It was just another day when I left bed. The future had something in store for the student community. The senior students had been briefed but we juniors were on the periphery, as ignorant as ever. It was the ninth day of August in the year nineteen forty two, 0r 9.8. 42. A momentous day indeed. The history of the Indian freedom movement recorded it as the day when the Indian National Congress gave a clarion call, QUIT INDIA. The Indian people rose as One Man under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and asked the British rulers to go home lock stock and barrel. The British Empirewas too powerful to listen to a call given by the “half naked faqir” as Sir Winston Churchill, the war time British Prime Minister used to address Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was a Mahatma or a great soul to millions of Indians. The Empire did not budge an inch to accommodate its subjects in India. It issued orders to put down the political upheaval with a heavy hand.
LEADERS LOCKED UP
All leaders of the Congress party were put behind bars in high security prisons, forts and garrison towns. Gandhi Ji and his spouse, Kasturba were the only exception. They were incarcerated in the Agha Khan palace in Poona, now Pune. Since leaders were away from the masses, the people went berserk in many places like Ballia in the United Provinces, Bengal’s interior areas and so on. There was complete chaos and the British government in India was at its wits énd. Many innocent lives of commoners were lost in police firing on peaceful processions and the military too was called out to control the situation. The might of the British Empire was insufficient to control the surge of the people. Moreover, the Second World War was in full fury and the Germans and Japanese were breathing down the neck of the allied forces.
Just about every Indian, man or woman, who had anything to do with the Indian freedom movement, even if remotely, was arrested and put in one jail or the other. Their homes and hearth, their property, both moveable and immoveable, was seized by the district administration and auctioned at the lowest possible price. Since there were no bidders in many cases, low paid governments were gifted all that could not be auctioned. The British officers were more cruel than the Iranian invader, Nadir Shah of the middle ages. One pays a price when fighting for a good cause.
The student community too played a role. We just came out of our classes shouting slogans “Quit India”and in Hindi said “Angrezon, Bharat Chhodo”. Outside our college we formed a procession under the leadership of big boys and held the Tricolour flags in as many hands as possible. The patriotic slogans were never ending and these were punctuated with VANDE MATARAM VANDE MATARAM. It was indeed electrifying. The patriotic fervour had manifested itself in slogan shouting and before long it reached a crescendo. What was music to the Indian ears was certainly jarring to the British ears. The law enforcing agencies, mostly Indians but officered by the British, were around but did not intervene at this stage. The orders had come from the highest of the high to avoid bloodshed and not fire on the student processions as far as possible. The police permitted us to move forward. We were cautioned not to use insulting language against the British rulers, especially the royal family. In return we were permitted to cry our throats hoarse with the Quit India and similar slogans. It was a pleasant surprise to hear both the Hindus and Muslims say in unison VANDE MATARAM.
The concept of Pakistan, backed by the British Empire, was gaining ground. So some diehard pro-Pakistan students had abstained from participating in the procession and shout Quit India lest the English rulers were annoyed. However, the nationalist minded Muslims of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai type did join their Hindu brethren. Their numbers were so low that they could be counted on finger tips.
The students’ procession moved forward towards the Deputy Commissioner’s office located in Kutcherry. As we neared the destination we were stopped from moving forward. The mounted police blocked our way and the armed police cocked their rifles just to scare us. We were made of sterner stuff. The patriotic slogans rent the air with greater fervour and the British sergeants, now present at the scene, were seen using cotton ear plugs lest the ear drums were damaged.
THE SHOW DOWN
The senior students were determined not to turn back as ordered by the police. The British Deputy Commissioner was too busy with the war effort and had no intention of meeting a students’ delegation. Legally speaking, entertaining a freedom fighters delegation would be negating the British policy of not supporting any idea that would detract from the war effort. The students had been permitted to move that far in a procession just to let them express pent up anger and anti-British emotions but that was it. Thus far but no further, the police announced in Hindi. They warned the senior students of consequences if they pressed on and shouted anti-British slogans. The feeble warning did not deter even small boys, what to say of veterans. More slogans, tougher language and a stance of face-off was in the offing. The writing was on the wall.
VANDE MATARAM VANDE MATARAM – THE BLOOD RACED THROUGH OUR VEINS. We, big and small boys alike said that we would sacrifice our lives at the altar of freedom but not retrace our steps. On a pre-determined signal the police swung into action. They used canes, lathis, batons, butts of rifles to break our procession. The brute force was enough to break bodies but not morale. The students sat down wherever they were. The jibes at the Indians in the service of the British Empire infuriated them more. Their brutality reached its peak. The lathi blows were back breaking, head injuries showed bleeding and there was blood all over the road. The police snatched the tricolour flags. So, senior students passed the flags on to the junior students who held them tightly and bore the brunt. VANDE MATARAM VANDE MATARAM – every student gave the full throated cry and even the attacking police, officers and men, British and Indian were amazed at the tenacity, determination and devotion to the patriotic cause exhibited by the student community.
The senior students were arrested, put in police vans and driven to the district jail. The injured were taken to hospital and junior boys were told to go home as their parents were concerned about their well being.
I must mention that the student community was in the forefront of freedom struggle all over the country. The international powers did take this fact into account when they pressured the White Hall in London to grant independence to India.
Independence came to us, to our country just five years, five months and a few hours after the success of Quit India movement in which the young generation had played a significant role. 15th August 1947 was and is our Independence Day. Long Live Independent India.
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM