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Your memory versus mine

Not all of our independence struggle was non-violent. We go back to four places to revisit their bloodied history.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2010 21:44 IST
Paramita Ghosh
Paramita Ghosh
Hindustan Times

The shoe has re-surfaced as protest missile in Chauri Chaura. The person threatening to throw it is former RJD MP, Aas Mohammad. And I can understand why.

Chauri Chaura

History: On February 4, 1922, satygrahis on the way to picket shops were fired at by policemen in a small town in what is now Uttar Pradesh. In response, the police station was set afire, killing 23 policemen inside. Gandhi called off the Non-Cooperation movement. Nineteen Indians were hanged, 55 were jailed for 8 years, 37 for 5 years and
14 were incarcerated for life.

Can't blame this on Mamata

I've been to the world's strangest monument dedicated to a freedom struggle. Made in marble, it memorialises policemen who fired on Indians and has inscribed on it a verse by Ram Prasad Bismil, a martyr. Built by the British in 1924, the Bismil verse — Shaheed ki chitaon par lagenge har baras mele (On the pyres pf martyrs, there will be fairs every year) — was added after Independence to sanctify the structure. The former MP's take on the event: Har baras padhenge jootey (Beat them with shoes). Looking for Mr Bose

Inspector C.P. Singh, a burly Thakur who heads the pale yellow-brick historic police station, bristles at the suggestion and hands out the usual line about "duty" and how present-day cops consider the policemen who died in Chauri Chaura martyrs as well. Singh adds he knows a thing or two about how freedom fighters are 'made'. "I was posted in Meerut earlier," he says. "There were many who stole cows before Independence and were sent to jail. After Independence, they became freedom fighters." 1946's sepoy mutiny

Chauri Chaura is thus a good example of how India's independence remains, in many ways, a half-way house with ‘official' versions of an event at odds with people's history — the way they remember their memories. "This contradiction was at the heart of the freedom struggle," says retired Lt General Prakashmani Tripathi, president, Swatantrata Sangram Senani Parijan Samiti, Uttar Pradesh. "Independence was not just won through the Congress's efforts and non-violence but by violence as well. Chauri Chaura was seen as an error, a riot. It was much more. Unlike Jallianwala Bagh, this was not a massacre. It was a spontaneous act of rebellion."

A rail track divides the police memorial from the one built by descendants of freedom fighters who died in firing or were hanged by colonialists. The police memorial was built just two years after the incident. The foundation stone of the freedom fighters' memorial was laid by Indira Gandhi 25 years after Independence.

Memorials are a good way of knowing how you have been noticed, or trashed, by history. The complex has a building with a glass top. It is cracked. The rooms are musty, the floors mossy, so all in all, a great historical ‘smell'. Ram Narain, whose grandfather Lal Behari was one of the 19 hanged for the police station incident, shows us around a room that has statues of the 19. Indira Gandhi gets a statue too! "It's just a thank-you gesture for the foundation stone," says Narain sheepishly.

Narain is one of the lucky ones. Unlike most descendants of freedom fighters, those of Chauri Chaura do not get a pension from the Centre. Narain manages with a state pension of Rs 5,742. "Local politicians forget us after they make it. Mahavir Prasad, who was in the last Manmohan Singh cabinet, did not raise our demands. Chauri Chaura has no fire brigade, no gas agency. Express trains from Varanasi or Delhi such as Varanasi-Inter State and Gorakhpur-Chhapra stop at smaller stations than ours," says a local. Zebrunissa, the granddaughter of Abdullah, the first of the 19 to be hanged for the Chauri Chaura incident, gets no pension. Neither do 12 widows.

For the people of the region, however, the event, as history and metaphor, has a different meaning. "It was like the beginning of the French Revolution," said Ram Sahay, a student. While that is debatable, the words ‘Chauri Chaura' remains a call for all kinds of local initiative: starting an agitation, opening a sweetshop, launching a career.

As we drove out of the area, the mug of Amit Jaiswal, a political wannabe, stared at us from a hoarding over a grocery store. For Naag Panchami, he issues a greeting to all in "Shaheed nagri". In Chauri Chaura, life still looks up to the count of times you mention its name.

First Published: Aug 14, 2010 20:39 IST