Rebellion and the Freedom Movement

Continued from "The Mutiny"

Delhi now became the center of political activities. Towards the close of the 19th century the spirit of rebellion spread across the country .The Indians openly sang songs of freedom and dreamed of independent India. They sang Vande Mataram composed by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, and Sare Jahan se achha, by Mohammad Iqbal. And in the South songs composed by Vallathol and Subramanya Bharati were sung by one and all.

By then Mahatma Gandhi had emerged as one of the greatest of our national leaders. The fight for freedom took on a special significance. People joined the movement in millions. Before long the British described Delhi as “turbulent”. They felt that “as long as the guns of the Red Fort are pointing down the Chandni Chowk, they (the People) will remain quiet, but, once these guns are removed, the temptation to lawlessness will be irresistible.”

On December 23, 1912 when Lord and Lady Hardinge's procession was passing through the Chandni Chowk, a bomb was thrown from the upper floor of a building near Dhulia walon ka katra killing the man who held the Vice Regal umbrella. Though a reward of Rs.100,000 was offered for handing over the culprit, no one volunteered any information.

The Jallianwalabagh tragedy took place on April 13, 1919. It resulted in the death of thousands of people due to the inhuman military firing at Amritsar. This prompted the Indian National Congress to decide on a policy of “progressive non-violent non-cooperation". But as soon as the non-cooperative movement was launched all the important leaders of the Congress in Delhi - Dr. Ansari, Shankar Lal, Asaf Ali , Deshbandhu Gupta, and others -were promptly put behind bars.

With the announcement of the Rowlatt Act in 1919 Chandni Chowk became the target of countless firings. One day as the military threatened to open fire; Swami Shraddhanand stood before the armed troop and said, “You want to shoot me? Here I am! Fire if you want to.” The troops lowered their guns at his words and the procession passed through Chandni Chowk shouting “Down with the Rowlatt Act”!

Communal disturbances dealt a temporary blow to the freedom movement between 1923 and 1927. But in 1930 it gathered momentum once again. Led by Gandhiji, the boycott of foreign goods, especially cloth, became the done thing. Propagation of swadeshi and supporting indigenous industries became the Congress creed. Delhi, as usual, played an important part in the struggle. A meeting of the All India Congress Committee was held in Chandni Chowk under the clock tower. Madan Mohan Malviya, who was supposed to preside at the meeting, was taken captive by the British before he could reach Delhi. So the meeting was presided over by Ranchod Das Amritlal of Ahmedabad.

In 1939 the Second World War broke out. India was dragged into it despite the protests of our leaders. Nationalist India’s refusal to cooperate in the war led to significant consequences. In Delhi alone 39 people were arrested. On August 9, 1942, Gandhiji voiced in clear terms what was in the heart of every Indian. He asked the British to "Quit India."

Events moved fast to a crisis. There was a wholesale arrest of Congress leaders that infuriated the people. Around the same time, the Indian soldiers captured by the Japanese got together and founded an army of their own. They called themselves the “Indian National Army”. Their leader was Subhash Chandra Bose. "Dilli Chalo"(Come to Delhi) was the battle cry of the INA. Their burning desire was to hoist the national flag of India on the ramparts of the Red Fort. The INA songs were sung all over the country:

Kadam kadam badhaye ja
Khushi ke geet gaye ja
Yeh zindagi hai koum ki
Tu koum pe lutaye ja

March forward, singing a song of joy.
Your life belongs to your motherland,
Dedicate yourself unconditionally to her service)

Independence admits no compromise,” said Subhash Chandra Base, “Freedom has only one connotation - the British and their allies must quit India for good. And those who really want liberty must fight for it and pay for it with their own blood. We must march forward till victory is achieved and freedom won."

60,000 soldiers of the INA were taken prisoners by the British. Among them were three officers, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh. They were locked up in a cell within the Red Fort. They also faced their trial at the historic spot where the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar had faced the British court martial eighty-seven years earlier.

On November 5, 1945 at 10.15 A.M., the court martial took place in a hall in a barrack within the Red Fort.

