Sunday, November 14, 1999
As member of the Hindustan Republican Association, Durga bhabhi worked with the zeal of a missionary. A meticulous planner, her plans never failed. K.K. Khullar pays a tribute to this indomitable heroine of our freedom struggle.
SHE appeared like a meteor on the firmament of freedom struggle in India and wielded tremendous influence on revolutionaries such as Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqullah and Chandrashekhar Azad. Her name was Durgavati Devi and she was the wife of professor Bhagvati Charan Vohra. Those were the days when courting arrest was greeted with distribution of ladoos and the sight of a policeman with summons was welcomed with shouts of "Hurrah, they have come."
An active member of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Durga bhabhi came into prominence when the Sabha decided to observe the 11th anniversary of Kartar Singh Sarabhas martyrdom on November 16, 1926 at Lahore. It may be recalled that Kartar Singh Sarabha was executed in Lahore Central Jail 11 years earlier. One of the youngest martyrs of the freedom struggle, he was 19 when he kissed the gallows. Sarabha had planned to overthrow the British by spreading "sedition" among the Indian soldiers. For Durga bhabhi and Bhagat Singh Sarabha was an all-time hero.
On the Shaheedi Divas a lifesize portrait of Sarabha prepared by two ladies with their blood was unveiled. One of the ladies was Durgavati Devi and the other Susheela Devi, Professor Vohras sister. When Bhagat Singh finished his speech dedicated to Chandi; and pledged to oust the firangee by means of an armed struggle, Durga bhabhi got up and put a tilak on Bhagat Singhs forehead, blessed him and wished him success for his mission. As member of the Hindustan Republican Association, she worked with the zeal of a missionary. A meticulous planner, her plans never failed.
Her most glorious moment came on December 17, 1928 when Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev went to Durga bhabhis house after killing Saunders. Bhagat Singh had got his hair shorn off and both of them wore suits and felt hats. Durga bhabhi knew what had happened but was sorry that the real culprit J.A Scot somehow escaped. The idea of going to Calcutta was given by Durga bhabhi, since Prof. Vohra had already gone to Calcutta to attend the Congress Session.
Hurriedly they packed up hired a horse driven tonga and proceeded to Lahore railway station from where they purchased two first class tickets. Since Bhagat Singh was travelling with his "family", the sahib was given a coupe. There were nearly 500 policemen at the platform in serach of Bhagat Singh but he hoodwinked them and escaped. It was like Shivajis escape from the clutches of Aurangzeb. In this sensational drama, Rajguru acted as a servant and sat in the servants compartment attached to Calcutta Mail. In another third class compartment sat Chandrashekhar Azad, disguised as a sadhu singing the dohas of Tulsidas. Each one of them had a loaded pistol duly tested and tried.
December 18, 1928 will always be remembered as a red-letter day in the history of the freedom movement since Calcutta Mail was the historic train that created a sensation in the whole country.
As Calcutta Mail moved towards away from the platform, it seemed as if the wheel of history moved its revolutionary goal. Someone rightly said that on that evening of December 18, 1928 it was easier to escape from the clutches of death but to escape from Lahore railway station was nothing short of miracle. It was a clean operation, nothing short of a coup. Every now and again Rajguru would ensure the safety of the sahib and his family. Once he came with a bottle of milk for Shashi Durga bhabhis babe-in-arms. At Lucknow railway station he again came with milk while Durga bhabhi gave a telegram to her husband prof Vohra in Calcutta, informing him that she was coming with her brother and he should come to Calcutta railway station to receive her.
When the train arrived in Calcutta, Prof Vohra and his sister Susheela Devi were at the station. Susheela Devi has made fool-proof arrangements in Calcutta. The first day they stayed in a hotel. Thereafter for one week they shifted to the three-storeyed building of Seth Chajju Ram. Susheela Devi had taken Sethjis wife Mataji into confidence and told her everything about the visiting party. At Calcutta, Bhagat Singh attended the Congress Session incognito, had a glimpse of Gandhiji, Nehru and Subhas Bose. Alongwith Durga bhabhi, he met several Bengali revolutionaries such as Atul Ganguli, G.N. Das and Phinininder Gosh. He opened a branch of his party there and learnt the process of bomb-making.
According to Yogesh Chander Chatterji, the plan to throw a bomb in the Central Assembly Delhi was made in Calcutta. Bhagat Singhs photograph with the felt hat was also taken in Calcutta. B.K. Dutt taught him Bengali. One day the entire party went to see a film: Uncle Toms Cabin. The movie had a lasting impact on Bhagat Singh and his comrades.
After throwing the bomb on April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh surrendered. When Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were awarded the death sentence, Durga bhabhi came out openly in the field. She decided to kill Lord Hailey, an ex-Governor of Punjab, a staunch enemy of revolutionaries. Although the Governor escaped, his aides were injured. She even pleaded with Gandhiji to save the lives of the three fearless partriots. Meanwhile, Prof Bhagvati Charan Vohra and Chandra Shekhar Azad planned to free Bhagat Singh by bombing the jail itself. While testing the bomb, however, on the banks of the Ravi, Prof Vohra died.
Durga bhabhi was
arrested and awarded three years imprisonment. After
Independence she was virtually forgotten, except for an
occasional write-up by an old comrade. She died in
Ghaziabad on October 15, 1999 at the age of 92. While her
earlier life reads like a thriller, her later years were
spent in exclusion and relative anonymity. The least this
great freedom fighter and fearless woman deserves is a
biography, if not a film or a complete documentary to
inspire the younger generation. A terror to the British
police she was "The Agni of India, a flashback
of its ancient heritage of sacrifice and fearlessness, a
legend in her lifetime.
| Interview | Bollywood Bhelpuri | Sugar 'n' Spice | Nature | Garden Life | Fitness |
| Travel | Your Option | Time off | A Soldier's Diary | Fauji Beat |
| Feedback | Laugh lines | Wide Angle | Caption Contest |