and dadas who carry arms in their locality and make sure no one else has them so that they can exact their illegal extortions without let or hindrance.The “nuclear” powers are behaving like a mafia gang under the leadership of a sex scandal-stained US President.

This kind of situation, throughout the history, has driven the weak to violence. Perhaps we can go back a 100 years in Indian history and see how the disarmed and enslaved Indians were brutalised until they had no alternative to adopting the cult of the bomb.

Itihaas has to address the problem because a date in history sacred to the martyrdom of the first practitioner of the cult of the bomb came and went this year without the slightest stir. There was no celebration or festivity. No wonder we have a people with inadequate self esteem.

The Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party ruling Maharashtra and the Centre talk about swadeshi. Is it with a feringhee accent? It’s not. Why do they forget those martyrs whose sacrifice gave them the power, the pelf and the pomp they flaunt as ministers and as extra-constitutional authority/remote control Chief Minister?

The date April 18, 1898 saw Damodar (Hari) Chapekar hanged. It was 6.40 am and the location was Yerwada Central Jail. What was the background? How was an idealistic young man driven to despair?First let us see the charges against the condemned man.

When arrested he stated that he had taken steps to curb the enthusiasm of some prominent members of the “Reforms Party” by carrying out assaults on those who attacked Bal Gangadhar Tilak in their toady papers, such as Gadgil, editor of the Sudharak and the other such editor, Kulkarni.

One, besmirching the statue of Queen Empress Victoria with tar and placing a garland of shoes round her neck. Two, destroying the structures (mandaps) erected for holding examinations for matriculation in Bombay and for the entertainment of government officials in Poona (Pune).

The climax of the anti-government anti-British activities had occurred on June 22, 1897. The revolutionaries read the programme of Jubilee Day (Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria Kaiser-i-Hind or Empress of India) in the newspapers.

They were looking for an official called Rand who had established a reputation for brutality that was to be equalled by Dyer at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 and Nethersole aided by J S Lal in Ballia in 1942. After some difficulty, Rand was spotted in St Mary’s Church.

However, this crowded place was inappropriate for the action contemplated.The conspirators next moved to Government house. There Rand was expected to attend the gala function planned for celebrating the Jubilee.

He had, on that very day, July 22, 1897, received a written warning from Chapekar stating ‘You will be killed today’.In his contempt for Indians Rand ignored the warning. At 11.30 pm, Damodar took position at the main gate of Government House. Balakrishna Chapekar was stationed a little further down the road.

The arms the brothers carried were pistols and swords. Pistols concealed under their clothes and swords wrapped in an old pugree or turban link. The face of each European coming down the road was carefully scanned. When Rand was spotted, Damodar followed his carriage.

As they came opposite the house of Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy, Balakrishna shouted the signal for action ‘Narya Narya’. Damodar climbed the step of the back of the carriage, undid the flap of the blind and inserting his pistol into the opening, fired at almost point blank range into Rand’s back. The accompanying carriage belonged to the Ayersts.

As they heard the shot fired by Damodar, a man climbed into their carriage. Mrs Ayersts was mentioning the matter to her husband when the report of the pistol was repeated by Ranade firing into the carriage from behind and her husband fell down dead in her arms.Rand expired on July 3, 1897 at 3.18 am.

As violence of this kind can only arise from great and sustained hatred, readers should know why Rand or the Brits aroused such strong feelings as to be targeted and killed along with their comprador Indians although the killers had no hope of escape.

In September 1894, 13 most prominent Indians had been sent to jail by Rand as District Magistrate. They were all worthy and respectable citizens. Three were bankers, one a chairman of the Municipal Committee, Satara.

All were charged for playing musical instruments in violation of the arbitrary orders of the District Magistrate. There were no disturbances, no heads or hands had been broken.Rand’s judgement included the following: “It is nonetheless clear to me that as these men are of respected high caste families (Brahmin).

They will feel more than others the degradation and inconvenience of imprisonment. I do not, therefore, consider a fine adequate and come to the conclusion that a short term of imprisonment will meet all requirement adequately.

Rand indulged his sadistic and brutal fancies in the name of curbing the plague outbreak of 1897.A local daily reports:“ One area, Budhawar Peth and a part of Shukravar Peth were surrounded by 200 cavalry and 100 infantry.”

Another newspaper provided the details: “Men, women and children were marched off to the (segregation) camps with guard at back and front bareheaded, barefooted as if they were a pack of lawless bandits.Men preferred death and drowning to removal to the plague hospital.”

One of the methods of searching is recorded: “The men were completely stripped in the presence of others and made to wait in this condition for sometime — women were asked to undo their bodices (cholis) and to hold up their wearing apparel while they were examined.”Amrita Bazar Patrika reported on April 24, 1897:

“Several people are taken to hospital as suspected of secretly developing (concealing) plague symptoms. Their relations are immediately packed off to segregation camp, the bedding and clothes burnt, the houses whitewashed and fumigated.

After being subjected to all these rigours which the plague laws imposed, it was often found that the people had been hospitalised without cause. They were then discharged as cured but their relations remain incarcerated in segregation camps.”Tilak’s protest earned him the hostility of the British government.

He said:“It is a matter of hurt and shame that when the government becomes oppressive the people have no power or ability to punish it.”Readers should remember that it was an offence (under the Arms Act) to carry a knife with a blade longer than four inches.

No wonder the desperate and brutalised Indians took to the bomb.The whites have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing in the century between 1898 and 1998. The arrogant Madeline Albright and the lying in the throat, Bill Clinton should ponder the facts of history before proceeding further down the calamitous path.




Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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