Long before the actual trial began a crowd collected all along the main road outside the Fort, carrying placards which said ndash; “Save the INA patriots” and “Patriots not traitors”. Cries of Jai Hind filled the sky. The Delhi police cordoned off all the gates to the Fort. All the entrances were guarded by the military police. In tents nearby additional police forces was kept in reserve.

“The accused - Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, Shah Nawaz Khan and P .K. Sehgal - were in their uniforms without any mark of rank. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, donning the barrister's robe for the first time in 22 years, sat with the other defence counsels - Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Bhulabhai Desai, Asaf Ali, and Dr. K.N. Katju". After the prosecution had rested its case the accused made their statements -

“The question before me,” said Captain Shah Nawaz, “was the king or the country". I decided to be loyal to my country and took a pledge to sacrifice my everything for her sake - my home, my family and its traditions.” Captain Sehgal said, “I deny being guilty of any of the offences with which I have been charged. Every one of us has the satisfaction that the INA fully accomplished its objectives. It protected Indian life, property and honor in Malaya, Burma and other parts of South-East Asia against all aggressions." The words of Captain Dhillon were, “I was in the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun. I read, written in block letters of gold, ‘The honor, welfare and safety of your country comes first, always and every time’. It was with this motto in front of me that I served my country as an officer in the Indian Army.”

However, all three, were declared to be guilty of waging war against the king and were sentenced to transportation for life. Soon afterwards, there started a nationwide agitation for the suspension of the sentence, which eventually merged with our mighty freedom movement for the independence of our country. The sentence of the INA patriots was set aside later on, but they were dismissed from the army.

On August 15, 1947 India became an independent nation. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of free India, addressed the nation:

“It has been my privilege,” he said, “to serve India and the cause of India's freedom for many years. Today I address you for the first time officially as the first servant of the Indian people, pledged to their service and their betterment. I am here because you willed it so, and I remain here so long as you choose to honor me with your confidence. We are a free and sovereign people today and we have rid ourselves of the burden of the past. We look at the world with clear and friendly eyes and at the future with faith and confidence.”


The Red Fort is now the symbol of our freedom. The earnest desire of Subhash Chandra Bose turned to reality when Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the national flag of free India on the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 1947. And the same ceremony has been repeated ever since, year after year, by the Prime Ministers who came after him, amidst national rejoicing, no matter which political party they belong to.

The Red Fort stands erect and majestic despite all the storms and waves of destruction that have swept over it. Very few now know or remember the tears and laughter, agony and ecstasy, hopes and despair that once echoed within its walls. What we do remember is that this fortress, once glorious, now symbolizes the joy and the hope of our nation once again. And it still stands majestic, the emblem of our independence.


H.C. Fanshawe: Delhi Past and Present
G .R. Hearn: The Seven Cities of Delhi .
Sir John Marshall: The Monument of Muslim India
Sir Richard Burn: Jahangir and Shah Jahan .
Sir Henry Sharp: Delhi -Its Monuments and History
Francois Bernier: Travels in the Mughal Empire
Jean B. Travernier: Travels in India
H.G. Keene: The Fall of Mughal Empire
Percival Spear: Delhi: A historical Sketch
Percival Spear: Twilight of the Mughals
lnayat Khan : Shah Jahan Nama
Aurangzeb, Rukaat-i-Alamgiri: Tr. by Joseph Earles
Nasir Nasser Firaq: Lal Qila ki Ek Jhalak
Khushwant Singh: Delhi - A Portrait
Maheshwar Dayal : Rediscovering Delhi
Surendranath Sen: Delhi and its Monuments
Tara Chand : History of the Freedom Movemmt of India
Sir Jadunath Sarkar: Fall of Mughal Empire
Gazetteer of India (Delhi )
Son-et-Lumiere, Red Fort, (I.T.D.C.).

All the poems quoted in the articles (by Rafi Sauda, Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Khan Dagh and Bahadur Shah Zafar) are also translated by Khushwant Singh.


More by :  Swapna Dutta

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